By Chris Takahashi | Staff Writer
Tio’s Tamales serves up southwestern style cuisine, from tamales to chimichangas, to a loyal and growing customer base from a homely brick and mortar shop on Nu‘uanu Avenue close to downtown.
It is the namesake tamales, served with a side of rice and beans, that are a popular dish served at the restaurant. For those that have never tried a tamale before, owner/chef Ray Mascareñas uses an analogy that fits particularly well in Hawaii. His stripped-down definition of tamales is to think of a dumpling, but with corn flour instead, and filled on the inside with tender meats or vegetables.
Mascareñas’ tamales are inspired by the cuisine of New Mexico, which is represented in the types of chilis used within. The chilis are not exactly burn-your-tongue off hot, but instead give each tamale a unique flavor profile. Though rice and beans are not typically served in New Mexico-inspired cuisine (potatoes are preferred), the rice and beans hold their own against the rice and macaroni salad combination one might be accustomed to at their favorite plate lunch establishment.
Perhaps in that sense, along with “tios” meaning “uncles” in Spanish, the restaurant has found itself on the shortlist for locals who crave something hearty yet a little bit different. There’s not too many places serving up tamales like Tio’s in Honolulu. Other fan favorites include anything with carne asada (tender, marinated strips of steak) and the breakfast burritos that are served from 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Tio’s Tamales might not have come to fruition without the encouragement of Mascareñas’ son, who prodded his father after he made tamales for him and his girlfriend’s family for the first time, “Dad, you know what? I think you have to open up a tamale restaurant.”
Since opening the restaurant, Mascareñas’ biggest joy has been from getting to know his repeat customers on a first-name basis. For him, “making people happy” with good, quality food is what drives his enthusiasm in the kitchen and and dining area, chatting with new and old faces alike.
It also helps to have a coworker like Karen Arakakispinney who will take your order at Tio’s always with a friendly greeting. Though Arakakispinney is busy wearing many hats around the restaurant, she sometimes forgets that she is working a “job.” She quipped, “when you find people that love your food, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Tio’s Tamales can be found at 1329 Nu‘uanu Avenue and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:00 – 2:30 p.m. The restaurant caters events and is also on the lookout for talent to join its team. Inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org