Jun 062009

amigos 005

No one can easily remember the name of this place or exactly where it is located, probably because it seems so generic. I mean “Two Amigos?” That’s not the most catchy name.

Moreover the restaurant is situated in an old Taco Bell building, not exactly the connection you would want potential customers to make, even though the building is kind of cool. Two Amigos also features this less than progressive logo of two lazy Mexicans sleeping under a tree a la Speedy Gonzales cartoons.

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For these reasons Two Amigos has been hidden in plain sight for a couple years.

Have you ever been to the Red Balloon, perhaps the greatest karaoke bar in the Kansas City metropolitan area? Sometimes on the weekends, it gets quite crowded and the parking lot fills up. But it’s not a big deal since there is a parking lot just next door. You just have to step up a little embankment and boom, you are right at the bar. That parking lot next door? That’s Two Amigos. I had parked there several times before realizing that this was the Mexican place people had mentioned to me.

As you can see this place advertises “Real Mexican food,” and having visited a couple times, I think they deliver the goods.

Walk right in and take a gander at the huge menu above the counter. Everything is there: classics like enchiladas, tacos and burritos, hearty soups like menudo and posole, full entree plates, seafood cocktails, three kinds of tamales and a refrigerator full of jarritos, half-liter bottles of Coca-Cola and several kinds of Mexican beer. The menu board runs the length of the counter; items are punctuated with taped-on pieces of paper or handwritten translations. Some items are highlighted with signs taped up by the register.

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I have had a bunch of tacos here which allowed me to try a lot of their meats. I sampled the carnitas, carne asada, lengua (tongue), cabeza (cow head meat), fish and the chicken. Only the lengua rubbed me the wrong way (hehe), mostly because of its spongy texture, but that’s just my personal preferences at work. The cabeza was much as I expected, hearty, fatty and delicious with a pot-roast like consistency. The fish tacos do not receive the cabbage slaw treatment that they do at other places. In other words they are prepared much like the other tacos with onions, cilantro and a touch of shredded iceberg lettuce, the latter topping being the only differentiation between the fish tacos and other kinds.

The tamales are very simply prepared as, I would argue, they should be. I prefer them handed to me in a corn husk unadorned by any superfluous sauces, cheeses or toppings.

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With judicious use of a good salsa, this tamale is just about perfect the way it is. These did not disappoint, though the filling was a little on the dry side.

What puts Two Amigos head and shoulders above other Mexican establishments are their salsas. They offer five kinds: blazing hot habanero, a hot salsa verde (green tomatillo), a medium-spicy red salsa made from guajillo chiles, a medium tomato-chipotle salsa and a thin, pureed avocado sauce. But of course quality always trumps quantity and Two Amigos sauces represent both.


My favorite is the red chile salsa but I found that the avocado stuff really rounded out the fish tacos nicely. Their huaraches are excellent as well, though a little smaller than I’ve seen elsewhere. They are only available as a platter: 2 huaraches, rice and beans for $11, which is a tad pricey for Mexican, but probably fair.


There is also a little condiment station with iced cucumber slices, whole radishes, limes and roasted jalapenos. After a bite of a habanero salsa-adorned taco, I immediately understood the appeal of the cold cucumber.

There is a huge Quick Trip next door to Two Amigos, so it must get quite a bit of exposure and traffic. Unfortunately it never seems to be very busy. For instance I found it somewhat depressing to see two guys cutting across the Two Amigos parking lot carrying QT sandwiches and bags of Doritos. I just can’t fathom making that choice.

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The interior is almost unchanged from its days as a Taco Bell. I’m pretty sure that the booths, the counter, the trash areas and even the orange cafeteria trays are left over from that period. It’s funny to realize how much smaller fast food restaurants used to be. A couple of old televisions are mounted in each corner, usually only one is turned on, playing Spanish language programming loud enough for the owner to hear at the counter.

They even still operate the drive-through, made evident by a couple of yard signs in front of the building. One time I actually saw the owner wearing a headset over her black knitted hairnet.

