HOME > Chowhound > Hawaii >

Discussion

best mexican food on oahu

after living in vegas and nyc, i have come to sad conclusion that the mexican food here is severely lacking. a native mexican i met also bemoaned the dearth of good comida on island.

i used to enjoy azteca, but their prices are now ridiculously inflated.

i didn't like jose's much.

i wasn't impressed by mexico on school street and they are expensive.

quinteros closed, but they weren't that good at all anyway.

el burrito on piikoi is ok.

el mariachi in kaneohe is alright.

toritos in market city is really pricy and i was really disappointed.

i have yet to try the restaurant in manoa marketplace which had a good writeup in the paper awhile back. they're supposed to have authentic dishes in addition to the usual. they also have a sister store on the windward side.

any suggestions?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. El Charitto near Aiea Bowl had a good red chicken mole the first week they were open, but the next meal we had was meh, as was the food at the rest. across Moana Lua South of the Bowl and at Tacos Ricos. I have had a good fish taco at Luibueno, and some say other dishes there are good, though expensive. Good,cheap, simple tacos are available at Diego's #2 in Pearl City (and maybe #1 too, but I haven't been there). Thats all I can add to what you already know.

    1. I can tell you one place where it certainly isn't. On a recent trip I had the fish tacos at 24/7 at the Hilton Waikiki. They were not like any fish taco I had before and not in a good way. If it hadn't been 10 at night and I was just off a mainland flight I would have sent them back. They werre served rolled like a buritto and with an extremely heavy sauce. I have had reasonable food there before but not this time and the waiter recommended them to boot.

      1. There is an older thread, initiated by Eat Nopal, when he first moved to Hawai`i. There were some recs. in it (long thread), that might, or might not help you.

        Having lived near, or in the US Southwest, I have had various versions of Mexican fare, and from many different states. Those dishes have varied by the location of origin, and though I have traveled fairly extensively in Mexico, have to admit that I am mostly a fan of good, rich Tex-Mex. Now, I live in Phoenix (more Sonoran and Bajan), but we do have some good Jalisco restaurants, and they do more for me, than the majority.

        All of that said, I have to admit that Mexican fare is seldom on my list of "must-dos," when in Hawai`i. The best that I have found, has been Luibueno's in Haleiwa, on the North Shore. More Bajan, than my favored Tex-Mex, BUT well-done and flavorful. For us, it was Mexico meets Hawai`i, and we enjoyed it very much.

        Track down Eat Nopal's thread, and read. He also went into some detail on what he was looking for, and how he graded things. Remember, Mexico is a large country, with many, many different cuisines, from Incan to the fare of two coasts, to the Texas, New Mexican, Arizona and California borders. They all differ, and differ greatly. Heck, each state has their own mole. Double-heck, each family, in each state, has their own mole!

        Enjoy!

        Hunt

        1. Pretty much agree with Hunt on his major points. 1) Oahu is not a good place to find good Mexican food 2) There is a wide range of things people identify as Mexican. Growing up in northern California are the 'authentic roots' of what taco bell passes off as Mexican. What you find currently in authentic places in Los Angeles are very different, as is most Tex-Mex I have had. 3) Eat Nopal's thread is still good, although some places are gone, and others (Mexico and Torritos in particular) have really gone downhill since then.

          Considering the popularity of the old Compadres in Ward Center I am convinced that people in Hawaii either don't know what 'real' mexican food is, or don't like it. Putting guacamole and sour cream on a burger does not make it a taco.

          Azteca remains my favorite, but its not cheap. Rico's is preposterously inconsistent, ranging from really really good to OMG awful. Mexico tastes more and more like the food came out of the deep freeze, and Jose's is just plain bad - unless you want to have chips, salsa, and Margaritas.... they do a good job on those. El Burrito on Piikoi used to be really good, but I had a string of bad experiences there a decade ago (like the time I could taste the can in the enchilada sauce) and haven't been back since.

          -----
          El Burrito
          550 Piikoi St, Honolulu, HI 96814

          16 Replies
          1. re: KaimukiMan

            "Putting guacamole and sour cream on a burger does not make it a taco." A KMan classic! Been to Diego's #2 yet KMan?

            1. re: Joebob

              i need to put that on my list, thanks for the reminder joebob. is it different from #1? (which is a whole lot closer..) the yelp reviews are not encouraging, but i trust you more than them.... hehhe.

