Pau Hana Patrol: Luibueno’s
BY MINDY PENNYBAKER / firstname.lastname@example.org
Pau Hana Patrol first visited (and enjoyed) Luibueno’s in 2010, shortly after its opening by owners Luis Silva, a Californian of Mexican descent, and his wife, Taryn. Since then the early happy hour, or “horas buenos,” has moved back an hour, and the menu has changed a bit, as well.
LUIBUENO’S MEXICAN AND LATIN CUISINE
66-165 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa
We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and were led to a table for two in the half-full bar area that occupies the lower tier of the large, split-level restaurant. It was May 6, and the clientele, a mix of locals and visitors, was still in a festive Cinco de Mayo mood.
Luibueno’s ambience and decor recall Baja California, which shares a kinship with Hawaii in its surf and fishing culture and volcanic landscape. As in a true Mexican cantina, the interior is dark and cavelike, though windows let in light.
Soft music alternated between mariachi, bossa nova, salsa and rock, and the color scheme was warm adobe yellow, red and orange. Artwork included bullfight and surf posters, a velvet painting of Elvis in white jumpsuit and eagle belt buckle, and a photo of Clint Eastwood in serape and cowboy hat.
By 5:45 nearly all of the nine or so tables in the bar were taken.
Overall, the service was prompt and friendly; complimentary house-made chips and salsa arrived just after we were seated.
A knowledgeable and gracious hostess answered questions about the food and drink; our waitress, however, was less experienced and somewhat challenged when it came to fitting the food platters onto the little tabletop. A small plate for each individual would help.
Luibueno’s offered a generous selection of happy-hour drinks at reduced prices.
My companion, who spent much of his youth exploring Baja California, ordered the Classic Margarita, $6 (normally $8), and pronounced the greenish pour of lime juice and tequila on the rocks to be an authentic Mexican classic, in contrast to the commonly served ice-blended style. “It’s so nice to have a margarita without an ice cream headache,” he said.
He was also impressed by the selections of tequila and mescal, but prudently followed the margarita with a Negro Modelo beer on tap, $3.50 (normally $5.50).
Always on the hunt for a decent house white wine, I was pleased with the complex, above-average Dark Horse chardonnay for $5 (normally $7).
I asked the hostess about the sangria ($6), but giving a look that seemed to size me up, she advised it might be a bit too strong after the wine. What about a martini?
I ordered the Pama-tini, made with Pama pomegranate liqueur and fresh lime juice. It was big, chilled, dark pink and not too sweet. For happy hour, this and other specialty martinis (made with Seagram’s vodka), such as the Passion-tini, were $2 off the regular price.
High-quality, low-priced, Baja-style Mexican dishes rocked this happy hour. All arrived within a half-hour of ordering. We filled up in classic heavy pupu style, yet the dishes were prettily composed and made with fresh, largely local ingredients.
The catch of the day was mahimahi, which we enjoyed three ways.
The mahi in the Ceviche ($6), three tostadas topped with citrus-cooked fish, avocado and pico de gallo, summoned the memory of the delicious, tender ceviche we once ate in Loreto, then a tiny Baja hamlet on the Sea of Cortez. The big, flaky mahi fillets in the San Felipe-style beer-battered fish taco ($3.50) had the rich crunch of fish and chips.
The mahi tacos in an order of six Mexican Street Tacos came in bite-size pieces that showcased the freshness of the fish. We mixed different varieties of tacos in one order (for a total of $12 at $2 each). All came heaped with shredded green and red cabbage; no need to order salad.
Chalupas tacos, almost overfilled with braised beef brisket over red salsa, were tender and well spiced. The Al Pastor tacos contained achiote-marinated pork with grilled onion, pineapple and cilantro, a delicious idea, but the cubed rather than traditional shredded pork, though tasty, was rather dry, and one taco tasted much sweeter than the other.
“For once, I don’t have to sit in a dusty parking lot to order a real street taco,” my companion said. I was too full to try the vegetarian Taco de Papa ($3.50), a big schmear of mashed potato and cooked cabbage. My date pronounced it “bland” but said it “will get you through the night if you are a thin yoga-tarian.”
We rolled out of the cantina feeling that all was, well, “bueno.” We had made a filling dinner out of heavy pupu. And the night was still young.
Luibueno’s generous “horas buenos” offerings, mellow atmosphere and rapid, good-humored service are a rich reward for starting the weekend early. If you can’t make it there before 6 p.m., there’s always the late happy hour from 9:30-10:30 p.m., which is also available Saturday and Sunday nights.
We can’t wait to go back and try the other pau hana specials.