May 102009

It is incredibly annoying how much people like this place. Yelp and other sites abound with people proclaiming this the best BBQ in Kansas City and often the best BBQ in the world. I don’t have a lot of use for those kinds of assertions unless they come from people I know personally and trust. Nonetheless, Oklahoma Joe’s stellar reputation is pretty much well-deserved. They make all the BBQ standards really well (at least all that I’ve had), and I haven’t encountered the shortcomings or weaknesses that you see at other establishments around the metro.

Pulled pork? Excellent. Ribs? Excellent. Chicken? Excellent. Brisket? Very good. Sausage? Meh.

BBQ chicken

Where I will differ with the vast majority of folks in Kansas City is in my assessment of the french fries. While well cooked and pleasingly crunchy in texture, they are vastly over seasoned. They are so salty that I rarely come close to finishing them.

The baked beans on the other hand, pretty much rule. Cole slaw is solid but typical.

This is a quintessential lunch spot in a lot of ways, particularly because I think the midday meal is their bread and butter. Anyone who has been around town for any length of time knows that there is a line out the door by 11:30 when doors open. The wait during lunch rush can approach 45 minutes. This is good food, but I can’t see waiting that long for it, especially if I have somewhere to be (like, oh I don’t know, WORK?). So this is a special occasion lunch place and also a perfectly good joint for dinner and odd hour meals.

And yeah, there is the gas station thing. Oklahoma Joe’s, for those who don’t know, is located in the back of a gas station convenience store at the corner of 47th and Mission Road. I won’t go into the history of this odd placement but at the very least it is amusing and makes for a great story when introducing out of towners to KC barbecue. Despite the humble surroundings, Oklahoma Joe’s has a comforting menu which is larger than many and designed to appeal to mass palates.

The line goes from right to left, which seems backwards but probably creates extra space when it gets too long. It gets a little annoying to squeeze between all the folks in line after paying with your tray full of hot meat, a wobbly plastic cup of beer and a bag of fries. Then you get your drink and have to navigate around the line again to get to your table. But folks are accommodating and friendly so it’s not a huge ordeal. I just know that someday I’m gonna drop my pale ale in someone’s purse.

A lot of people swear by their fabled Z-man sandwich, basically a bun piled with smoked brisket, cheese and a couple of onion rings. The carolina sandwiches are also popular and include your choice of meat, topped with cole slaw on a bun. Frankly I’m not a big fan of these kinds of “specialty sandwiches.” All I require is white bread and meat a la Arthur Bryant’s but those at OK Joe’s have an undeniable appeal. And if you want meat on bread at Joe’s you can get that.

Texas platter

I’m not going to debate what is or isn’t the best barbecue in Kansas City. For my money it is and always will be Bryant’s, but I can respect those who prefer Joe’s, Danny Edwards or even Jack Stack. Joe’s began as a competition barbecue team, tearing up the regional circuit in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The restaurant has been going strong for about a dozen years, and in that relatively short time, Oklahoma Joe’s has inserted itself firmly into the pantheon of fabulous, local barbecue establishments.

Part of that is certainly its Kansas locale. Their clientele leans toward white and middle class and some of them undoubtedly like to think of themselves as slumming because they are eating in a gas station. All I can say is that the first time I went to LC’s, there were a couple guys being arrested up against cop cars in the parking lot. THAT is slumming it people. OK Joe’s is not so much a neighborhood joint as a destination spot anyway whereas Bryant’s still is a neighborhood place in a lot of ways. And the gas station isn’t remotely dingy or intimidating. It might as well be a Wendy’s with a line.

It is hard to get out of here for less than 10 bucks and a meal here often runs you much more because you want to try multiple items. That’s ok though, it is a destination meal and you should splurge a little. Get a beer and an unneeded side of beans; it won’t kill you.

I’d be a fool not to recommend Oklahoma Joe’s to anyone, just keep in mind that the line is long at the lunch hour. That means no whining. The wait is generally worth it if you have the time to spare. Service is very fast and despite how crowded it can be, I’ve never had a hard time finding a place to sit. So don’t try to save a table while your friend is ordering, because that’s just bad form.


Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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The Classic Cookie: 409 W. Gregory

 Posted by at 4:04 am
May 052009

Classic CookieI think this is the shortest lunch I have ever eaten in Kansas City. I rolled up to Classic Cookie on the north end of Waldo at about 11:30. I knew it was a small space and wanted to get there before any noon rush. I’m glad I did.

