'New Mex' at Tio's Garage & Taco Station

Plato Con Taquitos

Dixie Grill had a good thing going at the highly visible and often very crowded Ward location. So when restauranteur Bill Wary, who also owns Auntie Pasto’s decided to try this new concept we have here as Tio’s Garage & Taco Station, it seemed a bit surprising. Why? To compete with Compadres and Wahoo’s just a block away? According to our server on this visit, his wife is the mastermind behind it.

Well, this ‘New Mex’ concept has some serious popularity shoes to fill here, so let’s check it out.

As you see, they’ve retained the movie theater sign from the former Dixie Grill, using catchy phrases to draw attention. Here it reads “WARNING: RITAS MAY MAKE YOU SMILE”.

There’s an outside seating area on the Halekauwela st. side of the establishment…

And here’s the bar area and doorway to the kitchen inside…

The main dining area…

Our party of five were seated in a partitioned, more private area located at the Mauka end of the place…

When we arrived at 11:30am on a Monday a few weeks ago, the place was mostly empty except us. Is this a sign? With that, service was prompt and friendly.

Like most Mexican restaurants, we were immediately served complimentary tortilla chips and salsa…

Complimentary “bottomless” tortilla chips and salsa

They were generous with this, providing two baskets and salsa dishes so each end of the table had their own, and refilling it soon after we gorged through it.

As far as taste, texture, etc., these were just OK. The chips were served at room temperature; not warm, but at least they were crisp. The salsa had a fine consistency with a pronounced Cilantro and cumin? or chili powder flavor, or some spice that slightly stood out. Otherwise a mild-flavored salsa.

So what’s on the menu? Enter ‘New Mex’. The theme here as described says: ‘New Mex’ varies from traditional Mexican, Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex cooking. However, many New Mexican dishes are similar to Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, such as enchilatas and burritos. ‘New Mex’ emphasises the use of green chile and red chile, depending on the ripeness when the chile is picked. Compared to neighboring styles, green chile is perhaps the defining ingredient of New Mexican food. Heavier use of Cilantro and relaxed use of cumin and tomatillas is important.

OK, we’ll keep that in mind.

So let’s order. Diner “A” chose the Traditional Stacked Enchilatas…

Traditional Stack Enchiladas – Three corn tortillas layered with shredded beef (and/or cheese and/or chicken) with traditional green (or red) chile sauce, melted cheese, topped with (or without) fried egg. Served with beand & rice, $10.50

Diner “AC” went with the Burrito De Fajita…

Burrito De Fajita – A large flour tortilla filled with tender marinaded slices of top sirloin (or tender breast of chicken) with jack cheese, sauteed bell pepper & onions. Served with guacamole & sour cream, $12

Diner “C” ordered the Spinach & Artichoke Enchilada…

Spinach & Artichoke Enchilada – Two corn tortillas filled with grilled artichoke hearts, a souffle of spinach & diced onion, topped with green chile sauce and melted cheese. Served with rice and beans, $12.50

Diner “E” and yours truly ordered the Plato Con Taquitos…

Plato Con Taquitos – Four rolled corn tortillas filled with tinga beef (or chicken), deep-fried. Topped with Chipotle cream and a side of Jalapeno jelly. Served with beans and rice, $8.75.

Diner “E” also ordered a side of Grilled Corn-on-the-Cob…

Grilled Corn-on-the Cob – With cilantro butter, $3.00

And how was all that? We all were unanimously unimpressed. This so-called ‘New Mex’ concept seems lost. All our plates seemed a mixture of trying too hard at not trying hard enough.

The beans had absolutely NO flavor. Poi has more flavor than these beans. Adding salt barely helped, and although there were bits of bacon in it, for some reason you couldn’t even taste that. The rice was also nothing to write home or here about. A slight spice to it, but still lacking character.

