Pablo’s Cantina, opened in late 2010, reincarnates Taco Tuesdays in the place it all began 27 years ago with taco and drink specials including: $1 hard-shell tacos, $2 soft-shell tacos and $4 house margaritas. Savory meals and stand-out margaritas (i.e. the roasted pineapple margarita) are at the ready for pau hana (Hawaiian for happy hour), after a movie at Ward, or a day of watersports in Kewalo Basin.
Head chef Mario Lopez (not that Mario Lopez) hails from Mexico City and earned his kitchen stripes in places including Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Waikiki. The restaurant’s daily operations are run by Naoya Kusano who, with a welcoming smile, brings 15 years experience to the new restaurant.
My dining companion was thrilled at their enticing selection of vegetarian options including tempeh in place of meat or regular tofu. She commented, “Pablo’s had huge heaping portions and I was impressed that they don’t cook anything in lard or animal stuff, which from my understanding MOST Mexican restaurants here do and still try to pass it off as vegetarian… They had a variety of veggies I felt was unique too, like snow peas, and cactus [which] I’d never tried before.”
This edible cactus is called nopales or tuna and appears commonly in Mexico; its flavor is a crunchy hybrid of a green Bell pepper, asparagus and string beans and is said to lower risk of diabetes.
The dining portions are ‘ohana-sized and full of distinctly Mexican flavors from the Yucatan, Oaxaca, The Pacific Coast and more. We were pleased to find melt-in-your mouth queso fundido (Mexican fondue), the massive Steak a la Tampiqueña (thinly sliced Angus steak) great for taking home for a next-day steak and eggs breakfast served with an enchilada (tortilla with meat filling baked in tomato sauce with chili seasoning), a chile relleño (stuffed chile), and a complete array of fixings; dessert classics such as the dense and custard like Tres Leches (three milks) and churros (Spanish donut) with chocolate rounded out the menu and was served with warm, accommodating service.