Don Chilitos: 7017 Johnson Drive

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Apr 302009
 

Don Chilitos

Don Chilitos 1 is not so much a Mexican restaurant as an American idea of what a Mexican restaurant is. An old idea.

Mexican food in America has so many incarnations and varieties that it’s nearly impossible to quantify them. Don Chilitos is a type of Mexican place that your grandma can get behind, an establishment that embodies the 1970s and 80s, when many ethnic and national cuisines achieved mainstream status by mainstreaming their flavor palates, using conventional ingredients and catering to the ravenous gullets of their clientele.

These days things are a little different. Mexican-American food is often prepared and served by real life actual Mexican people. You see more fresh cilantro, moles, corn tortillas, and green salsa on menus than you used to. They may even dress it up a bit to make it look nice. There are often menu options that approach a degree of authenticity. I’m thinking of places like Fronteras, Dos Reales and Mi Ranchito.

Despite these improvements, 1990s era Mexican food doesn’t get a lot of love from the food-savvy but remains extremely popular with the masses of regular people who just want to get full for $6.95 before resuming the mindless drudgery that is the work week. 2 And like I said, the food isn’t bad.

I take this uncharacteristically generous approach in order to make a point. Having been to Don Chilitos a couple times recently, I think it is useful to illustrate just how far we’ve come. You see, Don Chilitos is super old school. It has been around since the middle 1970s before most people cared about authenticity or healthiness or frills. And it displays an almost admirable resistance to any restaurant trend or development over the last 35 years.

This place looks every bit its age. The decor is an assemblage of aging ceramic tile on the walls, painted lattice, creaky wooden booths, childlike murals, stained glass and neon beer signs. There are a few rooms that each have a slightly different vibe but it’s all sort of a mess. This is the best photo I could get without shoving my phone in someone’s face:

Interior

Did I mention that this place is a cafeteria? Seriously. You walk in and are faced with a long stainless steel cafeteria line. Grab a tray, some silverware and some napkins and you are ready to place your order.

There is a ton of stuff on the menu and most of it involves your choice of sauce. You can top that burrito off with orange queso sauce which they call “CCQ”3), red sauce or chili con carne. I went nuts and ordered one “Chilito Style” which is red sauce, sour cream, black olives and cheese.

Burrito

In case a cup of melted cheese sauce isn’t enough, you can get a “Big Top” which is double the topping for an extra buck or so. Can’t decide on sauces? No problem! Get two sauces for 85 cents! Chili con carne with CCQ anyone?

You can also get the sauces on their chimichangas (essentially a deep-fried burrito) or this beauty, the seafood empanada:

Seafood Empanada: A deep-fried pastry shell filled with zesty seafood rangoon and topped with your choice of Red Sauce, CCQ or Chilito style topping.

They had me at “zesty seafood rangoon.”

If Chimpotle orders and eats the seafood empanada with CCQ from Don Chilitos I will pay for his meal, including the alcoholic beverage of his choice.

Anyhow, just when you thought this place couldn’t get weirder it turns out they heat up burritos and other things in microwave ovens. I’m not sure if the burritos are pre-made or thrown together on the spot, but they are warmed just enough to take the chill off and subsequently covered with piping hot sauce. Yes, a microwaved burrito.

But seriously if you’re not an idiot, you can get out of here without dying. I have had the tacos and they are actually pretty good. Yes, they are the hard taco shells with ground beef, shredded yellow cheese and iceberg lettuce, but Don Chilitos makes them about as well as you can. And they are made to order and never touch a microwave oven.

Tacos

The burritos are only ok. I’m not a fan of the super tiny ground beef they use although they season it well. Mine was definitely not hot enough. The red sauce is just not that good, probably because its primary ingredient comes from a can.

And then there are the salsas.

Salsas

Not too appetizing is it? But they are serviceable as taco flavor-enhancing agents. The hot salsa is actually a tad spicy, which surprised me frankly. The real craziness is right next door: a veritable shit-ton of tortilla chips in a steamtable bin.

Bin o' Chips

That’s lot of chips! It strikes me as crazy that they go through this many in a day, much less a single lunch rush, but apparently it works for them. It also serves to keep the chips slightly warm. This is the aspect of Don Chilitos that convinces me that people with big appetites love this restaurant. I can’t fathom choking down a beef burrito Chilito style, following it with a basket of chips and then downing half a dozen sopapillas for dessert.

Which reminds me: ALL YOU CAN EAT SOPAPILLAS! Everyone who likes Don Chilitos freaks out about these little deep fried sugary nuggets.

Sopapillas

In my opinion, the sopapillas at Don Chilitos are terrible. They are far too dense and quickly get chewy and dry. I’ll wager they dump them by the Sysco bag-full into the deep fryers. But what the hell, you can eat 20 of them if you want. And I’m sure some people do.

To sum up, this place is crazy. But as hard as it tries, Don Chilitos won’t kill you.

Yelp

Don Chilito's Mexican on Urbanspoon

1. A big, DLC-sized shout out to my co-worker who suggested this place and

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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