Santa Cruz tacos pokeviche

New in Chinatown: Santa Cruz Taco Company

The longtime farmer's market vendor now has a brick and mortar
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Regulars at the Farm Lover's markets in Kakaako and Kailua (and previously, Pearlridge) love getting their Mexican food fix from Santa Cruz Taco Company, but that's only on the weekends. Now, you can get authentic Mexican food every day, since Julio Gutierrez Santa Cruz has now opened a brick-and-mortar in Kukui Plaza on weekdays.

Julio Gutierrez Santa Cruz
Julio Gutierrez Santa Cruz in the kitchen.

I'm not gonna lie, I am not a Mexican food expert. But those who are, can't get enough of Santa Cruz's food. This past Sunday, travel/food writer Jackie Bryant — who currently calls San Diego, CA, home — got a plate at the market to test its authenticity and proceeded to scarf the whole thing. That proof was enough for me.

Simple surroundings at Santa Cruz Taco's new brick and mortar in Kukui Plaza.

Santa Cruz's food is made from scratch; he even makes his own tortillas. Okay, not pressed by hand, but by machine in house. But not store bought. The flavors are layered, so (especially for Hawaii people) instead of just tasting the Mexican dishes you're familiar with, you'll probably sit back and marvel, as I often do, and say, "What is that?" Santa Cruz doesn't like to reveal his secrets, but he's happy to talk about the general aspects of what he's cooking so you understand and appreciate what he's serving.

I love that it's good, solid food and nicely-priced, so you can get it anytime you have a craving. Here are some things I tried, but Santa Cruz will be changing specials and experimenting with dishes every week.

Santa Cruz tacos
Tacos are $4 each. Clockwise from top: Braised beef cheeks, pork confit, and lengua (tongue). Santa Cruz has a free salsa/sauce bar, too.
Santa Cruz Tacos pokeviche
Pokeviche, $10.

The pokeviche is slightly spicy, comprised of cubed ahi, onions, tomato, cilantro and "citrus magic sauce." This is served with chips, but you'll probably just inhale the plate quickly and cleanly, as we did.

Oxtail pasilla Santa Cruz Tacos
Oxtail pasilla, $13.

The oxtail pasilla is a favorite with the market denizens. The tails are braised "for a long time," according to Santa Cruz, and the result is an earthy, hearty, slightly smoldering spicy meat that's so moist you can practically drink it. We were so full that we had leftovers and, in a heartbreaking move, Diane Seo took them home.

Santa Cruz also has Taco Tuesdays every week and Fiesta Fridays on the second and fourth Fridays of the month, each open til 7:30 p.m. He says these events are popular not just for the food, but because it's BYOB.

Santa Cruz Taco Company
50 S. Beretania St. #C118
Open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Tuesday nights from 3 to 7:30 p.m.