A decade ago, when Guadalupe Marcela Banuelos moved her taco operation to Southwest Boulevard, her grandmother was worried that the authentic, soft shell street tacos Banuelos planned to serve at Rico's Tacos "Lupe" would be too different from the hard shell tacos many people in the region were used to eating.
"You know grandma, they're going to have to get used to it."
And, they did. These days, Banuelos has a loyal following, especially from those who crowd into her restaurant on Tuesdays for the $1 taco special.
On a recent episode of KCUR's Central Standard, our food critics and listeners alike were most enthuastic about the simple, but flavorful, combination of corn tortilla, meat, onion and cilantro.
Here are our critics' recommendations.
Mary Bloch, Around The Block:
- Bichelmeyers: A butcher's shop that serves tacos on Sunday. They really pack the tortillas with the filling of your choice, with just enough room for condiments and salsa. I always order the spicy chicken and carnitas. Get there in the morning, the line grows as the lunch hour approaches.
- Taco El Gallo: While you wait for your order, watch the carnitas crisp up on the griddle, and fill up little plastic cups with a variety of homemade salsas from mild to hot. Part grocery, part restaurant, this no frills place on Southwest Boulevard is frequented by people in the know.
- El Pollo Rey: Fabulous roast chicken served with tortillas and salsa, DIY tacos. Only chicken is served, so don't go expecting beef or pork.
- Los Alamos Market y Cocina: Cafeteria-style. It's filled with whatever they feel like cooking that day, so don't have your heart set on any one thing. Options include tamales, chile verde, tacos and barbacoa.
- Port Fonda: For more upscale options, check out the tacos here, served with fresh corn tortillas from Yoli Tortilleria.
- Ixtapa: I love the Tacos Chidos. Any meat marinated in beer, citrus and pepper, charbroiled and served with grilled onions, guacamole, cilantro and pico de gallo. I like these tacos with steak. Similar to fajitas, just deconstructed.
- Cancun Fiesta Fresh: A Westport mainstay, it serves hearty street tacos with a wide variety of fillings including shredded beef and chorizo.
- Carniceria El Torito II: The largest (and busiest) of the combo grocery store/taqueria stops. The taqueria, which is connected but also has a separate entrace from the grocery, does not do counter service. Servers bring you food, including fresh chips and salsa. El Torito II has a huge taco selection. Don't miss the charred tomatillo salsa.
- Carniceria La Siete: Love the carnitas, fried on the grill for extrra crispness, and you can also take ready-to-cook pastor pork home from the butcher counter. House-made sauces include avocado-cilantro, a red cili de arbol, and habanero. The tacos here are just $1 every day.
Charles Ferruzza, KCUR food critic:
- El Camino Real: Very simple, the meat is beautifully grilled. It's cheap and delicious. Plus, it stays open late.
- Tortilleria San Antonio: A wonderful selection to be found at this spot. The cafe is inside a great meat market and grocery store. Very inexpensive.
- Unforked: The crispy avocado taco here is the best meatless, but flavorful, option around. "It has the illusion of health."
- Humdinger Drive-In and Food Truck: They still serve deep fried, hard shell crunchy tacos. Reminder of the tacos from a Midwestern childhood in the 1960s. Another option, Taco Via in Johnson County.
- Rudy's: One of the first to serve fish tacos in the city. Many got their first taste for this type of taco here.
Bonjwing Lee, The Ulterior Epicure:
- El Pollo Rey: They only do one thing. You'll go in and see a place filled with roasting chickens. You pick meat off a whole or half chicken and you make your own taco with corn tortillas, lime and pico.
- Carniceria San Antonio (Independence Avenue) and Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio (Kansas Avenue): They make their own tortillas. Order your meat and they throw it on a small griddle right there. It's all very simple, but you customize your taco with salsas and lime.
- El Camino Real
- Port Fonda: For fish tacos. They have a battered fish taco on the menu, served with a creamy sauce.
- Bonito Michoacan: The lengua taco is the best here, it's tender and a delicacy. This place has Taco Tuesday and Taco Friday specials.
- El Patron: They have delicious fish tacos and are the best in the city. They have fresh fish every day.
- Ixtapa: Simple, delightful. (Also, excellent margaritas!)
- El Camino Real: The tortillas are so soft and the fillings are simple.
- La Fonda El Taquito: Deep fried with juice coming out of them. Only a dollar on Thursdays.
- Burrito King (in Lawrence): Meat, cheese, lettuce, with a neon orange cheese. Carry-out only, comes wrapped in a sheet of aluminum foil and when you're done eating it you have a pool of neon orange grease. "I've seen people lick the aluminum foil!"
- Taquerias El Torito: All a dollar except for the lengua taco. They do not have a mild salsa. Everything would be at least medium spicy, but "I love things really spicy!"
- Pepe's Carnitas: Only open on the weekends and they sell out very quickly. Will buy a pound of meat for about $7 and make own tacos at home out of them. Can get them served with lettuce, cabbage.
- In-A-Tub: Listener grew up in Houston, Texas, eating authentic, street-style tacos. After moving to Kansas City, went there and it was different from anything he had eaten before. "It is not entirely unpleasant."
- Ninfa's Tortillas y Taqueria
- Bonito Michoacan: Pastor there is "unbeatable," and there is a bakery next door.
- Los Tules: Fish tacos are the best. The fish is grilled just right.
- Taco Lucha (Manhattan, Kansas): The street tacos are dreamy good.
- Tacos El Guero: On St. John Avenue in the historic Northeast and only open in the evening. Reminder of the tacos the listener had in her home state of Michoacan state in Mexico. You order at a little window and eat them out in the street.
- Queen Taco: Loves the fish tacos. One of the Mexican restaurants popping up in Independence ... "folks should check them out."
- La Plaza Market: Attached to a grocery store. They have a more Central American-style menu.