During our first night on Kauai earlier this year, we were sort of looking around for places to eat. Fish tacos sounded good to me and we were told of a place in Kapa'a just up the road from where we were staying that supposedly had great fish tacos with a Southwestern style. We looked up the address for Verde and went there for dinner that evening.
Josh Stevens grew up in Albuquerque and his mother was a prolific cook. She made her signature stacked enchiladas on a weekly basis for the family, as well as her own Hatch chile salsa. Josh eventually went to culinary school, ending up as the poissonnier (fish chef) at La Mer on Oahu, before becoming the sous chef at Black Rock Kitchen at the Sheraton hotel on Maui. It was a hectic restaurant and Stevens felt that he needed to get away from the pressures of a high-profile restaurant that did millions of dollars in revenue annually.
Stevens wanted to get back to his New Mexican roots and make foods that he grew up with. In late 2007, he and his wife, Maris Manzano-Stevens, decided to move to Kauai to open a Mexican/Hawaiian/Southwestern restaurant in Kapa'a. They opened Verde in March of 2008. Stevens sourced the chiles for his sauces from New Mexico, coming up with a red salsa and a green salsa that they now have commercially distributed in stores on Kauai.
Josh Stevens and Maris Manzano split about five years ago with Stevens eventually moving to Panama and Maris keeping Verde. Along with her brother Carlo, who worked with Josh Stevens in the kitchen learning the intricacies of Southwestern cooking, Maris Manzano continues to work with local growers and fishermen to provide Verde with the freshest ingredients while continuing to source chiles from New Mexico.
Verde is located in the Kapa'a Shopping Center along Kuhio Highway just as you come into the southern side of Kapa'a. (see map) It's actually back off the main road a bit in the strip mall, hidden by a gas station along the highway.
It was around 7:30 when we got in there and the place was about half-full. Verde is not that large of a place - it seats 28 inside with the possibility of 8 or 12 more in tables in front of the place. Verde underwent a renovation a couple years ago complete with a granite-topped bar, new wooden walls to give it a rustic feel, new tables and chairs, as well as new lighting fixtures. It used to be a counter-style place, but they went to full-service along with a full bar at the time of the renovation. While Verde wasn't large, we didn't have the feeling of being cramped in the place.
We were greeted by one of the servers, Doug, who said that we could sit anywhere inside, but if we wanted to sit outside we couldn't get alcohol served to us. We wanted margaritas so we took a table inside the small space.
Doug brought us out some fresh-made chips as well as a couple of margaritas served in Ball glass jars. He also brought out some of the red salsa that they make at Verde. It had a bit of a bite on the back end that gave it a little zip. I asked Doug if we could get some of the chile verde sauce. "It's a little hotter than the red," he warned us when he brought it to our table. While the first bite of the green salsa did get my attention, I didn't think it was much more hot than the red salsa. Either way, they were both tasty and helped the delicious margaritas flow down rather easily.
40% of the menu at Verde is vegetarian and they source much of the food the serve from nearly a dozen different organic farms on Kauai. Hormone-free grass-fed beef comes from the Makaweli Beef Company on Kauai, while local fishermen provide fresh catch fish for the daily menu.
The fresh catch that day was mahi mahi and that's what Cindy got - blackened mahi mahi tacos served in a crispy taco shell. They came with cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, an aioli sauce and crispy corn strips. Cindy got the refried beans and rice on the side as she is wont to do with Mexican food. She thought the mahi mahi tacos were just excellent. "Every bite, it's so fresh," she exclaimed after finishing the first of her two tacos.
I was leaning toward getting the rare-seared ahi tuna tacos, but I was sort of intrigued with the stacked enchiladas, something that original chef Josh Stevens got from his mother. They were three tortilla shells layered with cheese, a choice of either the red sauce or green chile sauce with a choice of a marinated adovada pork, Makaweli beef, or the day's fresh catch. I asked Doug if there was a possibility of getting the stacked enchiladas with just one of the seared ahi tuna tacos. He said it would be absolutely no problem. I ordered the pork for my enchiladas along with the green sauce.
The enchiladas were covered in the Hatch chile sauce, shredded cheese and topped off with fresh cilantro and tomatoes. It came with a side of rice and a some refried beans.
Looking at the make-up of the stacked enchiladas, there was a liberal amount of the adovado marinated shredded pork on three layers. Adovado marinated pork is something that you'll find more in New Mexico than in Mexico with the marinade consisting of red chiles, oregano and vinegar. It's similar to al pastor only the pork is fermented in a crock pot for hours before it is served. Honestly, I didn't care how they prepared it because it was simply delicious.
The stacked pork enchiladas were so good that I had to stop and concentrate on the ahi tuna taco or I wouldn't have the appetite left for it if I had eaten all of the enchiladas. It was similar to the ones Cindy had with the chopped cabbage, fresh cilantro, pico de gallo, and the corn crisps on top. The slightly-seared ahi tuna was extremely fresh without a hint of a "fishy" taste. The overall taste of the taco was outstanding.
But I was more than happy with the pork adovado enchiladas that I got as my main meal. The green Hatch chile sauce they had on the enchiladas was fresh and had a nice little kick to the taste. I couldn't finish what I had, but I made a significant dent on the big plate of food I was served.
Doug came over to see if we wanted another margarita. I told him that we were fine. Then he tried to tempt us with one of the many desserts they have at Verde. He was explaining the spiced chocolate dulce de leche cake that was made exclusively for Verde by the Kō Bakery located down in Lihue. While it did sound tempting, I was so full from my stacked enchiladas and ahi tuna taco that I couldn't have even thought about getting anything else to eat that evening. Plus the place had gotten full by around 8:30 (they closed at 9 p.m.) and we thought we'd give up our seats to some people who were waiting to eat.
We were thoroughly happy with our meal at Verde that evening. The fish tacos and the stacked pork enchiladas were fresh, flavorful and delicious. Both the house-made red and green salsas were superb, as was the laid-back and hip service that we received. While it wasn't fancy, this was one of the better meals we had while we were in Hawaii on this trip. And quite simply, this was one of the better Mexican-style dinners I'd ever had.