Cilantro Mexican Grill: Truly Awesome Chicken
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her blunt assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
You may be asking yourself, “How good can a rotisserie chicken actually be?”
Turns out, INCREDIBLY good…and we’ll get to that in a minute.
The first of three visits to Cilantro in the Old Lahaina Center started with the Guacamole and Chips ($4.95/small, $6.95/large). Super fresh chunks of avocado are mixed with onion, tomato, garlic, and jalapeno. The overall flavor was spot-on: simple and not overdone. People with wheat sensitivity beware, however: the excellent homemade corn tortilla chips have a few unexpected flour ones mixed in.
That stated, the menu is thoughtful and clearly denotes items that are vegetarian and gluten free for those paying more attention. In this case, the oversight was ours.
The Nachos Del Sol ($7.95) were exactly what you would hope, down to the layer of “Chipotle con Queso” on the chips. The only downside came from the scoop of extremely wet black beans, which soaked through the plate and caused much of the cheese to sog and slip off the chips.
The Pork Al Pastor Taco plate ($11.25) was traditional Mexican fare, rendered a little Hawaiian by the addition of chunks of pineapple. Not typically a fan of pig/pineapple combinations, the flavorful fruit stood up surprisingly well to the adobo roasted meat, and even added an unexpected and pleasing dimension.
We also tried the “Create a Combo” ($12.25) plate and opted for a roasted chicken enchilada, Pork Chile Verde enchilada, and Margarita Shrimp taco. The taco was weak: think four boiled shrimp and some cabbage on a corn tortilla and you’re pretty much there. The Pork enchilada was acceptable, but not terribly memorable. However, the chicken enchilada – like everything made with Cilantro’s chicken – was very good.
The Cheese Chile Relleno ($12.50) – a Mexican restaurant staple – features one of the more creative interpretations we’ve ever seen. Two Anaheim chilies are filled with white cheese and then coated with what seemed to be crushed Corn Flakes cereal. They’re fried and served topped with queso poblano sauce and crema fresca, and the combination comes together far better than expected. It’s atypical, and it works beautifully.
Now let’s talk about that chicken…
Cilantro’s Chipotle Citrus Rotisserie Chicken Plate ($11.50) features a 3/4 pound portion with a thigh, leg and half a breast. Be aware, there are a LOT of herbs tucked under the skin of that bird, and you probably want to scrape some of them off. However, the rosemary-heavy cooking style results in meat that is incredibly moist and flavorful. In fact, it’s straight up awesome.
The plate comes with some Mexican-style rice and sweet – is that molasses? – refried beans. The spicy jicama slaw is quite fiery, more like the pickled carrots and peppers found in Mexico than any cream-based picnic slaw.
The menu mentions that the Spinach, Mushroom, and Poblano Enchilada Plate ($11.95) was a 2004 Taste of Lahaina winner.
That may be, but we wouldn’t order again. The subtle vegetable flavors were drowned out by red enchilada sauce. We couldn’t really taste the poblano or the mushroom, and the filling seemed to be mostly spinach. Perhaps a cream sauce would remedy this, but as-is, this dish was the most disappointing of those we sampled.
But, oh that chicken…
Although some of the vegetable enchiladas were still on the plate, we picked the chicken bones clean like bums in a dumpster. Then we ordered another one for the road. If you get there between 4 and 5:30 p.m., an entire bird can be yours for $9.95, rather than the usual $14.90. Cilantro isn’t pawning off any grocery store quail-sized chickens either; those babies are big.
One gets the sense the restaurant was inspired by Chipotle. The “Cilantro” font is very similar, and the space itself is reminiscent of the chain: bright, open, and welcoming. The staff is friendly and one guy is always spilling over with “you look so beautiful today!” compliments. Who doesn’t like to hear that?
All in all, Cilantro Mexican Grill offers solid, affordable West Side dining. It’s BYOB and there are plenty of options for everyone on the creative menu. (But seriously, get the chicken.)
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line.
Dying to know how a certain dish is made so you can recreate it at home? Send in a request, and we will try to pry the secret out of the chef…and even take a run at cooking it up ourselves. Mahalo. -vanessa(@mauinow.com)