Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Paniolos

Restaurant Insider

July 28, 2019

Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Anne Lee, left, and Paniolos co-owner Sara Lufrano display some of the eatery’s fresh, healthy food items.

ANNE LEE speaks with co-owner SARA LUFRANO

Serving up Mexican food with a local twist, Paniolos implements local ingredients to bring fresh, healthy options to Hawaii residents and visitors. Husband and wife duo Chris and Sara Lufrano — also owners of the popular Aloha Salads — opened Paniolos first location in Kailua five years ago and after much success, expanded to a second location at Kapolei Commons in March 2019.

The restaurant offers customers a build-your-own burrito, taco or bowl by pointing at the options behind the counter — think Chipotle, but local. The four-step process starts diners off with picking a base, like salad or Mexican rice; then step two is beans; step three is protein (which includes organic tofu sauteed with chipotle and adobo sauce); and last but not least, toppings.

Sara Lufrano shares more of what customers can expect at Paniolos, so strap on those boots as we learn more about its roots!

Assorted Tacos ($10.50) three with organic chicken, grilled steak and Tofurico

AL: What makes the restaurant stand out from other restaurants on the island?

SL: We are something really healthy, we are trying to make Mexican food healthy. All of our beans are made from scratch every day and we do not use cans of beans or anything processed. There are also no preservatives, we use organic chicken and organic tofu, grass fed beef. Everything is made fresh every day. We grill our tomatoes to make the salsa, puree them with peppers and garlic that is charred. Additionally, we use only fresh avocado in the guacamole.

AL: What is Paniolos’ mission? SL: In the 1800s, real cowboys were hired by the Hawaiian royalty to teach the Hawaiians how to train cattle and horses. The term Paniolo was given to these Hawaiian cowboys by the Mexican/ Spanish cowboys. With the Mexican/Spanish influence, we named the restaurant Paniolos as it made sense to reference the Hawaiian cowboys and tie that into the relationship with the Mexican food. We care about the environment, local and healthy, good quality food for our customers — this is what your mom or grandma would make, at an affordable price.

AL: What are some customer favorites?

SL: The Paniolo steak, the refried beans, organic chicken and the homemade salsas. Also, the Tofu-rico™ we created, and it’s trademarked — it’s homemade tofu grilled, and sauteed with chipotle peppers.

AL: Anything else you’d like to share?

SL: We have a great keiki meal, for $6.95, you have a choice of beans, rice and protein, a quesadilla and bottle of water.

We are fortunate to be busy every day, especially since we offer a quality meal option at an affordable price. We are not like the traditional restaurants that we are busy on holidays, our busiest days are Mondays, believe it or not — maybe because people want to get back to eating healthy after splurging on the weekend.

AL: Any fun facts most people wouldn’t know about the restaurant?

SL: If you look at the photos in the restaurant, these are actual paniolos/Hawaiian cowboys from back in the day the Paniolo Preservation Society on the Big Island shared with us. One of the coolest things about my job is when customers come into the restaurant and they see old relatives and get emotional and tear up seeing them on the wall, being remembered. These are images of real local people, and they do not get to be remembered too often.

Paniolo Steak


• 2 pounds grass-fed Kualoa Ranch stew or chuck flap beef
• 1 piece red bell pepper
• 1 piece green bell pepper
• 1/2 a red onion
• 1/2 a yellow onion
• 4 garlic cloves
• 1/2 a fresh jalapeno
• 1 can beef broth
• 1 lime
• 3 pieces dried chipotle peppers
• Hawaiian salt to taste
• Pepper to taste
• Water


Cut bell peppers, jalapeno and onions into slices. Saute them in olive oil and sea salt with peeled and chopped garlic cloves. Place in the bottom of a pan deep enough for the beef. Sear the beef with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Place beef in pan. Add beef broth, juice from the lime, dried chipotle peppers and enough water so the beef is half immersed in liquid.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 hours. (Check periodically to make sure liquid is still present, topping off if needed.) Cool. Skim any fat off the top. Shred the beef. Return to the remaining juices to keep moist.

Kailua, HI 96734

Kapolei, HI 96707

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