By Susan Halas
Amigo’s Restaurant in Akaku Center at 333 Dairy Road in Kahului is the original hole-in-the-wall family-run Mexican restaurant. Despite its unassuming exterior, the food is surprisingly good; the service fast and friendly.
There’s something about this tiny place, with its small seating capacity packing everyone into a handkerchief-sized dining area, that seems to encourage a congenial atmosphere.
Maui Now visited Amigo’s twice, (once for dinner and once for lunch). Each time we found the customers scoffing up the food, downing the beer in frosty mugs, ordering the giant-size house margaritas, schmoozing with their table mates and new-found friends across the aisle. And, having only good (or very very good) things to say about the food.
Dan Ormsby and his family, visiting from Berkeley, California, were just finishing up their lunch on Tuesday. “This is always our first stop from the airport when we get here,” he said. The tab for a party of six came to $43. They liked the Taco Salad and the California Burritos.
If you wonder where the kitchen elite go to eat when they’re not working, ask Dan Bader and his wife Linda. Dan is the executive chef at Ruth Chris Steak House in Wailea, but on his day off the couple headed for Amigo’s in Kahului, where he told us, “You can’t go wrong here.” He was eating the Pork Carnitas. She liked the Shrimp Quesadilla. “When we come to town it’s one of our favorite places to eat,” she said and added in a confidential tone, “The house margarita is da bomb.”
The restaurant is owned by Jesus and Pedro Otega, and staffed by members of their family as well as long-time associates. Pedro, originally from Durango, Mexico, said the Kahului location has been open for seven years. The pair also have two other Amigo’s outlets in Lahaina and Kihei.
It’s clear Amigo’s has a loyal following among local residents: “It’s good people and good food,” said Howard Kopeck of Wailuku. He and his friend Cliff Stevenson make it a point to drop by often. They like the Shrimp Tostada, and added that “Any taco on the menu is good.”
“I’m Mexican,” said Patty Bartlett of Kihei, having lunch with her husband Terry.
“When I first got here I made the rounds of all the Mexican restaurants on Maui. This was by far the most authentic.”
Patty was having the Lengua (tongue) and pronounced it “delicious.” Terry went for the Carnita. They pointed out that the servings were so large that they couldn’t eat it all, and both had takeaway boxes for the leftovers. “The bill for two people including a beer was $28,” he said.
A restaurant is only as good as its kitchen, and it was clear that family member Socorro Ortega and her co-worker Marta Momge enjoyed the work. The pair were smiling and laughing as they chopped up green chili and carrots for the salsa bar. Spicy pickled carrots are a house specialty.
Pretty Marciel Wong is a long-time front-of-the-house employee; she been on the job for six years. She operates the cash register, clears the tables and serves the food. “We’re busy, always busy,” she said. “Chimichongas, the burritos and carnitas are popular with our customers.”
She reminded local residents that Amigo’s offers a 10% Kamaaina discount and also has happy hour deals from 3 – 6 p.m. daily when domestic beer sells for $2, imported beer is $3 and the house margaritas are $4. Nachos go for $5 and there are also other daily specials and upgrades.
Maui Now was suitably impressed. We ate dinner there Saturday night as the guest of a friend who works in the neighborhood. It was all good and we left full and happy, feeling the warm glow that comes from having a better-than-expected meal.
The stand-out was the large serving of Shrimp Ceviche. The order came to the table full of tender shrimp mixed with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice and chili pepper and garnished with large chunks of fresh avocado. All of it generated flavorful limey juices.
It was good, so good that we thought about it constantly over the weekend. Our resistance crumbled early in the week and we were back on Tuesday to order it as a carryout. A two and a half cup container cost $11. We brought it with us pau hana that night and all our friends wanted know: “Where did this come from?” It was good and it was gone in an instant.
How about the ambiance? Put a lot of happy, hungry, gregarious people into a small room, turn on a large screen TV playing Mexican music videos, add a staff that hustles and lace it all with cold beer and large margaritas. It may not qualify as fine dining, but it definitely fills the bill.
Maui Now readers should be advised that the Yelp and Trip Advisor ratings for Amigo’s were all over the map. Some gave it many stars but others were less than impressed. Quite a few rated the chips sub-par and on the stale side. Possibly true – but perhaps picky, too.
If our experience is any indication, there aren’t going to be many empty tables there anytime soon.
There is no need for reservations, but for larger parties they are accepted.
Amigo’s Mexican Food
333 Dairy Road (in the Akaku Center)
Kahului 872-9525 Open Daily 9-9
Other locations in Kihei and Lahaina