Not very long ago, Mexican restaurants used to be rather scarce on Oahu, however they’re now popping up all over the place. In this case, right here in the heart of Kalihi’s suburban neighborhood area, which always was, and still is known as a mecca for some of the best ethnic specialty eateries in the “808″ state.
Even when “Mexican” restaurants did start increasing in presence in the islands, those more seasoned folks of the cuisine (usually visiting residents from mainland south border states) often questioned their authenticity in online reviews, with many writing them off as generic “Tex Mex”, “Baja” or “SoCal” ho-hums. Yawn.
Thankfully, based on the experience we had here, as well as our other favorite Mexican digs over at Los Chaparros, I’m ever more confident to proclaim that Hawaii is finally catching up with the border states on the mainland for respectably good to great “authentic” Mexican restaurants that are actually owned and operated by transplanted natives from Mexico.
Which we’re talking about in this review today of Mexico Restaurant, where we had lunch in celebration of Diner A’s birthday on the day before I left to Las Vegas back in late October.
Mexico Restaurant is located on School Street in the heart of suburban Kalihi, a.k.a. “God’s Country”, a.k.a. “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe”, right across the street (makai side) from Helena’s Hawaiian Food, which should give you a good landmark proximity on how to find it.
Upon entering, you’ll find the aptly themed decor inside Mexico Restaurant is kitschy as is typical of this type of eatery, yet not over-the-top gaudy, being relatively restrained and tasteful…
At the backside of the dining room, behind a divider wall is a full bar, ready to serve up your favorite Margarita, Tequila and Cervezas…
The kitschy south-of-the-border/Spanish theme continues on in the relatively clean men’s restroom (and we’ve been told by Diner C in the womens lav’) as well…
Time to check out the menu…
The customary complimentary Chips ‘n Salsa immediately landed on the table once we were seated…
Then our Iced Tea…
Sorry, no Margaritas or Tequila shots, as we had to head back to work after this.
Within about 12 minutes of being placed, our order lands on the table, starting with birthday boy Diner A’s MASSIVE Mexico Burrito…
This may have not been their Grande Burrito, but still, this one was MUCHO GRANDE huge! Not much less in size of an average man’s forearm girth and overall mass, I’d say.
The cutaway view…
Next we have Diner C’s Zope, which is hard to see under all the veggies, but it’s there….
Mexico Restaurant – Zope: A thick masa tortilla piled high with lettuce, cheese, black beans, sour cream and your choice of chicken (chosen), ground beef or kalua pork. Served with Rice and Beans. $10.95
Angle B of the Zope plate, so you can get a better look at Mexico Restaurant’s house Spanish rice ‘n refried beans that accompany most of the entrees on the menu here…
Diner E went for the Quesadilla…
Finally, yours truly decided to try their Mexico combo, choosing the Tamal and Chile Relleno as the featured part of the entree…
The Tamal is described as “Shredded chicken or pork (chosen) steamed inside a masa coated cornhusk. The way real abuelitas do it! Topped with rojo sauce.”
The Chile Relleno is described as “Roasted Anaheim chile stuffed with cheese and deep-fried in a delicious fluffy batter, then smothered in verde sauce and more cheese. Served with a dollop of cool sour cream.”
Mmmm, that sounds yumz.
Table condiments to accompany the Mexican FEAST for those who like it even more “spice-ay” are Tapatio’s Salsa Picante (I keep a bottle of that stuff in my fridge) and El Yucateco Chile Habanero Hot Sauce, which must be SCOVILLE-SCORCHIN’ HOT!
And how was everything for lunch at here Mexico Restaurant? Delicious! No, DELICIOSO! And my name’s not Robert (which really is my English name), it’s ROBERTO.
First of all, the “bottomless” (they keep replenishing it) complimentary Chips and Salsa were spot on, with the house-made tortilla chips being semi-light, semi-firm and crisp’ety-crunch’ety, along with a tasty and distinct corn flavor.
