By Anni Caporuscio
I may be the luckiest girl ever, because my favorite food is a burger; say what you will. Holo Holo Paniolo Grill is a specialty burger house tucked in the Roxy Building, in the heart of Old Kapa‘a Town.
Paniolo Grill’s burgers are the kind that expand my notions of burger and make me thankful my favorite food is not a static creature but an ever-evolving treat.
In short, I’ve never had a burger like this one.
What makes it special is what Hilda “Tiki” Morales-Widmer brings from her background of Mexican cooking. She and husband Bard Widmer are no strangers to the restaurant industry; they own and operate Tiki Taco, a busy taqueria a few blocks south.
There is a long connection between Mexican culture and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) culture. Mexican cattlemen from what later would become the State of California introduced horsemanship and cattle ranching to the Hawaiian islands. In an effort to tame and herd their gifted cows, the Hawaiian king invited the best cattlemen available. Those vaqueros brought their culture and cuisine to Hawa‘i. Even the Hawaiian word “paniolo” comes from “Espaniola.”
Between Tiki Tacos and Paniolo, Bard and Tiki employ a full-time butcher. The meat, prime Kaua‘i-raised grass-fed beef, comes from rancher Willie Sanchez. Tiki seasons the meat to give it a savory Mexican flair. Traditional condiments seem to be a hard and fast rule for burgers, but here they are obsolete. Tiki’s sauces include smoked jalapeno, pineapple, double chili and Mexican herbs. The sauces get smothered on the patties to make a delicious mess.
Every week, the butcher separates the prime rib and T-bone steaks, and Tiki will make a local special. It could be a steak special or a seasoned roast, depending on what the farmers have. Call ahead to see what’s coming out of the family style kitchen.
They also serve lamb, chicken, fish and vegetarian burgers too. And you can turn any burger into a salad, with the meat served on local greens. You can also get the sauces on your lamb, chicken, fish and veggies.
All burgers are served with Hawaiian sweet potatoes and yams, and when in season, ‘ulu fries! Bard and Tiki said it is important for them to use food readily available in Hawai‘i. They also want to provide good food for an average fare that won’t break your bank.
Paniolo has a large covered patio and seating area, which is a perfect venue for events. Though they are open only for lunch now, you can book the restaurant for your music and special parties. And come hungry.
Find Paniolo Grill at 4-1345 Kuhio Hwy in Kapa‘a. To call ahead, 822-4656. Open Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.