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Taco tour


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POSTED: Friday, December 26, 2008

WHEN Compadres Bar and Grill closed in September, I heard a lot of people lament the demise of their favorite Tuesday night hangout.

For years, the words "Taco Tuesdays" conjured up images of tequila-fueled craziness and cheap tacos in an extremely casual atmosphere overlooking Ala Moana Beach Park. When I moved home from the mainland nearly a decade ago, Compadres drew a steady crowd of college kids and industry workers who knew how to stretch every last drinking dollar.

After the closure, a number of bars have tried to pick up the slack with cheap tacos of their own. Each offers its own take on the Mexican staple, and most offer some sort of beer or margarita special to really make it a fiesta.

Here's a look at some of the options for your next Tuesday night taco adventure:

  Ryan's Grill
Ward Centre
591-9132

  Dave and Buster's
Ward Entertainment Complex
589-2215

  Tropics Cafe Bar and Lounge
Ward Farmers Market
591-8009

  If you want to turn Taco Tuesdays into a pub crawl of sorts, take a trip to the same neighborhood that Compadres helped make famous.

Start at Tropics Cafe Bar and Lounge in the Ward Farmers Market, where $1 beef and chicken tacos are available from 4 to 7 p.m. along with a tasty tortilla soup for the same price. Parking is usually plentiful in the market's lot around this time, and the staff at Tropics is incredibly friendly and welcoming to new customers.

Your next stop is Dave and Buster's, where $1 beef tacos are served from 5 to 8 p.m. at the rooftop Sunset Bar. If you time it right, you can kick back with some food and drinks while enjoying a beautiful sunset over Kakaako.

For whatever reason, D&B's is one of the few places that offers sour cream on their tacos (the rest stick with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and salsa), and servers offer you a choice of beef fillings. Go for the "sweet" version, and you get a sloppy joe-style taco that reminded me of the ones my Mom used to make from some ground beef and a packet of seasoning mix. The "spicy" version wasn't too spicy, either.

Finish your taco tour at Ryan's Grill, where you can order $1 chicken or beef tacos from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and listen to live music. Next to Bikini Cantina, the quality of the fillings at Ryan's was the best tasting of all the tacos we ate.

Another nice touch: Bottles of Corona and Corona Light are just $3 during Taco Tuesdays at these three bars; house margaritas are available for the same price at Tropics and Ryan's.

  Senor Frog's Waikiki
Royal Hawaiian Center
440-0150

For those with families in tow or out-of-town guests to entertain, Senor Frog's Waikiki is a surprisingly affordable option for Taco Tuesdays.

From 4 to 7 p.m. each week, tacos are served up for $2 per plate of two with four hours of free parking in the Royal Hawaiian Center's lot. While Bud Light drafts and house margaritas are priced at $2 each, the party atmosphere and gregarious employees make this a great option for those with kids—they can make all the noise they want!

Unfortunately, the tacos here were the most uninspiring of those we tasted. This is surprising, since the majority of management staff were brought to Honolulu from Senor Frog's locations in Mexico.

  Bikini Cantina
Aloha Tower Marketplace
525-7288

  Of the half-dozen varieties of tacos tasted this month, the ones at Bikini Cantina were easily the best of the bunch.

Priced at $2 each, they're double the price of every other bar we visited, but it's completely worth it for your choice of kalua pork or marinated chicken filling wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. While you need to wait for one of the bar's happy hours (3 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight) to take advantage of $2 Coors Light and Bud Light specials, you can order the tacos from 11:30 a.m. to closing.

Besides having the best-tasting tacos, the open-air atmosphere of Bikini Cantina and spectacular views of Honolulu Harbor make it a great hideaway from the downtown grind. Parking is $2 for three hours with validation, which is affordable enough if you share a ride with friends.

  Wahoo's Fish Tacos
940 Auahi St.
591-1646

  While they don't offer any sort of Tuesday night special, Wahoo's Fish Tacos takes a similar approach with "Wahoo Wednesdays" at their location on the corner of Ward Avenue and Auahi Street.

Like Bikini Cantina, Wahoo's opts to use soft tortillas for their fish or chicken tacos and prices them at $2 each from 6:30 to 9 p.m. every Wednesday. They also offer bottles of Primo for $2 and feature live music on their outside lanai.

As with the rest of the bars listed here, you can't really go wrong with the prices you'll pay for food and drinks at Wahoo's. The lack of servers also means you'll save money by not having to tip anyone at the end of your visit.