With its dark wood-paneled walls, antique road signs, and murals of Mexican pueblos, Kokopelli Mexican Cantina’s dining room resembles the fusion of a southern roadhouse and taqueria. It’s a fitting backdrop for a menu of homemade tamales, burritos, and enchiladas sprinkled with southwestern flourishes, like the pepper jack cheese layered on spinach enchiladas or the crab and white-wine sauce stuffed in the tucumcari's flour tortillas. Fajitas—Kokopelli Mexican Cantina’s specialty—feature strips of shrimp, steak, and chicken seasoned with a piquant blend of spices and scoops of homemade guacamole.
Kokopelli Mexican Cantina is a member of the Kansas City Originals, an alliance of independent eateries and chefs dedicated to nurturing, growing, and regularly basting the local culinary scene.
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.
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.
Guadalajara Cafe shies away from the Tex-Mex standards found at typical Mexican restaurants in favor of the authentic flavors and spices you’d expect to find simmering in a family cocina. Its chefs attended culinary training in Guadalajara, where they developed a special appreciation for the cuisine of Jalisco, a region that extends from central Mexico to the Pacific coast. They even spice up this Jalisciense style of cooking with exotic ingredients such as squash blossoms, nopal cactus, and shrimp wearing tiny safari hats to create dishes reminiscent of those first envisioned by the Aztecs.
The result of their dedication to tradition is a menu of central Mexican classics such as chilies rellenos drizzled in spicy tomatillo sauce, hand-rolled tamales, and tacos filled with charbroiled, citrus-marinated meats. In her blog Around the Block, Mary Bloch—the author of the Kansas City Star’s restaurant guide—lauds the eatery’s mole, calling it “as good as it gets.” Diners can wash down these authentic morsels with a selection of Mexican beers or tequilas infused with jalapeño, cilantro, and tamarind.
Rudy's menu spreads out traditional family recipes embodying the spicy flavors of Mexico, with 25 tequilas and margaritas ready to spring from the drink menu and cool down steaming mouths. Famous for their fish tacos, the chefs at Rudy's load small tortillas with steaming fish and vegetables to eat individually ($3.99) or as part of the Tijuana tacos plate ($9.99), where they're served with a side of rice and a choice of beans or nopales. In the Tamales Especial ($8.49), corn-based masa cradles tender pork bathed in a delicious sauce and smothered in cheese. Diners can chomp and crunch their way through the chimichangas de Tenampa ($9.99), whose deep-fried tortillas house a zesty concoction of sautéed chicken and fresh vegetables served with sour cream, guacamole, and rice and beans, or bite into a piping-hot pile of Margie's sizzling fajitas ($12.99), which combine a half pound of steak or chicken with peppers and onions, then shroud it in mystery, pico de gallo, guacamole, cheese, and warm flour tortillas. Each Friday night, diners can order one of the house margaritas and enjoy the live music of a mariachi band, which fills the restaurant's airwaves with traditional Mexican tunes.