              1. re: KaimukiMan

                While I have not spent much time on Yelp, I have been greatly underwhelmed. Maybe this is such a time?

                Hunt

              2. re: KaimukiMan

                K'man,

                You conjured up some memories and also some personal thoughts on Mexican food. If the restaurant has a "bottomless Margarita," there IS a reason - the food is not good, but after a pitcher, or two, who knows?

                Now, I do love good Mexican food, and from many diverse states, but when in Hawai`i, other than maybe some influence in a dish, I am just not looking out for it. Same thing goes for San Francisco (though they may have some interesting Mexican) - just not what I am seeking.

                If I head to San Diego, things change greatly, and if in San Antonio, guess what I am looking for? It's like the people, who head to New Orleans, and want an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. Well, those are about 1800 miles to the northeast - why not look for New Orleans cuisine, with Creole, some Deep South and maybe Cajun influences?

                Now, you have to factor in that I am a tourist. Were I a local, I would view things a bit differently, as one might not want Pacific Rim, Hawai`ian or similar, every blinking night. Take my comments for what they are - a tourist in paradise.

                Hunt

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  Los Chaparros? Haven't been lately, but they were offering some reasonably good dishes last time I was there...the Mojo de Ajo and Chile Rellenos were what I liked best. One side of the menu is aimed at the Taco Bell crowd...burritos, tacos, etc, but the other side has things that Mexicans actually eat. Again, haven't been in a while, but at the time thought they were better than most of the other choices.

                  -----
                  Los Chaparros
                  2140 S Beretania St, Honolulu, HI 96826

                  1. re: macaraca

                    i've never been to los chaparros, will have to check it out.

                    anyone been to la bamba on kapahulu, or tacos ricos, also on kapahulu?

                    a trend i noticed in nyc was that a lot of mexican places were owned and staffed by chinese people, but they were still very good. there was a restaurant that made a fantastic chicken stew taco that i still crave, even if it wasn't 'authentic' mex.

                    1. re: indelibledotink

                      la bamba closed about a year ago, long enough for two places to take it's place, not sure what's there now. Taco's Ricos I commented on above. I think it is discussed on one of the other threads. Is Maria Bonita still open downtown? it was pretty decent, but not wonderful.

                      I'm confused about macaraca's comment about things Mexicans actually eat. Seems like that would be saying that Burgers, Hot Dogs and French Fries aren't things Americans actually eat. Tacos and burritos are certainly not the full extent of Mexican cuisine, but they are certainly a part of it.

                      -----
                      Maria Bonita Restaurant
                      15 N Hotel St, Honolulu, HI 96817

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        Maria Bonita does their truck in Kailua on days Camille's on Wheels is not at that corner (by Hardware Hawaii). They also opened on Kahuhipa St. in Kaneohe but I have not been. Friends have gone and were not so impressed. I'd go next door to Triple C's and get some of their fabulous BBQ.

                        -----
                        Maria Bonita Restaurant
                        15 N Hotel St, Honolulu, HI 96817

                      2. re: macaraca

                        sis and her fiance went to los chaparros yesterday and felt that the food wasn't seasoned enough. i tasted some of their beans and they needed a little salt and pepper; wasn't the best, but not bad. the jury's still out until i get some fresh food from there.

                        1. re: indelibledotink

                          I am not sorry to see mediocre Mexican disappearing. Is Serg's really the best Oahu has to offer? I'm sure it has a more diversified menu than Diego's, but is it better?

                          1. re: Joebob

                            i had either a burrito or taco at diego's in pearl city and it wasn't memorable at all. i remember being disappointed.

                            i was blown away by serg's in manoa's flauta. i really recommend them.

                      3. re: KaimukiMan

                        I totally agree with KaimukiMan...Azteca is the only decent mexican on Oahu. Pricey, but good. I am from East Los Angeles and it is difficult to find REALLY GOOD MEXICAN. Last night went to Azteca and I tried their carnitas. Was pretty good!

                        We are regulars at Azteca. Jose's is horrible. Mexico is worse (total bland, I was shaking every bottle of hot sauce they had all over my food). Anyone try Los Palenque in Wahiawa?

