If you live (or enjoy extended visits) to the Big Island of Hawaii, especially those of you who have savored the oral perks found in areas of the Southwest mainland where Mexican food (traditional and otherwise) is not only yummy but an inexpensive necessity, you will have to readjust your taste bud rating system and dent the wallet in order to enjoy such food here. In all seriousness, somewhere between desperation to satisfy that craving and ignoring the inexcusably poor quality of content, you will slowly but surely find yourself accepting and paying the big bucks for Costco salsa, wimpy-sized burritos, and bland, soggy, and otherwise nutritionally deprived foodstuff. One might think it was like pizza, where you needed the right altitude or humidity or water or wood-burning brick oven to make it like they do ‘in the old country’…or at least New York or Chicago. But I don’t think there is a problem with acquiring the right ingredients or having the proper culinary qualifications fulfilled to create a decent Mexican feast. No, here it’s perchance a simple combination of lack of Hispanic blood, an insufficient understanding or appreciation of the “cuisine”, and/or a significant shortcoming in healthy competition. What the fug is so hard about making a quality TexMex enchilada combo? (And oh-god no, please don’t cook it in a microwave as they do in some Oahu restaurants – e.g. the famous North Shore hot spot Cholo’s!)
But despite the title, the main purpose of my complaint today is not Mexican food in general, but a specific Mexican restaurant. See, I was spending my morning surfing yummy mountain waves at Kawaihai Harbor along the Kohala Coast and was oh-so-ready to cap it off with yummy food. I decide on Mexican because I’ve got the predilection and there are only a couple restaurants in the vicinity anyway and Tres Hombres is decent enough. Like many eateries on the Big Island, if you took this place out of their element, into any big city locale -LA, SF, NYC for example- they’d likely be out of business because of the bountiful competition and higher standards (especially considering this particular place’s tourist-kine prices). As far as Mexican restaurants on this island goes, it’s among the best. And today, as hungry as I am, it will more than do.
I take my computer inside because I’ve been car camping and unable to charge the battery and, thinking ahead, would like enjoy enough juice to fall asleep to a movie tonight. Also, there’s a meager wireless connection that is just enough to update the Thomas Jefferson Hour podcasts on my iPod. Upon entering I specifically ask if there is a seat where I can plug in. The waitress sits me next to one, and even moves my table a little so it’s more convenient. I happily sit and get myself situated. Order an enchilada dinner and it arrives pretty quick. Was enjoying my food session maybe a half hour, just completed my meal, had my plate taken away, and am finishing it up with a refreshed glass of water when an uncongenial woman -whom I’m to discover is the owner- walks over to my table and asks “Are you going to be ordering?” and then before I even have a chance to respond demands, “You need to order if you’re going to be plugging your computer in here.”
Now, keep in mind, this is a woman likely isolated from the realities of the modern world. She surely has no idea that the most successful of coffee shops and eateries around the world are only happy to let you plug in, especially if it invites more visitors during an otherwise idle lunch crowd (and note: there is only one other table occupied in this pretty large restaurant at this time.) Thing is, lack of culture or technology shouldn’t preclude a business owner from good manners and good sense (I’m seriously debating whether the whole “the customer is always right” concept could conceivably be a myth) I tell her I just finished eating and was just about to leave, but suddenly the idea that I need to order to use her power has gone out the window, and instead now that I’ve already eaten I need to unplug my computer. I tell her I asked the waitress when I came in. She tisks that her waitress doesn’t know anything. Okay. I ask if she realizes that a computer uses a minimal amount of power (yeah, I’m a sucker for logic and yeah, I realize it’s not universally appreciated. But on that note: actually laptops use only 15-45 watts…and I only had one program running for 15 minutes, the other 15 it was asleep…and adding to that the fact Macs use less power than most…maybe balances out that electricity costs more in Hawaii…let’s see watts x hours used divided by 1000 x cost per kilowatt-hour = total cost…I guess, without bothering to do the math, the total power use calculates to approximately 10¢). Okay, I didn’t mention any of those specifics, but I was unnerved enough to ask whether it was worth losing a long time customer? (Fact is, not only have I eaten there many times over many years, but as a tour guide I regularly brought in large groups of people.) But I guess for her running a business that slacks on customer service is part-and-parcel to operating under lowest-common-denominator standards. So I unplugged, left no tip (which I didn’t mean to do but I just wanted to get out of there) and exited full but with an upset stomach and sunken heart. That wonderful surf vibe I spent all morning achieving admittedly tweaked by an unpleasant woman who felt, despite the self-evident counterproductive consequences of her act, it more important to infuse her big ego, bad business sense, and not-so-wonderful energy into her customer’s dining experience. And they say love transfers into the food….
Again, people eat at places like this out of lack of alternatives. I’m only telling you my experience because despite some of the inferior choices here the one thing we do have much of is aloha and a kind, friendly vibe. All I can say is even if you’re desperately hungry after a surf session at Kawaihae…you can do better! If you have time to drive try TakoTako in Waimea or get a jam-packed burrito (with kahlua pig even) at Killer Taco in Kailua-Kona! Otherwise move past the Mexican cravings to the Kawaihae Harbor Grill’s Seafood Bar for some oysters and a Pina Colada…I’ll meet’cha there!
p.s. I read this very sad review on the same restaurant on the KonaWeb site, and realized I had no reason to not print this Kawaihae restaurant’s name, which is Tres Hombres…so you don’t end up with a similarly horrible experience. xo