The small but pleasant dining area was mostly full when I arrived, including a long table of 6 or 8 folks. Smartly the Classic Cookie has small four-top tables that can be pulled together or pushed apart to accommodate groups of varying sizes. That being said, this is not a good place to have lunch with a large group. The place is simply too small and it gets very full at the height of lunch hour, as I was soon to discover.

I know this is a popular spot for breakfast/brunch but have never been because the idea of waiting to eat while hungover has never appealed to me. Nonetheless I was surprised at the steady stream of folks that continued to walk through the door throughout my meal. By the time I got my food, the wait for a table was up to 20 minutes.

Some people opted to wait by the front door, creating a somewhat awkward environment in which they were obviously impatient and watching everyone else eat. Some folks waited on the bench outside because it was a nice day. Others decided to leave and go elsewhere (probably the Mexican place on the corner). I have no idea why you would show up to a tiny restaurant with three other people at noon on a weekday and expect to be seated right away.

This place does have a nice vibe and I can see why people like it. It is casual and decidedly non-corporate feeling. The small size really contributes to the atmosphere which is bustling, energetic and fairly loud. The staff persons are extremely talented, conversational and friendly. I had a menu within a minute of sitting down, my order taken quickly, food that arrived within 10 minutes and my check just as I was finishing.

Classic Cookie

While I waited for my food to come out of the kitchen, my server brought a basket of cookies and mini-muffins to my table. There were about 3 cookies and 2 muffins, which seemed like overkill for one guy, but I made a valiant effort. The cookies are good, but nothing mind-blowing. I had a peanut butter, a chocolate chip and an oatmeal (I think). I can’t remember the muffin varieties, probably because I’m not a huge fan of muffins in general.

I had a half chicken salad sandwich with a garden salad for 6.25. The salad contained the ubiquitous mesclun greens and croutons with a fine balsamic vinaigrette. I would have liked more things in the salad since I don’t really care for croutons, but I survived.

Classic Cookie

The chicken salad was pretty dry, without much seasoning. It was all white meat, but was otherwise unremarkable. Now, those who read this blog know that I have an intense dislike for mayonnaise. But yes I do eat the occasional chicken salad or tuna salad sandwich. These items are not nearly as chock full o’ mayo as they once were at most restaurants worth their salt, so typically I can stomach them and even succumb to the periodic craving for them as I did at the Classic Cookie.

My bill came to 8 dollars and change–quite reasonable for a full service lunch. A 15% tip would come out to about $1.30. Now, in my estimation any tip under $2 is bullshit, I don’t care what the conventions of tipping tell us. I was also eating in a very small restaurant as a solo diner. My table could have been occupied by four people and I think it makes sense to throw percentages to the wind and tip at least $3, especially when the service is this good.

Classic Cookie in short is a great little neighborhood joint that serves very
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Don Chilitos: 7017 Johnson Drive

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Apr 302009

Don Chilitos

Don Chilitos 1 is not so much a Mexican restaurant as an American idea of what a Mexican restaurant is. An old idea.

Mexican food in America has so many incarnations and varieties that it’s nearly impossible to quantify them. Don Chilitos is a type of Mexican place that your grandma can get behind, an establishment that embodies the 1970s and 80s, when many ethnic and national cuisines achieved mainstream status by mainstreaming their flavor palates, using conventional ingredients and catering to the ravenous gullets of their clientele.

These days things are a little different. Mexican-American food is often prepared and served by real life actual Mexican people. You see more fresh cilantro, moles, corn tortillas, and green salsa on menus than you used to. They may even dress it up a bit to make it look nice. There are often menu options that approach a degree of authenticity. I’m thinking of places like Fronteras, Dos Reales and Mi Ranchito.

Despite these improvements, 1990s era Mexican food doesn’t get a lot of love from the food-savvy but remains extremely popular with the masses of regular people who just want to get full for $6.95 before resuming the mindless drudgery that is the work week. 2 And like I said, the food isn’t bad.

I take this uncharacteristically generous approach in order to make a point. Having been to Don Chilitos a couple times recently, I think it is useful to illustrate just how far we’ve come. You see, Don Chilitos is super old school. It has been around since the middle 1970s before most people cared about authenticity or healthiness or frills. And it displays an almost admirable resistance to any restaurant trend or development over the last 35 years.

