Tamale Wizard's kitchen blends six different salsas from scratch each day, evincing a food philosophy that is "really all about doing it the hard way," as owner and chef Bruce Swabb reported to the Kansas City Pitch. From a River Market storefront, the food-truck veteran crafts a focused menu of tacos wrapped in hand-pressed tortillas and plump tamales, each dolloped with sauces that include creamy avocado, mango banana, and chili peanut in addition to classic jalapeño varieties. Pork carnitas, chili-lime fish, and chicken en mole prepared according to Oaxacan and Yucatecan recipes fill the corn or flour tacos, and black beans, sweet potato, and cheesy green chili join the slate of fillings on the tamale menu.
The taps behind the bar dispense ales and lagers from Kansas City's own Boulevard Brewing Company, and artful bottles hold all-natural Soda Vie soft drinks in pineapple cilantro and strawberry mint. Exposed-brick walls and chalkboard menus create a flexible space for the staff's constant innovation, from whipping up ever-spicier taco fillings to building a sidewalk cart in time for summer weather and the taco-racing season.
A line of stalwart cowboys wearing metal sombreros guards the red-brick, mural-covered façade of Los Alamos Market y Cocina, hinting at the quirky mom-and-pop charm to be found inside. Every day, members of the Juarez family work the counters at the convenience store or labor over the stoves of the kitchen, producing made-from-scratch Mexican feasts of pork adobo, menudo, posole, and carne asada. Guests plop down on green vinyl booths near the open kitchen, but not before they’ve loaded up their plates at a buffet with chilies rellenos, marinated chicken, and stewed barbacoa. In the attached grocery and market, interesting products hang from the ceiling and shelves, including a line of novelty piñatas made to look like rival university mascots or local business competitors.
Melding Southwestern-tinged fare with the traditional Latin American flavors of her childhood, chef and co-owner Lorenza Guitierrez's award-winning eats have put smiles on the lips of Kansas City bellies since Poco's opened in 2006. The menu boasts inventive takes on Mexican classics. Plantain chips scoop up fresh guacamole ($7), while a starter of tamales ($8) comes stuffed with tantalizing goat cheese and vegetables, much to the chagrin of late-night Soylent Green–tamale peddlers. Entrees are served with soup or salad, in addition to selective appearances of rice, beans, or seasonal vegetables. Patrons with porcine-inclined palates can plunder the Yucatan Tacos de Puerco, a savory pile of orange-chipotle pork topped with salsa verde and swaddled in lettuce ($16), while Aquarians can plunge their taste buds into the tortilla-encrusted salmon ($16). Vegetarians need not feel left in a lurch—the chile relleno ($12.99) can be prepared sans boeuf, while the roasted red pepper, with organic quinoa herbs, grilled vegetables, and chipotle-tomato dressing, is naturally animal free ($15). Float the evening's delectable edibles south of your throat-border with a selection from the thoughtfully assembled wine list.
Each day, the chefs at El Chupacabra Mexican Grill & Cantina fire up their grill to realize a wide variety of recipes that originated in Veracruz, Mexico, as well as a variety of Mexican-themed burgers. Monster nachos ($5.79) send teeth through a gauntlet of hot queso, tomatoes, jalapeños, green onions, and sour cream. Chili relleno treasure chests ($11.29) open to a bounty of monterey jack cheese covering a cache of spanish rice doubloons, a devalued currency preferred for its flavor. Sharpen fangs on a massive El Chupacabra burrito, packed tightly with beans, cheese, shredded and ground beef, and espinaca dip ($8.99), or opt for a burger, such as the Carnita, loaded with house-prepared pork and pepper jack cheese ($10.99). Combination platters ($7.99–$9.99) are built from a variety of modules inspired by Swedish design principles, with options including chicken tacos, bean tostadas, and house-wrapped tamales. Comforting classics such as fried ice cream ($4.99) and sopapillas ($2.49) guide meals to a sweet conclusion.