Buho Cocina y Cantina is a cheerful Mexican establishment on the fifth floor of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza, across the street from the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. It’s been there about five years, a good record considering the here-today, gone- tomorrow affliction that has struck many a Waikiki eatery.
Indeed, it has carved out a nice niche for itself. Beyond the tacos, fish or otherwise, offered at bars, restaurants or food trucks, there are only a handful of distinctly Mexican places in Waikiki. Buho has nurtured this identity, bringing in the Son Caribe band every Saturday night for live Latin music, adding to the festivities.
For a sunny afternoon pau hana stop, it’s an inviting spot.
The Waikiki Shopping Plaza is a square building with entry to the various restaurants and businesses accessible through its open center. Go up the escalators to the fifth floor, and you’ll see a simple sandwichboard sign pointing to a pathway to the outside terrace where Buho is located.
There are a few inside tables, but mostly it’s an outdoor establishment. If you think it could be hot during the daytime happy hour, which starts at 2 p.m. daily and runs through 6 p.m., you’d be right — but fortunately, large umbrellas provide complete shade.
It was comfortable when we visited recently, on a blistering August day. Even with the shady umbrellas, though, it might be best to go when it’s breezy or later in the afternoon if temperatures are soaring.
On this Friday afternoon, a group of tourists and another of locals were on the terrace, enjoying the day. Manager Justin Mizufuka, who’s been with the restaurant since it opened, said Buho’s clientele is about 40 percent local.
The atmosphere is informal, with a long concrete bar decorated by Mexican flags, grayish wood tables and metal chairs. There are no flat screens to watch sports, so bring friends or your thoughts for amusement — always a better option anyway.
A few fire pits along the outside rim of the space encourage late-night coziness — Buho also offers happy hour from 10 p.m. until closing on Sundays through Thursdays.
There’s a good view of the two towers of the Royal Hawaiian Resort across the street; in the evening, the Pink Lady should look especially nice.
Buho offers a good selection of small dishes during happy hour at a discount.
I especially enjoyed the Pork Belly Flautas, ($8, $18 on the full menu), with their flour tortilla wrapping. Too often, basic corn tortillas are rolled up and deep fried — to me that tastes kind of like eating oily cardboard. This wrapping had some texture, a slight crisp on the outside, with a chewy layer inside, then a tasty filling of meat, cheese, guac and other sauces.
I personally think of mole, the thick, chocolate-based sauce, as a good test for a Mexican restaurant, and Buho’s Mole Chicken Wings ($6, $8 regular) passed with flying colors (pardon the pun). The mole sauce was rich and spicy with just a slight bitterness, the wings cooked just right, served with blue cheese sauce and a few slices of jicama to refresh the mouth.
On a hot day, the Kauai Shrimp Ceviche ($9, regularly $12) was one of the better choices. The combination of red onion, lime, cilantro and cucumber was really refreshing, and fresh avocado paired up well with the shrimp. Just be sure to eat it up quick, while cold and fresh.
Mexican fries ($6, regularly $8) provided a nice spicy twist to a happy hour stalwart, sprinkled with tajin and ancho powder, and served with chipotle aioli dipping sauce. For fries, there was a lot going on with this dish — some tartness, some heat, some sweetness too, and it was all very pleasing. Add a tasty Gordito Burrito ($9, happy hour only), with local beef picadillo, rice, black beans, and served “wet” with pico sauce, and it’s all good.
The happy hour drink menu at Buho is simple. I had the house margarita, ($7, regularly $10) made of Sauza Blue Tequila, triple sec, and lime. It was refreshing.
Dos Equis beer goes for $5 during happy hour. House wines are $7.
If you’re with a group, consider the Spiked Melon — a half watermelon filled with Patron Silver Tequila, Patron Citronge liqueur and lime sour, served with sea salt. It serves four people for $60 (regularly $70).
Buho is open and informal, with plenty of room, good views and good service. With its variety of authentic, interesting food choices, it’s muy bueno for happy hour.
BUHO COCINA Y CANTINA
Waikiki Shopping Plaza, 2250 Kalakaua Ave.
Happy hour: 2-6 p.m. daily, 10 p.m-closing Sunday-Thursday
>> Wagyu beef picadillo tacos $3
>> Goat cheese quesadilla $6
>> Fish and Chips, $9
>> Dos Equis Amber or Lager, $5
>> House margarita, $7
>> Grey Goose, Bacardi or Maker’s Mark cocktails, $7