In a metropolitan area filled with Mexican restaurants, one street — Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas — boasts 18 of them, making it a metro destination for all kinds of Mexican food.
And Kansas City itself is becoming a destination, says Edgar Galicia of the Central Avenue Betterment Association.
"We are getting to be known regionally," Galicia says. "I've traveled to Omaha to visit my son quite often, and a lot of people say, 'You guys have so much Mexican food, it's so fantastic.' It's bringing people to the city as an anchor, and we need to build on that."
There's also an evolution underway, he says. Mexican restaurants in the area used to serve mostly Tex-Mex, but that's no longer the case.
"With trade, and I-35 and migration, we're getting products that are 100% original from the south of Mexico — not only south of the border, but the south of Mexico. Everybody has chilaquiles, cabeza, tripe, al pastor, but now we're getting restaurants that are bringing food specifically from a state, from the south, from the north, from a region. We recognize those flavors, those spices."
Here are the Central Standard Food Critics’ recommendations for the metro's best Mexican food.
- El Patron — I love the mole enchiladas, and the fajitas are also outstanding.
- Jarocho Authentic Mexican Food — These are the only restaurants in town featuring Mexican seafood. There are locations on the Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, sides. Put yourself in Chef Carlos Falcon’s hands and do the omakase menu, or at least take advantage of the daily specials. On the regular menu, try the Veracruz fish filet (steamed fish filet, tomato, onion, jalapeño, caper and olives) or the grilled octopus with jalapeño and cilantro.
- Cacao Restaurant — Though some menu items are more creative than you find in most local Mexican restaurants, I go for the pollo mole. I'm also a fan of Pork Birria (a pork shank in a chile pepper puree) and the shrimp dishes.
- El Pollo Rey — El Pollo Rey has fabulous DIY tacos. They only serve chicken, so don’t go expecting beef or pork.
- Los Alamos Market y Cocina — This corner grocery store was recently renovated, opening up the space with walls of windows, and the food is served cafeteria style. The line is filled with whatever they feel like cooking that day, so don’t have your heart set on just one thing. Options include tamales, chile verde, tacos and barbacoa.
- Ixtapa Mexican Food — One of the owners is also an owner of Cacao, but Ixtapa has a slightly more traditional menu. I enjoy the chile verde burrito, but be sure to try the quesadillas huitlacoche and the quesadillas with squash blossoms. If you like spicy food, give the shrimp diablo a go.
- Brewery Emperial — For rabbit mole.
- Blvd Tavern — For the chilaquiles on its brunch menu.
- Karbon — Karbon (at Parlor on Locust Street) serves mole wings, which are chicken pieces covered in mole spices. It’s worth the mess.
- Los Tules — Go for the the fajitas: marinated and grilled grass-fed skirt steak, fresh grilled chicken tenderloins, or grilled shrimp.
- El Maguey Mexican Restaurant— More fajitas: beef, chicken, shrimp, or chorizo.
- Port Fonda — Try the birria, wood oven-roasted bone-in goat, consomme, fresh corn tortillas and birria garnishes. There's also the tostada campechano, which is a crispy tortilla that comes with refried beans, beef, chorizo, longaniza (Spanish sausage), chicharron and morita (dried and smoked jalapeño) salsa. Also: Tlayudas, which are giant Oaxacan style tostadas with refried black beans, queso Oaxaca, fresh vegetables, diced avocado and hot sauce — a Oaxacan street food that's part flatbread and part Mexican pizza.
- Teocali — Enrique Gutierrez and his mom, Graciela, run this restaurant next door to the Antler Room in the Longfellow neighborhood. They have more than 100 kinds of tequila. On Saturdays and Sundays, they serve menudo made with tender beef tripe, and pork feet with oregano, cilantro, onion, lime and flour or corn tortillas.
- The Bite — Get the pozole, which is hominy stew with traditional garnishes of sliced radishes, diced white onion, shredded iceberg lettuce or cabbage, chopped cilantro and fresh limes.You have a choice of pork, chicken or mushrooms.
- Tacos El Guero 100% Michoacános — This little taco spot in Kansas City, Kansas, advertises right on the sign where they're from and the type of tacos they make. Order the carnitas or crispy pork tacos with grilled onions, whole pinto beans and cilantro.
- Tacos El Guero— Depending on what time you get there, this can be a bit of a party. Wait in line and when you get to the little window, order the carnitas tacos with your choice of pork, raw onions, cilantro and double tortillas, then eat them out in the street.
- Tacos El Gallo — Get the palm-sized street tacos for $1.50 each. They’re served on double corn tortillas filled with your choice of carne asada (flank steak), lengua (tongue), pollo (chicken), cabeza (head), carnitas (pork), tripa (tripe), chorizo (spicy sausage) and buche (pork stomach) with cilantro and raw onions. I also like the horchata or tamarind agua fresca.
- El Torito Taqueria— Guisado is stew made with meat slow-cooked in a sauce that's like gravy with vegetables. In Mexico City, they're cooked and served in clay pots, but here, just order a platter, and it comes with rice, refried beans and tortillas. Choose from pork with roasted chiles, pork ribs in spicy sauce, chicharrón in salsa verde, shredded beef in salsa, ground beef with nopales or cactus, chicken in a creamy chipotle sauce, steak with potatoes, and potatoes with chorizo.
Edgar Galicia, Central Avenue Betterment Association:
- La Placita Central Avenue Market — Open every other Saturday, this market at Bethany Park has such a variety of food. You can find pupusas, tacos de asada y de chorizo, fruit cocktails, tejuinos and giant egg rolls.
- Burritos La Chiquita — This family owned business is known for its burritos, especially its burrito de chile relleno.
- Micheladas Culiacan — Micheladas Culiacan specializes in micheladas, which is a Mexican drink made with beer, lime juice, spices and chili peppers. I recommend their tostadas de ceviche y micheladas de camaron.
- Burritos to Go — You can’t go wrong with the burritos here, particularly the chicharrón en chile verde with rice; they also have fantastic guisado.
- El Torito Supermart — Try the tacos, especially the tacos de cecina and los sopes, which are thick tortillas with meat and vegetable toppings.
- Las Palmas — Order the sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) with crema de coco and the uchepos, which are tamales de elote fresco (Mexican street corn) with crema and salsa verde.
- Sabor Centroamericano — Go for the garnachas (a thick corn tortilla with raised edges) and the chips preparados.
- TapatioMexican Grill— Try the steak nachos.
- Las Islas Marias — This restaurant specializes in Mexican seafood dishes, so start with the molcajete de mariscos y ceviche.
- El Pirata — More Mexican seafood. Here, try the aguachiles and the pescado empapelado, which is fish cooked in paper.
- El Camaroncito — For the camarones a la diabla, a spicy shrimp dish.
- Sinclair Truck Stop Mexican Food — Their burritos are made from scratch.
- El Pueblito — They have great street tacos.
- Lopez de Mexico— Located in Atchison, Kansas, the owner learned recipes from cooking beside her grandparents. Their pork chile is amazing
- El Camino Real — You stand there and watch them make your tortilla. The pastor tacos are great.