Cisco’s Cantina Rocks
the Casa with Great Mexican

By: Kevin McQuarrie
Oahu Island News

Cameron Diaz, no stranger to the charms of Hawaii, was recently quoted as saying that if her career suddenly tanked, she would be perfectly happy with a different life. She says she would be “waking up, eating a burrito, surfing, eating a burrito. …” We’re with you, Cammy — pass the jalapenos, baby. I could eat Mexican food every day of my life and still not get tired of it. Which is why I was more than happy to test out Cisco’s Cantina, located in Kailua.

Cisco’s just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it’s easy to see why the restaurant has been so successful, despite being in an industry known for rapid turnover. The atmosphere is funky, with blue-tiled tables. Overhead, festive piñatas bob in the breeze, strewn up next to strings of chile-pepper lights and Mexican beer flags. Friendly, low-key servers wear T-shirts that read, “Juan tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.” The margaritas are cold and the food is served in huge portions. It’s basically a party waiting to happen: Just add friends and mix.

While some Mexican restaurants take the easy way out and just slather everything with cheese and rice, Cisco’s bumps it up a notch with quality ingredients and thoughtful recipes that nod, appreciatively, to the cuisine of our island region. For example, we ordered the Crab Nachos ($13.45), and it did not disappoint. The crispy chips were covered with huge pieces of real crab, a pile of guacamole so high I could barely see my friend across the table, and, with the perfect local touch, a pineapple salsa for extra kick.

 I guess it goes without saying that we ordered a few margaritas; hot Mexican food just screams for the salty/sweet, cooling contrast of the drink. Cisco’s serves them in sizes ranging from a petite 8 ounces on up to 60-ounce pitchers. Standard size is 16 ounces, so that’s what we stuck with. After all, we had a review to write. The restaurant also has a great selection of Mexican beer, including Corona, Tecate and Negro Modelo, as well as “gringo beer.”

For our entrees, one of us tried the sampler option, which allows you to choose two ($11.95) or three ($14.95) items. The Chicken Tamale and Chili Relleno with cheese were good, but it was the Kalua Pig Enchilada that truly shone. It was an interesting way to fuse local cuisine into a Mexican dish, and it’s a successful pairing of flavors and textures.

We also tried the Burrito Del Mar (one for $13.45 or two for $15.45), a flour tortilla filled with sautéed mahi mahi, shrimp, tomatoes, olives and capers and covered with a white cheese sauce. I was getting full, but I couldn’t seem to stop eating this. Truly decadent.

Vegetarians have plenty of options at Cisco’s, as many of the dishes are available with beans or vegetables. I wish I could say there’s something here for lighter appetites, but I have to be honest, this is the kind of place where you can go in with the best of intentions and then just can’t resist the heaping plate before you. Better to give in, I say. Relax, order a margarita, try a Bullfighter Taco or a burrito. As they say, Cisco’s is “nacho ordinary Mexican restaurant.”

CIsco’S cantina
131 Hekili Street
Kailua, HI