My quest to find the ultimate comida de Mexicana has been a struggle. As a West Maui resident, I’m underwhelmed with resort-style food, chain restaurants and Pacific Rim overload. It wasn’t until a serendipitous evening stroll along Lower Honoapiilani Road that I found taco heaven in a four-wheeled, generator-powered white truck called Ohana Tacos. It was the same feeling Catholics must have when they wake one morning to find the Virgin Mary miraculously imprinted on their breakfast toast.
Operated by a local family from Guadalajara, Mexico, Ohana Tacos is a cash-only establishment in the parking lot of AAAAA Rent-A-Space. They offer handmade food, cooked to order at a price that can’t be beat—$3 per taco.
On this particular evening I walked the short distance to Ohana Tacos from my apartment in Honokowai and found a small crowd already gathered. In true taco truck fashion, two men were squatted on the cement eating from paper containers. As I studied the menu, Oscar, the spatula-wielding man inside the truck, popped his head out of the pick-up window to tell me his favorite dishes and which salsas to try first. “You like vegetarian?” he asked me. “I make best vegetarian taco you ever eat.”
While a grilled veggie taco did sound good, I decided to weigh my options. I spotted a large spit slowly roasting thin slices of pink, fleshy pork wedged between a Maui Gold Pineapple top and a Granny Smith apple on the bottom. I’m told this is the sweet al pastor; before I could order one, a woman inside the truck offered me a sample.
One of the more striking things about Ohana Tacos is the use of handmade corn tortillas. Their imperfect shape is indicative of being hand-rolled before they’re fried to a golden brown, and each taco gets two tortillas shaped like oversized softballs. The al pastor taco contains diced pieces of the spit-roasted pork, a pico de gallo of tomato, white onion and cilantro served with a lime wedge on the side. I squeezed the lime across the taco and took one hearty bite with the traditional elbow-to-air, mouth agape taco-eating technique. The sweet, subtle flavor of pineapple comes first followed by the smoky pork bits seared just enough on the grill to give them crispness. The pico de gallo has a mild taste while the tangy citrus of the lime juice ties all the flavors together.
The chicken taco had a bit more pizzazz. The meat was shredded finely, almost to a pulp, and formed a sort of mound in the center of my tortilla wrap. Added to the pico de gallo were cheese, grilled bell peppers and onions. Again, I used the complementary lime before biting into a moist and flavorful taco. The chicken was well seasoned and properly cooked, again from a slow roast and flash grill. Every addition to the taco is an effortless match to the meat. I gulped the whole thing in four bites.
Going 2-0 on the tacos, I tried the more adventurous-yet-traditional Mexican taco of lengua/tripas, which translates to tongue and stomach, as in a cow’s. Before you say “ewwwww,” think about what kind of meat is in a hot dog. The miscellaneous cow parts have obviously been ground into a hamburger-like patty and then grilled. The taste was what I expected, a smoky beef-like flavor. However, the mushy texture threw me off and it didn’t take long before I was eyeing the salsa bar.
Oscar told me his favorite salsa is the “green one,” even though none of them are spicy enough for his palate. Apparently his sister makes all three salsas at home. When I looked inside the truck for his sister I saw no less than five people crammed side by side. “Are all these people your family?” I asked. “Yes. This is my sister, my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law,” he replied.
Tacos are perhaps the simplest thing to make and just about everyone has a version of this Mexican staple. But there is no substitute for the real thing, and Oscar and his ohana certainly deliver must-try tacos for anyone passing through Honokowai. MTW