Stroll Over to Mahina & Sun’s for a New Dinner Menu and Distinctive Drinks

The retro-style eatery in the Surfjack Hotel serves elevated comfort foods and live music with a vibe that will bring me back to Waikīkī.


Mahina Suns Crudo Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke


Until recently, I’d been averse to venturing into Waikīkī. Apart from visiting a few usual haunts, or to play tourist when friends were visiting, I generally stayed away. Perhaps it was the years I spent working in the area, but sometimes just the thought of throngs of tourists on foot crowding every crosswalk made me shudder. These days—likely because of my work with Frolic—I have a newfound openness and seek out local-friendly gems in Waikīkī: chill places with easy-to-find parking, reasonable prices, thoughtfully prepared food and an enjoyable ambience. Food and atmosphere is at the top of the list since it is Waikīkī, after all, and one must roll with the punches. When I heard that former Town chef Erik Leong was at Mahina & Sun’s rolling out a new dinner menu, I accepted an invitation to check it out.


Walking into the hotel, I realized that I’d forgotten how cute The Surfjack is. I stayed there when it first opened and remember feeling comforted by the cozy layout, mid-century modern details and live plants everywhere. What I don’t recall are any meals. That’s about the change.


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The sun is going down as we cozy up to the bar and start chatting with bar manager Christian Taibi. We swap stories of New York bars, including the legendary Tunnel where Taibi worked before arriving in the Islands, while we review the tiki-inspired menu. I’m intrigued by the Tia Mia ($16), a twist on a mai tai made with rum from Ghana and Casamigos mezcal. We also try the Viva La Vida ($16),  a frothy concoction of Banks Journal cold brew and tequila finished with fresh grated chocolate. The Tia Mia is served in a clay pot with crushed ice and finished with a piece of burning cinnamon—the scent of which is intoxicating. Creamy orgeat bridges the smooth, smokey mezcal with pops of lime coming through, finished by a healthy bouquet of fragrant mint. I would definitely recommend it to both mezcal and mai tai lovers. The Viva La Vida is creamy without being rich. The bitterness of the cold brew balances the tequila nicely, making it dangerously sippable. With our pleasant cocktail hour still lingering on the palate, we’re ready to eat.


Mahina Suns Tia Mia Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke


We are seated at a table overlooking the bright blue pool, with the message “Wish You Were Here” shining under the water as an endearing detail. I’ve known the chef, Leong, for some time—we both worked at Town during its prime, him in the kitchen and me in the front of house. Now he’s selected some favorite dishes for us to try. We start with a few bowls of boiled peanuts topped with jalapeños. They might be the best boiled peanuts I’ve ever had. Sucking the savory broth out of each one before noshing on the creamy morsels is pure nostalgia. From there the lineup consists of: a pomegranate kale salad ($14), avocado tacos ($12), hand-cut pasta with beef ragu ($25), seared ‘ahi with 12-grain rice ($30), chicken Milanese with roasted grapes and arugula ($32) and pork chop atop lū‘au with lomi tomato ($34). I add the a‘u crudo ($17) because I always crave something raw and acidic when a meaty meal is headed my way.


Mahina Suns Spread Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke


The kale salad is unassuming but delicious. I’ve already tried recreating it twice. The kale is soft and palatable without the usual sharp texture and overwhelmingly vegetal finish. Perfectly roasted chickpeas, rehydrated cranberries and goat cheese complement thin tender slices of butternut squash—it gives me autumn feels but is refreshing at the same time. I would come back just for the salad, and that’s not a thing I’m known to say. Our other favorites include the a‘u crudo, the hand-cut pasta, chicken Milanese and the pork chop. In the crudo, green onion and limu contrast the smoked soy,  layered with a nuttiness from the ‘inamona sprinkled over thick slices of a‘u. The pasta is the best hand-cut pasta I’ve had in years, incredibly delicate but with a proper chew. The beef ragu is luscious and creamy, coating the whole plate of pasta generously—I keep going back for more. The chicken Milanese is juicy on the inside and super crunchy on the outside with layers of seasoning that are all on point. The wilted arugula on the side contributes a needed bitterness which roasted grapes round out sublimely for bite after comforting bite. The lū‘au under under the pork chop structurally holds up to the meat though it could use more coconut milk flavor. Still, I love that the chop is served pūpū-style, cut on the bias to share.


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To finish we order a few desserts. The one that I still dream about is the banana pudding, a dish that Leong says reminds him of his mother’s. Ripe apple bananas swim in a light and salty caramel sauce, layered with heaps of fresh whipped cream and then topped with what Leong calls cookie dirt. Best dirt I’ve ever tasted; we keep going back for spoonfuls until the bowl is empty.


Mahina Suns Desserts Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke


Meanwhile, the tables around us fill up. The blue light from the pool creates a surreal feeling while the live music surrounds us at a delightful volume. At once I decide, this is a whole vibe, one to share with friends, enjoyable and familiar even. With free parking two blocks away, live music every night (and it’s good!), thoughtful cocktails and several plates that I already have dear food memories of—I will definitely be back. Thanks to experiences like this one, I’m falling in love with Waikīkī in a whole new way. Perhaps it’s a facet of my personal journey to reclaim pockets of joy throughout what has been a challenging year. But maybe it’s just because I feel at home at Mahina & Sun’s and that’s a really lovely feeling.