Vamonos to El Charro for a Fiesta of Flavors
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Summer is right around the corner, bringing with it the promise of longer days, warmer nights and the need for fresh, flavorful food worthy of a fiesta.
Foodies will find exactly that at El Charro Mexicano Aiea Restaurant, where owner/chef John Ramirez and his crew of cooks create authentic Tex-Mex cuisine suitable for any form of celebration.
Ideal for large parties or folks who can’t decide what to order, the Appetizer Sampler ($14.99) includes four of El Charro’s most popular appetizers. “It comes with one flauta, which is almost like a chimichanga, with shredded beef and chicken,” Ramirez says. “Then you have the two taquitos, one with shredded beef and one with shredded chicken, one cheese quesadilla and then in the center you have the ceviche” — a mahimahi marinated in lime juice and mixed with homemade pico de gallo.
If you don’t want to share your meal, Ramirez suggests the Camarones Volcano ($14.50). This must-try consists of shrimp coated in a bright red sauce made from scratch each day with habanero peppers, garlic and onions.
“It’s sweet and a little bit spicy,” Ramirez says of the dish, which also comes with black beans, Spanish rice, pico de gallo and guacamole.
A pleasant surprise on the menu is the selection of vegetarian options, like the Vegetarian Quesadilla ($8.75), a grilled flour tortilla filled with bell peppers, Maui onions, zucchini, mushrooms and cheese, and served with a side of pico de gallo, black beans, Spanish rice and sour cream.
Diners are welcome to BYOB, and discounts are available for both military and college students with a valid ID.
“We give them a 10 percent discount,” says Ramirez, who is an Army veteran. “We also give the civil service, like the police officers and fire department, (a discount) and I also give my co-workers in the postal service 10 percent off.”
El Charro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week except Sundays, which is when the restauranteur and his wife, Sofia, spend time with their two children, Jonathan, 13, and Mehealani, 11. Catering options also are available.
On the Side
When John Ramirez opened El Charro Mexicano Aiea Restaurant in Aiea Shopping Center last September, he also fulfilled a life-long dream of owning his own eatery.
“It was just an accomplishment I wanted in life, to have my own restaurant, and also to be successful,” says Ramirez, who works as letter carrier in Kahaluu during the day before traveling over the Koolaus to work in the kitchen at night.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but I like it,” he admits.
Dressed in vibrant yellow and red paint and decorated with mirrors, paintings and even a sombrero, El Charro has quickly become one of the best places to have a quick bite to eat on the Leeward side. It specializes in authentic Tex-Mex staples like quesadillas and enchiladas, but Ramirez, who is originally from San Antonia, Texas, and fellow cooks Gloria and Jesus Orias (who are siblings from Mexico) also put their own personal spin on traditional recipes.
“We got our recipes together, and Sofia, my wife, decided what went on the menu and what didn’t,” he explains with a chuckle. “It’s a mixture of what me and my wife like.”
Making the cut is the Pollo Poblano ($10.50), a creamy and surprisingly mild treat made with white-meat chicken breast sauteed in a white cream sauce that is made with Maui onions and poblano peppers.
Other popular menu specialities include Carnitas ($10.99) — chunks of slow-cooked pork loin garnished with lettuce, pico de gallo and guacamole that Ramirez says fills up even the hungriest “big boys” who come into the restaurant — and Fish Milanesa ($14.50) — a breaded piece of fresh fish prepared similarly to chicken katsu.
“They’re different and no other restaurant has them,” says Ramirez of the three meals, which are each made complete with a side of Spanish rice, black beans and choice of corn or flour tortillas. In addition to the extensive assortment of apertivos (appetizers), ensalads y sopas (salads and soups), a la carte items and classic and specialty plates, El Charro also serves vegetarian dishes, breakfast and desserts like Flan ($3.49), Sopapillas ($3.49) and Fried Banana Split ($8.99).
“It’s a fried banana wrapped in a flour tortilla with a secret family recipe inside. When you bite it you’ll know what it is,” Ramirez says of the sinfully delicious dessert that comes with two scoops of deep-fried ice cream as well as drizzled fudge sauce, cinnamon, powdered sugar, whipped cream and a cherry on top.
“The community really loves us, so we’ve been keeping busy,” he adds. “And we’re happy that the customers love the food and keep coming back for more.”
El Charro Mexicano Aiea Restaurant
- Aiea Shopping Center
- 99-115 Aiea Heights Drive
- Aiea, HI 96701
- (808) 488-9727
- 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Monday – Thursday
- 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Fridays and Saturdays
- Free parking available.