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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Big Island/best small cafe: Paul’s Place

There’s a great, little hidden find of a cafe you need to check out on your next trip to the Big Island of Hawaii.

That is, if you like the idea of a charming little hideaway with just three or four tables (depending upon the time of the day,) one that serves fresh, island food, the likes of which you’ve probably never seen.

It’s called Paul’s Place Cafe, and it’s a quirky little eatery, tucked in the front lobby of the Pakalana Inn in Hilo and directly behind the Hilo Farmer’s Market. That would be the one Paul slips away to periodically during the day, to pick up fresh ingredients for customers.

Hilo, you’ll recall, is on the lush, green side of the Big Island, the island that’s so big, it could fit Maui, Kauai, Oahu and all the other islands, and then some. It’s the island best known as the one that’s expanding, thanks to the occasional gurgle of Mount Kīlauea.

But back to Paul’s.

Salmon Bennie

Paul Cubio’s signature dish, the Salmon “Bennie,” from Paul’s Place Cafe in Hilo, Hawaii. From the Big Island Photowalk

The cafe is in the heart of downtown Hilo, a block off Ali Drive.  Classical music, not Hawaiian folk songs, Slack-key or steel guitar play from the radio, and those few tables. There’s no industrial stoves. Paul Cubio does it all on just a fridge, hot plate, toaster, cutting board and waffle iron. With higher end food that you’re likely to find at any other Hawaiian restaurant of this size. Fish, fresh vegetables and some cheese, mostly from the Farmer’s Market, the local sea or the KTA food store down the street.

Paul likes it that way. He sees the place as a more intimate way to serve friends, as opposed to a crowd.

Either way, it works!

Paul's Place Cafe Hilo

Paul’s Place Cafe in Hilo, Hawaii only has three tables.

Pakalana Inn

Paul’s Place Cafe is in the front lobby of the Pakalana Inn in Hilo, Hawaii

His specialties: The “Salmon Bennie” and Belgian Waffle. (See the menu for detailed descriptions.) I can tell you that he mixes orange juice with his waffle batter, and then tops it with pineapple and strawberries before adding the powdered sugar and syrup. It’s a big wow!

The Salmon Bennie is eggs Benedict over a base of toasted croissant, topped with Kamuela tomatoes, smoked salmon and poached eggs.

In keeping with the theme of this newsletter, Paul’s is a great place to visit before you start your Photowalk, or as a mid-Photowalk lunch break!

Paul’s (132 Punahoa St, Hilo) is open Tuesday through Saturday, and the big “market” days for the Farmer’s Market, when some 200 vendors arrive to show off their best, are Wednesday and Saturday. You can find Paul on Instagram, @paulsplacecafe

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