                        1. re: hawaiisrfn

                          Thanks hawaiisrfn, Azteca is very much the kind of mexican food I grew up with in California, real mexican for real mexicans, but not necessarily the kind of mexican food you find in mexico. it was old alta california mexican, authentic just as tex mex is authentic to where it evolved. One thing I really don't find in Hawaii is something akin to the 'new wave' of mexican food that you find in LA now at the taco trucks or 'hole in the wall' mexican restaurants that caters to the more recent immigrants. A very different take on mexican food from what I grew up with, but equally valid. Perhaps the closest here is Joebob's favorite, Diego's. Taco's Rico's tried, but missed the mark except on a rare good day.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            i tried both Diego's Tacos 1 and 2...and very disappointed. Barely found any meat inside and also light sprinkle of cheese and it was mostly tortilla. Don't bother. Azteca is pricey,but at least it tastes good!

                      4. finally got to try out Serg's. went to the manoa restaurant. man, it was the best mexican food i've ever had. the taste was so fresh and alive, i couldn't believe it.

                        i had the flauta, which i had never had before. i recommend it, it's so delicate yet tasty. i don't know how to describe it well, but it was damn good.

                        only thing is the price; while none of the plates was over $10, i felt i could have eaten another one, although after a half hour, the feeling went away.

                        my sis said it was the best mex she's had outside of mexico.

                        1. she had a fish taco and a carne asada taco.

                          both were great, especialy the fish taco. it was a nice piece of grilled fish with a slaw on top and wrapped in a delicious home made corn tortilla.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: indelibledotink

                            Went to Serg's Manoa for a simple dinner on a Sunday night. Had two tacos and a side of rice and beans...everything was good, and the rice and beans much better than I remembered from my previous visit. Pork carnitas tacos with chile verde sauce...really delicious, if messy. I'd love to take some older friends there for the food, but not sure how comfortable they would be eating with plastic forks off picnic tables in an old gas station and the apparent cleanliness to match.

                          2. a short drive from town is El Palenque Mexican Restaurant in Wahiawa. If you do a google search you will see they rate a pretty consistent 4.5 stars in reviews. The Midweek has rated them as "the best Mexican on the Island" for over 10 years straight! The looks from the outside is a little scary but do you want a pretty building or good food? I've tried most everything they have and have enjoyed the food. the salsa is a bit spicy but very good. I was introduced to this place by a Mexican friend from El Paso TX. (Now he should know REAL Mexican food). He said its the only place he'll eat mexican food while he's here.
                            You have to be willing to leave town to get good food on Oahu. Best Italian (Asagios) on the island is not in town but in Kapolei. Best Thai is in Hale'iwa (Opals Thai). You really have to understand that town food is for tourist and not for those that really know good food here on the island.

                            -----
                            El Palenque
                            177 S Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa, HI 96786

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: markz129

                              Is El Palenque across the street from a furniture store?

                              Asagios is the best Italian? Is that widely acknowledged?

                              1. re: markz129

                                markz, glad to hear about el palenque, I've seen it for years when out that way but never gave it a second thought. I'll have to find an excuse to get out there someday.

                                I can't agree that you HAVE to leave town to get good food. A thai friend of mine says that PaeThai on King St. is the best Thai food on Oahu. While I don't deny that there is good food all over the island, its not all about tourists here in Honolulu, and places like Town, 3660, Salt, and several other top rated restaurants don't survive based on tourists, but on local people. On any given night even places like Alan Wong's and Mavro have more local people than tourists, and Roy didn't start his business in Hawaii Kai to cater to the tourist trade.

                                It's always good to see a new name in the Hawaii Board, hope to hear more from you, even if our opinions aren't always the same.

                                  1. re: markz129

                                    I have driven through Wahiawa and saw it many times..but from the looks of it outside, i wasnt sure about it. I will have to give it a try...Thanks for the review.

                                    1. re: hawaiisrfn

                                      I know this thread is about mexican,but i highly recommend Souvaly in Pearl city for thai on Kam Hwy, across the street from Zippys. For Italian, i recommend Paesano in Manoa or Waimalu..similar to Assagio's. ! Have great weekend!

                                  2. had chicken enchilada combo plate at azteca today and was really disappointed. there was nothing special about it and the price was almost $13 for two small enchiladas, a scoop of rice, and a scoop of beans. the quality that was there in the past wasn't in the food anymore, and the price was jacked up.

                                    i want to try el palenque, but aside from that, i think i will only eat at Serg's. their food was FRESH. el mariachi is alright too, but i am in love with serg's.

