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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 10, 2006

Two new spots to satisfy your taco, burrito craving

By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Left to right, Laura Cartier, of Palolo, and BC restaurant manager Manuel Montemayor, of Wilhelmina Rise, enjoy burritos at BC Burritos in Kaimuki.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Maria Santoyo places a tortilla on the griddle at Just Tacos Mexican Grill. Customers get hot-off-the-grill tacos filled with regional Mexican meat fillings.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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BC BURRITO

Rating: Three (good)

3607 Wai'alae Ave. at 12th Avenue

737-4700

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Details: BYOB. Street parking; municipal parking lot. MC, V. Kids' burritos available.

Overview: College types pack San Francisco-style burritos your way at this no-frills taqueria.

Price: $1.69-$6.29 a la carte; $5.39-$6.29 combination plates

Recommended: carne asada, chicken mole, chile verde, carne asada, veggie, seasoned potatoes, salsa de lupe, corn salsa

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Just Tacos Mexican Grill owner Jesus Santoyo makes a dessert at his restaurant. In front is a steak super taco (two tortillas). Santoyo uses family recipes and Mexican regional specialties for his taco fillings.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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JUST TACOS MEXICAN GRILL

Rating: Three and a half (good to very good)

Remington College Building

1111 Bishop St.

545-2960, www.justacos.com

Hours: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Details: Counter only; sheltered seats outside. Pay parking lots; metered street parking. Disc, MC, V accepted.

Overview: This taqueria may just be a counter, but watch 'em crank out fresh, corn tortillas hot off the griddle, stuffed with 10 kinds of regional Mexican meat fillings.

Price: $2.50-$4; $1.75 flan; $3 shave ice

Recommended: carne asada, fajitas, fish, shrimp, mole, flan, shave ice

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Civil engineer Tony Kawal and Jesus Santoyo, a former district manager for Ross Stores Inc., have a lot in common. After scouring the island fruitlessly for Mexican fare that would satisfy the tastes they grew up with on the Mainland, both started up their own taquerias.

In the restaurant hub of Kaimuki, Kawal's BC Burritos wraps up San Francisco-inspired kitchen-sink bundles. For downtown's rushed grab-and-go business crowd, Santoyo's Just Tacos features antojitos using freshly made soft corn tortillas folded over various meats. Either way you go, these Mexican snack stands will appeal with their racy fast foods.

BC BURRITOS

Meaty SoCal burritos dominate our Mexican-cuisine landscape, but the tides could turn in favor of the all-in-one wraps commonly found in San Francisco's Mission District and now at BC Burritos, which opened last month. Kawal franchised BC from Big City Burritos out of Fort Collins, Colo., and altered the name to avoid confusion with Big City Diner down the street.

BC does it your way. Five different kinds of tortillas including colorful tomato chile and jalapeno cheddar, eight fillings, black or pinto beans as well as five lively salsas, are on its easy step-by-step instructional menu.

In addition to offering more than 40 kinds of hot sauce, BC makes its own green, homemade version using jalapenos, serranos and tomatillos. Jumbo-sized bottles of Tabasco stand next to smaller bottles, many with cheeky labels and names. Always on the lookout for hot sauces, Kawal found local brands from Hot Sauce Hawaii, made with tropical fruits like banana and guava that add a touch of sweetness instead of delivering pure heat.

BC prepares its fillings, salsas and guacamole daily, then loads them into tacos, quesadillas and burritos in front of you in an assembly line. The Gutbuster ($11.19; $11.39 with beef) scarily proposed two overlapping 12-inch tortillas and the warning, "For professionals only." A regular size with a 10-inch tortilla was more reasonable, but a 12-inch is available for those who want to supersize.

Although BC burritos contain rice, they are a little wet since all ingredients are rolled together. Stewy-soupy fillings mean that fried carnitas and grilled carne asada resemble kalua pork or shredded beef here. But this in no way detracts from the stand-up flavors of succulent pork chile verde, smoky chicken mole (made with imported New Mexico red chiles) or seasoned cubes of tender deep-fried potatoes. Corn salsa with chipotles or the salsa de lupe, the hottest of the bunch with its arbol chiles, add vibrancy to the compact meal.

Kawal, originally from Albuquerque, N.M., said, "That's one thing I really wanted to do bring some of home back here." He took a sabbatical from civil engineering to get BC off the ground and hopes to open more locations if the Wai'alae spot does well.

JUST TACOS

Three months ago, San Diego native Santoyo opened Just Tacos his lifelong goal.

"I just missed my Mexican food and I could not find it," he said. "Believe me when I say I looked."

With the support of his parents, who emigrated from Baja California, Mexico, Santoyo wasn't deterred after California banks rejected his loan applications, thinking a place selling only tacos wouldn't take off.

Just Tacos is soaring. Folks line up at the counter-only spot for soft corn-tortilla tacos that are grilled as soon as they can be hand-cranked from a press.

Santoyo's enterprise uses family recipes as well as recipes of regional specialties collected on family expeditions. In Puebla, famous for its mole poblano, the Santoyos learned from another family how to produce a sweet, silky peanut-buttery sauce accentuated by chocolate from the area.

From Ensenada comes lightly-battered, steamy deep-fried fish or shrimp topped with shredded cabbage and a sultry, creamy white sauce resembling dressed-down tartar.

As I ate the cochinita pibil, traditionally made in the Yucatan with pork marinated in citrus juices and achiote, the meat juices ran down my arm.

Preparations for the masa dough begin at 4:30 a.m. using imported corn that is cooked and ground. The resulting tortillas make up tacos, the super taco (2 tortillas) and the quesadilla taco, also known as the mulita a sandwich of two tortillas and Monterey Jack cheese.

A three-item menu means you can try all 10 meat fillings. Thirty different salsas, of which six appear daily on the condiment bar, are rotated every two weeks.

You also can order dessert, either a dense, smooth flan or shave ice known as raspado here. Not your ordinary snow cone, homemade fruit syrups such as mango and papaya with real fruit chunks cap off the crushed ice.

Santoyo envisions opening 10 locations in the next three to five years. His next step is a larger restaurant slated to open by Cinco de Mayo in the 'Aiea-Pearl City stadium area.

Reach Helen Wu at hwu@honoluluadvertiser.com. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, service and ambience in relation to price. Menu listings and prices are subject to change. Reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. The Advertiser pays for meals.