Taco Via: 8615 W 95th St

 Posted by at 10:48 am
Apr 282010
 

I think this place kind of sucks, but then again, I didn’t grow up in Kansas City. When people talk about Taco Via, they talk about growing up in the 80s and the appeal of a more naive and happy time. Nostalgia is so completely powerful that I cannot argue with these people. Read this meditation on Taco Via and the heyday of fast food taco shops and see if you don’t agree. Sure, the phenomenon resulted in my least favorite chain restaurant of all time, Taco Bell, but we had some laughs along the way.

Taco Via

There are no fewer than four Taco Via groups on Facebook. The Wall posts are exclamation point-ridden nuggets of pure yearning for childhood and blind allegiance to a geographic region through its own quirky local business.

I would guess that this is a family operated spot. Two grumpy middle aged white women run the registers, a middle aged white guy and a teenage white boy put the food together and an old white lady with a limp buses tables. No attractive people work or eat here. Of course there is nothing Mexican about Taco Via. I suspect that among its enthusiasts, this is part of the charm.

Order at the counter. The menu is a little crazy, I can’t really process it every time I eat there because it is so large, varied and full of colorful pictures that compete for your attention. There is a taco burger, which you would have to pay me to eat. Of course burritos, tacos and the like abound. They also have an ongoing lunch special: a taco, sancho and nacho for 6.95, which includes a drink. What’s a sancho, you ask?

Taco Via

Yeah, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from Taco Bell’s “soft taco” except that it is about 3 times as large. It also tastes like nothing. The taco meat is mushy and finely ground, with only the subtlest of seasoning. Add some iceberg lettuce, underripe tomatoes and shredded yellow cheese and you are in business. Tacos get the same treatment but are much more palatable than the dreaded sancho.

Taco Via

Apply the taco sauce, available from a pump container on the counter, very liberally. The sauce helps foster a sensation somewhat similar to “flavor,” but not quite as pleasant.

The nachos are funny little things, not nachos as we have come to know them. At Taco Via a nacho is essentially a single tostada shell with melted cheese and a little taco sauce on it. If you like, they will add some chopped canned jalapeƱo peppers which make a world of difference, in a good way.

Taco Via

You get your drink with your food, not before. I can only assume that they are trying to prevent free refills by controlling the flow of beverages, but I really don’t know why. During the lunch rush you can wait a few minutes for your food to arrive so I would appreciate being able to sip a drink.

There are many more things on the menu, but I think it’s safe to say that they are all variations on a theme. Also, I really don’t feel like making multiple visits in order to sample all the wacky offerings. I’m getting old and my colorectal health is a concern.

There used to be many more Taco Via locations in the metro, but now there are only three: this Overland Park location, one in Lee’s Summit and one in Olathe. I heard from a reliable source that the owners of the chain required franchisees to pipe Christian music throughout their restaurants, close on Sundays and otherwise subscribe to a religious point of view in their business operations. A short-lived Gardner location is reputed to have used tray-liners with the 10 Commandments printed on them.

Take a look at the founders. Do you have a hard time believing that these people were hyper-religious nutjobs?

A few years back, several locations abruptly left the Taco Via family and changed names. This was the case at the old 75th and Metcalf location (where a KFC is now) and the still-operating Taco Uno in Shawnee. A 2006 article from the Shawnee Dispatch only cites “differences of opinion” as the reason for Taco Uno leaving the Via franchise, so I’d love to hear if this uber-Christian story is true. There is no such discernible activity at the 95th street Taco Via. In fact the location is not even listed on the Taco Via website.

Taco Via on Urbanspoon

Sep 122009
 

I first heard about Georgetown Pharmacy from the Pitch’s Fat City blog a while back. I recall Charles Ferruzza giving it a brief shoutout but for the life of me I cannot locate the post on the site. For anyone who has tried to search for anything on the Pitch’s Web site, you are familiar with this problem. Nonetheless I did find the piece in which former Fat City blogger Owen Morris claims Georgetown Pharmacy has the 6th best milkshake in town earlier this summer.
Georgetown Pharmacy
Always intrigued by the entire notion of soda fountains, I decided to pay a visit recently. Heading up Merriam Drive I blew right by the place, a long, low nondescript brick building next to an auto repair shop.

This is not a pharmacy in the Walgreens or CVS sense of the word. While a genuine drug-dispensary, this place also specializes in medical supplies like wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, colostomy bags, compression stockings and male impotence pumps. No toys, cigarettes, celebrity magazines or lawn furniture. There is however a small display of 15 year old greeting cards.

At the back of the pharmacy is the entrance to the soda fountain, a curious little space that bears almost no resemblance to the drug store counters of yore.

Georgetown Pharmacy.

Georgetown Pharmacy

The preponderance of blond wood, the laminate countertops and the presence of mass produced Coca-Cola paraphernalia modeled after old advertisements belie the claim that they have “re-created an old time soda fountain” (from their website). While there are a handful of chrome bar stools, the sitting area looks like a corporate breakroom or the waiting area of a doctor’s office. Indeed the entire space seems to have been decorated with items procured from the TJ Maxx housewares section.

At the stroke of 12 noon there were two lone customers in the joint. This place was not bustling, it was barely moving. A teenage girl stood attentively but meekly behind the counter. The sheer stillness of the room was punctuated only by some canned 60’s hits subtly piped in on an overhead speaker. While there, I was treated to the Beach Boys, Beatles, Chuck Berry and an inexplicable cover of “You are my Sunshine” by Anne Murray.

A couple of dry-erase boards on the wall display all of their menu items. They offer a dizzying array of old school soda fountain drinks like phosphates, malts, shakes and egg creams. The food menu is more of an afterthought: burgers, brats, hot dogs, chicken salad.

