It’s hard to believe that I’ve been eating at Maui Tacos for 20 years. The Maui-Mexican fusion cuisine ala Mark Ellman–known for grilled meats, fresh housemade salsas and great vegetarian offerings–took the island by storm in the 1990s. I love picking up their tacos and burritos, but it’s hardly a place where I would expect to find high tech gadgets or big menu changes.
Then I stopped at their relatively new Kihei Kalama Village location and found just that: iPad ordering modules bolted to tables in their al fresco dining room as well as cocktails, beer, a happy hour menu, a full breakfast menu and even table service in the evening. Is this still the Maui Tacos I know and love?
Well, yes. Since new owner Jeff Endervelt took over, familiar faces like Operations Director Jose “Pepe” Vega and Chef Alfonso Navarro are still ensuring the best island-Mexican fusion items on the menu. Their burritos and tacos have been Best of Maui winners for years, and you can pick them up at any of their many locations. But their Kihei Kalama Village shop, the newest of the six on the island, is the nesting ground for Maui Tacos innovation.
“Airports were the first ones using this technology,” says Endervelt. “Where customer service is not super important.”
The iPad system is simple. You sit at a table, peruse the menu, then tap on an item you’d like to order. No typing is required–you just tap on options like specifying a particular meat or requesting no cheese and then hit “complete order.” A swiper for credit and debit cards is built in at the top, and your receipt is then emailed to you (if this isn’t for you, or you want to pay with cash, you can still order at the counter). But the process isn’t totally impersonal: a Maui Tacos server later comes by with your food and to make sure all is well. Of course, you can still pick up your favorite salsas and condiments at the salsa bar.
While testing it out, Vega filled me in on their tortillas, made special for Maui Tacos by a family of generational tortilla makers in LA. Vega knows his tortillas.
“Our corn tortillas do not use Maseca,” says Vega. “The reason why is that Maseca is made with all the corn product, including the husk and the cob. Instead, we make our corn tortillas from scratch, starting with a nixtamal–soaked corn kernels. Because we only use the kernels, the flavor of our corn tortillas is superior. Maseca can make your tortillas drier with less flavor.”
They also make their divine horchata every day. I tried mine with a glass of iced coffee while eating my soy-rizo breakfast burrito. It was incredible!
Maui Tacos has offered breakfast burritos for years, but this location is serving a full breakfast menu with American and Mexican specialties. There’s soy chorizo with huevos, chilaquiles, breakfast tacos and loco moco, and all all reasonably priced from $2.75 to $7.25. They also have pancakes, French toast, eggs, breakfast potatoes and omelets, and mimosas start at $3 with a breakfast order.
At happy hour (3-6pm), you can get cervezas for $3, Long Island ice tea for $5 or margaritas for $5.50. The margaritas come with housemade sweet sour, are served in imported glasses from Mexico and will make you forget the South Maui heat faster than the few taps on the iPad it takes to order them. It’s best if you pair your relief with taquitos or two-bite tacos from the pupu menu.
Their beans are made from scratch, too, and their cooks butcher and break down their meats every day. There is no lard in their tortillas and beans, meaning dining can be ideal for diet restrictions like gluten-free and vegan.
The enchiladas are also made to order. You choose from six different filling options–charbroiled steak, shredded beef, ground beef, chicken, barbecue pork or cheese. At dinner, Chef Alfonso has also created a list of special creations: Jalisco Chile Verde, Veracruz drunken fish and grilled pineapple chicken fajitas. The drunken fish was so tender and tangy, with Corona, tomato, onion, cilantro, fresh jalapenos and green olives going into the sauce. The chile verde is made with pork steak bites with green tomatillo, jalapeno, garlic and cilantro.
1913 S. Kihei Rd.
mauitacos.com (new menu is not online yet.)