There is “local” in Hawai’i and then there is local, those places where residents like to hang out and you rarely see tourists. The Tip Top Cafe, located in Lihue, is nothing if not local. And, it’s our new favorite breakfast spot on the island.
We’d heard about the Tip Top, off and on, from different sources, but nothing that really made us want to go. One day a couple of months ago though I heard about it again and finally told Brett that we should probably check it out.
The Tip Top is located a block off the main highway in Lihue, next to the small (and I’m assuming very inexpensive) Tip Top Motel. If you didn’t know to go look for it, you would never see it, and we actually drove by it before we figured out that’s where we wanted to be.
Step inside and it feels like you’ve been whisked right back to the 1960s. After passing through the lobby/bakery/shop, there’s a large room filled with lots of booths. Waitresses wearing colorful hospital scrubs move through the dining room pushing carts carrying coffee and water, cups, glassware, cutlery, and napkins on top and either food to be delivered or dirty dishes (never at the same time) on the bottom shelves.
Service at the Tip Top is brisk and very friendly, and both the breakfast and lunch menus are filled with both traditional items as well as Hawaiian favorites like loco moco, saimin, and fried noodles. The portions are generous. Their banana pancakes are legendary, and their oxtail soup is locally famous. Everything we’ve ever had there has been delicious, including the coffee, and it’s all very affordable. Depending on the time of day you go, you may have to wait in line to be seated, but we’ve also been when there was a sign up for us seat ourselves (even though the place looked packed).
The Tip Top celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, and after dining there a few times we get why it’s been a favorite with locals all these years. We’ve also been there for lunch, and again the food was terrific and affordable.
The Tip Top is probably not even considered by many tourists to the island because it isn’t marketed to tourists – it’s definitely a local place. Still, while it may be off the beaten path, the Tip Top is well worth taking the time to find. You’ll be greeted warmly and have some terrific food at an affordable price, no matter whether you live here or are just visiting.
The Tip Top Cafe is located at 3173 Akahi Street, Lihue. It’s open daily from 6:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.