Kansas City is home to some of the best Mexican food in the Midwest, all conveniently located on two streets on opposite sides of the state line. From a plate of chicken to carne asada tacos to a Doritos “salad”, here are our favorite picks on Southwest Boulevard and Kansas Avenue.
This Westside-carved boulevard is a haven of Mexican restaurants.
As far as Mexican restaurants go, the best ones typically hide in strip mall corners or in unassuming buildings off quiet side streets. Manny’s, on the other hand, has an expansive 350-seat restaurant that takes up nearly a block of the Crossroads neighborhood and is always buzzing with Crossroads dwellers and large families alike. A faithful menu choice is the Manny’s Burrito with beef ($9).
Tacos El Gallo
It may be the pinatas hanging from the ceiling, the smell of homemade tortilla chips, the bar of colorful salsas or the welcoming stove hands, but something about Tacos El Gallo feels antiquated and genuine. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but try the el pastor and carne asada tacos ($1.50 each), which pair well with a glass-bottle Mexican coke.
If you’re willing to wait it out at an always-busy Ponak’s, you’ll have the pleasure of dining at the fan-favorite Mexican joint and trying its trademarked margaritas. Hit up the happy hour from 3-6 pm Monday-Thursday, where the heavenly heaping nacho plates are only $8.
The food at Taqueria Mexico is tasty—there are, after all, three Taqueria Mexico locations, two of which are nearly a stone’s throw from each other on Southwest Boulevard—and the portions are huge. The real deal is the margaritas that are not only the perfect combination of sweet and sour, but are also the size of your head and require two hands to pick up.
Locations in KCMO, KCK and Olathe
We’ve all got a little garbage person inside of us. There’s a nacho cheese-guzzling, gas station hot dog-binging, Cheeto dust-fingered side that we hide from the world. But at Paletería Tropicana, you can let your inhibitions run wild. Order the Dorilocos: A fabulously irreverent Mexican street food that slices open a bag of Doritos (or Takis, if that’s your pleasure) and tops the chips with pico de gallo, sliced cucumber, chicharrones, jicama, shredded carrot, peanuts, hot sauce and chamoy (a spicy-sweet fruit sauce). You get a plastic fork, but let’s be real—you’re gonna end up digging your fingers into this freakish mashup like the barbarian you truly are, and you’re gonna find it strangely addicting, too. On the plus side, this is kinda like adding chips to a salad, right? So maybe it’s better for you than it sounds. —Natalie Gallagher
Kansas Avenue in KCK has some of the best Mexican food in the Midwest within a few blocks.
El Pollo Rey
El Pollo Rey’s menu is just three lines long. This busy restaurant on the Kansas Avenue strip only sells chicken, which comes by the whole, half or wing. The birds are scrunched together on a wood-fired grill and given a slow, smokey char. Then, the pollo is plated with rice, beans and warm corn tortillas. On the side come a ziplock baggie of onions and a little styrofoam cup filled with a red salsa that’s been blended down to pulp.
The family that owns Ninfa’s moved up to Kansas from the central Texas town of Brady, bringing a recipe for handmade flour tortillas with them. Those thin, taut and impossibly soft marvels are served instead of chips when you take a seat, carried to your table in a warmer with a squirt bottle of glowing pink salsa and a blue squeeze bottle of Parkay margarine. To enjoy those tortillas as a meal, get them made into enchiladas served with rice and beans.
Daisy’s Mexican Food #1
Daisy’s asada tacos are a basic affair, just steak and fresh corn tortillas ready for a scoop of cilantro and onions. This no-frills Mexican spot on Kansas Avenue succeeds by keeping it simple—and cheap.
There are many, many great street tacos in KCK. But after trying dozens of recommendations, I’m of the opinion that the deshebrada at Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio are the finest in the metro area.
This little market-slash-tortilleria-slash-taqueria has a butcher counter in the back and pinatas by the coolers. But the large line that forms snakes up to the taco counter, where you order five or six smallish tacos to eat on the sturdy log furniture that looks like it was salvaged from the set of Ponderosa.
All the tacos here are good, but the one that stands above all others to me is the simple shredded beef known as deshebrada. Splashed with green or orange salsa from the little bar in front of the meat-loaded griddle, these piles of soft, lightly seasoned beef on super fresh tortillas are tacos in their purest, most elemental form.