The little courtyard in Makawao, where Habibi popped up next door to the Rodeo General, is gorgeous. This is good because the Middle Eastern restaurant, the name of which loosely translates as “my friend” or “my beloved,” serves equally gorgeous and delicious food.
After a few years behind the wheel of the Habibi food truck, Michael Worrell decided to look for a more permanent spot. Worrell grew up in Saudi Arabia, and those flavors stuck with him.
“The food, I just was missing it,” says Worrell. “These are flavors I like, what I grew up with. I lived in Dhahran. We used to take family vacations to Maui. It started when I was five. I have been here 15 years now. I was a boat captain, but a couple years ago I quit the boat and started a food truck–Habibi.”
Worrell sold the food truck, then found a spot for a restaurant. At the time, it was an overgrown patch in Makawao. He cleared the bamboo and put gravel down and added some open-air seating. After putting in specialty plants and sculptures, his garden dining spot was complete. The Makawao climate is perfect for this al fresco restaurant. The dining room sits on the ridge and the back wall is a bamboo thicket, which means there’s plenty of cool upcountry breeze rustling by.
“This place worked out,” says Worrell. “There was nothing here. It had been sitting forever. I worked out a deal with the property manager that I would clean it up. He let me do what I wanted, which was really nice.”
The menu is fantastic. By moving to a permanent location, he’s been able to expand his old food truck menu. Habibi offers mezza plates, pizzas, fries, salads, breads and shawarmas. The mezza plates were my favorite because they include a mix of everything, like a sampler platter. They come in vegan ($14), vegetarian ($14), fish ($15) or the Al Souq ($16), which includes falafel balls, lamb, chicken, fried cauliflower, hummus, tabouleh, toum, tahina, mixed greens, feta, saffron rice and pita.
“The lamb shawarmas and the Al Souq are the favorites,” says Worrell. “Those are number one, they have a little bit of everything. We make the tahini from scratch–it’s all organic. The hummus, too. The falafels are organic and gluten-free–we make them with garbanzo flour. The pita we make fresh daily here, too. The pizza dough, too.”
The pizzas are baked to order so the menu asks that you allow 15 to 20 minutes when ordering one. They are tasty thin crust, spiced versions of the familiar favorite, with toppings like roasted lamb and tahini sauce, creamy garlic with red peppers and onions and roasted chicken with feta and mac nuts ($10-14).
The spicy Imshi fries ($6) are tossed in herbs and spices, then topped with mozzarella, tabouleh, tahina and sriracha, for a very different version of hurricane fries. They can also put spices and sauces on the side if you prefer.
The shawarmas are Mediterranean sandwiches. The lamb shawarma is slow-broiled halal lamb marinated in the house spice blend. This tender savory meat is dropped into a housemade pita and surrounded by toum, lettuce, pickles and tabouli. The plate comes with saffron rice, mixed greens and tahini dressing ($14). Other shawarma offerings are fish, chicken, falafel and the al hadiya, a mixture of the meats ($12-14). Their chicken is also slow-broiled chicken marinated in the house spices. I can’t decide which I like more, each is elegant in its own way.
Habibi also offers salad dishes like tabouli, tabouleh, chickpea fatoush and Saudi salad ($6-11). The have a selection of housemade breads ($6-8) like sambousic, described as savory dough filled with onion and stuffed with Greek feta and mozzarella, garnished in tomato and parsley with tahina. The housemade pita is served with spices and oil and zaater bread, savory dough with olive oil, zaatar spices and toasted sesame and mozzarella.
Worrell says any of the dishes can be made without garlic, if you prefer. The desserts are baklava ($3), a traditional filo dough with almonds and mac nuts, honey and rose water, and loukoumades ($6), which are fried dough fingers tossed in nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar and glazed with orange blossom honey. They’re a perfectly sweet way to round out a meal.
When they first opened, they were open for dinner, but staffing changes mean their hours are now just 11am to 3pm daily. They do stay open into the night for Third Friday town parties, and offer entertainment.
“I’m training another cook right now, but I’m here right now most days,” says Worrell. “We’re going to try to open up for the night time again. Third Fridays have been great. We have belly dancers here, they do a couple sets. It’s really nice.”
3655 Baldwin Ave., Makawao