Kailua’s New Mahaloha Burger Serves Big Island Beef with Local Produce and Brews
Mahaloha Burger opened a second location, in Kailua.
An assortment of burgers offered at Mahaloha Burger.
Photos: Gus Downes
It’s difficult to identify that watershed moment, when Kailua turned from a sleepy residential neighborhood to an upscale tourist destination.
There was the closing of Don Quijote, the arrival of Target and the construction of the Ka Malanai condos that average $793,000. It could’ve been the day Whole Foods opened, or the point when getting a table at Boots and Kimo’s started taking two hours instead of one. Or maybe it was the moment Kāne‘ohe Ranch set up a tour bus stop in the Longs parking lot.
That last change is what prompted Mahaloha Burger owner Jesse Aguinaldo to open his second location of the restaurant in Kailua. The original is in the food court of the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikīkī. Aguinaldo estimates that 60 to 70 percent of his clientele are tourists from Japan. There’s even a selfie machine when you step through the door.
While the clientele may be mostly tourists (for now, at least), Aguinaldo takes pride in sourcing locally as much as he can. The burgers are made from 100-percent Big Island beef, and much of the produce is locally grown. He’s even serving local brews on tap.
Left: Parmaroni Fries with Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog. Right: Owner Jesse Aguinaldo with a Blue Cheese Bacon Burger.
The real standouts are the burger and hot dog buns, baked special by The Patisserie bakery downtown. The buns are just sweet enough, griddle-crisped in butter before serving, and hold up to any amount of sauce without losing structural integrity.
The best item on the menu is the standard Mahaloha burger. It’s the classic: all-beef patty, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, tomatoes. The house-made sauces are rich and flavorful, without being greasy. With so many other flavors and textures in the burger, the meat itself seems relegated to a backup role, but it’s still good. The flavors get muddled, but, who cares? It’s a rich, messy, satisfying handful of food.
Mahaloha also makes a loco moco burger. The gravy and egg make it soft, mellow and rich. If you insist on adding toppings, consider bacon, but skip the cheese.
The side orders pair up well. The fries stay crispy even after they’ve cooled and can be topped with parmesan and pepperoni. Sweet potato fries come with a sweet apricot sauce with the texture and sweetness of applesauce. It’s initially cloying, but hard to stop eating. Bacon-wrapped hot dogs come extra crispy. Aguinaldo says they’re working on finding a way to get the hot dogs made with Big Island beef, but they haven’t yet.
Everything tastes as if it was created for the moment when you crave carbs and fat and salt and meat. It’s a tasty addition to a changing neighborhood.
143 Hekili St. Suite 150, Kailua, 263-2777. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.