Cocina Serves Refined Mexican Street Food with a New Menu and New Hours

Left: tortaguesa (hamburger) topped with an egg, queso and cotija cheese; right: grilled corn and fried avocado

Cocina has trimmed down its menu but expanded its hours; now you can get Quinten Frye's take on Mexican street food all day, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Gone is the menu of $20-and-up dinner entrees such as the brick-pressed chicken and bone-in pork chops with a charred fennel mole; Cocina now focuses on tacos, tortas (sandwiches) and other humble Mexican fare, with made-from-scratch everything, from sauces to tortillas.

You won't find Mexican food like this anywhere on the island. There are terrific flavors in the beef cheek burro ($13), a flour tortilla wrapped around smoky, chile braised meat and smoked cheddar; a pork belly huarache ($15), shredded pork on fried masa spread with black bean puree; and fried chicken torta ($14) with pickled peppers and onions, quite possibly the best fried chicken sandwich on the island. The tortaguesa ($12) is also a winner: Texas meets Mexico in a hamburger, a nod to Frye's Texas roots, with Texas queso, cotija cheese, avocado and pickled jalapenos.

Left: fried chicken torta; right: pork belly huarache

Cocina recently started Taco Tuesdays, bringing its tacos closer to street food prices ($3 each versus $11 to $13 for a plate), but they can be the least satisfying part of Taco Tuesday—the corn tortillas are a little too thick and taste raw. The taco fillings, such as the pork al pastor (shaved pork with pineapple) and smoked mushrooms, are great, but the whole package feels woefully small.

Everyone tells me they love the food at Cocina, but they also grumble a bit at the prices. There seems to be a limit to how much people want to pay for tacos, no matter what their pedigree; $13 for a plate that feels like an appetizer might be pushing it. But where else are you going to get headcheese carnitas tacos? And if that's not enough to compel you, then order the heartier sandwiches. Those are worth it.

Cocina is at 327 Keawe St. until the end of February; Frye has not yet finalized where Cocina might move to after that. Starting this week, he's also at the KCC Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Blaisdell on Wednesdays and Kailua on Thursdays.