Three tables, a one-burner stove, and a cast iron fry pan. This is the recipe for success at the best breakfast cafe in Hilo. Each plate is cooked to order by Paul Cubio at his restaurant Paul’s Place Cafe.
This delicious bistro is hidden downtown in a sweet plantation storefront nestled onto a side street that leads to the popular Hilo Farmer’s Market.
We walked in unannounced at 7:30 AM on a weekday, sat down at a polished teak table, and savored the old Hawaiian-style vibe. This was a fluke. The phone rang. The hostess answered and said, “I’m sorry we are all booked today. You need a reservation. Our next available time is in a week.” What? This place barely has a sign and I’d never heard of Paul’s before that morning when we were heading to the market and I wondered Hey, what’s that interesting building?
First thing our hostess Kanani did was set down a large French Press filled to the brim with organic Kona brew, two vintage coffee cups, and a pitcher of cream. Now we were getting down to business. The business of breakfast.
The menu is small and offers up both breakfast and lunch focusing on fresh and local. I ordered Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict with tender asparagus spears and a delicate hollandaise sauce. My partner had the Eggs Mediterranean with cherry tomatoes and bacon. Both dishes were plate-licking good. I know because I licked them both!
“Where did you learn how to cook?” I asked Paul.
He leaned forward with a large grin, pushed his baseball cap back then poured another round of the perfect, hot coffee, added a splash of cream and said, “I grew up working at Mama’s Fish House in Maui—in the kitchen and waiting tables.” That explains it—Mama’s in one of the best restaurants on that island. He continued, “I’m also a mix of Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Filipino which adds to my native ability to whip up a great meal incorporating my various heritages.” Paul must have a dash of Italian too as his favorite herbs to cook with are garlic, basil, and rosemary.
He has a spry build, twinkly eyes, warm smile, and is not stressed-out like most chefs. This is a good thing as the restaurant is “petite”—there is just room for the three tables, six customers, a gleaming hardwood coffee bar, and Paul plus his waitress/hostess, Kanani. If he got riled and threw that heavy fry pan it would cause havoc and probably bean a customer on the head.
Perhaps he is a mellow dude because he is a lifelong, passionate surfer and just returned from vacation at a surf camp in Indonesia.
Paul’s Place Cafe, 132 Punahoa St., Hilo, HI 96720
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 7 AM – 2 PM
And don’t forget to call and make a reservation.
TripAdvisor also has a multitude of photos and reviews. This is how I found Paul’s originally. I Googled “Best breakfast in Hilo”.
Photograph of Paul and Kanani by Lisa Alpine