                                    1. I finally tasted the offerings at Acapulco, 94-1040 Waipi'o Uka St. #14 in Waipi'o SC, 676-3438, some good, some not so good. The best was a carnitas taco, which was made on fresh tortillas, with lots of lightly smokey, jucy meat, covered with an onion and cilantro mixture. Not cheap, but worth the cost. Equivalent to Diego's #2. Also had an asada enchillada, pieces of grilled beef the size of baby fingers, tortilla-wrapped and smothered with a beefy red sauce. On the downside, I hadn't encountered a similar chille relleno before; I asked for a cheese filling, but found as much seeds as cheese inside of what I was served. Also, the outside was coated with what appeared to be a panko breading that somehow soaked up a lot of grease, but still managed to be chewy. To finish, the salsa is quite good and the chips were fresh, though not the thin kind I favor. The beans and rice both were excellent, the beans mostly creamy with occasional bean chunks, and the rice light and fluffy, though without adornment. There are only about 8 tables and the service was helpful, knowledgeable, and efficient. I'm very glad it is on Oahu's West half.

                                      3 Replies
                                          1. re: Joebob

                                            think so....my buddy loved their burritos and was bummed to find out the one in town closed - he called the other one and i *think* confirmed they closed up too.

                                      1. To date, now that Diego's (both? BOTH??) are no more, my three favorites are Luibueno's (for the best fish tacos on Oahu), El Palenque in Wahiawa (most authentic Mexican), and Serg's (2740 E. Manoa Rd., the best Mexican, but haven't tried the way-East branch).

                                        El Palenque (tried Saturday): the menudo was too watery, but with lots of chopped onion and cilantro, the posole-tripe combo made a reasonably hearty meal. The mole sauce was TOO SWEET, way too sweet. But the ambiance really gave me that Mexico feeling. Looking into the kitchen , watching my carnitas being grilled, can't be beat. The pinto beans tasted of bacon fat and the rice was reasonably fluffy. Not cheap, but worth the drive from the West side.

                                        At Serg's (tried this afternoon), I was most impressed by the meats and the rice. Finally, meats in chunks, not the Mexican equivalent of laab. And the pork was RIGHT, not tasting suspiciously like kalua. The beans were black, which was nice, and nicely greasy, and the rice must have been cooked in broth, which made them the best Mex. rice around, though a bit sticky), And the tortillas were corn without my being asked or having to ask. The fish taco was good, but not as good as Luibueno's. Alternative opinions welcome.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Joebob

                                          El Palenque was good the 3-4 times I went, but it's been years since I tried it. Go to El Mariachi in Kaneohe, call beforehand and make sure Palermo is cooking thay day, and then request "un menudo pinche autentico del famoso buey Palermo".....hands down the single best mexican dish on Oahu.

                                          1. re: szfoster

                                            i def want to try el palenque but am hardly out in wahiawa.

                                            i do like el mariachi but haven't tried many of their items.

                                            serg's manoa is still the best mex i have ever had. got a double order of chicken flautas on saturday. good stuff.

                                            1. re: indelibledotink

                                              I used to love eating chicken flautas (and enchiladas verdes) as a kid, but it's been 25 years since I had an excellent plate of flautas...I will try this Serg's very soon, though I am headed to Austin next month and have a Sunday brunch reservation at Fonda San Miguel--- yummy pics: http://www.fondasanmiguel.com/menu/ga...

                                              1. re: indelibledotink

                                                been to and appreciated Serg's Manoa several times....i hit up the Serg's in 'nalo for the first time on saturday, shared an order of chicken tostadas (one of my faves there) and a carne asada taco. the tostadas (2) are a crispy corn tortilla, generous serving of their delish black beans, chicken stewed in a tomato/chipotle sauce, topped with onion, queso fresco, and crema. unlike tostadas at most joints around here, its about the tasty stewed meat and beans, rather than a pile of crappy gray shredded iceberg and unripe tomato. there's a little iceberg on the side as a garnish at serg's, adds a little texture. and the carne asada taco was damn good. simple simple. loaded with smallish diced carne asada, topped with onions, cilantro. super flavorful (especially with their awesome hot avo salsa). nice to see they're maintaining quality out at the new spot. love serg's, so not worth messing around with other mexican joints, though i'll try to remember to hit el palenque next time i'm headed home from north shore.

                                                also, the fish dish with the tropical salsa at el mariache in kaneohe is pretty tasty, and if i remember correctly, i think you get what you pay for with this one, generous serving. dont remember their beans and rice being anything special, though.