This place looks every bit its age. The decor is an assemblage of aging ceramic tile on the walls, painted lattice, creaky wooden booths, childlike murals, stained glass and neon beer signs. There are a few rooms that each have a slightly different vibe but it’s all sort of a mess. This is the best photo I could get without shoving my phone in someone’s face:


Did I mention that this place is a cafeteria? Seriously. You walk in and are faced with a long stainless steel cafeteria line. Grab a tray, some silverware and some napkins and you are ready to place your order.

There is a ton of stuff on the menu and most of it involves your choice of sauce. You can top that burrito off with orange queso sauce which they call “CCQ”3), red sauce or chili con carne. I went nuts and ordered one “Chilito Style” which is red sauce, sour cream, black olives and cheese.


In case a cup of melted cheese sauce isn’t enough, you can get a “Big Top” which is double the topping for an extra buck or so. Can’t decide on sauces? No problem! Get two sauces for 85 cents! Chili con carne with CCQ anyone?

You can also get the sauces on their chimichangas (essentially a deep-fried burrito) or this beauty, the seafood empanada:

Seafood Empanada: A deep-fried pastry shell filled with zesty seafood rangoon and topped with your choice of Red Sauce, CCQ or Chilito style topping.

They had me at “zesty seafood rangoon.”

If Chimpotle orders and eats the seafood empanada with CCQ from Don Chilitos I will pay for his meal, including the alcoholic beverage of his choice.

Anyhow, just when you thought this place couldn’t get weirder it turns out they heat up burritos and other things in microwave ovens. I’m not sure if the burritos are pre-made or thrown together on the spot, but they are warmed just enough to take the chill off and subsequently covered with piping hot sauce. Yes, a microwaved burrito.

But seriously if you’re not an idiot, you can get out of here without dying. I have had the tacos and they are actually pretty good. Yes, they are the hard taco shells with ground beef, shredded yellow cheese and iceberg lettuce, but Don Chilitos makes them about as well as you can. And they are made to order and never touch a microwave oven.


The burritos are only ok. I’m not a fan of the super tiny ground beef they use although they season it well. Mine was definitely not hot enough. The red sauce is just not that good, probably because its primary ingredient comes from a can.

And then there are the salsas.


Not too appetizing is it? But they are serviceable as taco flavor-enhancing agents. The hot salsa is actually a tad spicy, which surprised me frankly. The real craziness is right next door: a veritable shit-ton of tortilla chips in a steamtable bin.

Bin o' Chips

That’s lot of chips! It strikes me as crazy that they go through this many in a day, much less a single lunch rush, but apparently it works for them. It also serves to keep the chips slightly warm. This is the aspect of Don Chilitos that convinces me that people with big appetites love this restaurant. I can’t fathom choking down a beef burrito Chilito style, following it with a basket of chips and then downing half a dozen sopapillas for dessert.

Which reminds me: ALL YOU CAN EAT SOPAPILLAS! Everyone who likes Don Chilitos freaks out about these little deep fried sugary nuggets.


In my opinion, the sopapillas at Don Chilitos are terrible. They are far too dense and quickly get chewy and dry. I’ll wager they dump them by the Sysco bag-full into the deep fryers. But what the hell, you can eat 20 of them if you want. And I’m sure some people do.

To sum up, this place is crazy. But as hard as it tries, Don Chilitos won’t kill you.


Don Chilito's Mexican on Urbanspoon

1. A big, DLC-sized shout out to my co-worker who suggested this place and
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Oak 63: 408 E 63rd St

 Posted by at 2:03 am
Apr 152009

oak63_3 This place was inhabited by Cafe Maison until recently. It was a nice, if somewhat granny-ish lunch and dinner spot just far enough away from Brookside proper to fail. But I liked Cafe Maison and was glad to see another restaurant open in its place. Oak 63 has been in operation for months now and seems to be doing decent business.

For some reason I imagined this as more of a dinner joint, so I was surprised to see it open one day recently and decided to stop in for lunch. This was a good decision for the food is quite tasty, slightly upscale but not stuffy, and can satisfy unadventurous carnivores, dainty Brookside ladies, and pompous food douches alike.

Charles Ferruzza was right: these guys have a damn good reuben. And now that New York Bakery and Delicatessen has been closed by the Health department until it can clean the place up, it may very well be the best in town.

