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Pau Hana Patrol: Take comfort at Chili’s
BY STEVEN MARK / email@example.com
Back in the day, the hip thing to do if one was a young reporter in Dallas was to go to Chili’s on Greenville Avenue, especially if that reporter happened to live around the corner. It was the original Chili’s in what was fast becoming a major restaurant chain.
Kahala Mall; also Pearlridge, Mililani, Waikele, Kapolei
“Tex-Mex” was becoming popular nationwide with the do-it-yourself wraps known as fajitas taking over as the fun and trendy menu item. Chili’s wasn’t the only place offering fajitas, but it was probably the most well-known chain to serve them.
Problem was, being of Chinese descent, I got no particular thrill out of wrapping food up — did it all the time with Peking duck and lettuce cups. That, plus the fact that a Mexican-American colleague said fajitas were considered “low-class” food by Mexicans, was enough to make me limit my visits to Chili’s, even though I did enjoy the food whenever I went.
Many years later, fajitas are still around and I don’t care what class of food I eat as long as it’s good. Tex-Mex is still around, and Chili’s is going strong. There are five on Oahu, stretching from Kahala Mall to Mililani and Kapolei. All feature happy-hour discounts from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and though fajitas aren’t on the happy-hour menu, what is there is plenty satisfying.
At the Kahala Mall Chili’s, there’s both a casual restaurant and a bar — and some outside seating in the parking lot with a view of the underside of the H-1.
The decor has probably been updated from 30 years ago, but it sure seems familiar and true to that Tex-Mex feel — sandy-colored brick walls reminiscent of the Southwestern scrublands; the five-pointed Star of Texas adorning the walls; and festive touches such as colorful tiled tables adding a Mexican flavor to the surroundings. This being Hawaii, there are also a few references to surfing and the beach life.
Televisions tuned to sports hang from the walls. During football season Chili’s opens early on weekends for game broadcasts; otherwise the restaurants open at 11 a.m.
Chili’s applies a $2 happy-hour discount to its appetizer menu, which offers regular prices ranging from $4.99 for tostada chips and $6.49 for jumbo soft pretzels to $11.99 for bacon ranch quesadillas. The deal also applies to the “Triple Dipper” special, which allows you to order three items from a list of eight appetizers and entrees for $11.99 during happy hour. The portions are smaller, but together they’re filling for one person and a nice snack for two.
Over several visits and in various combinations, I had the Hot Spinach and Artichoke dip, Southwestern Eggrolls, Jumbo Soft Pretzels, Boneless Honey-Chipotle Wings and Big Mouth Bites, which are essentially sliders. All were satisfying except the wings, which were too sweet for my taste.
The chips that came with the spinach and artichoke dip could have used less salt, but the dip was tasty, with a nice cheesy texture.
The eggrolls were a pleasure, with just the right combination of crunch and chewiness in the tortilla wrapping and a smoky, rich flavor in the chicken, bean, peppers and spinach filling.
The breadsticklike pretzels passed muster with my companion, who hails from Philadelphia and swears they are as special there as the cheesesteaks.
Happy-hour beverage pricing comprises a $2 discount on large draft beers and classic margaritas and $1 off small draft and bottled beers, putting prices in the $2.75-to-$5.25 range. Something that will really wet your whistle is the Platinum Presidente Margarita ($7.99 at happy hour, $9.99 regular), which comes in an ice-filled shaker loaded with enough drink to refill your glass four times. The cocktail comes in raspberry, strawberry and mango flavors; I ordered the mango and found it refreshing. It was especially nice that the glass was rimmed with rock sugar instead of salt.
All told, one could have a pleasant drink and light dinner and get away at around $20 plus tip.
A corporate representative said that in the upcoming months, Chili’s restaurants will undergo some remodeling, and menu additions are anticipated, but overall its feel will remain the same. That’s good because Chili’s needs only occasional tweaking, even after 30 years.