Getting all fired up about Mexican food

Jo McGarry
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Friday - August 29, 2008
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Augustin Cardenas
Augustin Cardenas

Augustin Cardenas has a theory about Mexican food. It’s an answer, of sorts, to the eternal complaint of those who live in our culinary diverse city and yet complain constantly that there’s no “authentic Mexican food.”

“The thing about Mexican food is that it’s different in every Mexican restaurant you visit,” says the owner of Mexico Lindo in Kailua and Mexico Restaurant on School Street. “Even in my home town, each restaurant does things differently. It’s really impossible to say that there’s only one style.”

Cardenas is from Guadalajara, the world tequila capital. His father was in the food business, and Cardenas grew up with an appreciation of good food.

“When I came to Hawaii,“he says in heavily accented English,“I wanted to be able to share some of my culture through food, so it made sense to me to open a restaurant.”

He believes that food, tequila and music make for the happiest of marriages, and since opening in Kailua four years ago,Mexico Lindo has earned a reputation for serving large portions in a relaxed environment. The intent is for people to come and have a good time.“We have mariachi players, we have a great selection of tequila and we have good food,” he says with a smile.“This is a very happy place.”

There’s a warm, rustic appeal to the décor, which mixes terra cotta walls with Mexican folk art, brought to the restaurant from Agustin’s hometown.

Crispy tacos, tamales, enchiladas and chile relleno are on the menu at Mexico Lindo in Kailua
Crispy tacos, tamales, enchiladas and chile relleno are on the menu at Mexico Lindo in Kailua

The menu offers most of the usual American Mexican fare we’re used to seeing, and while flavors are hot and portions generous, it would be fun to see this Mexico Lindo crew let loose with a few more flavors from home. When Cardenas offers specials or dishes that deviate from the regular Mexican fare, they’re exciting and full of flavor.

“My wife will do specials occasionally,” he says describing a favorite mouthwatering dish of filet mignon grilled, diced and served with bacon, cheese and chorizo, simmered in the steak juices and served with salsa fresca and fresh beans on the side. “We do it as a surprise sometimes,” he says.

Other dishes of note, and ones where Mexico Lindo can certainly attract regulars who love seafood, include a fiery Diablo Shrimp ($15.50), where shell-on, large shrimp are sautéed with roasted garlic and white wine. There’s a fairly addictive Queso Dip ($8.50) that comes with chorizo and homemade crispy tortilla chips - impossible to take just one bite - and there’s an impressive salsa fresca that’s obviously a homemade favorite, and comes as a side dish with most entrees or as a side for $1.50. The freshly diced onion, jalapeno and tomato base make it a great accompaniment to everything from plain chips to rellenos and tacos.

For those who love fajitas, order the Guadalajara Fajitas ($18.25), where a sizzling skillet comes weighed down with marinated steak, chicken and shrimp with bell peppers, onions and mushrooms served with flour tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, beans and salsa fresca.A portion for two is $32, but the generous single platter will feed most appetites and leave room for a different entrée.

Order the spicy salsa fresca. It has a fresh, homemade flavor and lots of heat
Order the spicy salsa fresca. It has a fresh, homemade flavor and lots of heat

The fish dishes are a good bet. “We’ve always been fish lovers,“he says. “My father sold fish for 25 years, and we grew up cooking and eating it almost every day. We have several fish dishes that are really popular.” Seafood entrees include Real Crab Enchiladas ($14.95) - two flour tortillas filled with crab meat and cream cheese, topped with a homemade verde sauce; and Mexico Shrimp ($15.50), where a large flour tortilla is filled with Spanish rice, sautéed garlic shrimp and mushrooms, then topped with cheese and sour cream. And no Mexican restaurant worth its chili pepper has a menu without ceviche ($11.50). The Mexico Lindo version is made with shrimp and marinated in lemon juice. Fish Tacos ($12.95) are two corn tortillas filled with grilled fish and served with guacamole, cheese and lettuce, and daily specials include dishes like sautéed mahimahi with salsa and wine. One of the most popular entrees is the Mamamia Burrito ($13.95), where sautéed fish and shrimp are wrapped burrito-style with tomatoes, onions, olives and garlic and topped with salsa fresca, and papaya and avocado salsa.

Desserts are interesting and offer a little more than the usual Mexican fare, with Fried Banana Split ($4.50), Fried Ice Cream ($4.25) and Churros ($4.25) on the “postres"menu.There’s a nice selection of Mexican jarritos (soft drinks), too, that come in refreshing flavors of tamarind, watermelon,pineapple,manzana (apple) and toronja (grapefruit).

There’s music on weeknights - mariachi musicians bring their lively songs and stroll through the dining room - and the one song that’s popular every evening is, naturally, Mexico Lindo.

“It’s a happy song,one that everyone knows,“says Cardenas.“It’s why we named the restaurant Lindo we want people to feel happy that they’re here.”

Mexico Lindo 600 Kailua Road No. 109 263-0055 Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

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