The prices here are fair, and comparable to other similar restaurants. Plan on spending six or seven bucks, and more if you want to sample a lot of items. And bottled soda will set you back more than fountain pop. Tacos are all about 1.85 each, and the combination plates are in the neighborhood of $7.50, depending on what you get.

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For the cost conscious, the burritos cost $4.95 and approach infant-like proportions.

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So I encourage everyone to check out Two Amigos. If you aren’t sure what to order, try something new. They will happily put together any combination you desire. I for one will be visiting Two Amigos with regularity from now on. There is just too much on the menu that I have to try.

Two Amigos on Urbanspoon

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Don Chilito's Mexican on Urbanspoon

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

Charritos: 3831 Independence Ave

 Posted by at 9:36 pm
Mar 312009

Are you ready for more Mexican?

frontThis last weekend I went out to the east side in search of a diner that was recommended to me, only to find it was closed on Sundays. In fact 99% of the damn places I drove by were closed. Having no luck on Truman Road I popped over to Independence Avenue, a veritable wellspring of seemingly authentic Mexican, African and Vietnamese delights. The first place that looked decent and was open was a Mexican restaurant across the street from a Mexican bakery [map].

Charritos is comprised of at least two storefronts, one featuring booths and televisions, the other with simple tables near the kitchen and cash register. The waitress seated us and took drink order while we perused a rather large and interesting looking menu.

My Pepsi arrived in a large plastic cup with maybe one or two ice cubes. I was a little taken aback since normally I overfill my fountain pop with ice. But I decided to roll with it, and actually found the experience rather pleasant. It reminded me of church pot lucks where I got to drink un-iced paper cups of Chek cola to accompany my casseroles and cold Kentucky Fried Chicken.
interiorThey offer really interesting food at this place. The menu features a number of homey Mexican classics like posole, menudo, and dinner plates of grilled meat, rice, beans and vegetables. There was so much on the menu that I couldn’t proces it all. I was also starving, hungover, and had consumed nothing but two cups of coffee and a prevacid that morning so my recall is admittedly faulty.

On to business. The two salsas that come with your homemade tortilla chips are both phenomenal. One is a simple guajillo chile (I think) based sauce with a little tomato puree, the other certainly incorporates a roasted poblano and is quite a bit spicier.



I would come to Charritos just for the chips and salsas. Seriously, they were so good that later I asked to buy some salsa to take home. The waitress looked at me askance and just gave me a small container of each with no charge. I felt like a dorky gringo and she got a big tip.

Anyhow, for lunch I had some chicken enchiladas verdes topped with a fried egg that were pretty good. The chicken was definitely cooked whole and picked off the bone which I love to see.


But the meat inside was a truly odd, bright white color that I have never experienced before. There is certainly a technique behind it (my dining companion suggested that it had been poached in vinegar water) but I don’t know what it was. All in all a solid dish, though the menu indicated that it would be a sunnyside up egg, not an over hard egg.

The Tacos Aztecas were fantastic: Large pieces of grilled skirt steak with grilled spring onions, cactus, roasted jalapenos and avocado.


Don’t they look good? And interesting? And exciting? Jesus Christ, ARE YOU HUNGRY YET? The beans were a fabulous, luscious reddish mash full of lardy, pinto-y goodness. The rice was solid but very typical.

But before I could get my panties in a bunch about this place I tried a tamal(e) and it was terrible. The dough was gritty, and the pork smelled…off. Considering how good everything else was this was quite a surprise, but true. So very true.

The prices were, I suspect, not typical for Independence Avenue lunch spots. A large lunch for two with leftovers cost 23 bucks or so. Most of the specials were about $8 so you could get out of there for under $10 on a normal day. It was damn well worth it. Charritos has good homemade food that, even if it is not consistent, is well thought out and carefully prepared.

Charritos on Urbanspoon

Mar 172009

matador8Tacos El Matador is not much to look at from the outside, situated as it is on a particularly drab stretch of Merriam Lane. It lies just west of Earl Quick’s and the Boulevard Drive-In, separated from the street by a large expanse of crumbling parking lot. The sign out by the road is easy to miss but the building itself is a nice shade of pink, so it should be relatively easy to spot.

