For a small island, Tongatapu has a solid array of good restaurants. Here are five of the best in and around downtown Nuku’alofa.
Top Bar: This American-owned restaurant and lounge was only a few months old when we visited in November 2019. We were very impressed. From the street, it doesn’t look like much, but when you take the elevator up, you’ll walk into a wide-open space on the top floor of a building that offers an expansive view of the coastline off downtown Nuku’alofa. The decor is island-elegant, and the atmosphere is casual. You can bring your own drinks. The “Swimmers Trio” appetizer is a must: a beautifully prepared platter of ceviche, poke and ota ika (Tongan ceviche).
Friends Cafe: Popular with locals and travelers alike. Friends occupies the ground floor and offers cafe drinks, desserts and snacks as well as a full menu. They also offer tourism services. We caught some of the historic rugby game on TV here in early November when Tonga beat Australia. The night was bursting with jubilant noise through the city after the game, and the government declared a public holiday to celebrate.
Vuna Bar: Good food and good beer. (Note: Tonga makes three types of local craft brews: Maka, Tiki and Maui.) Vuna lies to the west of the royal residence, across the street from the seawall, and has outdoor and indoor seating. I was introduced to the purple sweet potato at Vuna that the locals call kamala.
Coastline Chicken: This unassuming fast-food place across the street from the wharf where you catch the ferry to Fafa and Pangaimotu serves up among the best fried chicken I have ever had in my life–rivaling Colonel Sanders. I don’t know their secret. My guess it it involves brining and a local version of buttermilk. What I know for sure is that the crust is a crunchy umami bomb, and the chicken is wonderfully tender.
Oholei: This beach resort features live music, dinner and a floor show on Wednesdays and Fridays. The house band plays classic hits before the buffet dinner of Tongan dishes. After dinner, the gathering moves inside a cave to watch traditional Tongan dancing. The evening closes with a fire dance.