My 5 Favorite Tacos on O‘ahu Right Now
Barbacoa, birria, Baja-style fish tacos: Where to find taco excellence right here on island.
Ten years ago, no one would have claimed that O‘ahu was known for tacos. At the time I relished trips to California to get my fix of tacos filled with authentic Mexican meats. But things are different now and these days, O‘ahu has some seriously craveable contenders. Here are five of my current faves around town.
Lengua tacos and barbacoa tacos
When Frolic Assistant Editor Thomas Obungen introduced me to Thyda’s Tacos, we stood near the Kaka‘ako trailer stuffing our faces and cooing over the meats. My go-to order is lengua (braised cow tongue), well executed versions of which remain elusive on this island; and barbacoa (stewed beef cheek). Thyda’s palm-sized double tortillas have generous fillings of each meat, topped with fistfuls of cilantro and white onion. The lengua is succulent and flavorful on its own, but with a squirt of lime and drizzle of tomatillo salsa, becomes everything I love in a taco. The barbacoa is deep and meaty, juicy with crisped-up streaks of fat. For me, Thyda’s delivers the best Cali-style street taco on O‘ahu. Pickled jalapeños and carrots are a colorful surprise when you peel back the foil on the plate, and Thyda’s ups the ante with grilled onions, tons of lime wedges and big servings of tasty salsas. Down to wait in line for a deal? On Tuesdays you can snag the tacos for about $2.50 apiece.
1034 Queen St., in front of Tint Shop Hawai‘i across from Whole Foods, @thydastacos
Crunchy carnitas tacos
Tight Tacos on Wai‘alae Avenue combines two of my favorite things: crunchy tacos and dinosaurs. The newish eatery is known for its lush carnitas (which it sells by the quarter-pound on a plate meant for adults) and house-made tortillas. Although the keiki set is supposed to be for tiny humans, plenty of grownups who crave crunchy tacos order it. I’m not sure if it’s memories of walking to Taco Bell after elementary school or of many drunken nights that ended at El Farolito in San Francisco, but a fresh, crunchy taco just hits the heart different—deep-fried pun intended. These tacos are a texture bomb, the amber fried corn shell, thin and crisp, lending a toasted note to the delectable carnitas, crunchy lettuce and shredded cheese. So simple and so yummy.
3617 Wai‘alae Ave., @tighttacoskaimuki
I used to think I didn’t like fish tacos—until I worked at Taqueria El Gallo Rosa at the beginning of the pandemic. I was fascinated by the ancient technique of making nixtamal (fresh tortilla masa made from stone-ground corn) and the single-origin corns that El Gallo Rosa was shipping in from Mexico, each with a different color, flavor, texture and behavior. While I love the 22-ingredient mole, my hands-down favorite is the Baja-style fish taco. Lightly beer-battered and fried, local strips of white fish are layered with habanero mayo, limey cabbage, pico de gallo and radishes. The buttery crunch of the batter is highlighted by the aroma of Mexican oregano, and the creamy habanero mayo is rich and plays well against the acid and crunch of the cabbage and spicy radish. To take it to the next level, drizzle on morita salsa, an umami chile oil made with smoked dried jalapeños and other aromatics.
If I lived in Wahiawā, or anywhere nearby really, Barrio Café would be on my frequent hit list. From churro French toast made with Kilani Bakery bread to the tastiest green chile-smothered crinkle fries, chilaquiles, sandwiches and even taquitos, it’s clear that this place is run by food lovers. And while I’m not a birria fanatic, Barrio’s stands apart from the rest. Cheese is laid down on the flattop first, and then one of the two tortillas that will contain the juicy, shredded braised beef. The consommé is rich and punchy with a formidable earthiness and spice. Even coming from Waimānalo on the Windward side, it’s worth the trip.
672 Kīlani Ave., Wahiawā, @barriocafe808