The salsa had a nice balance of chunkyness and wateryness to it, while flavor-wise, it was typical and familiar, having just the right balance of latin seasonings, along with a refreshing hint of cilantro and onion, spicy heat, sweetness and acidity goin’ on. I’ll give it 3 SPAM Musubi (very good).
As for my entree, the Chile Relenno was FANTASTIC. No, make that, it was FANTASTICO! You could really taste the roasty-toasty skin, while the meat of the chile practically melted apart, completely immersing its earthy-peppery flavor with the unctuously-decadent, ooey-gooey melted cheese entombed in it, all for my for my heated dining pleasure. Ooh!
If there’s ever a sexy Mexican dish, the Chile Relleno has to be up there as one of THE sexiest. Bow-chica-wow-wow. lol Seriously, 5-SPAM Musubi for Mexico’s Chile Relleno. If I smoked, I’d have to go have a cigarette after that one. lol
The Tamal was fantastico as well, with a quite thick wrapping of steamed masa encasing the tasty, mildly-spiced, fall-apart moist ‘n tender shredded pork.
The texture contrast of the mealy masa when eaten together with the fibrous pork meat, along with the zippity-zap kick from the zesty-yet-comforting rojo sauce semi-absorbing into the masa, all work together so, so, SO well. POW!
4 SPAM Musubi for Mexico’s Pork Tamal.
Along with that, Mexico Restaurant’s house Spanish Rice and Refried Beans were equally, absolutely DELICIOUSO.
The rice had just the right level and blend of spices, along with just the right balance of moisture and overall texture, and thankfully, they actually add SALT to it, so it’s not bland at all. I’ve had many a Spanish rice at Mexican restaurants that were just bland and tasteless for what seems like the simple fact that they don’t add any salt to it. Thankfully, here they do here at Mexico Restaurant in some way or method, however they do it.
The refried beans definitely tasted like they were made in-house, and not something out of a can, with a unique sort of gooey texture to it, in a good way! In a great way! Kinda’ like a Mexican Natto if you will, which you know I LOVE Natto. Well, not that “snotty”, but certainly noticeable (as you can see in the photo above). They were also nicely spiced and SALTED as well, as I’ve also had my share of refried beans from other Mexican restaurants that were bland for the same reasons mentioned about the rice.
Summing it up, 4 SPAM Musubi for Mexico Restaurant’s house Spanish Rice and Refried Beans.
The prices and portions here are an incredible value, making it very family friendly. So big are the portions, I left with a “doggie bag”, easily filling up a regular take-out container with all the leftovers from everyone’s dish.
And believe me, later that same evening, this made for one multifaceted, DELICIOUSO late night dinner “snack”! 2-for-1 meal deal, can’t beat that!
Service was friendly, attentive and quick. Enough parking right on the side of the restaurant to fit most guest in its capacity. A superb value, the food here tastes authentic (at least to the best of my experience), and most of all, everything was absolutely DELICIOSO!
We all give Mexico Restaurant a unanimous 4 SPAM Musubi.
1247 North School Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
Tel. (808) 845-9059
The Tasty Island rating:
(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)
P.S. Behind Mexico Restaurant, if you go down the hill of their parking lot, sits this hidden oasis called Lo’i Kalo Park…
Lo’i means pond in Hawaiian, and Kalo is taro, hence “Taro Pond Park” if you will. However, we didn’t spot any taro growing there. Perhaps they were in their replanting phase at the time of our visit.
Whatever it’s supposed to be (there’s no park benches there, either), It truly is this little hidden oasis of nature, complete with a freshwater stream, pond and rather beautifully lush greenery, that’s oddly situated between aging, nondescript walk-up concrete apartment buildings and single-family homes. Go figure.
Which goes to show, you never know what you’ll discover all around these incredible islands, unless you really go off the beaten path and explore it!