I heard about this place via email from Matt, a KC Lunch Spots reader who characterized the place as “very deserving of one of your reviews.” Boy was he right on the money. He also indicated that it is popular with folks who work first shift since you can get lunch food at a breakfast hour. This is a very interesting observation as I imagine it must be extremely difficult to get a burrito at 9am anywhere. Hell, you can’t even get a cheeseburger at McDonald’s during breakfast time.

El Matador is a delightful little joint on the inside, a situation which completely belies its locale and outward appearance. The interior features colorful booths, lots of light, a number of fresh plants and even some matador-themed artwork, including a couple of velvet paintings that I truly covet.


They do a fair amount of take-out business here, so I was unsure whether or not to order from the counter. After some pleasant but linguistically confusing back and forth with the waitress I realized that I could sit down and get waited on. Excellent.

The menu at El Matador is all over the place. The wall above the service counter is covered with signage advertising everything from menudo to pork tenderloin sandwiches. Perusing the full menu I found it likewise all-encompassing. Lunch specials include various taco plates and tamales in addition to cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches, complete with french fries. This had me a tad worried but I went ahead and ordered some tacos. If “taco” is in the name of the restaurant, I order them.

While waiting I was brought a basket of chips and two squeeze bottles of salsa. The red salsa here is proper–thin, hot, with good tomato and chili flavor. The salsa verde was veritably exploding with vinegar, lime, cilantro and hot chilies. It was also quite salty which proved to be a little too much for me in combination with the other flavors. While the chips themselves were nothing special, they were warm and crunchy.

I enjoyed my chips with a cold bottle of Jarritos tamarindo soda pop. Jarritos, long available in Mexican markets and urban corner stores is much more common than it used to be. I encourage those who haven’t tried it to do so next time you are out for Mexican grub. There are typically a number of bold fruit flavors to choose from such as lime, mandarin, strawberry and the aforementioned tamarind.


Within minutes, the tacos arrived and I was not disappointed. The carne asada tacos consisted of lean, tender, marinated piles of chopped steak on two small corn tortillas with a healthy topping of onions and cilantro. The carnitas tacos are prepared the same way; the shredded pork is not tossed in any kind of sauce which you tend to see a lot at other places. The consistency of the carnitas was virtually identical to good pulled pork. Both meats were free of excess fat and gristle which is a common problem.

I haven’t been everywhere, but these are the best tacos I’ve had thus far in Kansas City.


Everything was right about them. No yellow cheese, no chipotle marinades, no shredded iceberg lettuce. Just tortilla, meat, onion, cilantro, salsa. The street tacos at Cancun Fiesta Fresh and a few other places are very good, but cannot compete with EL MATADOR!

I also enjoyed a side of refried beans. Nothing fancy, but I think Mexican-style refried beans are among the best comfort foods around. I wish I could have tried their rice, but alas, even my stomach has limits. The whole lunch set me back about 9 bucks and it was worth every penny.

All in all I loved this place. The experience actually makes me curious about their Americanized menu items like the tenderloin and the burgers. If they can do a taco this well, I wonder what the other stuff is like?

Tacos El Matador on Urbanspoon

Burrito Bros.: City Market

 Posted by at 6:07 am
Mar 032009

While I like Burrito Bros., I honestly don’t understand the success of chains like Chipotle, Qdoba, Pancheros and their ilk. It’s like a festival of blandness; the meat never tastes like much, the salsas are always disappointing, and everything comes on a damn flour tortilla. Not to mention the fact that real Mexican restaurants do this stuff way better for the same price. It just seems like a cheap way to deliver a shit-ton of food into your system. Of course, midwesterners love it.

Burritos also have this college studenty, dumbass vibe that I really don’t care for. To be more precise, burritos are like wraps for hippies.

So naturally I put off going to Burrito Bros. for a while even though response around town has been quite positive. I just don’t understand the great appeal of the concept.

Indeed comparisons to Chipotle abound, and it makes sense. The menu at Burrito Bros. is similar in its Mexican-inflected simplicity to the increasingly ubiquitous fast food powerhouse.