Reuben at Oak 63


The salmon BLT was likewise delicious, served with bacon, avocado (do you even need the rest?), tomato and arugula.


The menu is small but features fresh, seasonal ingredients and doesn’t suffer from pretentiousness like other restaurants of its ilk. Yes, you can get seared duck breast on arugula salad, but you can also get mac & cheese, or the delicious sounding hand-chopped chuck burger. This is a perfectly good place to have a casual meal, or a work lunch with clients.

The dining room is pleasant and casual–doesn’t seem too different than its previous incarnation. That being said, I really like old storefront restaurants like this. There are nice windows, occasional foot traffic, and the place isn’t too sprawling.


The service on my visit was a tad strange. The place was virtually deserted but the staff was furiously talking, listening to music and doing dishes in the back room. I use the term “room” lightly because the back of the house is barely separated from the dining room by a wall that does not stretch to the ceiling. Diners can hear everything that goes on back there, and this may not be a good thing for the management of Oak 63. The server was very friendly but seemed to be involved in other things.

Nonetheless, this is a very good option if you want a slightly fancier midday meal. Items are fairly priced between 8 and 12 bucks. Moreover you get to eat like a grown-up with a tablecloth and real china instead of a plastic basket and a paper cup.

Read more:


Oak 63 on Urbanspoon

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Apr 102009

Phil’s has closed.
Phil'sYou all will know this as the old Max’s Autodiner on 63rd street near Rockhill road. This is one of the more interesting and fun restaurant buildings in the city; it was a bank, then a drive-in restaurant, then a greasy spoon that featured some of the best griddle fried hamburgers in town.

Currently it is a bizarre little restaurant known as Phil’s Coffee Shoppe and Grill. While I’m happy to see this spot back in action, I’m not sure if Kansas City will fall in love with it.

Bear with me here.

The ordering experience is awkward. The new owners have pushed the kitchen back farther into the space, creating more seating and storage in the center of the room. They installed a small counter with 2 or 3 stools perpendicular to the cash register toward the back. This space is strangely arranged as to put customers almost inside the kitchen when ordering and paying. The “counter” is really just a resting place for keys, half-empty cups, papers and packs of cigarettes for the staff; I can’t imagine sitting there and eating.

Phils 008

There is, as rumored previously on this blog, a huge safe built into the wall behind the counter. Pretty cool, but I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo.

The decor of the whole place is a mixture of fanciful, homemade, and just plain bad taste. The booths are straight out of a 30 year old Bennigan’s Shoney’s restaurant and framed by stainless steel dividers that are actually kind of interesting. The booth I sat in had little fairy and butterfly cut-outs plastered to the wall.

Phils 007

The owner must be a film buff because there are several cinema-related design features such as film reels, little tabletop clapperboards and classic movie posters on the wall, like those you saw at huge student union poster sales in college.

Phils 003

A couple of truly regrettable oil paintings adorn the space as well. There are jauntily hand-lettered signs above the ice bin, the trash can and condiment bar.

Yes, there is a damn condiment bar. Perhaps you recall my previous expression of disappointment with regard to these questionable restaurant features. As soon as you get your burger and are wanting to take a bite, you realize that you immediately have to get up and put ketchup and mustard on the thing at the tiny condiment bar that smells overpoweringly of raw onions. They have a fair number of toppings to choose from and little paper cups to put condiments in like those at Wendy’s, only 1/3 the size. Seriously, the smallest condiment cups I have ever seen. You can barely get a french fry in there much less an onion ring.

Condiments obtained, you sit down again and realize there are no napkins on the table. You see, those are on the condiment bar. No salt and pepper except for little packets on the condiment bar. Maybe it’s not a very big deal, but I personally think these bars are an inconvenience, not a ‘nice touch.’ Hell, next time maybe I’ll just eat standing up with my elbows on the goddamn condiment bar. I mean, all the stuff I need is already there.

Oh yeah, once I went to Phil’s for an early lunch and the pickle chips were frozen as a solid block into their container. You know what that says to me? The contents of the condiment bar are not removed and the containers are not cleaned at night. Some of the other containers were half-full, 20 minutes after opening and no one else in the joint. I don;t know if this practice is against food safety code, but it sure as hell ain’t appetizing.

The cooks already put lettuce and tomato on the burgers, so it’s absurd that they can’t put anything else we want on it. Then they could keep the ketchup and other stuff on the table. You know, like every other restaurant does.

