Taking on Trendy TacosColumns Ono, You Know
August 20, 2017
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
Happy Sunday, Ono readers! Today may not be Taco Tuesday, but it’s still as good a day as any to explore the latest trends in everybody’s favorite tortilla-wrapped street food.
As one of the hottest menu items on the foodie scene, tacos have transcended their traditional recipe of ground beef, tomatoes, onions and cilantro to become today’s premium vessel for fusion cuisine. Some of the most innovative flavor combos can be found inside these edible bundles of joy, and you don’t have to go to a Mexican restaurant to find them — though, of course, a trip to your nearest cantina is never a bad idea.
So if your taste buds are up for a new take on tacos, let ‘em have these unique bites:
THE FARM-FRESH APPROACH
Tsukada Nojo, one of Honolulu’s newest nabe and shabu shabu eateries, made its debut in Hawaii this past March. Its name will tell you more about the place, as Tsukada refers to an area in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Japan, the country the international dining-chain stems from.
Though first-timers wouldn’t expect to find tacos at this eatery, taking a closer look at the menu quickly reveals that the new hot spot is filled with much more than strictly Japanese eats.
You see, getting back to the restaurant’s name, nojo is the Japanese word for farm, representing the farm-to-table concept that pervades the menu. And that, my friends, is where Chicken Veggie Tacos ($12, price subject to change) comes in, resembling an array freshly picked vegetables from the garden.
In line with Tsukada Nojo’s dedication to freshness, the pupu is piled high with a refreshing mix of classic taco goodies — tomato, red onion, cilantro, sour cream and guacamole — to accent a not-so-classic curried-chicken filling. Further redefining the standard taco equation are the shells used in this dish, which get their crispness not from any sort of tortilla, but instead from fresh, big slices of radish. When enjoyed all together, these ingredients make for a light, bright addition to any hot-pot selection.
For those who like an extra bit of punch, general manager Edward Mailoa recommends giving the tacos a fresh squeeze of the shichimi-peppered lime wedge on the side.
In addition to Chicken Veggie Tacos, check out the restaurant’s happy hour, which is well suited to night owls, as it’s served Monday-Saturday from 9 p.m. to closing (11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and midnight Friday-Saturday). There also are great daily specials to try, and be on the lookout for a refreshed menu soon.
1731 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu
UNDER THE SEA
Fish tacos stand strong as one of the most popular types of tacos out there, and across the spectrum of dining destinations — from street carts and food trucks to casual taco shops and even upscale restaurants — you’ll find chefs putting their own spin on this versatile dish.
Here in the Islands, Uncle’s Fish Market & Grill is known for using responsibly sourced, fresh seafood — much of which is locally caught — to prepare everything from local favorites to American classics. It’s the perfect place to make Fresh Fish Tacos ($19) your next entree.
This seafood splendor delights with garlicand lime-infused fresh catch that gets a delicious blackened seasoning and char from the grill, matching the hearty grill marks on your choice of soft corn or flour tortillas.
In addition to the flaky, tender pieces of fish, the sizable tacos are filled with cabbage, cilantro and avocado. They’re given a creamy, smoky kick from chipotle aioli on the side, and some juiciness from fresh tomato salsa.
When Ono, You Know stopped by, these glorious tacos were made with soft, melt-in-your-mouth onaga, which executive chef Geoff Arakawa explains is brought in fresh from the South Pacific (as the season for onaga fishing in Hawaii is currently closed). Depending on what’s available and in season, the chefs substitute other types of light, white-meat fish in the dish, such as opakapaka, mahi or sea bass.
One thing I love about these tacos: It’s easy to enjoy their flavorful ingredients because the large tortilla shells ensure none of the fillings fall out of the wrapper prematurely when you go in for a big bite. The fabulous crunch of homemade tortilla chips on the side doesn’t hurt, either.
Uncle’s Fish Market & Grill
1135 N. Nimitz Hwy., Honolulu