The whole world was gray. A steady rain was falling and it was actually chilly outside. My clothes were still wet after dashing in from the parking lot. Sitting by the window, wiping little droplets of water from my arms, I watched tourists clutching colorful umbrellas make their way through the downpour.
I was sitting inside Fiesta Time, waiting for a hot plate of food. Not the little taqueria Fiesta Time in Wailuku, where you sit on plastic chairs set against a counter and eat your meals out of Styrofoam containers, but the new Fiesta Time in Ma’alaea. I was sipping a Coke and waiting for my lunch, sitting in a chair at a table—one of a dozen or so—in a dining room with restrooms, food runners and bright pinatas hanging from the ceiling.
It was nice to be sitting inside a climate-controlled room, what with the late winter storm blowing outside. My table gave me a peerless view of not just the quaint Ma’alaea shops, but also the harbor itself. On a day when the weather was more pleasant, from here it would be possible to enjoy lunch while watching whales splashing about. But not that day—choppy seas and brisk wind kept the harbor quiet.
Before I go any further, I should explain that I greeted my visit to this second Fiesta Time with great ambivalence. A longtime fan of the original Fiesta Time, I’d pretty much concluded that it served the all-around best Mexican food on the island. That it was also among the least expensive may have helped my enthusiasm.
It’s not “authentic” Mexican food, but it doesn’t need to be. If it’s delicious, what difference does its pedigree make? Besides, honest connoisseurs will say you can’t get authentic Mexican food anywhere but Mexico. The shacks and taquerias that spring up around California’s East L.A. and Santa Ana are closer, but still just reproductions.
Any time my work took me to Wailuku, I’d duck into Fiesta Time for a plate of chicken tacos or enchiladas or even some of their guacamole tacos. It didn’t really matter, since they were all equally good and I was far more interested in getting a couple scoops of rice and beans. I don’t know how they get the rice that fluffy or how much lard they pour into the beans to make them that creamy, and I don’t want to know. That they’re available when I walk in the door is all that’s important.
Hence my trepidation when I first heard stories from my friends that Fiesta Time was opening a second location. And in Ma’alaea, no less—home to pricey, touristy establishments like the Blue Marlin Harbor Front Grill and Ma’alaea Grill. Dark thoughts began to creep into my head. After all, Fiesta Time was now spreading a small, family-run kitchen across the island.
I’d watched too many restaurants try to expand, only to discover their quality diminish in direct proportion to the number of new locations. I also began worrying that Fiesta Time would dull the kick of their guacamole and the bite of their carnitas for less adventurous palates.
But I braved the rain and chill and stopped in. You still order at the counter, but now there’s a fish tank to hold your attention while waiting in line. I ordered a chicken burrito—thank God they come with rice and beans on the side—and took a seat by the window.
A few minutes later the woman who took my order brought me my food, along with one of those trademark Fiesta Time salsa bowls. Taking a deep breath, I pulled a plastic knife and fork and some napkins from the small basket on the table and dug in.
My fears were groundless. Everything was as it should be. No reason to worry, unless of course they decide to open a third…