The machaca burritos are big and beefy, packed with juicy meat that is marinated, slow braised and then shredded to develop its robust flavors and textures.
The chile rellenos are made in house using fresh poblano peppers, stuffed with a secret queso (cheese), then seasoned, coated and fried. The sides of refried beans and Spanish rice do proper justice to the entree.
"We opened May 20 in the old KFC drive-thru location in Kihei," says owner-chef Raul Jaimes Jr. "We still retained the drive-thru, and now some customers are calling in orders ahead and picking them up there."
Raul Jaimes Jr. and his wife, Heather Jaimes, have transformed the old KFC in Kihei with vibrant colors and authentic, south-of-the-border tastes.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Raul Jr. learned the tricks of the Mexican restaurant trade from his famous chef father, Raul Jaimes Sr., who founded the old but popular Papa's & Chiles location that is now Bistro Casanova in Kahului.
The elder Jaimes hails from Mexico City, where he got his repertoire of family recipes. He also founded the Fiesta Time restaurants on Maui, sold them, and is now retired. But he likes to help out in the kitchen.
"I felt I always wanted to run a restaurant," says Raul Jr. "My parents are getting on in age, so I felt it was time. My wife, Heather, helps with the front of the house duties, and and my daughter, Caitlyn, works here, too."
Just park at the little center across from Kalama Park that also houses the Kihei Rodeo General Store, walk inside, and place your order at the walkup counter.
The walls are painted in vibrant colors such as lime, chili pepper, and naranja (orange). The artwork is whimsical with chihuahuas and bullfighters.
"My mom and dad are training us for consistency and to keep their legacy alive. We're getting a really good response so far. People say they recognize the tastes and the flavors from our previous restaurants."
One such signature dish is the Suiza chicken enchiladas, aromatic and colorful in its tomatillo and cilantro green sauce base, then ladled with sour cream.
Tacos al pastor feature pork roast marinated in chorizo seasonings, or order the meat layered in a Mexican torta sandwich. Top with some hot salsa and lime juice, and your taste buds will be doing the hat dance.
"The carne asada burrito is our number one best seller," says Raul Jr. "The meat is rubbed with spices before being cooked on the grill."
Chile Colorado is basically cubes of pork in a red sauce stuffed into a burrito, but there's nothing basic about it. It's roasted in beef broth with guajillo peppers. The Ultimate Nachos and Huevos Rancheros are also hits.
Adventurous types will want to indulge in the menudo, which is made at Juanita's with tripe, hominy, chile peppers and oregano in spicy beef broth. This hearty soup is also a surefire hangover remedy.
"We try to use as much local ingredients as possible," he continues. "I use local tomatoes, Big Island avocados. We're getting a lot of repeats. Desserts are churros, cheesecake and flan. Drinks are non-alcoholic."
Juanita's is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Call 874-1004.