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Enjoy the finest Mexican cuisine at Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina

By Staff | Jan 21, 2010

Partners Brad Prescott and Brad “Paco” Miller observe their fine Mexican feast (clockwise from front and center): Donny Burger, Shrimp Enchiladas, Chicken Flautas, Chips and Salsa, House-made Tortillas, Chile Relleno, Sonora Chicken Salad, and in the center, Carnitas with Beans and Rice. Photo by Rob Reed.

KAANAPALI — Buenos dias, Amigos! Bienvenido to Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina located at the entrance to the famous Kaanapali Beach Resort. What a welcome addition this Mexican Cantina is to the fine restaurants on Maui’s West Side!

The Three Amigos — Brad Prescott, Robert Diehl and Brad “Paco” Miller — have teamed up with pro surfer and musician Donavon Frankenreiter to open Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina upstairs and Donavon Frankenreiter’s Margarita House downstairs at the entrance to Kaanapali Resort. It is here where Jonny’s Burger Joint was located for many years, famous for its popular Jonny Burger. Now you can buy the “Island’s Biggest Donny Burger.”

The original Tia Juana’s Long Bar & Grill has been a success story in Old Town Irvine, California, for the past 22 years. After sampling the fine Mexican cuisine at this new location in Kaanapali, we predict the same success story for Maui’s Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina!

“It took five months to obtain all the permits and complete the remodeling,” said genial partner Prescott.

Well, the remodeling is certainly a success story with a long lava rock bar made of poplar and mango wood, Mexican fishing baskets encasing the ceiling lights, large ostrich-skin booths and two lanais (the front lanai situated by the entrance, and the back lanai overlooking the 18th hole of the Kaanapali Golf Course).

Then swing on downstairs to Donavon’s Margarita House with an excellent Bar Menu featuring Signature Margaritas, House Specialties, Taqueri’s… why, even Lobster Tacos! How many bars can boast that menu item?

Donavon’s Margarita House is a museum of sorts, with a spectacular collection of over 60 vintage surfboards on the ceiling, 40 classic guitars, countless vinyl albums and dozens of classic amplifiers — and even platinum albums made by Donavon himself.

Marco Colin, the talented executive chef at Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina, was raised in Mexico City.

“I was destined as a child to become a chef, and fortunately lived in an environment where I was able to begin cooking at a very early age,” said Chef Marco.

 He attended the California Culinary Arts Academy in San Francisco and worked at many successful Southern California restaurants besides the Tia Juana’s location in Irvine.

“I invent my own original recipes by making fusions of different Mexican herbs and products to get only the finest tasting flavors to satisfy our demanding customers. I enjoy serving the perfect product to our customers. I’m a very dedicated, hands-on executive chef and am completely devoted to making sure every customer is satisfied at Tia Juana’s.”

Well, my partner and I were two very satisfied diners with the beautiful presentation and bright and bold flavors of each dish.

For instance, the immense, captivating Sonora Chicken Salad with cool crisp romaine lettuce, marinated breast of chicken, tomatoes, Mexican cheese, avocado, grilled red onions and tortilla strips tossed in a spicy Chipotle Ranch Dressing seemed to tower over the table and was large enough for three guests!

And their Shrimp Enchiladas deserve rave reviews with two shrimp-filled corn tortillas and cheddar cheese topped with sour cream and and sliced avocado. Have you ever bitten into a large shrimp and have it literally explode with juicy goodness inside your mouth? Ah, so refreshing! That is what you will experience with the Shrimp Enchiladas.

And for pork lovers, you must order the Carnitas! We’re talking Braised Marinated Pork, so succulent you’d imagine it was just sliced from a juicy pork roast tender — thick wedges you’ll rave about! The entree is accompanied with rice, refried beans, Pico de Gallo, guacamole, fresh salsa and warm tortillas.

The most unusual and distinctive dish is the BBQ Chicken Flautas — do order a serving of this marvelous dish. It must be a first (at least we’ve never seen it on any Mexican menu before).

It consists of rolled flour tortillas that have been brushed with barbecue sauce, then stuffed with chicken, peppers and melted cheese. They are fried crispy and then quickly grilled and displayed in a cornucopia-shaped tortilla that has turned a tan shade from the sauce. They are delicious and nutritious, and if you take some home, they will be delectable the next day either cold or warmed in a toaster oven.

The above dish is served with a beautifully presented garnish — a masa and corn combination wrapped inside a corn husk packet and daintily tied with a thin husk ribbon.

Damon Conroy, the amicable bartender, said it’s kindred to serving cranberry sauce with the turkey on Thanksgiving — a clever observation.

This unique corn and masa combination is also served on the side with some other dishes — a nice touch.

Traditionally prepared to classic Mexican standards, the remarkable Chile Relleno is made with Pasilla Chiles (roasted and hand-peeled) stuffed with jack cheese and with the chef’s choice of meat, lightly sauteed in egg white and flour batter until golden, then topped with a Mexican blend of cheese and Salsa Raja — one of the best we’ve ever tasted. Ours was prepared with succulent chunks of pork — an outstanding dish!

“We pride ourselves on using only the freshest meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables available,” said Prescott. “Most items on our menu, including our homemade tortillas, sauces and breads, are prepared to traditional Central Mexican standards, which take time and commitment.”

The crispy house-made fries served with the Donny Burger are sprinkled with Cajun spices and very addictive — try eating just one!

I must again mention the Donny Burger! This half-pound wonder includes two all-beef patties with American cheese sealed in between, seasoned and grilled to perfection. It is topped with shredded lettuce, tomato and Maui onion on a big potato bun.

Do visit the Three Amigos at Tia Juana’s Beach Cantina for the finest Mexican cuisine on Maui. Your Mexican feast will be a muy grande dining experience!

The upstairs beach cantina is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The downstairs Donavon’s Margarita House is the only restaurant in Kaanapali open until 1 a.m. For reservations, call 667-4080.

Pau for now…