Roll With It: Thyda’s Tacos Proves that If It’s Tasty, They Will Come
In a random stretch of Kaka‘ako, this tiny taco cart slings up mighty barbacoa, lengua and carnitas.
Roll With It is a Frolic series about food trucks we’ve seen out and about. We’re tracking them down and trying dishes to bring you the 4-1-1.
It’s so often true that you’ll find the very best food in the least likely places. For Thyda Phev and Majed Alabdali, a small stretch of Queen Street in front of a tinting shop was as good a place as any to start slinging their L.A. style Mexican street fare. This stretch of Kaka‘ako is not exactly a hub of the street food scene, but for those in the know, Thyda’s Tacos is a destination, especially on Taco Tuesday.
Phev and Alabdali arrived on O‘ahu from Los Angeles, where you really do find great food in random places. That city’s street food scene was the inspiration for their tiny taco cart, and in 2016 Thyda’s Tacos was born. It survived the remodel of the entire block next door, from the old Office Depot and Nordstrom Rack complex to today’s Whole Foods Kaka‘ako, all while Phev simultaneously cultivated her own line of bikinis. These days, while she wants to continue with her bikinis, Thyda’s Tacos has been busy helping people squeeze out of theirs.
You can’t miss the colorful trailer against the Los Angeles Lakers-themed mural that sets the backdrop, painted by the girlfriend of the couple’s sole employee. The food comes out relatively fast, considering dishes are made fresh to order and the line starts growing right as they open.
At a glance:
There are five main food groups at Thyda’s: Tacos ($3 to $4.50), burritos ($10 to $13), quesadillas ($8 to $11), rice bowls ($10 to $13) and mulitas ($4.50 to $6). A mulita is like a small quesadilla made with corn tortillas pressed with a meat of your choice, cheese, cilantro and onion—like a crispy taco grilled cheese sandwich. Then you have a selection of sides including rice, beans and chips and salsa. Two coolers in front are filled with bottles of Jarritos sodas and cans of other soft drinks. On Taco Tuesdays, prices come down to $2 or $2.50 depending on the meat you choose.
You have five choices of meat plus a vegetarian jackfruit filling: carne asada, which is steak that is marinated then grilled; carne pollo, or marinated and grilled chicken; carnitas, braised and fried pork shoulder; lengua, stewed beef tongue; and barbacoa or shredded beef cheek. At California taco shops, I’m a fan of any part of the beef face, so barbacoa is calling my name. And as a lengua addict, I’m always on the hunt for the best on O‘ahu. Prepared and cooked right, neither is as gamey as you might think.
We recommend these dishes:
- California-style street tacos have generous portions of meat and are finished with colorful pickled veggies, lots of lime and tasty salsas of different heat levels. On a Tuesday, you cannot beat these tacos on price and execution. The tortillas are fresh and fried crispy on the edges while maintaining the ideal chew and staying intact end to end. They’re a little larger than ones you might find in L.A. or San Francisco.
- The quesadilla is fried crispy as well and reminds you how good fried flour tortillas can be. A slight char gives it a hint of smokiness while sour cream and guacamole (if you want it) give it a creamy dimension. Pro tip: If you get your quesadilla to go, vent the foil or eat it as soon as you can, as the crunchiness will only last so long.
- The mulita is a sublimely greasy little indulgence that brings out the full flavor of whatever meat you choose. Between a good portion of meat, toasted cheese that’s seeped out of the edges onto the flat top and pops of cilantro and onion trapped inside, there are layers to this little quesadilla cousin. The mulita is not for the faint of heart.
- The burrito is totally my style—not huge, not packed with rice and beans, also no lettuce or tomato. Albeit a little floppier than the usual, as a purist I appreciate that meat and cheese take up most of the real estate. It comes with pico de gallo and you can also get it with sour cream and guacamole, which turns it into a creamy, dreamy lunch.
And these meats:
- I can’t say this enough: Thyda’s lengua is the best I’ve had on island—hands down. Lengua is not easy to clean and cook well. This one is luscious and seasoned confidently to bring out the best flavors of fat and meatiness.
- Barbacoa can be made from different cuts of meat. Here, the slow cooking of beef cheek results in a deep and profound flavor that is rich without being gamey. Order the barbacoa quesadilla with guacamole on the side, then dunk into guac and then into the toasty red medium salsa. Thank me later.
- While there are different styles of carnitas, I like one that doesn’t completely soak your tortilla and retains the savory goodness of the lard it’s cooked in. The carnitas here is a texture and flavor bomb.
How It Rolls
- Where: 1034 Queen St., in front of Tint Shop Hawai‘i across from Whole Foods
- When: Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Preorders: Call or text orders to (310) 666-4671
- Payment: Cash or credit card
- Follow: @thydastacos
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