Don’t call Island Taco a Mexican restaurant.
Sure, if you eat here, you might enjoy some delicious Mexican elements such as homemade salsa, tortillas, and ranchero sauces, but that’s about it.
“Our slogan is local flavors in a homemade tortilla,” said restaurant manager, Taylor Nichols. “The owner gets furious when they consider us a Mexican restaurant.”
Island Taco — a casual open-air experience in Waimea — fuses a wide selection of island favorites such as kalua pork, Teri chicken, poki together with a variety of other types of cuisines, namely Mexican.
“We’re pretty eclectic. We’re pretty ma and pa,” she said. “We don’t care if people walk in without their shirt on or their slippers.”
The restaurant, which serves about 100 to 200 people each day, has been open for five years and its owner, Kirk Marois, said it about time to open numero dos.
The new Island Taco restaurant opens this November in Poipu.
“It’s in a better realm for people to try it,” he said. “Down there, (I can) introduce the idea to a lot of people.”
For now, the Waimea location is doing pretty well for itself, Nichols said. With seven full-time employees, everyone gets a chance to do a little bit of everything. Her staff is committed to making the experience enjoyable for their customers.
But the food is the major player, she said.
The taco salad is topped with kalua pork and served on a bed of homemade refried beans. The seared ahi is crisped to perfection inside of a chimichanga.
“It’s almost like the typical local plate lunch that you would find, but we put it in a tortilla,” Nichols said. “We just make a taco out of it.”
Tacos, burritos and chimichangas come with a shell, cheese, rice and the customer’s choice of protein sautéed with cabbage.
Island Taco also serves quesadillas, which are pretty standard — tortilla, cheese and meat.
“We keep the fryer pretty clean, so the chimichangas come out piping hot,” Nichols said. “I hate when you get a soggy chimi. Our chimis are actually crispy and hot. Same with the taco shells for the salads.”
No animal fats are used to make any products including the shells and all the other homemade ingredients, Nichols said.
“You can be vegan and come here and get something to eat,” she said.
That was the concept behind opening the restaurant in the first place, Marois said.
“I can feed anybody,” Marois said.
One of their more popular items is the seared wasabi ahi chimichanga, which starts at $17. The cabbage is sautéed in oil, the ahi is seared and wrapped in the homemade tortilla. Some white rice is added and a bit of cheese and then it’s fried just enough to hold in all the juiciness, Nichols said.
“I know we’re a little out of the way, but if you’re pulling up to the canyon, it’s worth a stop,” Nichols said.
The Waimea location is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m and the Poipu location will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. when it opens.