If you want to start a passionate conversation amongst true foodies in Honolulu, ask them — and the results are always more spectacular if you ask a group in real life, instead of online — where to go for the best Mexican food on Oahu.
Some may opine that there is no truly good Mexican cuisine available here. Others, including myself, would make the case for some establishments already open. Either way, you’re sure to get an earful.
Last weekend, local residents gained one more option for tacos and burritos with a distinct edge over their competition — mobility. Former KTUH DJ Paul “Mano Lopez” Zarate enlisted the help of two cousins to launch Zaratez Mexicatessen out of a converted tour bus.
“I’ve been working about a year to hustle this,” said Zarate on Saturday as he stood outside his taco truck, which was parked in a paid lot behind NextDoor in Chinatown. “I had no job, so I was like … I gotta survive, you know?”
After making burritos to order for friends and saving up a bit of cash, Zarate took the plunge and bought the tour bus off Craig’s List. He’s worked to acquire the necessary permits and convinced two cousins, Alex Nunez and Chris Cherry, to move to Honolulu.
“It took about a day” to decide whether or not coming to Hawaii was a good idea, said Nunez. Cherry expressed similar excitement about getting an opportunity to share his family’s recipes in a taco truck setting.
ZARATEZ STARTED off on Friday near Washington Intermediate School in McCully before making the jump to Chinatown on Saturday.
During the week, the taco truck will service the lunch crowd downtown; according to Zaratez’s Twitter account, the cousins have set up shop this week near the intersection of Halekauwila and Punchbowl Streets.
“We’re going to float around a little bit,” said Zarate. “We’d like to (go after the late night crowd), but we’ll go where the demand is.
“I love Chinatown, so if we can get down here regularly, we’ll come.”
For the first weekend of business, a variety of fillings (beef, chicken, pork) were offered in taco or burrito form. Onions and cilantro were available by request; only one choice of beans (refried) and salsa (homemade) are served with all menu items.
If the first night of business was any indication, Honolulu residents are itching to take part in the mobile food culture that has taken Southern California by storm in recent years.
“We got slammed,” said Zarate. “The first two hours was pretty nuts … (and) we didn’t really prepare correctly, but we got through the night.”
Future locations of the taco truck will be announced only via social media networks on Twitter and Facebook; follow them online at www.twitter.com/zaratez or www.facebook.com/zaratez. Contact Zarate directly at 227-1422 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.