Burrito Bros. is located on the west side of the market complex. I’m trying to remember what previously occupied the space? Was it perhaps a weird gift/souvenir shop? Somebody refresh my memory here. Anyhow, the space is pleasant enough with an organge-ish interior and a few tables. Here is a terrible photo of the menu board.

Burrito Bros.

They have burritos, tacos, quesadillas, taco salads and that’s about all. They toss in a nice handful of chips with every order. Everything has good, if not overpowering flavor. The pico cuts through nicely and is highly acidic. I enjoyed the carnitas burrito on my last visit. It was large, easily enough food for one person and then some. I didn’t finish the whole thing, and I am kind of a pig.

Burrito Bros.

So in a word, it’s good. It is exactly what you would expect in terms of food and flavor. If you like Chipotle, you will like this. Moreover it is locally owned and a thousand times more worthy of your business.

Burrito Bros.

This is the epitome of a small, family run joint. These guys are taking the restaurant very seriously, but they are also having a good time. They are planning some more signage for the exterior, and perhaps some outdoor seating for the warmer months. I say “perhaps” because I was eavesropping and didn’t get all the details. Burrito Bros. also has a Twitter account, a nice developing trend; I like knowing that you can connect with the business in that manner if you want. They also shot a video for youtube on their opening day back in October 2008. Unfortunately the shaky cam and overly loud Brazilian(?) soundtrack make it virtually unwatchable, but I appreciate the effort.

However like any small business owners I think you can see a little fear in their eyes. Will this venture work out? Frankly I’d be scared shitless given all the decent local restaurants that have gone out of business recently.

But Burrito Bros. has reason to be hopeful. The menu is small and items share a lot of the same ingredients. That means a smaller world of ingredients to purchase, store and prepare. The hours are limited to lunch time right now. Being open 11-3pm is not ideal for the long term, but it certainly keeps them from having to pay someone to stand there all night without any business. The traffic they get from the market should be substantial when warmer climes come around. They were smart to open early and take a while to figure things out before it’s showtime this summer.

According to their website the owners also use other City Market vendors to procure a lot of their produce and foodstuffs. Considering the number of people who work in the Market, I’m sure they are generating plenty of good will that should result in more burrito sales. Lastly, these are really nice people. They talk to everyone who comes into the place and I genuinely believe that they want to serve good food and make their customers happy.

Oh, and this guy really likes their guacamole:

My only real complaint? Styrofoam cups. It’s amazing how prevalent they are in this day and age, but let’s wait until they start making a buck or two before pressuring them to change to a more environmentally conscious product.

Read more:


Burrito Bros. 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.


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.”


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 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



Sep 152008

UPDATE: Pollo Loco has closed and reopened as La Cabana Del Pollo.

Once again, thanks to Faith for keeping me honest (or at least marginally competent) about the difference between a sketchy local Mexican joint and a national restaurant chain.

Pollo Loco has been open less than two weeks. I drove by on Monday and noticed that there were a couple cars in the lot so I figured what the hell. I walked into the dining room to find a clean but completely undecorated space. Essentially the room held four formica booths, two of which were occupied by Latino gentlemen who, judging from their clothing were definitely in the painting business.

Though this was obviously a Mexican establishment, the smell of the place was unmistakably that of BBQ. They were obviously using a healthy dose of smoke in their cooking. I’d wager hickory if my taste buds are to be trusted (they’re not). Before I sat down, a woman noticed my entrance and somewhat apologetically indicated that they were operating with a very limited menu. While I stood there she explained the primary offering: a half a smoked chicken with tortillas, salsa, rice and other stuff. That sounded damn good to me, having read Meesha’s post about Super Pollo on Independence Ave a couple weeks ago. It sounded similar and in the end, it was.

She delivered a can of coke from a cooler full of Jarritos fruit sodas and cans of domestic pop. My food arrived before I could even get out my phone to check twitter. Seriously, like 1 minute. Crazy Fast chicken is right people!

The chicken arrived on a styrofoam plate and looked like a right mess.

But damn it tasted good. Yep this is simply half a chicken cooked on a smoky grill, roughly hacked into pieces and thrown on a disposable plate with no garnish.

