- 850 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ, 85719
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Daily 10 a.m.-3 a.m.
- Official Web Site:
What we ordered: one kalbi beef short ribs ($7.99), one “Kailua” pork ($6.99) and an iced tea ($1.75) for a total of $16.73, well under our Cheap Eats goal of $20 for two people.
Comments: Mama’s won’t knock you out. Unless, that is, you know what to order.
The newest ethnic addition to the campus area’s restaurant scene has drawn passionate but mixed reviews. Most would agree it’s an improvement over the vapid Yokohama Rice Bowl franchise, but how does it compare to other Hawaiian options?
In its décor and selection, the restaurant straddles the line between authentic plate lunches and late-night fast food. (Did we mention they’re open until 3 a.m.?) If you’re craving obscure items like lomi lomi salmon, pork lau lau or saimin noodles, don’t hold your snorkel hole, but you can find a couple great dishes here.
Food: After several unofficial “practice reviews” marred by lackluster teriyaki chicken burgers and dry katsu, we managed to pull off the perfect Mama’s experience: an order of kalbi beef short ribs and an order of “Kailua” pork. (Also known as kahlua pig.)
The short ribs—succulent bites of beef smoked with a sweet soy sauce—instill a primal urge to rip and gnaw. They’re a little messy, but the feeling you get when tearing the plump and crispy meat off the short little bones is one of the world’s great pleasures. On the side, you get two domes of semi-sticky white rice and some pretty decent macaroni salad. Hit it with some chili sauce and you have a great contrast between the creamy and the spicy, with a little crunch of chopped onion.
The enormous portion of “Kailua” pulled pork was a symphony of salt and smoke. Although many critics claim it’s been dry, I thought it was just right. If you slow cook pork simply and perfectly like the people at Mama’s do, you really don’t need any sauce.
Mama’s also creates their own Hawaiian desserts like macadamia nut cookies and pineapple cakes, and on our last visit they offered a sample of the soft and gooey cheesecake brownies. We only had a bite, but we could tell they were delish!
Service: Order at the counter. Although the food has taken notoriously long amounts of time in the past, it was relatively quick on our last visit.
Bottom line: It’s been open for at least a few months, but Mama’s Hawaiian Bar-B-Cue is still coming into its own. The ever-growing wall accessories have transformed the space from bland fast food joint to a shop with character, and the food is trending the same way. Before long, it should be a campus classic.