In a seven-hour plane ride from Denver to Honolulu, hop onto a taxi and head straight to Chinatown. Mabuhay Café and Restaurant, located at the heart of Chinatown, will welcome you with aromas from the native dishes from the Philippines such as Sinigang and Pinakbet.
Considered one of the oldest Filipino restaurant on the island, the menu selection at this restaurant is like eating Lola’s home-cooked food. The Filipino menu highlights include the Shrimp Sarciado, a rich, savory dish with a tomato-based soup with shrimp and vegetables, such as tomatoes, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. Then, accompany the dish with rice and it’s unbeatable. Another entree is the Pusit Adobo or Squid Adobo. The squid is cooked just right. Mabuhay cooks it so it’s not chewy. The soup for the Pusit Adobo is just a perfect adobo balance…not too sour, not too salty. Then with rice, the dish is amazing. Fried Silet, pork intestines with a garlic vinegar dip, is better described as crunchy pork rinds. While most restaurants skip cleaning the intestines, the cooks of Mabuhay thoroughly cleaned out the intestines. Don’t want to be an adventuresome diner, this restaurant offers a number of familiar, flavorful dishes, including Pork Adobo, Chicken Mami and Lumpia, that are more widely served on the mainland. Some of the house specialties, such as Poached Fish with Watercress, and Pork Paria will probably appeal to open-minded diners Don’t forget to end your entrée with the delicious and sweet halo halo, a dessert to end a perfect meal.
Admittedly, the outside of this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is sketchy. If you can get over the lack of ambience on the outside, this place is just fine inside. The red checkered tablecloth is a nice touch to something borrowed from the time the restaurant started back in 1963. A juke box, filled with a variety of music, stands on the corner. Forget intimate seating, sharing tables is the way to go for family-style dining and large groups of extended family. Posters of Manny Paquiao hangs on one wall while piles of Asian newspapers sit at the entrance. Other considerations are parking for diners. Die-hard diners will search for the hard-to-find parking spaces. The restaurant does not offer dedicated spaces for their customers. Most parking spaces can be found on meters, so bring lots of change.
Traveler’s Tip: To secure undivided attention and available seating, eat between lunch and dinner – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The wait staff is so accommodating that if you choose not order dish because of unwanted ingredient, the cook will comply graciously and remove it. Or don’t want to deal with peeling shrimp, the wait staff will offer to remove the crustacean’s shells. The attentive wait staff is reminiscent of fussy, indulgent Filipino aunties. If you miss Lola’s home-cooked, head over to Mabuhay Café & Restaurant for authentic cuisine from the Philippines. Mabuhay’is the rare restaurant that gets something so deceptively simple yet technically difficult.
Mabuhay Café & Restaurant
1049 River St
Honolulu, HI 96817
10 am to 10 pm daily
Average cost of meal is $10.
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I dedicate this article to my girlfriends, who are survivors of breast cancer.