Let’s get one thing straight, they know how to make a burger here. Let’s get another thing straight, they don’t know how to make fries here. Yes, that’s a problem. The burger is huge, comes on a soft sesame bun and tastes like a million bucks. I’ll bet anything that they have the same old flat top grill from the Autodiner. But both the sweet potato and regular fries are simply sliced fresh potatoes thrown in the deep fryer.

Unfortunately making good french fries is more complicated than that–this is why frozen varieties exist. Tasty fries are almost always fried twice to lend them the exterior crunch and interior softness that are their hallmarks. The ones at Phil’s are likely fried once. Whatever, they just taste like muddy, limp and undercooked russets.

Phils 002

You can get a burger and side for $5.95 here, with two-for-one combos on Saturdays. There are a few other things on the menu like hot dogs and chicken fingers, so it’s not for the feint of heart. The onion rings are a decent choice here. I wouldn’t try the cole slaw, but maybe that’s just me. The soft drinks are only available in 20 oz plastic bottles. This place screams out for fountain soda, and I was rather disappointed not to get it.

They have a full coffee bar selection here and I was pleased to enjoy a very nice cappuccino that only took 15 minutes to get. The regular coffee is Starbucks-level strong.

While I certainly have many complaints about Phil’s, I am also fascinated by it. I can’t figure out the aesthetic, the personalities or the concept of the place, but it’s rather fun to conjecture. I admire the DIY conviction that was responsible for getting the place up and running. I want to get inside the mind that chose pea green paint for the exterior. I want to fathom the problem-solving faculties of the person who uses a pile of roof shingles as a walkway from the parking lot to the entrance.

My prediction? You will either love it or hate it. It is simply too strange an atmosphere for me to give it my unqualified recommendation, but it sure as hell isn’t boring. Have you been there? I would LOVE to know what you think.

Thanks to Doc from Will Not Be Televised for some of the photos in this post.

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Apr 082009

Well, the results are in.

I spend a lot of time on restaurant websites as you can imagine. There seem to be two genres of restaurant sites: one flashy, the other amateurish. By flashy I mean literally created with Flash, as well as the assumption that the first thing people want to see is a “loading” status bar when they visit the site. I want information, not eye candy. I want interior URLs I can link to and text I can copy and paste.

Amateurish sites are probably created by restaurant owners or friends of the owners rather than professional firms. They have their own set of problems particularly when they are wrought with web 1.0 craziness like Governor Stumpy’s original site (tip o’ the cap to @sjwaters & c_giffin).

So, what should the restaurant home page have on it?

The address (preferably with a link to a map), the hours and a link to the menu. Please. For cryin’ out loud.

It’s amazing how many sites bury their hours under ‘About Us’ or ‘Contact.’ This information is fundafuckinmental to whether or not people will show up. And people are stupid and pressed for time.

And in a metro area where Parkville and Lee’s Summit can all be referred to as ‘Kansas City,’ it is pretty important to know where a place is located before anything else. In fact, I’d venture to say that for lunch, location is the single most important determining factor in making a choice of restaurant. So, yeah, let’s just bury the goddamn address under ‘More Info’ or something. Or the footer.

But what I really want to talk about are menus on restaurant websites. It is extremely common to see menus available solely as PDF documents. Despite its ubiquity, PDF is not a web-friendly format and is better suited to documents that will be printed out or saved by the user. As someone who has dealt extensively with the public using technology, many people simply avoid PDFs as a rule of thmub. Others still are confused by them when they get hung up loading or when Adobe wants to update.

As the inarguable results of my methodologically sound poll suggest, menus are the number one thing people want to see on a restaurant site. If your business is food, that food needs to be front and center. Restaurants need to provide menu right on their web pages. In HTML. Linked from the front page.

Yes, it will take more effort and skill to update a website continually, but the Web is not a static medium. If restaurants think they can develop a site and leave it alone, they are doing it wrong. The Web is probably the biggest way people find out about places to eat. There is no shortage of review sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp, not mention blogging dumbasses with opinions like myself. The job of a website is to serve the needs of someone who might only spend 2 seconds on your site. A restaurant’s website is its public face, like it or not. It should be fast, inviting, efficient and clean, just like the restaurant itself.

