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Food Critics: The Best South American Food In Kansas City


Kansas City only has a handful of South American restaurants, but South American food has been appearing on menus all over town.

"You don't have to just be a South American restaurant to enjoy and have these dishes on your menu," Jenny Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

Vergara, along with fellow food critics Mary Bloch and Charles Ferruzza, searched out the best South American dishes in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • El Porton Café — pork hash. Roasted pork sautéed with peppers, onion, yucca and chorizo, and served with rice, beans and plantains. It’s a hearty, simple, lovely dish.
  • El Pulgarcito — pupusas. This is a thicker corn tortilla that’s filled with meat, beans, cheese. At El Pulgarcito, they’ve got this huge jar of curtido on the table (a pickled cabbage slaw with onions and carrots), and you can just load the pupusa up. I love the fact that the curtido is do-it-yourself and you’re not limited.
  • Jarocho — ceviche. The classic Peruvian dish is composed of chunks of raw fish marinated in freshly squeezed key lime or bitter orange (naranja agria) juice, with sliced onions and chili peppers. At both the Kansas City, Kansas, and Leawood locations.

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • Taste of Brazilis more of a casual snack stand. I like the mortadella sandwich on soft white bread (with or without provolone cheese). I also like the pão de queijo cheese rolls, coxinha with potato dough filled with chicken and cream cheese and a Guarana soda to drink. They also have their liquor license.
  • Empanada Madness. The empanadas are delicious and crispy, made with cornmeal dough and filled with your choice of potato, queso fresco and eggs, shredded beef, shredded chicken or ground beef. The flour dough version of this is called a pastelito. They also do a nice job with arepas (it is kind of like a fry-bread that’s stuffed with beans and meat and various things). Fun casual little place.
  • Porto do Solis my favorite Brazilian steakhouse in Kansas City. It is locally owned by a lovely couple; she is the chef and he is the front of the house. They serve authentic southern Brazilian-style churrasco (grilled meat). The Harvest Bar has a full salad bar and a hot bar with black beans and rice, farofa, collard greens. Flip your card to green and get the picanha, the sirloin cap or prime cut of top sirloin. Parmesan pork tenderloin is another favorite. Caipirinha is a must to drink.
  • El Tenedor. Chef Carmen Cabia brings Spanish food to another level! When you think about Latin American food, you don’t think Spanish food, but its roots come from Spain. Her paella is flavorful and as authentic as I’ve tried. I also like the papas bravas (potatoes, spicy and earthy, with a sweet Spanish paprika).
  • El Porton Café — arepas. A Venezuelan fried cornmeal patty that’s opened up to make a pocket and stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings (shredded beef and black beans, vegetables and cheese, chicken, etc.). They are excellent here.
  • El Pulgarcito. Love their papusas, a cornmeal cake filled with beans and cheese and topped with curtido, a traditional fermented slaw made with cabbage, onions, carrots and lime juice. This is more Central American El Salvadorian.

Charles Ferruzza, food writer:

  • Piropos is a classic meat-and-potatoes restaurant. It’s a tastefully appointed Argentinian place with a beef-heavy menu (using American beef but with Argentinian spices and cooking techniques). Also on the menu: freshwater fish dishes, seafood options and chicken. The prices are high, but the food and service are quite impressive.
  • Empanada Madness. A snack shop, really, serving puffy, lightly fried empanadas or arepas filled with a variety of fresh options: meat, cheese, vegetables. Very reasonably priced.
  • El Porton Café. Chef José Garcia used to own a tiny beloved Venezuelan restaurant in Kansas City, Kansas. This expanded version in Johnson County is much bigger and offers dishes from Guatemala, Venezuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Serves liquor.
  • Em Chamas. Locally owned Brazilian steakhouse. Costly, but a lavishly set buffet, with salads and side dishes, and tableside grilled meat service presented by skewer-wielding passadores. I think you should never go to a Brazilian steakhouse, especially Em Chamas, unless you have fasted for at least two weeks.

Listener recommendations:

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

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