Wrangle Tasty, Fresh ChoicesCover Story
October 13, 2019
Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
Paniolos Hawaii is quickly lassoing a loyal following as diners look forward to fresh, healthy and local ingredients that compose ono Mexican-inspired dishes with a local flair.
The paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy, carries a long-honored legacy that dates back for centuries. The restaurant honors the paniolo culture by showcasing historic photos of legendary paniolo, and utilizing grass-fed beef from Hawaii ranchers with the goal of perpetuating a healthy lifestyle for diners to enjoy throughout each made-to-order selection.
The husband-and-wife ownership team of Chris and Sara Lufrano opened Paniolos at its original Kailua location five years ago, rolled out the Kapolei restaurant in March of this year, and earlier this month, opened the third fast-casual location in Kahala Mall next to its sister company, Aloha Salads.
“If you look at the photos in the restaurant, these are actual paniolos from back in the day that the Paniolo Preservation Society on the Big Island shared with us,” says Sara Lufrano. “One of the coolest things about my job is when customers come into the restaurant and they see relatives and get emotional and tear up seeing them on the wall, being remembered.”
At Paniolos, diners are encouraged to design and build delicious burritos crafted with flour tortillas, bowls and tacos built with three corn tortillas filled with fresh, flavorful ingredients. Guests start by selecting a “base” of cilantro lime white rice, cilantro lime brown rice or romaine hearts. Up next, it’s a selection of beans: pinto, black or refried.
Guests then choose their desired protein from a robust lineup that includes: Grilled Veggies ($9.75); “Tofurico” ($9.95), a trademarked Paniolos protein sauteed with chipotle peppers and adobo sauce; Organic Chicken ($10.75); Kalua Pig ($10.25) cooked slowly in ti leaves and Hawaiian salt; Paniolo Steak ($10.75); or Grilled Steak ($10.75) prepared in Paniolos’ special lime marinade. To complete the meal, it’s time to select toppings with a choice of cheese or sour cream and salsa, as well as one’s choice of two of the following: onions, cilantro, jalapenos, limes, greens and guacamole ($2.25 extra).
Paniolos sources its ingredients locally, including grass-fed beef from the Big Island and Kualoa Ranch and flavorful island-grown produce, while its black and pinto beans as well as the salsas and guacamole are made fresh in house.
Taste the Made-From-Scratch Difference
As it serves a healthy-yet-delicious approach to Mexican cuisine, Paniolos is “wowing” diners with its approach to preparing each made-to-order favorite. The restaurant’s black and pinto beans are prepared from scratch (no cans here!), and the salsa is made by grilling fresh tomatoes that are pureed with peppers and garlic, which is charred to bring out even more flavor. Of course, fresh avocado in the guacamole comes through in each flavorful bite.