Out of everyone on the table, diner “C” was the most satisfied with her Spinach & Artichoke Enchilada dish, which I can’t explain because I didn’t try it personally. Note her rice is green. It is greener on the “other side”. lol

Diner “AC” only could finish half of her massive Burrito De Fajita.

Diner “A”‘s only complaint was that he ordered his egg “Huevos” over-easy with yolk cooked through, which you’d think with the place being slow, they’d get the order right, but they ended up serving it sunnyside up. He didn’t bother to send it back, opting to just eat around the yolk.

On my Platos Con Taquitos order, I requested 2 chicken and 2 beef. The chicken version was moist and tender, but the beef was dry. Also, the deep-fried tortilla was too crispy-hard, not really complimenting the texture, but interfering it. Kinda’ like using a kettle-cooked potato chip for dipping. Know what I mean? It’s saving grace was the Jalapeno jelly, which added a nice sweet and zesty contrast to the cruncy tortilla shell and meaty filling. This dish could be great with a little tweaking.

Diner “E” chose all beef for his four Taquitos, which as I said above was dry, so he was the most disappointed of all of us with his dish. As for the grilled corn-on-the-cob, whatever this “Cilantro butter” is all about, he didn’t notice it.

While I like to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt based on timing and logistics (who’s cooking, how busy, etc.) on first visits, first impressions still count. While the service, ambiance, prices and portions at Tio’s were satisfactory, the food itself just barely made par for the course, with the likes of ‘Tex Mex’ Compadres and even Taco Bell easily beating this ‘New Mex’ thing they’ve got going on at Tio’s. If things don’t work out, I’d recommend Bill go back and fire up the barbecue pit and re-open the place as the “New Dixie Grill”.
With that, I’ll generously give Tio’s…

The Tasty Island Rating:

(1) Average

Tio’s Garage & Taco Station
404 Ward Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814


8 thoughts on “'New Mex' at Tio's Garage & Taco Station

  1. Hi I’ve been a reader of your blog for quite some time and fiond it informative and entertaining. I’ve also recommended it to friends on the mainland, who keep in touch with local food through you now. Anyway, about Tio’s … my sentiments exactly. We really wanted to like it, because we have been to New Mexico and know how fabulous the food is there, but we were sorely disappointed at this pale imitation. I think this place really wants to be a trendy bar that serves some food rather than a serious attempt at offering a good meal with some drinks. Thanks for all the great posts and keep up the good work.

  2. One reason they might not be too busy is that when they were opening the chef was on one of the local early morning shows. He was sweating and wiped his brow with a towel. A moment later he used the same towel to wipe the edge of plate of the dish he just made. It was hysterical, but I’ll never eat there.

  3. So disappointed to hear that Tio’s hasn’t improved since opening a while ago. The tacquitos kind of look “soaked” in oil to me, the way fried things look when the oil is not hot enough. I read another lackluster review of the place by the Honolulu Advertiser’s Wanda Adams. She, too, wanted to like the place, but her true feelings came through loud and clear. And the pics of the completely empty restaurant made me wonder why the owners haven’t wised up yet…

  4. Paul, mahalo for the kind compliments. That’s perfectly said: “I think this place really wants to be a trendy bar that serves some food rather than a serious attempt at offering a good meal with some drinks.” Exactly.

    Scott, I didn’t see that. If I did, I probably wouldn’t even consider trying the place. Yikes! Well, I’m still alive and healthy (I think), so can’t be that bad. lol

    Kat, the food may LOOK ono, but it was less than that. Honestly.

    Molly, I didn’t read that review by Wanda yet. Will have to check it out.

    Mahalo everyone for visiting here!

  5. Pingback: ‘New Mex’ at Tio’s Garage & Taco Station — Sauce making and Receipts

  6. Hi, My my Name is Nancy Moreno, Will You Please sent me for Receipt for Traditional Stacked Enchiladas?? I need to know how to make it?? Please contact me okay?? Thank you..

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