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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

El Charro serves tasty, fresh Tex-Mex cuisine

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Arely Manrique, assistant manager at El Charro, displays the restaurant's beef burrito plate, right, and taco salad, which is a special.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

El Charro

111 Sand Island Access Road

Mondays-Saturdays, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sundays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.



El Charro's menu has "San Antonio Style" on its cover, a reference to the city in Texas. Often, you'll see food prepared in the style of a particular city from its native country, but this place considers itself more Tex-Mex than genuine Mexican. It's on a busy thoroughfare, especially in the mornings and afternoons.

One can understand why the restaurant would want to borrow styles and recipes from San Antonio. It's a city that has managed to retain its sense of history, blending several cultures, including Native American, Mexican, German, black and that of the Deep South, and to create a distinct flavor all its own.

At El Charro, you can begin your day at 7 a.m. with one of their egg-based breakfasts. Huevos rancheros ($6.95) is two eggs, salsa, beans, rice and cheese. Chilaquiles ($5.95) combines three eggs and fried tortilla strips (called totopos), with onion, tomato, serrano chile, cheese, beans, rice and chicken.

A morning special from 7 to 8 a.m. is three tacos for $2.95, but you have to order three of the same type — chorizo and egg, potato and egg, country sausage and egg, ham and egg, bean and cheese, along with other choices.

Also available: the torta, the Mexican sandwich ($5.95) made from a bolillo (a hard roll) cut in half and stuffed with various fillings, including carne asada (grilled steak), al pastor (rich, marinated pork chunks) and chorizo (sausage).

At lunch and dinner, the queso fundido dip ($5.95) is a gooey, cheesy way to begin. It's a blend of melted Monterey Jack cheese and chorizo, served with flour tortillas. If you can still move after scarfing that, try the guacamole ($3.95), which is pretty good.

Combination entrée plates include a tasty dish called chalupas ($5.95) that you see all over Texas and the Southwest. Pressing tortilla dough into elongated and ridged shapes makes a shell shaped like a chalupa (canoe), from which the dish takes its name.

They are cooked on a comal (a griddle made originally from clay, but now more often from iron, steel, tin or aluminum), and sometimes fried as well, then filled with your choice of shredded meat and topped with cabbage, tomato, cilantro, avocado, beans and sour cream.

A couple of interesting diversions include the carne de puerco en chile rojo ($7.95), pork chunks in red chile sauce, or pollo a la parilla con rajas ($8.95), which combines grilled chicken with poblano chiles and cheese. Each is sassy without being too spicy.

The bistek charro ($8.95) is meat cowboy-style: a charred steak with onions, chiles, tomato and cilantro.

Quesadillas ($6.95), enchiladas ($6.95) and chimichangas ($7.95) are available here with your choice of chicken, beef or pork. They're not spectacular, but are fine for what they are. The chile relleno ($8.95) stuffs a large poblano chile with a lot of cheese, topped with an interesting version of a tomato sauce. Rice and beans round out this dish, as with most of the others.

Inexpensive children's plates ($3.50) are an affordable way to introduce your kids to Mexican food. On Fridays and Saturdays, you can get two special traditional dishes. Menudo, a soup or stew made with tripe and flavored with chiles, is a specialty of northern Mexico, and often is considered a cure for hangovers. Posole is a soup made with meat (usually pork) and cacahuazintle, (a variety of corn with large ears and round grains), and flavored with chile, a specialty of Jalisco state.

El Charro's dining room is vividly colorful, made so by the use of bright paint, Mexican tablecloths and other artifacts.

The ceiling light fixtures are a bit strange, though, draping you with a red-colored glow.

All in all, the food was well prepared and fresh, and the service casually adequate.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.