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Central Standard

Taco Via Or In-A-Tub? Depends On Where You Grew Up In Kansas City

Courtesy of Craig Jones

Where do you get your hard-shell taco? You know, the kind that's filled with seasoned ground beef, shredded lettuce and cheese and a soupy red sauce?

Well, for some Kansas Citians, it depends on where you grew up.

According to Craig Jones, In-A-Tub is a Northland tradition.

"For a lot of people that grew up north of the river, that was their first foray into Mexican food," he told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

Jones, a contributor to The Kansas City Star's food blog, admits that the tacos at In-A-Tub are far from authentic. They're fried then topped with powdered cheese, which, according to Jones, the owner orders 2,500 pounds of at a time.

"It can be a little alarming the first time you go and all of a sudden, you see this neon yellow powdered cheese on top of it," he said.

For Jones, the food is more like "Mexican comfort food," and it brings up childhood memories of going there in grade school. It was also a high-school hangout, he said, where people from the three different high schools north of the river would congregate.

"It was a place to go without your parents when you were in high school," he said. "You could afford it, and with your teenage metabolism, you could afford a lot of it. And it was a good time."

However, for Jared Brustad, Taco Via was the place to go for people who grew up south of the river.

Brustad, who created the "I Love the Taco Via!!!" Facebook page, said that Taco Via used to be all over Overland Park during the 1980s. Many of them have since shut down, and he was inspired by his childhood Taco Via at 95th and Antioch to start the Facebook page.

He and his family lived near that one, he said, and they used to walk there every couple of weeks for dinner. And according to Brustad, some things are still the same. Debbie, who has worked there since the late 1970s and remembers everyone's names and orders, is still there. So are the Galaga machine and the jukebox.

Credit The DLC / Flickr - CC
Flickr - CC
A taco from Taco Via.

"It is comfort food, not authentic Mexican food," he said. "I feel like it’s very similar to when you would have taco night at home, and your mom browns the meat on stove, and opens up a package of taco seasoning, and warms up the tortillas or taco shells in the oven. It's got that home feel to it."

He takes his son there now, he said. He's also tried to take people who have never been before.

"I've tried to share my love for this place ... and honestly, they don't feel about it the same way that I do," he said. "Then I don't talk to them ever again."

"Don't you see, that's the way it is with comfort food," added Jones. "If people don't go into it with an open mind, they're not having the same memories you are."

"Oh no, they're expecting this to blow their minds, blow their palates," Brustad said.

Both Jones and Brustad have heard that their respective taco joints are often the first place that people who have moved away will visit when they come back to Kansas City.

"In-A-Tub is the Northland taco place. Taco Via is the southland," said Brustad. "I bet the fans of Taco Via and In-A-Tub will battle each other at the river to decide who is the bigger fan of the taco chain."

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.