When Jamie and Olga Betham bought the Paia restaurant Picnics in 2003, they probably didn’t realize they were picking up a piece of Paia culture. They soon learned that, and wholeheartedly embraced the idea, spending the next few years perfecting Cafe Mambo into their little corner of North Shore culinary heaven. This month, Cafe Mambo celebrates its 10th birthday by offering customers a little slice of paradise–a weekend Makena Resort giveaway.
The best way to qualify is to go the restaurant for a taste of what they offer. While they no longer serve the spinach nut burgers that made Picnics such a hot spot for health nuts in the ’80s, they offer a contemporary menu with touches of Mediterranean, Spanish and American cuisine. The cafe can still pack picnic lunches for trips to Hana that you pick up and they serve from 8am to 9pm, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“At first, our menu was hard to explain because restaurants tend to be labeled as one type of cuisine,” says Olga Betham. “But we offer foods from everywhere we have traveled, or any dish we love. We’ve managed to perfect the recipes with a unique twist. We serve the best Mexican fajitas with generous homemade sauces and innovative fillings like Kalua pork, crispy duck and ancho-chilli Maui Cattle Co. steak. We also brought some recipes from my Spanish family like the popular Tia Concha Chicken, served with aromatic couscous and our famous paella that we’re asked to cook for catering events. We have a whole section of Spanish tapas and Hawaiian specials like the garlic shrimp mixed plate, too.”
Their innovations extend to their dining room, which combines sophisticated European and breezy tropical aesthetic. Bench seats with pillows line one wall, and there are window seats to sit in as well. The walls are brightly painted and adorned with local art. The art hangs for three months, then new local artists get to sell their creations. The restaurant does a lot in their limited space. It’s a cozy set-up, whether you take a seat at the bar or by the window.
“We recently had to expand our bar area to accommodate seating because we had so many customers telling us that sometimes they want to enjoy our cocktails but they don’t have time for a whole meal and they feel bad taking a table when there are people waiting to eat,” says Olga. “Now, they can sit at the bar and enjoy our Top Shelf margaritas made with fresh orange juice and lime juice, no chemical, sweet and sour mixes here. Our bartenders are so popular that people wait to sit at the bar and have their meal there. During Happy Hour, the whole restaurant and bar get discounted beers, wine and cocktails and our special is a Maui Brewing Co. beer and burger for $10.95. We were the first ones in Paia to start offering Maui Brewing Co. on tap and that created a whole following on its own.”
At first Cafe Mambo didn’t offer burgers because you can find so many of them at other restaurants. But their kept playing with the recipe. Eventually, they released an organic beef burger that’s served with salsa and mayo. They also offer organic tofu, ahi, fish of the day, duck, Kalua pork and add-ons like pineapple, feta, mushrooms, bleu cheese, grilled onions, jalapenos, bacon and guac. During my most recent visit there were also offering the locally made Life Foods super-vegan, gluten- and soy-free burger. All their burgers come with fries or a salad, and are served on a bakery-made sesame seed bun with red onion, lettuce and tomato.
Mambo also offers a tasty list of sandwiches on Focaccia. The fish of the day is my favorite, and is served with grilled fish and tartar, but the shrimp sandwich with curry mayo, organic steak and bleu cheese, BLT and falafel are all great gourmet options, too. Their salad list offers nearly all of the same proteins as the burgers and sandwiches, and their mixed greens are perfect for gluten-free options. The fajita list offers one- and two-person options, for ultimate fajita family plates.
Mambo is also known for their special couscous plates with veggie stew, Tia Concha Chicken, lamb or shrimp, if you’re looking for a hearty, warm meal. At dinner, the menu offers more tapas selections than they offer at lunch. The paella, tapas platter, onion rings with curry dip, seafood platter and Mambo nachos are just a few of the notable dishes to share and try.
Breakfast starts at 8am and they offer a sensational menu of burritos and quesadillas, made-to-order omelets, breakfast sandwiches on ciabatta, croissants and bagels. American breakfasts with pancakes, waffles, eggs and toast are also represented, and they have smoothies and espresso drinks, too.
All that is great, but once you’ve tried the duck, it’s really hard to order other dishes. They have a special preparation that Olga says is labor intensive but worth it because they’ve created a lot of duck fans out there. The meat is roasted until it’s very tender and they pick it off the bone so all you get is perfectly seasoned, shredded, crispy duck meat. They serve that in every prep on the menu to make it that much more tempting. Duck salad, burger, fajita, nachos–you name it, they can make it with their duck. Olga says she’s working on a cookbook for Cafe Mambo just because of the numerous requests for the duck recipes.
All Cafe Mambo’s food is hearty but healthy. Part of their success has been appealing to the water and wind athletes that visit and populate the North Shore. Their menu and style is growing–indeed, four years ago they opened on the East Coast with the Westhampton Cafe Mambo. They have plans to open other locations on Oahu, California and Hood River in the future.
“We are so excited to celebrate our 10 years in Paia that we wanted to spread more Aloha than ever,” says Olga. “A big part of our mission is to give back to our community and we have donated thousands of dollars to local charities and events. Our anniversary celebration is all about our customers. You can win a two-night, three-day stay at the Makena Beach Resort. All you have to do is to give us your email address so we can let you know if you are the lucky one on Nov. 1. I take my family to the Makena Beach Resort every time I can take a couple of days off because it’s an absolute hidden gem.”