After years of sampling Café Mambo’s offerings, there are a few specific reasons we come to this funky, noisy, casual eatery. 1. The Crispy Duck Fajitas 2. The Happy Hour Burger and Beer Special 3. The Smoothies We’ll start with the crispy duck, which is rendered in its own fat and sautéed with a sweet sauce. The result is a luxurious concoction of caramel colored, tender shredded meat that is crispy and succulent, salty and sweet. Whether you eat it on top of a bed of fresh greens (the salad), on a bun (the burger), or rolled in a flour tortilla with homemade salsa, guacamole, black beans and feta cheese (the fajita) is entirely up to you.
All three preparations work for us, depending upon how hungry we are. The fajitas for two are large enough for four, while the single serving is large enough for two if you’re getting other items. The salsa is somewhat flavorless, but the fresh greens that come with just about everything on the menu are dressed with tangy lilikoi (passion fruit). We could end this review here, because the crispy duck is worth the trip to Paia. (We won’t.) Happy Hour, from 3pm to 6pm daily, is packed — you have to be willing to elbow your way to your seat past the boisterous wind- and kite-surfing crowd. The special price — at publication $3 on some of the most popular tropical cocktails and favorite beers — brings in lots of locals, as does the sensibly priced Burger and Beer special. Currently, for $9.95 you get a Maui Cattle Company burger with fries (or a green salad), and a beer.
That is a very good deal for Maui, but we warn you now that if you like your burger less-than-well-done, please let them know that. Otherwise it’s left on the grill too long and becomes a candidate for hockey practice. The tofu burger, which comes with a thick slice of cheddar, is also delicious. If you’re in the mood for something a little lighter, the hummus platter can be the perfect starter for a large group or an entire meal for one or two.
The bright yellow hummus (from the cumin) is positively silky in texture, and when dipped with a warm pita triangle, mounds perfectly on the bread with a nice little tail hanging off. No mealy texture — our personal pet peeve — just creamy, earthy garbanzo flavors highlighted with warm, bright spicy tones. While you will see many other things on the menu, we recommend sticking to the appetizers, the fajitas, and the sandwiches. Although the paella is an honest effort, it is beyond this kitchen, and several of the other more expensive items are similarly too ambitious. Although we’ve focused on the duck, we must say that many vegetarian and vegan friends consider this the most vegan-friendly restaurant on the island, because many items can easily be slightly modified to remove the offending meat and dairy without losing flavor or style.
The smoothies are made with ice cream, so … well, isn’t that enough? Breakfasts are good and include waffles, pancakes, omelets (a little overdone), hearty egg platters, and good burritos. Many of our readers recommend their boxed lunch for a road trip to Hana. The baristas work with Illy coffee, which is a good, moderately priced brand (if you’re thinking everyone should be serving Kona coffee by default, check your wallet and see whether you really want to spend $6 on every cup you buy).
There are free screenings of classic and cult classic films at Café Mambo on certain nights (call for a schedule). No food, but drinks and desserts are available. PS: Did we mention the crispy duck?
Address: 30 Baldwin Ave., Paia, North Shore
Location: Across from Mana Foods
Meals: Lunch, Dinner
Hours: Daily 8am-9pm