One of the great things about having a kid on Maui is that it gives you an airtight excuse to float whale-like in the waters of Paia’s Baby Beach without looking like a drunken weirdo (even if you are).
Here’s another great thing: after you’re done doing your inebriated monk seal impression, Paia is a most excellent place to grab some grinds.
We’ve profiled a number of the town’s choice eateries in these pages (some more than once), but I was surprised to see we haven’t yet given serious ink to Café Mambo.
Tucked away on Baldwin Ave. just off Paia’s main drag, Mambo is one of those places where you feel a little cooler (and we’re not just talking AC) the moment you walk in the door. Eye-catching art lines the walls. Pockets of happy Paia people—locals and tourists alike, many with the requisite long hair and flowing clothing—occupy the tables and couch-like booths. Above the counter, a sign announces they’ve got Maui Brew Co. beer on tap. (That last one is what won me over, in case you were wondering where my priorities lie.)
OK, so what about the food? Sometimes establishments of this ilk lure you in with booze and a catchy décor, only to reveal when it’s too late to break for the exit that the food is substandard.
No worries: Mambo passes the taste bud test, with extra credit for creativity. Take the BLT, a pretty standard bit of café fare by which you can usually establish a baseline of culinary competence. All you really need is for the bacon to be crispy, the tomatoes to be fresh and the whole thing to arrive warm and something less than soggy. Mambo hits all those marks, but adds a twist by serving the sandwich on focaccia. I admit I was skeptical, but after wolfing down the last bite I’m a convert. Where in most cases the bread is just a vehicle for the B, L and T, here it brings enough to the party to earn it’s own initial—I hereby move Mambo’s BLT be re-christened the “BLFT.” Who’s with me?
Feel like venturing off the beaten path? Try the crispy duck burger. Served with melted cheddar and a sweet-but-not-too sweet sauce, the thing resembles a pulled-pork sandwich more than a burger. Either way, it’s delicious.
Our resident vegan settled on the tofu fajitas, which, like the various carnivore-friendly fajitas, come with warm flour tortillas, salsa, guac, jalapenos, feta cheese, lettuce and black beans. While I don’t consume it regularly, I’m not some tofu-phobic Neanderthal. In many ways it’s just like chicken: mostly flavorless. This makes preparation vital. Here the tofu gets an assist from the tag team of nori and sesame. It’s pleasing if not overwhelming, which is fine considering all the other ingredients you’ve got to play with.
In addition to the local beer on tap, thirsty souls can indulge in an array of cocktails, including what I’m told is a killer margarita. All libations are half price every day during the 3-6pm happy hour.
One more cool thing that’s worth mentioning is Mambo’s weekly cinema night. Every Thursday a different film is screened; the titles are eclectic and the atmosphere is casual but semi-serious—people actually come to watch the movies, so the dialogue isn’t drowned out by drunken chatter. (For info on upcoming films or to request your favorite flick, visit cafemambomaui.com.) MTW