So what.

Grilled chicken is no great mystery, but it’s definitely one of the most satisfying meals of all time. They managed to smoke it without giving the skin that rubbery texture of the “low & slow” method. So I’m guessing that they smoke it at a high temperature. It was juicy, flavorful, not overly smoky, had crunchy skin and was cooked well.

The rice was very typical of Mexican restaurants: small exploded grains with a mild stock-ish flavor and pale red hue. The corn tortillas were not homemade but tasted fresh and good enough. And holy cow, marinated red onions, just like Meesha had at Super Pollo. Those things are perfect accompaniment to the chicken.

So obviously this is a distinctive variety of Mexican or Mexican American cuisine. Grill-smoked chicken on a tortilla with salsa and pickled onions. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this trend before.

But I got something else with my meal: macaroni salad! WTF? Seriously the plate came with a mayonnaise-dressed macaroni salad with chucks of ham in it. I’m sorry, did my aunt Rita sneak in the Pollo Loco kitchen when I wasn’t looking?

Okay, so the pasta salad was not the best thing ever, but it wasn’t horribly executed and overall the meal was very good. Did I mention that this was a shit-ton of food? Easily enough for two people. And it cost me six bucks.

However the best part was the service. The waitress only had a few tables to deal with, and the place is new so she was overly attentive if anything. But it was cool and I did ask her a few questions about the place; she was very accommodating and friendly. She said that last week was kind of a soft launch but they had no register and no change which was kind of a mess. Most of the customers were friends and family so it turned out alright. They will add things to the menu–but not too much, she said, because they want to keep it simple. I was very heartened to hear that. These days they have a cash register but no credit card machine yet (it’s coming). You know what that means? Tax included baby!

She also said Monday was their first day selling tamales. Excellent! The previous business in this location specialized in those little masa nuggets of heaven, and made pretty good ones to boot. I’ll have to try Pollo Loco’s version.

So this place is still ironing out their menu, their workflow and their infrastructure. Judging from what I saw the other day, they have a bright future ahead. If I managed to have a good meal during their first real week of business,I can only imagine that things will get better. And seriously, just being able to chat with the waitress and thank the cook made all the difference. This is so obviously a labor of love for the owners, and honestly one that may not work out. But hopefully if they keep it simple, stay friendly, and maintain the good quality and value they will get along just fine.

Jul 232008

Well, the tamales here blow the lid off any I’ve had anywhere else in Kansas City. It’s clear just from driving through this small stretch of Kansas City, Kansas that this is the area to go for the real deal.

I’ve always known that, but I just never got off my ass and went to KCK explicitly to eat Mexican food. This will change as of today.

An esteemed colleague of mine introduced me to Ninfa’s under the assumption that everyone knew about the place and their fantastic homemade flour tortillas.

“Where?” I asked, “Ninja’s? Who eats flour tortillas at a Mexican place?”

This widespread ignorance among my coworkers and me was soon rectified with a departmental outing to Ninfa’s under the tutelage of this wise, wise man.

Ninfa’s is small and simply decorated. Bright orange walls, large ceramic tile, a semi-open kitchen at one end and some decent-sized windows looking on to the street create a homey atmosphere that offsets the small size and relative cacophony of the dining area.

I hesitate to call Ninfa’s a “dive” because the word is vaguely insulting unless

1. You are referring to a bar, in which case it is a badge of honor.
2. It’s really, undeniably true.

“Dive” is not a word to be thrown around lightly. Some jackass on Yelp or somewhere referred to Oklahoma Joe’s as a dive. Right…the gas station thing, I get it. You know they have Subways and Pizza Huts and other places in gas stations nowadays too? Ever been to, I don’t know, a REST AREA? Seriously OK Joe’s looks like a Mall food court with really delicious food and a lot of white people.

Anyway, Ninfa’s is shacky but delightful. The menu is pretty large, but not the usual multipage tome you see at other Mexican places of dubious quality. This place is all about their homemade tortillas. Before your meal, a container of freshly made flour tortillas are brought to the table. Apparently that is what the bright blue bottle of squeezable Parkay is on the table for. This makes sense; in Chicago Mexican street vendors would put margarine on corn they sold from carts. That or mayonnaise (I think I just vomited a little, sorry).

