Nov 302010
 

Way back in February, a reader named Candace emailed me about a “little hole-in-the-wall on 24 highway” with incredible tacos. Here we are ten months later and I find myself hurtling toward Independence on an unrelated weekend errand. Since I am virtually never in Independence I felt obligated to try one of the joints listed on my spreadsheet of restaurants to try. Do you have a suggestion? Submit it using this form; I may get around to it in the very distant future.

Anyhow, my visit to Lucia’s is proof that I do keep track of these suggested restaurants, and I will eventually get around to trying most of them.

Candace was right, Lucia’s is a hole in the wall, with an outward appearance reminiscent of a Bait & Tackle shop or a rough and tumble roadside tavern.

Lucia's exterior

Since half the square footage is taken up by kitchen and storage, the dining room is really very small. It is so small that I wouldn’t count on being able to get a table without waiting during peak hours. I popped in last week at about 1:30 on a Saturday and there was only one table available. The tables are situated fairly close to one another and most of them accommodate either two or four diners. I wouldn’t pop in to Lucia’s with your party of eight expecting royal treatment.

Interior

The tremendous display of photographic expertise above is about the only kind of dining room photo you can get at Lucia’s without being an asshole. There is no way to hide what you are eating, doing or talking about. So, to sum up, Lucia’s is small, get it?

Want to see the menu?

Menu

Menu

Here we have the usual dizzying assortment of hard shell tacos, sauced burritos and deep fried delicacies that are so prevalent in Kansas City. But the twist is that Lucia’s has a much more homestyle preparation. This makes for dishes that are a little more satisfying than Jose Peppers, Jalepenos and the like but not quite authentically sublime like El Camino Real for instance.

Marco & Steve's Judicial Spread

Mike & Jeff's Legal Lunch

Lucia’s has the curious habit of putting a grated, dry cheese–parmesan perhaps–on their tacos. I’ve seen this at other Tex-Mex spots and I’m really not a fan of the practice. It made an otherwise delightful fish taco a little too salty and pretty much trashed the mouthfeel.

The carnitas, only available on weekends, was nothing special. While tender and easy to chew, it lacked the crunchy exterior that is characteristic of the best carnitas. It appeared to have been braised or stewed without ever having been crisped in the oven.

The ground beef taco was…well, a good ground beef, hard shell taco. Even Don Chilitos can do these well so I don’t consider it much of an accomplishment. But I ate it and enjoyed it at Lucia’s.

Overall I think Lucia’s is a cool joint: family owned and operated, popular with locals, affordable and friendly. I have only been once, and I might go back to sample the menu more widely. Good Mexican food is so readily available in this town however, that it’s hard to justify returning when there are so many other deserving Independence spots to try.

Lucia's on Urbanspoon

Ricos Tacos Lupe: 802 Southwest Blvd

 Posted by at 10:19 pm
Oct 172010
 

I’m not sure how long this place has been in operation near the corner of Summit and Southwest Boulevard, but I’m really glad it’s there.

Exterior

Too often the Boulevard feels like an overly long stretch of Mexican mediocrity; no place really delivers the goods when it comes to authenticity. El Huarache further east is a recent step in the right direction, culinarily speaking. But I like Ricos Tacos Lupe a whole hell of a lot, maybe better than any place in the vicinity.

They serve awesome, piping hot little tacos with a somewhat typical variety of meats: carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, chicken, buche, cabeza, tripe and chorizo. I haven’t had the tripe (but I will) and the pastor is somewhat lackluster but everything else is great. While chorizo–at least for me–is not a common choice of taco filling, do yourself a favor and order a couple of these if you decide to visit. It’s a salty, spicy, slightly crunchy treat.

Tacos

The tacos, like those at El Matador, are slightly smaller than average. Fortunately, they are cheaper than average, at $1.50 each. Tacos are $1 on Tuesdays as well.

And hey, they have huaraches, sopes and tortas too. Unlike El Huarache, Lupe’s seems to fry the masa base of their huaraches which lends them a delicate crunch. They are extraordinarily light and easy to cut with a fork. They will cost you $4.95 and are large enough to fill the average person.

