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Food Critics: The best Mexican and Latin-American dishes in Kansas City in 2022

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Courtesy photo / Taco Naco
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A sampler at Taco Naco includes al pastor, beef brisket, chicken mole and steak served on corn tortillas.

Mexican restaurants are abundant in the Kansas City metro area, and Central and South American restaurants are beginning to join them.

Kansas City's cultural makeup includes food influences from around the world — but none more than Mexico. Increasingly, countries in Central and South America are also represented.

“There's a whole host of Latin countries that are starting to open little shops here,” said food writer Jenny Vergara. “But you have to look for them and you have to know where the communities are to find that really good Latin food.”

Natasha Bailey, co-host of KCUR’s podcast Hungry For Mo and executive chef of Thelma’s Kitchen, said she loves the “rich, bold flavors” she experiences in Latin American food.

Food writer Mary Bloch recommends checking out the KCK Taco Trail for new discoveries.

“They change it up, so you can try new places,” Block said of the online list of Mexican restaurants in Kansas City, Kansas. “So for people who don't know where to go, it’s a good way to explore a few new places.”

Here are KCUR’s food writers’ suggestions for their favorite Latin American restaurants and dishes.

Jenny Vergara

  • Café CorazónSpicy Azul Smoothie.
    This Latin owned coffee shop now has a new location in the Crossroads in addition to the original in Westport. Both are terrific, but the Crossroads location is larger with more seating, including some outdoor tables, and a gorgeous colorful mural on the wall. The menu's full of interesting Latin themed specialty coffee drinks like cafe de olla and yerba mate and now smoothies like the Spicy Azul Smoothie made with organic blue corn, cinnamon, cacao, ancho and chipotle chile. There's also a pastry counter serving sweet and savory desserts from Pan Caliente, Elvira’s Pasteleria y Panaderia and Scratch KC
  • The Emporium BrazilCoxinha. This is a Brazilian market filled with frozen foods, meats, breads, cookies, candies, condiments, coffee, sodas, teas and chocolates along with rice and beans, as well as the frozen cheese bread called pão de queijo and everything needed to make the national dish of Brazil, feijoada. And if you're lucky you'll find some small snacks that are ready to eat. Look for coxinha, breaded and deep-fried fritters stuffed with chicken or cheese, and sweets such as passionfruit mousse and chocolate brigadeiro. 
  • Los Alamos CocinaChilaquiles. This Westside spot has a buffet of rotating daily specialties. Their chile relleno is a delicious daily special, and the chilaquiles and their spicy red pork are both excellent. And now they have their liquor license and serve cocktails in addition to Mexican brands of bottled beer. 
  • El Pulgarcito and El Pulgarcito ExpressPupusas. These traditional El Salvadorian cornmeal cakes are filled with your choice of pork, beans or cheese and topped with curtido, a traditional fermented slaw made with cabbage, onions, carrots and lime juice. Don’t forget the hot sauce!
  • Jarocho Pescados y MariscosMexican seafood. With access to fresh fish from all corners of the globe, Veracruz native Chef Carlos Falcon can turn a simple fish dish into a gastronomic experience with flavors that come from classic French cooking techniques coupled with the simplicity of cooking with what’s in season. Put yourself in his hands and he’ll bring out seafood dishes like grilled baby octopus, whole red snapper grilled and stuffed with fresh herbs, oysters on the half shell or langoustines.
  • Panaderia de Las AmericanasTres leches cake. This bakery on Southwest Boulevard is the spot for tres leches cake, sweet Mexican conchas bread and traditional Central-American rolls or breads baked fresh every day and delivered to restaurants across the metro. 
  • Caribe Blue Alcapurria. You’ll find a host of homemade dishes from across Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Caribbean at this spot in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. The alcapurria is a crispy fried fritter from Puerto Rico made with taro root and green plantains stuffed with beef. They also have a great Cuban sandwich, slow-roasted pork platters and mofongo.
  • El Tacos TioStreet tacos. This small storefront sells street tacos along with burritos, tortas and quesadillas filled with almost anything you can imagine — beef steak, pork, cracklin, chicken, beef tripe, beef tongue, Mexican sausage, and a mixture of flank steak, sausage and pork chicharrones that's a must-try.

Natasha Bailey:

  • Tacos El GueroBirria tacos. This spot has a wonderful small menu which means ordering is a breeze and everything on it is fantastic. The birria tacos are rich, cheesy and delicious.
  • El Pollo GuasaveWhole chicken. Order a whole chicken and combine it with their house-made beans and rice, corn tortillas, salsa and pickled vegetables. It’s simple and flavorful. 
  • Las PalmasSeaven seas soup. This establishment focuses on Central-American Cuisine, with beef, chicken and seven seas broths with authentic ingredients and bright flavors.
  • Cafe OllamaCoffee flight. This Mexican-owned cafe offers coffee flights on Tuesdays and hosts special community pop-ups and events monthly. Grab a cup of their special blend and enjoy their handmade goods as well.

Mary Bloch:

  • IxtapaQuesadillas de huitlacoche. My go-to is the grilled corn tortilla filled with a unique combination of corn smut, mushrooms and goat cheese that is sautéed with white wine and garlic. 
  • Taco NacoSalsa sampler. The salsa samplers here include tomatillo jalapeño, a creamy jalapeno, and peanut macha. My favorite tacos are the potato pipian with green-pumpkin-seed mole, and the wild mushroom taco with mild mole, red pickled onion on a corn tortilla.
  • Yoli TortillasSonoran flour tortilla. I gravitate towards the thin Sonoran flour tortillas that bubble up with a bit of char when you heat them in a dry skillet. And on Friday and Saturdays, you'll find fresh-made chorizo and egg burritos at the take-out counter. They come with the house-made sauce, but I like to buy a jar of their Macha Negro salsa. 
  • Poi-OBurrito bowl. Order the burrito bowl with the wood-fired chicken, and add whatever toppings you want, such as kimchi, broccoli or elotes. Choose one or multiple homemade salsas and you’ve got a leftover meal for a day or two.
  • GG’s Barbacoa CafeBirria Tacos.  Birria tacos are a trendy Mexican dish at the moment. Here, the namesake barbacoa is, simply put, slow braised beef which softens to a stew, then stuffed into corn tortillas along with mozzarella cheese and pickled onions. It’s all dipped into a rich meat broth and grilled until crisp. The tortillas can then be dipped into a cup of the same broth, like a French dip. This is one of many renditions that are popping up right now.
  • Port FondaEsquites. Two mainstays I will never tire of are the esquites, which are roasted corn with spicy mayo, jalapeños, and queso. The chilaquiles are baked chips with chorizo verde chile sauce, and topped with a fried egg. 
Stay Connected
Jacob Martin is a news intern at KCUR. Follow him on Twitter @jacob_noah or email him at Jacobmartin@kcur.org.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.