Eating Healthy Mexican In Koloa

Danny Hurtado grew up in a blue house next to Kukuiula Market in Po’ipu. As a boy, he’d eat at Taqueira Nortenos, aka Da Crack, a small restaurant wedged in between the market and what is now Outfitters Kaua’i. For 24 years, locals called it Da Crack before it closed in 2007.

Hurtado spent his teenage years as a semipro surfer, and acquired a taste for nutritious food to fuel his body. In 2011, he called some of his chef friends, spent five months developing recipes and opened Da Crack, a healthy Mexican takeout located where Taqueira Nortenos was.

Don’t let the outside fool you, because wonderful things are going on inside. Hurtado makes everything from scratch, including the chicken stock in which the brown rice is cooked. Fresh, grass-fed beef is lovingly braised for eight hours with Da Crack seasoning blend, tomatoes, onions and guajillo, chipotle and jalapeno chilies. “I’m a health-conscious person and I am careful about what I put into my body,” says Hurtado, who rides dirt bikes on his days off. “I’m not going to serve people food that I wouldn’t eat myself.”

Fresh, natural chicken (no artificial ingredients and minimally processed) is slowly simmered for four hours with Da Crack seasoning blend, fresh tomatillos, tomatoes, onions and guajillo, chipotle and jalapeno chilies.

Pork shoulder, also fresh and natural, is cubed and seasoned before it’s browned and braised for five hours. Hurtado adds the same flavorings he uses in the chicken and beef, and the result of all three is succulent, moist and tender animal protein.

“I do everything to the extreme,” explains Hurtado. “I’m kind of a perfectionist, in a way, and if I don’t like something, then why would I think that someone is going to come to my window and like it?”

The secret to ordering is deciding if you want your food swaddled in a wrap, folded into a taco or naked in a bowl. Then choose your protein, or just veggies, brown rice or Mexican brown rice, whether you want chipotle or wasabi cream, and mild, medium or hot salsa, which also is made from scratch daily. I like it hot, and the hot salsa made with habanero peppers has great flavor, but it’s not so hot that my eyes water.

In the kitchen, Hurtado breaks down whole, local fish into two long fillets, which are then cut to order. The type of fish changes based on availability, and today it’s ono, which is lightly seasoned and sautéed in clarified butter. I order mine naked, or in a bowl, and it must weigh a full pound. Brown rice is topped with pinto beans (vegan), shredded cabbage, black olives, diced onions and jalapenos, pico de gallo, chipotle cream and guacamole.

My husband Dan orders the Chipotle Garlic Shrimp Tacos ($9.99) and a side of chips and hot salsa ($4.50), made with raw flour tortillas that are cut and deep-fried twice a day. The result is an addicting combination of flaky, crisp tortillas that are not greasy, and the fresh sauce leaves a lingering heat in your mouth. Dan also orders extra guacamole ($1.99) on his taco, which is served on a freshly cooked flour tortilla. A side of black beans (vegan) is topped with cheese and Mexican brown rice, which is chewy and delicious. Sean Sunagawa, a former cook at Tortilla Republic, created the shrimp tacos. They are cooked perfectly, with a kind of crunch to them, and drenched in a rich, spicy sauce.

No MSG, table salt or hydrogenated oils are used at Da Crack.

“There’s a lot of young, athletic people like me who are educated about the benefits of eating real food,” says Hurtado, whose brother Sergio just competed in his first professional MMA fight. “I wanted to offer them a healthy choice at a reasonable price.”

Da Crack 2827 Poipu Road, Koloa 742-9505 DaCrack.com Open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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