Whenever my friends ask me for a restaurant recommendation for Kauai, the first place I suggest is always the Tip Top Cafe. Yes, you can bring your kids. Yes, it’s authentic. Yes, it’s local. The cops eat there. The aunties. The uncles. All of the cousins. Eat. Eat. Eat. Everyone is welcome. Except on Mondays.
Today was Monday. I had to run an errand in Lihue, but my beloved Tip Top Cafe was closed, as it is every Monday. So, I ate lunch at Hamura’s Saimin instead. They have very informal counter style seating, three U-shapes. I ended up meeting and eating with Ray and Shirley Miyamoto. Her grandfather started Tip Top Cafe – 100 years ago today. They are on Kauai for the private family celebration tonight.
“Well, Tip Top is closed for lunch today, so we came here,” Shirley said.
Bingo! My thoughts exactly.
“What’s your favorite thing to eat there?” she asked.
“I love their breakfast — fried rice with two eggs over easy and a side of Portuguese sausage, plus one piece of their banana pancake,” I said.
It says “piece” on the menu because, really, what they serve is a flat, round cake. Bring a friend because you have to split it.
“But then again, I like their saimin,” I said, “And, well, their teriyaki sandwich is yummy. And, their plate lunch is good too. My boyfriend says they make the best loco moco.”
Yes, I have had so many happy meals with friends and family at the Tip Top Cafe.
We ate our won ton saimin, laughed, and just talk story — about our families both on Kauai and in Los Angeles (where I live), how we’re all visiting Kauai, how Ray and Shirley met in seventh grade but never dated until their junior year in college, about how I write poetry, about that time that Frank Sinatra ate at the Tip Top Cafe, and the origin of some pidgin words. (THAT is a story for another blog post!) But they had to walk back and the gray skies looked full, so they were on their way.
I sat and wrote for a little while. Hamura Saimin was empty – the lunch crowd gone. The server never came by so I walked up to the register and she asked if I needed anything.
“I’d like to pay for my lunch,” I said.
She wiped her hands on her apron, looked at me a little puzzled.
“Oh, the couple, they paid for it. The woman said to pay for everyone’s lunch. I figured you knew them.”
I gave the server a tip and walked into the humid afternoon. Yes, it was going to rain soon but this was yet another moment I’ve had on Kauai where perfect strangers like the Miyamotos have been so kind to me and that’s some of the sunshine I carry with me wherever I go.