First Look: Chronic Tacos on Kapahulu

This California-based chain is bringing SoCal-style Mexican fare to Honolulu.
Randy Wyner, founder of Chronic Tacos, spent the last couple of weeks training the staff and working the line at the chain’s first Hawai‘i location on Kapahulu Avenue.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


You hear it all the time: Hawai‘i doesn’t have any good, authentic Mexican food.


That’s why Randy Wyner, founder of the California-based Chronic Tacos chain, says he was so excited for the state’s first location, which opened last week in the Kapahulu Safeway complex.


“We’ve been wanting to come out here for years,” says Wyner, who vacations in the Islands every year. “We knew there was a need for tacos, but it was just about finding the right operator and location.”


The chain opened in the 1,278-square-foot space vacated by GameStop near Safeway with a build-your-own menu. Get a taco with marinated grilled chicken, a burrito stuffed with slow-cooked pork or a salad topped with beer-battered shrimp. The shop also serves specialty items including potato tacos, breakfast burritos, churro bites and Chronic Fries, a bed of fries smothered with everything you’d get on nachos. You can order sides of fajita-seasoned veggies, Spanish rice, refried beans and guacamole. Many of the vegetables are sourced locally, Wyner says.


All of the recipes come from Wyner’s childhood friend, Jason Bonilla, whose family hailed from Mexico. “It’s so important to get the recipes right,” he says.


The fish and shrimp in these tacos can come either beer battered and deep fried (pictured) or grilled.


Curious about the name? (Yeah, us, too.) Chronic Tacos has two origins: The first, Wyner says, is that “chronic,” to him, means “the best, excessive, repetitive, you want more and more.” The second, his oldest son’s last name is Cronick. It was meant to be.


I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of Mexican food, but everything we had—grilled fish tacos, carne asada nachos, Sinaloa tortilla chips and salsa, a bowl of eight churro bites—was tasty and affordable. One customer, who thanked Wyner on his way out, said he had already eaten there four days in a row.


The beer-battered fish tacos use mahimahi; the batter wasn’t crispy but not soggy, either. I really enjoyed the pollo asado tacos; the chicken was packed with flavor and spiked with citrus. Each taco is a generous mouthful, especially for the price.


The Chronic Fries are this chain’s version of Mexican-style loaded fries, topped with carne asada and guacamole.


The chicken in this taco is marinated then grilled and topped with shredded cheese, lettuce and house salsa.


Some of the hot sauces, including Chronic Tacos’ super-hot sauce made with ghost peppers.


When Wyner opened his first Chronic Tacos in Newport Beach, California, in 2002, he only expected to run one or two shops. Now, there are more than 50 Chronic Tacos across the U.S. and Canada, with 15 soon to open in Japan. The Hawai‘i operators, Tim and Brianne McDowell, plan to open two more Chronic Tacos shops in the Islands but aren’t sure where yet.


“What makes us unique is our flavors, our recipes and we have breakfast,” Wyner says. “I just wanted to make really good tacos.”


888 Kapahulu Ave., #D-1, (808) 376-2095,