Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina, Kaanapali, Maui

Tia Juana’s 3_Torches

2291 Kaanapali Parkway

Lahaina, Hawaii

(808) 667-4080

Review by Chuck Racine

Southern California nights — always the possibility of a regular evening turning into a crazy, bizarre, tequila filled escapade, and it always started with someone saying, ” let’s go to TJ,” aka Tijuana, Mexico.

tia juana food

Tia Juana's Beach Cantina

Living in Maui such things seemed a thing of the past, until last Friday, as the words, “let’s go to Tia Juana’s,” left my lips and my youth flashed before my eyes. As anticipation built once again for the bursting flavor of tacos loaded with carne asada, cilantro, and my favorite salsa, I was whisked away to a familiar place.  Home.

In Irvine, California, there is also a Mexican restaurant named Tia Juana’s which was near the train tracks in an old converted warehouse, close to my home. It was known for great food, live entertainment and a unique special called a “train shot” shared by all tequila lovers. Whenever the train would rumble by, the rattling the windows would signal bottom’s up by a bar full of shot slammers.

Although Maui is a far cry from Mexico or Irvine, Tia Juana’s second location has added some spice to Kaanapali’s restaurant line up. But no one is resting on their laurels here. All aficionados know that any Mexican restaurant worth the salt rimming their margarita glasses has to make a great first impression, accomplished with that first margarita and complimentary chips and salsa.  To put TJ’s to the test, we tried a Ka’anapali Kick-Ass Margarita, a refreshing kick in the…you know what! Pineapple muddled with lime juice, agave nectar and  Serrano peppers, hand-shaken with premium Cazadores Reposado Tequila and served on the rocks easily passes muster for Mexican food lovers.

The spiciness of the cocktail opened up all my taste buds and was the perfect accompaniment to the basket of warm tortilla chips. Loading a generous serving of fresh salsa on a homemade crisp and popping into my mouth, my taste buds shot six shooters in the air.

Tia Juana's Guacamole and Appetizer

Tia Juana's Guacamole and Appetizer

We were just about to give up our basket of chips when our waiter, Aaron, recommended the Queso Fundido, a hot bowl of three cheeses roasted peppers and chorizo sausage served with warm tortillas and tri-colored chips. Fantastico!

As an entrée, we dined on my favorite, Carne Asada Tacos, and special menu items which I’ve never seen in Maui before, such as the Maui Cattle Company Steak Tampiqueno, a “Blackened Ribeye” carved in house, covered with Mexican spices and cooked to order. We finished it all off with Blanco Y Negro, TJ’s traditional flan baked over rich chocolate cake and topped with tequila caramel and fresh whipped cream. It was so sweet and moist we savored each bite. Robert, the General Manager of the restaurant, suggested we experience our dessert with a shot of Patron. Not wanting to offend, we happily obliged.

Between the great service and rustic, spacious decor,  an unencumbered and atmospheric pulse beat through the restaurant. The rhythm was shared by staff and management as they ensured everyone enjoyed their experience to the fullest.

After dinner we tried to justify hanging around a little longer to listen to the Carrol Brothers playing downstairs at Donovan Frakenrieter’s Margarita Bar, but an early morning was summoning me back to my crib. There will be a next time. Guaranteed.

I just hope they’ll start promoting “train shots” whenever the Sugar Cane Train rolls by.

Tia Juana’s and Donavon Frankenreiter’s Margarita House always have something happening, from live music to different food specials such as Taco Tuesdays, all which can be found on their website. http://www.tiajuanas.com.

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Tune in to Chuck’s Corner this Thursday for the story behind the review:

The bartender was clearly hitting on my date, I had to do the only thing any man would do in a similar situation…

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