Flavors Of New Mexico In Kapa‘a

(front, from left) owner Maris Manzano-Stevens, Kristian Naidow, Valerie Saiki, (back)
Jeremy Haupt, sous chef Jason Sessions, owner and chef Joshua Stevens, and Carlo Manzano

Verde, located in Kapa’a’s Big Save Shopping Center, is where to go if you are craving authentic New Mexican food with a Hawaiian twist.

Owner and chef Joshua Stevens created Verde with wife Maris Manzano-Stevens to quench his desire for the food he grew up with in his hometown of Albuquerque.

His late mother also was an inspiration. “As a kid, my mom made stacked enchiladas every week, and she always made the green chili from scratch,” Stevens recalls. “I stack my enchiladas because that’s the way Mom did it.”

Before opening Verde three years ago this March, Stevens was a sous chef at Black Rock at the Sheraton Maui, where he oversaw $27 million in annual revenue. Weary of the intense pressure and inspired by a growing desire for the food of his childhood, he left to open his own restaurant on Kaua’i.

“It’s gotta be a piece of me,” Stevens thought when he ventured on his own, “and a piece of me has gotta be New Mexico.”

Chef Stevens takes homey Mexican food up a notch by adding elegant touches such as red chili aioli, house-made guacamole – made with avocados from Kaua’i – and freshly made tortilla chips and salsa to his generous meals.

“I love your salsa,” Stevens recalls City Councilman Derek Kawakami saying. “Can we put it in the Menehune Marts and the Big Saves?” The recent election has delayed their debut, but you can get Verde’s 16-ounce container of red chili salsa at the restaurant for $3.99.

Red, green or Christmas? Hatch chilies are essential to an authentic chili sauce, so Stevens has his green and red chilies shipped directly from Hatch, New Mexico. Green chilies are the younger, hotter variety that Verde uses to make its vegan and gluten-free green sauce. Chilies left on the vine to ripen become red; these milder chilies are in Verde’s gluten-free red sauce. If you can’t decide which sauce you want, you can have both and call it Christmas!

Hot and spicy Posole

“There are a lot of things on the menu that I’ve changed from the original New Mexican recipes, which contain a lot of lard and other fats,” Stevens says about his healthy menu.

A perfect example is the Veggie Stuffed Sopaipilla ($9.99), stuffed with local greens, guacamole and potatoes, placed in a bath of green sauce and drizzled with a chili-lime dressing. “Sopaipillas are traditionally made with lard,” Stevens says of his fried pastry. “I changed the recipe so it has no lard.”

Meat lovers will enjoy the Stuffed Sopaipilla ($9.99) loaded with tender beef short ribs, chicken or pork adovada and beans. “The menu is very healthy whether you know it or not,” he says.

Honoring his father’s request for vegetarian Mexican food, Stevens created the Veggie Stacked Enchilada ($12.99), a satisfying combination of three corn tortillas layered with green beans, spinach, broccoli, guacamole, cheese and green chili sauce.

In the cozy dining room, I overhear Puhi resident and regular customer Pohai Kirkland say, “It’s really good!” She turns to her husband Larry and asks, “What do you think of the chicken, honey?” With his head tucked in earnest consumption, he looks up and says, “I’m not saying anything, am I?”

Verde’s loyal customer base has expanded, so the couple hired sous chef Jason Sessions. Originally from the Big Island, Sessions managed 130 cooks in Seattle before teaming up with Stevens. “I love working for Josh and Maris. They’re both really nice people to work for,” Sessions says of his new employers.

Sessions created the Garlic Shrimp Tacos ($11.99) when Stevens said he wanted a shrimp dish on the menu. Two tacos with cornmeal-crusted shrimp and Kaua’i greens, cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, rice and roasted garlic-chipotle aioli are filling and delicious. “It’s my favorite thing on the menu right now,” Manzano-Stevens says with a sly smile in her husband’s direction.

One of my favorites is the Bean and Cheese Tostada ($8.99), a delicious combination of crispy corn tortilla, vegan refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, local greens and a red chili aioli. The Carne Tostada ($9.99) with beef short ribs is a heartier version.

The couple spends their free time volunteering at Kaua’i Humane Society. “Maris takes the pictures, and I hold the dogs,” laughs Stevens. Manzano-Stevens then creates posters to help get the dogs adopted. In their desire to further support the Humane Society, Stevens offers, “If you adopt a dog and bring in the receipt, we’ll take $20 off your order.”

Sessions appreciates Verde’s devoted clientele. “The customers here, that’s what keeps me going, they’re the nicest customers,” he says with a smile. “The only complaint that I ever get is that the portions are too big!”

4-1101 Kuhio Hwy, A-3, Kapa’a
11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Closed Tuesdays
$3 Margarita Mondays
Happy hour every day, 3-5 p.m.

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