lunch at the wai’oli tea room

Front entrance, Wai’oli Tea Room (built 1922).

The Wai’oli Tea Room, "O’ahu’s Hidden Treasure," was one of the places I most looked forward to visiting on my recent trip to Hawai’i.

The restaurant is surrounded by a tropical garden.


I had been there decades ago, but couldn’t remember much about it, other than one could dine on the lanai, surrounded by beautiful Island greenery. 

Nestled in lush Manoa valley, WTR is definitely off the beaten
track — the kind of place one might find accidentally while driving through a well-established neighborhood of comfortable older homes, big porches, and ancient trees.

Lanai seating area

Though it feels like a private residence, the restaurant was formerly a Salvation Army school for girls (they were taught cooking and other domestic skills). We (Len, my parents, brother Newton and I), opted for a table in the largest dining area, the Robert Louis Stevenson Room.

Vases of red torch ginger flank the fireplace.

Upright piano in the RLS Room

We all had iced tea except for Newton, who always orders Coke.

You probably know that RLS traveled around and lived in the South Pacific during the late 1800’s. While in Hawai’i, he was friend to various members of the ali’i (royalty), socialized often with King Kalakaua, and was mentor to Victoria Ka’iulani, Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Hawai’i (she was half Scottish). He was beloved and fondly called "Tusitala," (Storyteller) by island peoples.

Stevenson’s photo on the mantle.

Stevenson at King Kalakaua’s boat house (click to enlarge).

So, with RLS’s gentle spirit in attendance, warm breezes wafting in through open windows, and relaxing Hawaiian music playing in the background, we set upon some serious eating.

Len had homemade soup of the day and half a corned beef sandwich,

Newton made short work of a whole corned beef sandwich,

My mom enjoyed her quiche and salad,

My dad demolished a giant Asian Chicken Salad with Noodles,

and I had the Shrimp Salad:

I finished only half of it to save room for dessert. This was a tea room, after all, so their sweets were bound to be good ☺. My dad and I had the pecan pie (*licks lips*), Len and my mom had guava bread pudding, and Newton had the restaurant’s most popular dessert, butterscotch brownie with ice cream. We cross-tasted all around and pronounced everything delicious.

WTR dessert tray.

Butterscotch Brownie

Besides lunch, the Wai’oli Tea Room serves yummy breakfasts and afternoon tea by reservation only, does buffets for larger groups, and, as you can imagine, is a choice spot for garden weddings. Their bakery sells cookies, scones, biscotti, and Island-influenced specialties such as lilikoi (passion fruit) bread, mango mousse cake, and guava bread. And there’s lots of tea paraphernalia in their gift shop.

Love the vintage bakery cases!

Selection of teas and teapots.

          Tea stuff for sale in gift shop.

The funniest thing that happened that day was watching the hostess scare off birds with her giant water gun (wish I had taken a picture of it). If you were a bird, and the windows were wide open, and you spied some delectable crumbs on the tables and floors, wouldn’t you flutter on in?

Definitely a peaceful spot to rejuvenate the spirit, the epitome of "laid back." Now I’m rereading Stevenson’s poetry, which I’ll probably feature on Friday. I feel closer to him now.


Replica of Stevenson’s grass hut, which used to be near the restaurant until it was demolished by high winds in 2003. The original was located in Waikiki, where Stevenson read and told stories to Princess Ka’iulani.

*Today’s post was brought to you by Faraway: when Stevenson was little, he told his nanny, Alison Cunningham, "When I am a man, I shall visit far-away lands." Despite a lifetime of ill-health, he managed to do just that.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.