Lucy’s Taqueria Brings Mexican Food to Downtown Hilo
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by Kristin Hashimoto
Lucy’s Taqueria is nine weeks old and counting. Judging by their “lull” at 3 p.m., the freshest face in downtown Hilo is enjoying more than just the thrill of being the newest flavor of the month for fickle patrons.
Occupying the large space vacated by the franchised Mongolian Grill, this taqueria holds two kitchens, a bar, a small child’s play space, and expansive dining area.
Blue Davis has been working the bar since its opening on December 12, and has only glowing remarks about the business and its owner Marlene “Sassy” Akana Hall.
“She’s [Sassy] great; she gives a lot of young people a chance to work…and the food here is fresh, authentic, and portion sizes are huge,” said Davis.
She’s not exaggerating. A wet burrito easily feeds two, and weighs in at well over a pound. Comments from customers were positive and free flowing. Many are repeat visitors. However, there were also more than a few first timers who came for the fresh flavors at a literal huge value.
One woman commented, “I came because my friends kept telling me to try this place. My girlfriend said one burrito feeds her husband and her easily.” While she was talking she viewed a wet burrito arrive at a nearby table, and kind of sat in stunned silence. Her facial expression went a little blank when she realized just how much burrito she’d be taking home to share with her mom.
Bustling and hustling was owner “Sassy,” while her youngest child, Lucy, took orders and ran the register. Sassy was a whirlwind of movement. Customers know her by the short pixie-cut hairstyle, heart tattoo on the inside of her forearm, and sparkling eyes that glow with intelligence, good humor, and well, sass.
Approximately 14 other employees moved quickly in the front and in the rear kitchen prepping food, tending to tables, and keeping the “lull” moving along at a rapid pace.
This isn’t Sassy’s first restaurant. It’s her third. Its predecessors reside in Seattle under the direction of her son. This rather energetic woman decided to return “home” to her grandmother’s place in Hilo, and raise Lucy in Hawaii during her, and her husband’s retirement.
The small town mentality of who knows who, and how we’re all related through someone’s uncle’s daughter, or father’s classmate’s friend’s hanai son, is for Sassy, one of the reasons she loves Hilo. “I have nothing but amazing memories here,” she said. Growing up, Sassy would leave Ewa on O’ahu to visit with her grandmother in Hilo. Through the years, and Sassy’s varied professions, some of which included working for an airline, and being a figure skating coach at Honolulu’s Ice Palace, “Sassy” settled down, married, and moved to Seattle. Not particularly in that order.
Sassy remarked that their first foray into the restaurant business was a Seattle “hole in the wall, that had six tables.” Since 1994, the taco business has sustained them well.
Looking around, the crowd hadn’t really subsided. The doors continually opened and closed, and the line in front of the register, was usually four-to-seven people deep.
“It’s been a great surprise…we’re very grateful,” she said, referring to the amount of customers they get on a near daily basis. At the bar, Davis mixed margaritas and reached for the tequila. Davis quickly commented, “if the only complaints are that we need to extend and build a full bar, or that the music is too loud, we must be doing something right.” If the satisfied expressions are any indicator, Hilo’s newest taco place should be around for a long time.
Lucy’s Taqueria is open Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information call 808-315-8246, or view their menu and prices, at www.lucystaqueria.com. They are located on 194 Kilauea Avenue in downtown Hilo.