Yes, it is named after an iconic Hawaiian locale, but let’s be clear — you’re not going to find any poi, loco moco or Spam at Lahaina’s in San Luis Obispo. What you will find, however, are hand-formed burgers and fresh seafood.
It doesn’t take much to get owners Marco and Lindsay Lepe to admit they love Hawaii, and when they opened their lower Higuera restaurant three years ago, they wanted to give it a little bit of aloha spirit. In addition to the name, maps and photos of the islands adorn the walls of the bright interior, giving the former retail space a casual, festive flavor.
“We wanted to offer good food at a good price, and we felt people really wanted some good fresh fish,” said Marco Lepe, a 25-plus veteran of the restaurant business. The majority of that time was spent at the Harbor Hut in Morro Bay, where he first signed on as a dishwasher and steadily followed his passion until he’d worked his way up to a chef position.
The seafood dishes swimming through Lahaina’s menu include everything from clam chowder to seared ahi salad, a Shrimp Louie to shrimp cocktail, a fish burger to fish tacos — available either fried Bajastyle or grilled Cajun-style. You can also reel in all manner of fill-in-the-blank and chips, be it clams, scallops, calamari, coconut shrimp or hand-cut Alaskan cod.
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During the week, Lahaina’s offers fish dinners as well. Depending on what’s fresh and available (the Lepes use locally based Central Coast Seafood as their main supplier), choices typically encompass salmon, mahi-mahi or even shrimp skewers. All the dinners are served with rice and vegetables, and available either teriyaki-or Cajun-style.
Burgers make up most of the rest of the menu, with the basic options rounded out by a Bleu Bayou with chile mayonnaise, a California with avocado and bacon, or the Lahaina — a one-third-pound burger topped with ham, pineapple, teriyaki and cheese. Chicken choices are available as well, including the zesty Buffalo Crispy Sandwich.
In July, Lahaina’s added breakfast to its lineup with items such as omelettes, pancakes, and biscuits and gravy. Those are available only until 11 a.m., but the whopping breakfast burrito is available all day. Stuffed with eggs, potatoes, cheese and your choice of meat, then topped with fresh tomatillo salsa, it’s definitely big enough to share.
Lepe has also recently begun serving dinners on select weekend nights. Currently, that’s happening about twice a month, though the schedule is still evolving. For those occasions, he’s moving well beyond Lahaina’s casual core concept and developing special nightly menus with items as varied as prime rib, bouillabaisse and chile rellenos, plus house-made mud pie for dessert. (Call the restaurant for dates and reservations.)
Whether he’s serving his customers a basic burger or a halibut piccata, Lepe eagerly views it all as a welcome challenge. He readily acknowledged that although it’s a lot of hard work and long hours, cooking and running a restaurant “is what I love to do. You have to do everything to make it work, and no one will take care of you the way we do — that’s part of the business.”