KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KMTV) — Forget the Border War between the Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers. There’s a new battle along the Missouri River and it involves food. While Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO to locals), is known for its great barbecue, Kansas City, Kansas (KCK), has its own delicacy to challenge people’s taste buds — Mexican food. Tacos, specifically.
With more than 50 Mexican eateries and several Latino markets, the KCK visitors bureau thought it was a natural fit to create the Kansas City Taco Trail, so they launched the program in October 2020. And to top it off, they added a mobile phone app to help people track the restaurants. Diners can win prizes by achieving certain marks by Oct. 31, simply by checking in at any of the restaurants. However, the app is available year-round. Central and Kansas Avenues are the primary homes for the KCK Taco Trail restaurants.
With a population of about 150,000 people, Kansas City is the third-largest city in Kansas, behind Wichita and Topeka. The hometown of actors Eric Stonestreet of “Modern Family,” Dee Wallace of “Cujo” fame, jazz great Charlie “Bird” Parker and Maurice Greene, four-time Olympian and once the fastest man in the world, Kansas City is often mistaken for being part of Missouri’s KC.
But, with the Taco Trail, KCK is developing an identity of its own. From street tacos, Tex-Mex and birria tacos, the menu is vast for tasting and you’re guaranteed to find something you’ll love. Beginning with breakfast, your day is set to explore the city’s Latin culinary flavor, as well as learn a little about its culture and history.
Kansas City’s Hispanic influence started when Mexicans moved into the area for railroad and packing house jobs. As the population grew, it was a natural evolution that Latino markets would open, carrying goods from the home country and restaurants with recipes that Abuela would make for Sunday dinners.
Today, you can start your day with a delicious breakfast burrito, street taco or omelette at GG’s Barbacoa Café or The California Taco Shop. GG’s tempts you as soon as you pull up to the parking lot. The streetside food stand teases you with the fragrance of barbacoa meat being smoked only a few feet from the ordering window.
Place your order, sit back and enjoy a traditional Mexican breakfast drink or soda while your meal is prepared. As you enjoy your dish at the covered picnic table, with Latino music blasting from the speakers, you may feel like you’re at a food stand in Mexico — all without leaving Kansas. However, GG’s is moving from its current location to a spot on 10th street. It will have the same delicious food, just a new address.
The California Taco Shop is located along historic Kansas Avenue, a strong Latino area. While enjoying a breakfast burrito, a local mentioned to me that the eatery has some of the best Mexican food in town. It's always a positive to know you picked the right place to eat when locals endorse it.
Not far from California Taco Shop, a block-long mural traces the history of the Argentine community in Kansas City. Located in that neighborhood, the Anthology of Argentine mural — completed by artists from the area and Mexico — honors Native Americans who were first in the area and then focuses on local history such as the railroad and sporting events; then it expands to the present and offers a glimpse into the future.
As a market, deli and restaurant, it's easy to get lost in Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio, but only because you want to stay and eat everything on the menu. While the street tacos are a must — with a variety of meats, such as barbacoa, chicken and pork — the menu includes birria tacos, tamales, quesadillas, burritos, menudo and tortas. The salsa bar allows you choices in the temperature of toppings you prefer. While signs indicate the heat level, it’s safe to say the darker red a sauce is, the hotter it is.
The deli also has authentic Mexican-style goods, including chicharron (fried pork belly) and buche (pork stomach). You can buy authentic Mexican products, including spices, hot sauces, peppers, and even pinatas. While at Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio, check out the fresh tortillas as they are made and packaged. When in KCK, you’ll want to stop in and pick up one or more packages of freshly-produced tortillas.
Birria tacos and more
We enjoyed our first Birria taco with a lunch stop at El Mundazo. Slow-cooking the beef and lamb for 12 hours, its Birria tacos are deep-fried with cheese melting in-between the tortilla and meat. Order a bowl of the consommé, which is made with the meat juices, to dip the tacos in. You’ll love it! Located in an older area of KCK, El Mundazo features a small menu, but everything on it is delicious.
During our trek on the Kansas City Taco Trail, we enjoyed dinner at the Mockingbird Lounge. It's a neighborhood bar and grill in the Strawberry Hill area. Instead of going for tacos, my wife Lisa and I each opted for something different. Lisa went with an old-fashioned egg sandwich, while I stayed with the Mexican theme of the trip and ordered a tamale dinner (I’m a sucker for a good tamale). Mine was topped with an egg cooked sunnyside up with fresh salsa.
Serving local craft beer, wine and cider, Mockingbird Lounge is an excellent choice for an evening out. You can enjoy dinner and drinks inside while watching sports on any of their flat screen televisions or sit outside with the fresh air and an outstanding view of the Kansas City, Missouri skyline.
While traversing the taco trail, you’ll want to include some of Kansas City’s attractions, such as the Rosedale Arch, which resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and honors war veterans, as well the Wyandotte County Museum, which features unique exhibits tracing the area’s history, from Indigenous tribes and Quindaro, a community of African Americans, to early fire departments, schools and more. Grinter Place showcases the first farmhouse in Wyandotte County. Downtown KCK is a great area to take in art and history, with a self-guided tour of several murals highlighting the area’s history and culture.
Kansas City, Kansas, is a great day trip, about three hours south of Omaha, or an even better weekend getaway location, where you have outstanding hotels and bed and breakfast inns to stay, as well as great shopping at Legends Outlet.
Thank you to D'Leon's in Omaha for hosting the interview with Tim and Lisa Trudell. You can here more about them online: dleonsmexicanfood.com
To read more by the Walking Tourists, visit their website: thewalkingtourists.com
Find other Travels in the Heartland articles or to learn more about Tim and Lisa Trudell go to the 3 News Now travel page.