Hurache and chorizo taco

The sopes are a steal at $2. Basically a sope is a small, round base of thick masa dough, spread with beans and topped with meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and cilantro. A sope is essentially the same thing as a huarache, differentiated only by its size and shape.

Sope

The salsas here are a revelation. The green salsa is pure tomatillo goodness, pulverized into a frothy concoction that is fresh-tasting and a bit spicy. The red salsa is more spicy but equally as good. It has a little smokiness which may indicate a chipotle but it was more subtle than I normally see. Regardless there are certainly some toasted chiles in the mix. The plain, red salsa served in a larger container with the chips strangely does nothing for me. It tastes like it is made with canned tomato sauce. Stick with the squeeze bottles of the other stuff.

Ricos Tacos Lupe is not a fancy joint. It’s not even a particularly nice joint inside. A pungent shade of bright orange paint adorns every wall. They need another coat since the first seems to have been hastily applied. A row of non-working deli cases line one side of the dining room and serve to hold cases of Jarritos and Coca-Cola. A grab bag of knick-knacks sit on top of the cases. The other wall has some interesting postcards of Mexican destinations and some cool portraits of old boxers. In general the interior is well-worn and pretty rough around the edges.

While many of the dishes are prepped in the kitchen at the rear of the restaurant, they are griddled and assembled on a mobile taco cart which sits inside the restaurant at the front. This allows the owner to also serve people outside on the sidewalk who can order through a window.

The cart

I’m not convinced of the street-worthiness of the cart, but it tickles me that this is how they prepare things here. The thing is powered by a propane tank sitting inside the front door.

Powering the cart

Surprisingly, Lupe’s is a table service joint. Not one, but two pregnant women take orders and run food while a guy mans the cart up front. These folks are really friendly and good at their jobs too. You will feel welcomes at Lupe’s.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this place is cash-only.I’m an idiot, this place takes credit cards, although you typically have to pay at the register and might not get a check delivered to the table.

Ricos Tacos Lupe on Urbanspoon

El Camino Real: 903 N 7th St (KCK)

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Sep 132009
 

This is going to be short, because El Camino Real has received no small amount of praise and attention recently from the likes of Charles Ferruzza in the Pitch and the Gina Kauffman Walt Bodine show and from Meesha who, in my opinion offers the definitive analysis, complete with video. Read Meesha’s post for the substance, I’m just filling in some gaps.

I went there and sampled four kinds of tacos along with their rice and beans. The tacos were uniformly excellent. The meat benefits from being thrown back on the grill before serving where it develops glorious little crusty bits. The tortillas are small and corny yet soft and pliant. Each taco comes with two tortillas as they almost always do in proper Mexican spots. El Camino Real really piles on the meat too, more so than I thought they would for the $1.50 price tag.

Tacos

Everything here is a tad greasy, even the tortillas. But it’s a good kind of greasy.

It is all the essence of simplicity. Dining in you will receive bowls of chopped white onions, cilantro and limes for your tacos. The pico de gallo is fresh, dry and lively with spice. The thinner, chile-based sauce likewise carries some heat and is very good drizzled on a carne asada taco.

El Camino Real

The rice didn’t impress me–a little too tomatoey and sweet, reminiscent of boxed rice. The refried beans were somewhat smokey, a flavor I haven’t encountered in beans before. A chipotle pepper perhaps?

Each item costs 1.99 so save yourself the effort and just get more tacos.

Vegetarians rejoice! That hot little number on the left is a rajas taco. It’s a cheese filled poblano in a creamy sauce with onions, similar to a chile relleno. Though your tortilla will grace the meat-laden surface of the grill, there is otherwise no animal flesh in sight.

This is a no frills place with a basic dining room, one waitress and two cooks. They run the place pretty efficiently and everyone is quite friendly.

I know Kansas City, Kansas can seem like end of the earth if you live in Johnson County or South KC. Or even if you live a mile away. But this place really is worth the trip. Located near 7th Avenue Parkway and Minnesota, it’s not that far, only 5 minutes from downtown. Get off I-70 at Minnesota and circle the block since you can’t turn left on 7th. It’s right there.

El Camino Real on Urbanspoon