Cinco de Mayo / Sure, Cinco de Mayo is a fabricated American holiday, created in the same vein as St. Patrick’s Day–an excuse to party and eat “ethnic” foods and drinks that make us as sloppy as an enchilada. Festivities have long since evolved from celebrating Mexico’s win against the French in the Battle of Puebla to a celebration of Mexican culture in America.
This year, mezcal and margaritas aside, we’re feeling extra-celebratory thanks to the influx of excellent tacos (taking the edge off our long-standing lament that there’s no good Mexican food in Hawaii). Admittedly, Mexican cuisine is made up of more than tacos, but this street food fits perfectly into our plate lunch style and surfer culture.
From trucks to taquerias to casual eateries, here are my favorite places to feed your taco cravings, pre or post tequila haze.
Serg’s Mexican Kitchen
Serg’s led Honolulu’s recent wave of good Mexican food; upping their salsa bar with freshly-made chipotle and avocado salsas, plus swapping out the ubiquitous pre-shredded cheese blends for cotija cheese. All their Mexico City-style tacos–choose from fish, chicken, chile verde, carne asada, al pastor, carnitas or chorizo–are terrific, with the meats folded into two corn tortillas and lightly fried so they’re crisp on the edges and soft in the middle. Of particular note, however, are the chile verde–braised pork doused in a bright tomatillo and green chile sauce–and flavorful al pastor and chorizo meats.
This vendor serves up the only blue corn tortilla tacos that I know of in the state. More than a vibrant, colored template, the blue corn adds an earthiness to the tacos. Though meat is generously piled on, they are twice the price of other tacos in town. The barbacoa braised beef taco, with just a touch of orange juice and warm spices, is a winner. A side of chicharrónes is also a must. These aren’t the usual crispy pork skin chips, but slices of roasted pork belly, rendering it velvety with crunchy skin, served with a chile verde sauce that cuts the richness.
Paul Zarate executes a spare menu out of a mini bus. Here, taco meat options include carnitas, chorizo, carne asada and chicken. My picks are the carne asada, a mix of chorizo and chicken, or, for extra pig-on-pig action, chorizo and carnitas. These last two combinations help temper the bold and spicy chorizo Zarate uses. The mulita–a corn tortilla version of the quesadilla– offers another way to experience the chorizo, and the cheese and chorizo make for a perfect match.
There’s only one taco to get from this vibrant green truck: the al pastor. Similar to gyro meat, layers of seasoned pork are stacked onto a vertical rotisserie and sliced to order. Tacos are topped with chunks of pineapple and salsa (warning: extreme spiciness) for a combination of sweet, spicy and salty. The quibble: tacos come on a single tortilla, instead of double.