Viva La Taco Truck In Kilauea
Heading North on Kuhio Highway and approaching Kilauea, my husband Dan and I glimpse a sign that reads “Caution! Mexican Food Ahead.”
On a white food truck, Paco’s Tacos is scrawled above a bright green iguana in front of a golden sun that hangs in a fiery red sky. The Hawaiian Islands form a green chain over the iguana’s head. It screams Â¡Ven aquÃ! Muy buena comdia –“Come here! Very good food.”
The siren call is loud and clear. Dan quickly looks back, and turns makai just in time. As the jeep’s wheels crunch on the gravel parking lot, south of the border scents fill the late morning air. Looking at the menu, I feel like I’m in Mexico until I see the Carne Asada Fries, a comforting fusion of Mexican and American food.
Brothers Tony and Paco Aguilar are from the Mexican coastal area of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
Zihuatanejo was an ancient fishing village until the 1970s, when the government developed a resort on an old coconut plantation in nearby Ixtapa. The two cities grew together, and today, as the Pacific Coast laps against the shores of Costa Grande and tourists marvel at remains of the Aztec empire, it is one of the county’s most visited regions.
“In Mexico we worked in big five-star hotels in Ixtapa,” Tony says. His accent is thick, despite 22 years in the United States, and reminds me of my mother, whose Spanish accent is thick after 57 years in the U.S.
Iced Jarritos, a popular fruit-flavored Mexican soft drink, fill the cooler outside the truck. Inside, Paco cooks chile rellenos and serves ceviche, carne asada and chile verde made earlier in their Hanapepe restaurant. “Paco came up with all the recipes,” Tony says. “He’s the main guy in the kitchen.”
Andy Sanchez is the third owner and cooks at the takeout restaurant in Hanapepe. “Every morning we go over there to prep,” Tony explains. “We make our carnitas, pico de gallo, guacamole, enchilada sauce we make all of it, except the tortillas. We use Sinaloa Hawaiian Tortillas.”
Dining al fresco, we sit at one of the picnic tables on a patch of soft, green grass that is separated from the highway by a hedge. Other customers, having obviously called ahead, scurry from the parking lot to grab their takeout.
The years the brothers spent cooking in five-star hotels are evident in the balanced flavors and a meticulous attention to detail. Tender, milky-white fish in the ceviche ($10.50) is cut into quarter-inch squares and complemented by the perfect amount of lime juice. Finely diced tomato, jalapeno, onion and cilantro add crunch, color and a bright, mildly spicy flavor, making Paco’s “Mexican Poke” a blissful culmination of sunshine and seafood.
“We always get fresh fish from local fishermen,” Tony says, noting that the fish specials depend on what is caught. “It’s their business. It’s no good if you buy it from just anybody.”
Today’s special is Mahi Mahi Tacos with a cilantro jalapeno sauce. Cabbage slaw adds a savory crunch, and the pico de gallo is fresh and finely diced. “Super, super tasty,” says Dan, who prefers meat tacos. “The cilantro sauce is fantastic,” he adds, dialing in his inner food critic. “It’s creamy with a little bit of a zing, but not a lot, enough to give it a nice flavor. The best fish tacos I’ve had on this island!”
Paco’s Tacos Restaurant 4505 Puolo Road, Hanapepe
335-0454 Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Kilauea Food Truck 346-7744
Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., FridaySaturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Find them on Facebook or visit PacosTacosKauai.com.