These tortillas bear little resemblance to the dry, flaky discs that come in the Old El Paso package at the Price Chopper. Ninfa’s tortillas are moist, a little chewy and warm. I like the margarine option well enough, but a squirt or two of their salsa seems to be the better option.

A lot of menu items at Ninfa’s are fried. This isn’t unusual for Kansas City, but here it’s a much different affair. The meats are tender, flavorful and well-seasoned. Most of the food appears to be on the greasy side, but don’t let that stop you from ordering up a fried corn taco plate or whatever grabs your fancy. I opted for tamales spread, which was covered with cheese and stewed pork.

It was porktacular in the best possible way.

The flavor was not subtle but also not pedestrian in any way. You can tell a lot of care went into the preparation of these delights. Do yourself a favor and get a dozen to-go sometime, a bargain at $14.

The rice was odd–very short grain, and mixed with a tomato-y sauce. This gave it a somewhat mushy texture but I didn’t mind the flavor. I do prefer a simply, nuttier Mexican rice.

The service is great, Ninfa’s has the appearance of being a family-run business though I don’t know if it actually is. To add to the home-spun mystique, there is a truly charming, friendly and vaguely unintelligible older woman (Abuela Ninfa?) who seats people, gets drink refills, wipes down tables, cracks jokes; Basically she makes the place work. Our waitress was a 14-ish year old girl who, despite her age was nonetheless quite adept.

Apart from a couple places on Southwest Boulevard, this is my first foray into Mexican food in KCK proper. It won;t be my last. Ninfa’s is truly unique for cranking out those really good fresh tortillas everyday. It really raises the quality and fun of the food and the experience.

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Ninfa's Tortillas & Taqueria on Urbanspoon


May 282008

First spotted by Pomegranate, This place is now closed and has been replaced by “Pollo Loco.”

I have a problem with tamales.

Every Mexican joint I visit, I have order at least one. There is something about the texture of the masa, aroma of the leaf wrapper and the succulent meat filling that is unparalleled when done correctly.

It’s typically the old people who get together and make them, usually for special occasions. It’s a multi-hour process wherein kids can play with dough, grandmas can talk trash about their good for nothing kids, and lazy men can drink beer and watch sports. Like pierogies to the Polish, dumplings to the Chinese, and cucumber sandwiches to the WASPS, tamales are a simple but classic aspect of Mexican (and incidentally other Latin) cuisine.

And I’ve tried to make them a few times before. It wasn’t pretty, although one time they turned out well. It’s really best done with some help, cold Mexican beer, and serious humility because the whole thing can take hours and still utterly fail. Too much cold Mexican beer will do that.

At a delightful lunch a few weeks back with some fellow bloggers someone (Waldo?) brought up some kind of tamale place on Merriam drive. We discussed it for a minute or two then I sort of forgot about it.

Until the hankering hit me. I decided to find it, having never seen it, not knowing the name or even really where Merriam Drive was.

Turns out that this was a bad move. I’m not a JoCo boy, I only work out there, and Jesus it’s easy to get lost. There’s a perfectly good grid in place that gets ruined by streets like Merriam, Santa Fe, Shawnee Mission Parkway not to mention I-35. I’m also kind of an idiot, it turns out.

So by the time I found Coyoacan nestled in what I discovered was “downtown” Merriam, I had to get my meal to go due to time restrictions. Some of us work you know. Anyhow, Coyoacan has two business enterprises going on here, a small and very cute looking dine-in establishment that shares a kitchen with a glorified take-out window next door. The carryout side has a sign that reads “Tamales To Go” so it almost seems like a different place altogether. It’s not.

I expected a simple menu, but it actually is a full, standard looking Mexican assortment: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, the whole nine yards. But I saw the “tamale dinner” for 6.95 and decided it was mine. After shouting my order to a nice couple preparing food behind the counter, I waited for approximately 3 minutes before a styrofoam container full of deliciousness was delivered into my hot little hands.

