Friday, September 11, 2015

(Honolulu) Reviewed: Buho Cocina y Cantina

Restaurant: Buho Cocina y Cantina
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Location: 2250 Kalakaua Avenue, Level 5 - Honolulu 96815  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Cocktails, queso fundido (newer version made w/ white, stringy cheese), tacos, chips + salsa + chunky guacamole, enchilada plate (great rice & beans, to boot)
  • Perfect for: Rooftop/al-fresco dining, happy hour, homesick Californians & Texans, date night, group dining/imbibing

Prior to my recent jaunt to Oahu, I spent hours upon hours scouring and cross referencing dining websites for the best places to eat in Honolulu.  In a locale especially famous for its regional/Hawaiian and Japanese cuisines, you can imagine my curiosity after having read about Buho Cocina y Cantina, a contemporary Mexican restaurant/bar perched high above the palm tree-fronds and Waikiki Beach...

Having made reservations at more, shall we say, "Hawaiian-centric" restaurants for the majority of our meals, I figured that Buho would be a welcome distraction.  My interest (in the restaurant) was further piqued when I learned that Chef Silva was a Mexico City native.  Music to mis orejas!  And a *much easier* sell to my travel sidekick, Amanda, who trepidatiously agreed to accompany me to a (gasp) Mexican joint.  In Hawaii.

Given my preference for beach-side dining, I've not been to many restaurants in Honolulu where I've had to utilize an elevator.  However, once the doors opened to reveal Buho's spectacular 12,300 square foot-rooftop, Amanda and I were overwhelmed by its stunning 360-degree views - indoor and outdoor seating enclaves - the gorgeous and diverse clientele - and a sizzling Latin aura/vibe.  "This place is fantastic!" Amanda exclaimed.  "Can you imagine how awesome it would be to come here on a date?"

Buho's gorgeous al-fresco dining terrace: Photo credit to Honolulu Pulse

Sunset - and a killer view - at Buho: Photo credit to The Waikiki Shopping Plaza

To properly kick off our meal - and holiday, for that matter - Amanda and I each ordered a tequila-based cocktail: A muddled-strawberry concoction for her and, for me, a classic/traditional margarita.  Salud!

While much of the literature I had read prior to my arrival boasted of Buho's "stylish spins" and "remixes" on Mexican food (think dishes made with "right now" ingredients like pork belly and kale, plus menu items like Quinoa-Stuffed Chile Rellenos), I had absolutely no interest in ordering any of the like.  What?  I'm a traditionalist!  That means no kale salads - no quesadillas made with goat cheese - no jalapeno poppers - and, for the love of God, no fried calamari or French fries!  At least not while dining at a Mexican restaurant.

On that note, I'm going to share some of our favorite traditional dishes from Buho's dinner menu:

Homemade chips, salsa, plus guacamole
Note: Chips/salsa and chips/guac are listed separately on the menu
Although it wasn't nearly as spicy as we would have preferred, Amanda and I could not keep our hands off of the warm, salty, house-made chips and roasted salsa roja.
While I personally found the guacamole to be perfectly flavored and balanced, its texture was incredibly chunky and red onion-heavy, thus leading me to assume that it could potentially pose as a turn off to those less keen on the crunchy, pungent bulb.

Queso Fundido
FYI: Make sure to order this version (white cheese with or w/o chorizo) as opposed to Buho's yellow queso, which I found to be grainy and bland.  Yes, I really said "grainy."
If you were to ask me which three dishes I'd like for my final meal on Death Row, "queso fundido" (a.k.a. "melted cheese" for all of you gringos out there) would unequivocally slide in to either the first or second of the three slots. 
As if this bowl of molten, stringy white cheese wasn't delicious enough in its naked state, Buho crowned theirs with a mound of fragrant, house-made chorizo.  Three warmed flour tortillas and a small dish of pico-de-gallo served as both accompaniments and crucial ingredients in which to make "queso fundido burritos."

Tacos: Smoked Brisket, Fresh Fish of the Day
From the moist, non-gristly smoked brisket topped with a crunchy red cabbage slaw, buttery chunks of avocado meat, and spicy, pickled jalapenos - to the incredibly fresh and tender ancho-battered fish crowned with the red cabbage slaw, sweet and savory mango pico-de-gallo, lime, and creamy chipotle aioli - Buho absolutely knocked these tacos out of the park.  Wow!


Jidori Chicken Enchiladas
In any other instance, I would have ordered cheese enchiladas, but our server insisted that we sample the chicken (enchiladas).  "Jidori is to poultry what Kobe is to beef," he proclaimed.  Done!  I was sold.
Visually, this entree could not have been more attractive; I mean, just look at the gorgeous contrast of colors (in the photo, below)!  In terms of taste, I loved every aspect of this dish, save for the chicken component.  How ironic, right?  Enveloped within the soft, folded corn tortillas, the meat, albeit flavorful, came in grilled chunks and was not bound by cheese.  Healthier without a doubt, but if cheese (a binder) is left out of the enchilada, the chicken should be shredded to retain its form and, most importantly, its moisture.    

From its central location, visual appeal, and breathtaking views - to the fantastic service and assortment of both contemporary and traditional Mexican dishes, Buho proved itself amongst the dizzying sea of regional fare-restaurants, houses of predictable cuisine (Italian and American), and state-side chains.  Without a doubt, its arrival has been a much-needed addition to Honolulu's dining - and imbibing - landscape.   

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