Lunch hour. Late March. I’m meandering down Market Street when I stop to talk story with an associate who works at a nearby music retailer. He reveals that a vital occurrence is about to transpire: “Dude,” he says. “Fiesta Time is back.”
“What?” I ask. “This killer Mexican place on Lower Main,” he replies, employing a tone of sheer reverence. “The most excellent Mexican food around.”
He goes on to describe the joint’s standing as a Wailuku institution, and how its year-plus absence has left a gaping emptiness in the hearts of Central Maui Mexican cuisine connoisseurs.
Sure enough, the place reopens a few days later, the busty soldadera babe mural on its external wall beckoning all who crave quality south-of-the-border fare.
Flash forward a couple months: “Dude,” I say to a coworker around lunch hour as my blood sugar hits a perilous low. “We should check this place out.” So we head down on a doggedly hot day in late May.
Owner Dave Gamberdell greets us with cool glasses of horchata and Jamaica (a sweet infusion incorporating the essence of hibiscus flowers and a spot of sugar). It’s an ideal antidote to the merciless asphalt heat.
As my coworkers and I scour the menu, which has over 150 possibilities, Gamberdell tells us he took over the business a while back and that the restaurant’s original owners, Raoul and Stella Jaimes, have been extremely supportive. When it comes to the food, he says, nothing has changed at either the Wailuku or Paia locations.
Guacamole tacos—sans cheese—are a given for me, of course. The coworkers go with the chili verde burrito (pork, mild spiciness, etc.) and the suiza (featuring a tomatilla cilantro sauce) and Mazatlan (shrimp) enchiladas. “Pork,” one coworker states. “Itenough for me to forgive them for their flu.” Good God.
The suiza, another coworker notes, is reminiscent of pizza, due to the presence of tomato, garlic, mushrooms and olives.
The guac tacos are a most welcome sight. Corn tortillas, of which I am typically not a fan, do not detract from the heaps of vibrant green guac, tomato chunks, refritos, et al. A double layer of corn tortillas is the default vessel, but they’ll substitute a hard shell or flour tortilla upon request.
What’s key about the menu, Gamberdell says, is that it utilizes a few ingredients brought in directly from Mexico. The hibiscus –a different variety from the ones that dot manicured shrubs in these parts—is an example of this, as is the achiote paste. Gamberdell is a bit hush on other ingredients. Only a select few know the recipes for various sauces the restaurant employs.
Gamberdell says about the only thing that’s not made on-site are the tortillas. He also notes that everything is made to order. This means the food is fresh, but is also means Fiesta Time isn’t exactly a fast food restaurant. There are no steam tables or heat lamps in sight, and during busier times an order may take 10 to 15 minutes. Because of this, Gamberdell recommends that you call in your order if you plan on eating during the 11am-1pm lunch rush.
The public, so far, seems happy with the eatery’s new incarnation. As Gamberdell puts it: “I’ve never been in a business where customers have thanked me for reopening.” MTW