I’m not gonna say that this is the best Mexican food in town because it ain’t. But this place is pretty special. Nothing disappointed me, particularly the tamales which were not covered in cheese sauce, ground beef or any other gross variation I’ve seen at other KC establishments. Yes there was a small amount of red ranchero sauce, tomato-y and subtle. The rice was well-cooked but fairly bland. The refried beans were very good, not too thick and certainly made from scratch.

The tamales themselves were small, which most authentic tamales are in fact. They were perfectly cooked but also not overly seasoned, but the filling of shredded pork was very nicely flavored, albeit subdued. Maybe my taste buds were having an off day. My brain does that some days too. In general I was very happy with the tamales, though it is disappointing (but much more convenient) not to unwrap them yourself.

Anyway, I really want to go back and dine-in. It looks small, but cutely decorated. Kind of like your Mexican grandma’s living room. Don’t have a Mexican grandma? Neither do I, and I regret it every day because she’d make way better tamales than I do.

Coyoacan on Urbanspoon

Feb 012008

In the review below I display an apparently astonishing ignorance of Mexican cuisine when I complain about tacos al pastor having pineapple in it. Well, it turns out that tacos al pastor is supposed to have pineapple. I just didn’t realize/notice/remember when I’ve had it in the past. So I’ve left the post intact as testimony to my unreliability as a food reviewer. Enjoy!

In my continuing effort to leave no suburban strip mall cuisine unexplored, I paid an unanticipated visit to Fronteras, a tasteful little lunch spot in a thoroughly unremarkable part of Lenexa. As opposed to the truly remarkable parts.

God there is a hell of a lot of Mexican food in Johnson County, I don;t know what’s going on. Fronteras is across the street from another Mexican place, and down the street from yet another. Are they really all that different? One of them has to be good right?

Well Fronteras started out in very promising fashion. I was seated hurriedly, the place was moderately busy, orders were taken quickly and efficiently. They have a lunch menu which I kind of like. Basically you get one thing (taco, enchilada, tamale, etc) with rice and beans for like 6 bucks. Doesn’t seem like a lot but it is the perfect portion size for lunch. I don;t understand people who need to eat an entire plate of cheesy, beany, meaty-ness before heading back to a brisque afternoon in the cubicle. Get a grip, people.

I went for the taco al pastor which is basically a seasoned pork, either roasted or braised slowly. The plate arrived very quickly, which was a good thing, since my neck hurt from watching two unknown soccer teams playing on the TV in the corner. Note: It’s usually a good sign when mexican restaurants have soccer games going on two televisions. It means there might be real live Mexican people working there. It doesn;t matter if you like the sport or not. I don;t want to walk into a Thai restaurant and hear “eye of the tiger” over the stero system.

Anyhow i was excited for my taco, but it was so damn hot I couldn;t eat it for like 10 minutes. I swear, it was unreal, but fine with me since I can;t stand cold food. Finally I was able to take a bite, and…well…what is that flavor I detect?


yes there is friggin’ pineapple in the pork at this place. Now, I can understand that complementary nature of certain fruits and the deliciousness of pork-ity in all its forms. I can understand the impulse or even the need to experiment, and come up with a special recipe that will distinguish you from the glut of Mexican-ity in JoCo. But please do not put pineapple in my tacos al pastor! I’m sure there are people who like this, they find it unusual, intriguing, or even classy. Those people are wrong.

No it wasn’t disgusting, just wrong. I ate it all, ate my refried beans (excellent by the way!) and rice (boil in bag?). So, more Mexican disappointment in the JoCo hinterlands. I know that there are good places in the metro, I’ve tried them and just haven’t blogged about it yet. But not everyone can get to the boulevard or wherever when they want. I keep thinking that with so many Mexican restaurants, there should be a few that stand out. La Paloma is one, but there are a few things that bug me about it. No refried beans is a big one, the offer only black beans. Mi Ranchito is OK, but i prefer a more authentic cuisine and there’s hardly a corn tortilla to be found in the place. And their use of cheese is really beyond the pale. So I’ll keep trucking and keep complaining. happy (or unhappy) eating!

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Fronteras Mexican on Urbanspoon