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Pau Hana Patrol: Don’t overlook Cactus
BY NINA WU / email@example.com
Unless you know where it is, Cactus is easy to pass by without realizing it, occupying an inconspicuous corner in a historic building at Kailua Road and Hamakua Drive. And unless you know what it is — a bistro celebrating the cuisines of Central and South America with a little Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico thrown in, using local ingredients — you might think it was a Tex-Mex eatery.
767 Kailua Rd. (Davis Building, parking is in back off of Hamakua Drive)
Happy hour (Tiempo Mucho Gusto):
Cactus is actually a pleasant discovery once you walk in the door, with great cocktails and “pinchos,” or small tapas-style plates, during its afternoon happy hour.
Think frozen sangrias, margaritas and small plates with fresh, local ingredients packed with flavors you won’t likely find elsewhere.
The Cactus Frozen Sangria is a refreshing respite, served up granita style with red wine, limoncello, brandy and fresh local fruits. At just $3 you can’t go wrong with this generous-sized sangria to start off your pau hana right.
Though the Mango Mojito costs more at $8, I found myself savoring this minty cocktail made with house-made simple syrup, Maui rum, local mangoes, soda water and lime. Cactus also offers a Roasted Pineapple Mojito, which I definitely want to try the next time around.
If you’re going to Cactus’s happy hour, dubbed “Tiempo Mucho Gusto,” you won’t want to miss the pinchos to accompany your drinks.
It’s an ideal way to sample the appetizers from the menu at half-price if you haven’t committed to trying dinner there yet.
The Cactus guacamole ($11; $5.50 happy hour) is made from organic avocados from Poamoho on the North Shore and comes with thick, freshly made chips and three kinds of salsas — from mild to roasted chipotle to spicy. It will fill you up.
Another unique plate is the “croquetas”($4; $2 happy hour) filled with local squash, Big Island goat cheese, roasted Hauula tomatoes and chipotle chili sauce. The melted cheese mingles with the spices while staying crisp on the outside, making this plate a tasty, textured treat.
The smoked Jidori Chicken Coyotas ($7; $3.50 happy hour) is a meal in itself — presented festively like a roll cut in half at an angle, and a crisp, outer layer filled with chicken, Cotija cheese and tomatillos over an avocado salsa and vegetable escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables and red chilies) — wonderful, bold flavors that will make your mouth pop.
Simple, but not to be underestimated, was the platter of manzanilla olives ($5; $2.50 during happy hour) in olive oil, black garlic and grilled tomato bread — a perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine.
Seating at Cactus can either be indoor or outdoors on a lanai, where you’ll see traffic passing by on its way from the Pali into Kailua town.
The indoors offers a small, casual bar area and tables and chairs inside a cozy space — some folks may remember it as the former Nohea Island Arts.
The decor is festive, with carnival masks, colorful paintings and contemporary-style lighting — plus plenty of natural light from the windows, making the space feel open and welcoming despite the fact that the tables are set pretty close together. It wasn’t crowded that day during happy hour, and chances are it usually isn’t.
You just might strike up a conversation with the folks dining next to you. Val and Patricia Sitarz of Kailua were checking out happy hour at Cactus for the first time.
They were looking for some of the Latin flavors of Spain, where he’s from, as well as South America, where they’ve lived as well, and were delighted with what they found.
It isn’t always easy to find Latin flavors on Oahu, according to Val, or places serving plates tapas style. He thought, from the name at first, that Cactus offered Southwestern cuisine. They said they’d be back.
When the bill came, it was a pleasant surprise to find that two cocktails and four pinchos only added up to about $25. So happy hour at Cactus is not only a great place to try these new flavors, but also to get a bang for your buck.