Georgetown Pharmacy

I ordered a cheeseburger and was somewhat surprised to see the girl fetch a frozen patty from the back room and walk it out to a small patio beyond the side entrance. There she put the burger on a small gas grill and came back to make my chocolate malt.

Georgetown Pharmacy

While I’m no aficionado, the malt didn’t really float my boat. It tasted pretty good, but there were some large lumps of semi-solid ice cream in the glass in addition to streaks of dry malt powder. It simply was not blended sufficiently. The portion was hefty, but it should be for $4.50.

The girl made another trip or two out to the grill, finally bringing back the burger. She then asked me what I wanted on it. Then she took it to the back room for 5 minutes applying lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Realizing there was no ketchup on the table, I asked for some and was treated to a couple of Hunt’s packets. This will shock you, but the burger was pretty awful. The already suspect frozen patty had been cooked to death and wasn’t improved by the cheap grocery store bun or the paper plate.

Cheeseburger

Frozen patties just don’t taste good, people. They have a rubbery consistency and almost nonexistent flavor. This was basically the kind of burger you get at a high school football game. Not gross, but not that good.

I can’t really explain this business. Clearly the pharmacy side of things is successful enough. No doubt the owners are justifiably excited about having a working soda fountain allied with their business. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is just plain odd. It’s not genuine retro, not even mock-retro but rather some sterile approximation of grandma’s kitchen. While clean and spacious, it’s not a comfortable place to hang out. I can see how it would be nice to stop by and grab a milkshake or ice cream cone on a hot weekend day. Indeed I think it is an asset to the neighborhood because of that fact.

This place doesn’t need to do lunch. Apparently they don’t even have a working stovetop or grill, so why are they trying to make burgers and brats? There really is very little thought evident in the whole food enterprise and I can’t recommend it, particularly when there are better places like Pollo Loco, Grandstand and El Pulgarcito so close by.

Georgetown Pharmacy & Soda Fountain on Urbanspoon

Torreador: 7926 Floyd St (OPKS)

 Posted by at 7:36 pm
Nov 182008
 

Don’t ask me why I thought this place would be good.


It is literally steps away from Mi Ranchito at 80th and Metcalf, which is a perfectly fine (but overrated) local Tex-Mex chain. Mi Ranchito is well-priced, very consistent, and has generous portions. Whatever.

When it comes to Mexican food, that’s not good enough for me. Unfortunately I don’t work very close to any good Mexican lunch spots. I’d love to hit up the Boulevard or downtown KCK on a regular basis, but I can’t swing it. So I was having lunch at Mi Ranchito one time and noticed another little Mexican place across Floyd street that I had never noticed: Torreador.

Welcome to my thought process. It’s small, a little ratty looking, I’ve never heard of it, and it’s right by another successful Mexican restaurant. Gee, I think I’ll give it a try.

I pulled up in the parking lot and saw a skeezy looking dude and a middle aged waitress smoking cigarettes by the front door. The dude looked like a more down and out version of Mark Borchardt. Turns out he was one of the “cooks” in the kitchen. One side of the entrance door had a high chair sitting on the stoop in front of it. This apparently works better than a “please use other door” sign.

I walked into a space that is essentially a decent little darkly lit bar, with tables on one side and a lounge area on the other. My waitress was sitting at a front table chatting with a couple of ladies who were having margaritas.

I took a look at the menu and was not overly impressed. There were only 2 lunch specials, one of which was Taco Salad.

Torreador

So I ordered the “Special platter” and began to have the feeling that yellow cheese and ground beef was in my future. There was a little table top display advertising something called “Southwest Egg Rolls.” I didn’t have the cojones to try them.

While I waited, my waitress brought out some chips and a little dish half full of salsa. She laid them down saying, “I’ll be right back to fill up the salsa, I have to open a new one.”

“That’s fine, I don’t need any more,” I replied.

“It’s no problem, I don’t want you to think I’m trying to cheat you.”

Torreador

So she comes back with a plastic bar pitcher full of this salsa and pours it into the dish.

By this time I had eaten two chips already and had decided not to have any more. Good move.

Then my food arrived! Hey, do you remember those Old El Paso Taco kits? I’m sure some of you still use them, especially those of you with children. I used to make taco dinners for my family when I was a kid using those kits. You just brown some ground beef, add the seasoning packet, and serve them in the taco shells with the packet of “hot sauce” that came in the box. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

Torreador

Torreador has, without a doubt, the worst Mexican food in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Yeah, not good. They havn’t even figured out the trick I learned when I was 10, which is to bake the taco shells a few minutes before using to make them crunchier and more delicious. The enchiladas were made with flour tortillas and were covered in the same sauce that the chips came with. And the rice? Here are my thoughts on the rice:

Everything comes from a can, a box or a bag, and you can tell. The thing is, people who eat at Torreador probably think it tastes good because that is what they are used to. Why else would anyone go there? And really, who am I to argue; I’m just another white guy with a blog.

The server was actually extremely friendly, and I have no complaints about her demeanor or skill. The owner or manager person checked on me a couple times, then made sure I got my check and my change quickly.

The clientele seems to be the lower-middle class, upper middle-aged JoCo set. In my mind they are hard drinking secretaries, retail managers, and waitresses. They buy lottery tickets and drive American cars. I’m sure the scream from the Torreador was audible miles away when the Overland Park smoking ban passed. I’ll wager that it gets some business in the evenings from regulars looking for a post-work bottle of beer, and more still from folks wanting to meet friends or watch a game at night. It’s just a local hangout for a certain kind of person. A hangout with terrible food.

In other words, the food probably isn’t the important part. At least it sure doesn’t seem that way. I’m sure the owners are proud of their business, but I simply can’t count it among the spots I will visit again.

Don’t take my word for it, read more:

Torreador Mexican on Urbanspoon

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