Bite Into Bodacious Burgers And MoreInside Feature
November 25, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Mahaloha Burger
When he was still a kid, Jesse Aguinaldo learned to cook from an old-school chef at Kenny’s, the late, lamented Kalihi restaurant that served as a cornerstone of Kamehameha Shopping Center for nearly five decades.
“He taught me to make everything from scratch — how to use a knife, cook stews, cut oxtails …” remembers Aguinaldo, who now owns Mahaloha Burger. “The apprenticeship was great.”
Aguinaldo left for business management school at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, scoring a job at the California Hotel. He was eventually promoted to sous chef at the brand-new Cal Club Snack Bar. “I opened that place using local recipes I’d learned at Kenny’s,” says Aguinaldo. “It was there for 30 years.”
At the end of a long, exciting career in Vegas that also included stints at Boyd Gaming and Carl Icahn’s Stratosphere Corporation, Aguinaldo came home to Hawaii and launched Mahaloha Burger. Why a burger joint? “Because burgers are what people want,” notes Aguinaldo. “Everybody understands burgers.”
After learning the tricks of the trade in Kenny’s humble kitchen and honing his skills in Vegas, Aguinaldo has come up with a winning hand. The burgers at Mahaloha Burger are simply delectable. For starters, they’re made with 100 percent grass-fed Big Island beef, available in classic configurations and in craft burger designs that bring delicious local flavors to the table.
Each burger begins with an artisanal locally-made bun dressed with house-made sauce — Dijon mayo, French mayo, lemon caper mayo, or the house special Happy Sauce. And for a little extra, you can customize your burger with a variety of toppings that include jalapenos, cheese sauce and sauerkraut. On top of the flavorful options, the burgers are reasonably priced (one-third pound burgers range from about $7 to $9, while combos range from about $12 to $14) — prices vary by location.
Avocado Swiss Burger ($7.95) made with Big Island avocados, when they’re available, is a favorite at Mahaloha’s Kailua location, where customers favor traditional burgers. “At Ala Moana Center, the Blue Cheese Bacon Burger ($7.95) is one of our biggest sellers,” reports Aguinaldo. “In Waikiki, it’s the Loco Moco Burger ($7.45), because tourists love to try it.”
At all three of Mahaloha’s locations, Pineapple Teri Combo ($7.95 burger, additional $3.95 for fries and drink) served with fries and a drink, has emerged as a serious crowd-pleaser. The fusion of teriyaki sauce, a ring of fresh grilled pineapple, and Big Island beef is perfectly enhanced by a side of Mahaloha’s fries.
There are fries galore at Mahaloha — truffle fries, bacon cheese fries, fancy tater tots, and something Aguinaldo calls Parmeroni fries, which are tossed with herbs, Parmesan and sliced pepperoni. And the sandwiches here are every bit as tempting as the burgers. Some options on the menu are chicken katsu, mahimahi, grilled chicken and turkey.
Mahaloha’s similarly spectacular hot dogs begin, like the burgers, with locally-baked rolls. “We grill both sides with butter, then we add our bacon-wrapped dog … or our Loco Moco dog … or our chili dog, with chili cooked with Big Island beef just like our burgers,” says Aguinaldo. “We try to keep it Hawaii as much as possible.”