There are a lot of people from California living on Maui, and I’ve heard a fair share of those Golden Staters complain that there isn’t any “real” Mexican food to be had here on the Valley Isle.
Now, I’m not going to debate what it is that makes south-of-the-border fare authentic or the merits of corn tortillas over flour. I grew up in a one-Mexican-restaurant-town where the enchiladas tasted just like the burritos (which strangely resembled the fajitas), and I’ve also been to Mexico, where I was surprised and delighted by how little cheese comes on a taco.
The roommate and I investigated Los Pelones, the reincarnation of long-time Lahaina eatery Compadres, and found its take on Mexican food to be gringo-friendly and family oriented with many nods to traditional big Baja flavors.
As expected, we were greeted with fresh, crunchy chips and mild salsa, quickly followed with the creamy house guacamole, also mild. A few dashes of hot sauce later and we were digging in guiltily, knowing that we were spoiling our appetite for dinner.
The festive appetizer platter arrived first, stacked with crunchy fried taquitos carnitas, a basic cheese quesadilla, mini chicken chimichangas and, my favorite, spicy little chili wings bathed in the perfect amount of Tabasco. We nibbled cautiously because between the guac and our starters it was becoming obvious that the portions at Pelones are grande, bordering on enormous.
When selecting an entrée I considered all the usual suspects, but going with a simple chicken burrito, fish taco or steak enchilada seemed like a shame when the menu included such diverse items as Mexican ribs, shrimp and scallops and fresh fish. I was particularly delighted to see six different chili relleno preparations, including one made with goat cheese.
In the end I went with my server’s recommendation and ordered the daily fresh fish platter. My mahi mahi and opakapaka came Veracruz style, rubbed with Cajun spices and buried under a flavorful sauce of green bell peppers, onion and tomatoes. On the side was a mountain of Spanish rice, which got a small drizzling of hot sauce before I dug into it, and creamy black beans sprinkled with cojita cheese.
The roomie ordered the manana ribs, a half-rack or so of tender baby back pork ribs smeared with mango barbeque sauce and served with pintos and chipotle butter-smeared roasted corn.
We made a valiant effort but fell far short of cleaning our plates. Each meal was enough for two people, and the super-sized portions applied to the margaritas, too. Two strong, tall, refreshing cocktails later we were happily buzzing to the noise coming from the crowded bar.
Los Pelones is not only carrying on the Taco Tuesday tradition that made Compadres a weeknight hot spot for hungry locals, they’ve decided to host Taco Thursdays as well. Now those in search of a cheap bite and a margarita won’t have to wait seven whole days to get their hands on a crunchy, and surprisingly delicious, hard-shell taco for just a buck.
And for that price I don’t really care how authentic you Californians think they are. MTW