Sunday | November 19, 2017
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Habaneros Grill offers traditional south-of-the-border specialties

Don’t expect nachos and burritos at the new Habaneros Grill.

The restaurant, which opened in June at the corner of Walua Road and Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona, features traditional Mexican fare, prepared by Chef Isidro Macias, said owner Armando Altamirano.

But that doesn’t mean the menu will feel foreign to diners.

“We use the same ingredients you use in Mexico, we just make it a little more modern,” Altamirano said on a recent afternoon, as the lunch service wound down.

He wanted Habaneros Grill to stand out. Every restaurant on Alii Drive seems to offer nachos, he said, so he opted for something different at his new restaurant. He’s no stranger to Kona or the restaurant business. He’s been operating Los Habaneros in the Keauhou Shopping Center for more than a decade.

The lunch menu includes tortas — sandwiches made on fresh bread with either Mexican-style breaded chicken, steak or slow-roasted pork marinated in achiote paste with orange and spices — as well as chicken enchiladas, poblano chili crepes and steak tacos. Specialty items range from potato cakes to shredded chicken cakes, grilled steak and shredded chicken quesadillas. Lunch entree prices range from $12 to $14.

Dinner appetizers range from honey chipotle wings with a chayote yogurt dip to a fresh beet sashimi. Entrées include chicken covered with mole, fettuccine poblano, rotini with pasilla chili sauce, Veracruz-style fish, chipotle shrimp and pork in a peanut sauce. Dinner entrées range in price from $14 for some vegetarian and chicken items to $32 for a grilled rack of lamb marinated in a balsamic reduction, tomato, pasilla, garlic and salt, topped with salsa macha and served with fingerling potatoes, grilled asparagus and bell peppers.

Habaneros Grill also offers a number of drink specials with fresh juices and house-made sangria.

Altamirano said his chef, Macias, trained at the Instituto Culinario de Mexico and worked in France before coming to Hawaii to help Altamirano bring his culinary visions to the plate.

It took four years between purchasing the building and actually opening the restaurant doors. Half of that time was spent just getting the permitting for the construction project, the remainder was used to actually remodel the building, which had fallen into serious disrepair, Altamirano said.

“It turned into a nightmare,” he said.

The building was constructed in the 1970s and nothing was up to code, he added.

“We thought it was going to be easy,” he said.

It wasn’t, but Altamirano and his wife and co-owner, Cara, persevered, opening the restaurant for Father’s Day weekend.

Doing it the right way was a challenge, he said, but they “didn’t cut any corners.”

The dining room is painted with cheerful colors and filled with lots of natural light from the ocean-facing windows.

Response has been generally positive, Altamirano said, although he occasionally gets a customer expecting a different kind of menu.

“The food speaks for itself,” he said.

The restaurant is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch Monday through Saturday and 5-9 p.m. for dinner seven nights a week.

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