Tabaraka, the first Lebanese food truck to open on Hawai‘i Island is officially here, giving Hilo-area residents and visitors a great alternative to fast food with its fresh, healthy, filling choices. While the food truck is new, if you’ve eaten Lebanese food on the Island in the past few years, there’s a good chance that it was made by the same family; Fares Boughanem, the chef/owner of Tabaraka, has been serving Hilo, Puna, and Waimea for the past few years at the various weekly farmers markets (and don’t worry, they will continue to do so, even with the new truck open).
Boughanem originally moved his family to the Big Island ten years ago because the island community reminded him of the close-knit community that they left behind in Lebanon. He has been making these traditional plates from scratch since he was a young boy; learning the family recipes, passed down over generations, from his mother.
Tabaraka: The Truck
The food truck officially opened at 272 Waianuenue Avenue on June 10. Since then, Boughanem and crew have been serving up a variety of vegan, vegetarian, and meat dishes to delighted diners. Menu items include falafel and shish kabab plates, a variety of pita sandwiches, and fries with Toum (a garlic sauce). While it is inside a parking lot, they do ask that diners please park on the street. If you do end up parking in the lot, remember that Ululani is a one-way street, and you cannot take a right out of the lot. And yes, I do know that particular fact from experience (oops!).
Just because it’s a food truck, it doesn’t mean that you have to grab your food and go. Because the truck is in the back parking lot of Tabaraka’s future brick and mortar restaurant, they’re really working to make themselves at home. Across from the truck, within the parking lot, they’ve set up a nice dining and waiting area with brand new outdoor tables, chairs, and other seating. But don’t get too comfy in their patio furniture; Tabaraka is currently in the permitting stages of opening their permanent restaurant, but the process is taking longer than expected, thanks to challenges presented by the pandemic.
Tabaraka: The Food
Though Boughanem has been vegan for three years, and his food has reflected it, he has changed his menu to further meet the needs of the community by adding some meat dishes including beef and shawarma. “We wanted to make sure that if we added meat to the menu that we did it right. That’s why all of our meat is antibiotic-free,” explained Olivia Grodzka, Tabaraka’s Chief Operating Officer.
“We try to purchase everything locally as much as possible,” Boughanem added. “We try to use local eggs, chicken, and beef. We’ve added local daikon as a pickled element to our plates. Pretty much all of our main ingredients but the chickpeas are from the Big Island.”
The menu will continue to grow and may change some based on supply chain issues and the seasonality of ingredients, but guests will always have something fresh and delicious to taste from their menu.
“We can be really limited on our availability of some traditional recipes that we would like to have here. Not being able to find fresh parsley is one of our biggest challenges because we can’t make things like tabbouleh without it,” Boughanem said. “We’ve modified our traditional recipes to fit local availability.”
One way that they are hoping to get around some of those supply issues is by growing some of their own produce on a 25-acre farm that Boughanem owns in Papaikou, creating a true farm to table experience when the restaurant opens. Another exciting experience that the Tabaraka team is looking forward to is the brick oven inside the restaurant where Chef can cook up his own fresh pita bread and other Middle Eastern baked goods.
Overall, the food is delicious and a great, healthy alternative to regular fast food. I highly recommend the falafel sandwich that includes freshly cooked falafel balls piled high with vibrant veggies and pickled peppers and daikon. The falafel plate is also an excellent choice that includes hummus and their incredible baba ganoush.
If I could only recommend one item on the Tabaraka menu, however, I’d advise you to get the baba ganoush! It’s honestly the BEST I’ve ever had. This treat that is typically part of a Middle Eastern maza (mezze) plate is made with minimal ingredients: charred eggplant, lemon juice, tahini, and salt. The smokiness from the char on the eggplant comes through in a bold way that creates an incredible depth of flavor. Currently, it’s available on their maza plates, as a sandwich, and as a to-go side (as is their yummy hummus) to take home and enjoy however you like.
Because of some of the sourcing issues, their food will be even better when the restaurant opens (the pita bread was a bit dry), but as it stands, the food is definitely a welcome and beloved addition to Hilo’s growing food scene.
Tabaraka: The Future
Tabaraka means “blessings be” in Arabic, and Boughanem strives to live and serve with this philosophy. In addition to bringing the Hilo community fresh, healthy food that is mostly locally-sourced at a beautiful brick-and-mortar restaurant, one of Boughanem’s big goals for the long-term future is to use the profits from the restaurant in order to open an orphanage in Lebanon. So, not only are you supporting local by dining at Tabaraka, you are also helping support a very good deed. Not too bad of a deal, if you ask us.
Want to know what other local restaurants to try? Check out our Food Section!