It’s a Tuesday late afternoon, and Roger Kennedy is already busy in the kitchen of Tropical Taco. He’s slicing mahi mahi, placing it on the broiler, then turning around and preparing plates with beans, cheese and lime.
A few minutes later, he’s handing orders through the service window to server Tasia-Lin Learned. She quickly delivers the hot and fresh meals to a couple waiting at a table, then checks on other customers who have wandered in the front door.
“Some days it’s like this,” Kennedy says as he prepares more items from the menu. “We have customers as soon as we open.”
They leave happy and satisfied from Tropical Taco in Hanalei.
The dining room is clean, comfortable and relaxed. The hardwood floors, surfboard in the corner, and the large screen TV high on the front wall are part of the decor, but it’s the outline of the green and white Tropical Taco van that grabs your attention. The history of this eatery is connected to that van. When Kennedy first opened Tropical Taco, he operated from the van near the Dolphin restaurant. Did it that way for more than a decade. A few moves later, he found a home at 55088 Kuhio Highway. All told, it’s been part of the dining scene on the North Shore since the late 1970s.
Anything that endures that long must be doing something right.
Call it friendly service with fresh ingredients at a fair price. And it comes with a smile and greeting from the fit, talkative and energetic Kennedy, who knows his regular customers and knows what they want before they even order it. It’s not like he’s getting rich operating the restaurant, but he’s definitely enjoying it. From the moment he walks in to the moment he walks out, it’s all about doing his best, having a good time and being sure his guests are eating well.
“I meet a lot of great people. That’s really what I enjoy,” he said.
The menu isn’t exactly extensive, but it is full of tasty, filling food.
You can start with the Baja Taco Fresh Fish Special for $14, which was popular on Tuesday. It comes with corn tortillas with beer batter fried fish, mayo-salsa, cabbage tomato cilantro mix, topped off with mild salsa and fresh lime and served with a side of chips and beans.
One of Kennedy’s favorites and a crowd pleaser is the Hanalei Style Fish and Chips, which is beer batter fish of the day served on a bed of shredded cabbage with fresh Taro fries cooked in Canoloa oil.
If you’re really hungry, try the burrito, which is 10 inches of flour tortilla warmed and wrapped around beans, lettuce and cheese for $14. There’s even a vegetarian version for $13.
If you’re in the need for a morning meal in Hanalei, try the breakfast burritos at Tropical Taco. For $7 to $8, there are variations, including a BLT burrito, eggs, taro and cheese burrito, eggs and cheese and bacon burrito.
This is one of the must-stops in Hanalei. It’s right off the highway, easy to find and just feels like home away from home when you walk in.
And if you want to know about the history of the area, Kennedy is your man as he also is the caretaker/guide of the Waioli Mission Station in Hanalei.
Hours of Tropical Taco are 8 to 8 Monday through Friday, 11 to 5 on Saturday and 11 to 4 on Sunday. You can order to go, but it will cost you $1 per item.
Oh, this might be the first menu that comes with “WARNING!”
But it’s in good fun. That warning, says the food is “not to be consumed one hour before surfing!”