Apr 042009

italian delight 3

Avelluto’s Italian Delight is a semi-cafeteria style restaurant that offers simple versions of pretty much any Italian-American dish you could ever want. Based on what I had heard, I expected someplace a little more dingy, but it is actually quite nice inside and, despite what the photo below shows, is really hopping at the height of lunch hour.

italian delight 1

All food is ordered from a register at the end of a large series of deli counters as you walk in. There is so much to choose from that I found it very difficult to make a decision. Pizza, pasta, stromboli, calzones, Italian sandwiches, they have the whole 9 yards here. Side dishes are a little lacking. The side salad is a tepid affair, featuring iceberg lettuce, cheese and a pretty good, traditional Italian dressing. But it is a far cry from satisfying a true vegetable craving. They do offer sides of spinach and broccoli but at more than $3, they are really prohibitive as side dishes. I’ve had the pasta salad which is a solid bow tie noodle dish with diced peppers and fresh basil. Good, but not as good as I make at home.

Italian delight

italian delight 5

The meatballs here are pretty good: light fluffy and full of flavor. But the overall effect of the meatball sub was less than ideal. The sauce was overly sweet and tasted canned. The bread was too soft, lacking the definitive crust of a good Italian bread.

italian delight 4

Similarly the pizza is fine and the toppings are good, but the dough has none of the qualities of exceptional crust. It bakes up rather chewy and soft, and is slightly undercooked if anything. The slice is vaguely reminiscent of square cafeteria pizza.

Italian delight

I have never eaten anything bad here, but I do find it underwhelming. In the immediate area there are few lunch spots that can compare. If the Mission Twittical pub crawl taught me anything, it’s that Mission has really terrible food. Avelluto’s does handle a high volume lunch crowd very efficiently. I’ve never waited very long to get my food after ordering. If you order multiple items, be aware that they will bring out faster things like salads more quickly.

I can see Italian Delight being perfectly good for folks who want to pick up a pizza or carryout some lasagna or chicken Parmesan to heat up for dinner. I would go again if I had a craving for pasta (which never happens) or Italian deli meats(more likely). But don’t expect to be blown away.

Check out their menu here.

Read more:


Avelluto's Italian Delight on Urbanspoon

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Charritos: 3831 Independence Ave

 Posted by at 9:36 pm
Mar 312009

Are you ready for more Mexican?

frontThis last weekend I went out to the east side in search of a diner that was recommended to me, only to find it was closed on Sundays. In fact 99% of the damn places I drove by were closed. Having no luck on Truman Road I popped over to Independence Avenue, a veritable wellspring of seemingly authentic Mexican, African and Vietnamese delights. The first place that looked decent and was open was a Mexican restaurant across the street from a Mexican bakery [map].

Charritos is comprised of at least two storefronts, one featuring booths and televisions, the other with simple tables near the kitchen and cash register. The waitress seated us and took drink order while we perused a rather large and interesting looking menu.

My Pepsi arrived in a large plastic cup with maybe one or two ice cubes. I was a little taken aback since normally I overfill my fountain pop with ice. But I decided to roll with it, and actually found the experience rather pleasant. It reminded me of church pot lucks where I got to drink un-iced paper cups of Chek cola to accompany my casseroles and cold Kentucky Fried Chicken.
interiorThey offer really interesting food at this place. The menu features a number of homey Mexican classics like posole, menudo, and dinner plates of grilled meat, rice, beans and vegetables. There was so much on the menu that I couldn’t proces it all. I was also starving, hungover, and had consumed nothing but two cups of coffee and a prevacid that morning so my recall is admittedly faulty.

On to business. The two salsas that come with your homemade tortilla chips are both phenomenal. One is a simple guajillo chile (I think) based sauce with a little tomato puree, the other certainly incorporates a roasted poblano and is quite a bit spicier.



I would come to Charritos just for the chips and salsas. Seriously, they were so good that later I asked to buy some salsa to take home. The waitress looked at me askance and just gave me a small container of each with no charge. I felt like a dorky gringo and she got a big tip.

Anyhow, for lunch I had some chicken enchiladas verdes topped with a fried egg that were pretty good. The chicken was definitely cooked whole and picked off the bone which I love to see.


But the meat inside was a truly odd, bright white color that I have never experienced before. There is certainly a technique behind it (my dining companion suggested that it had been poached in vinegar water) but I don’t know what it was. All in all a solid dish, though the menu indicated that it would be a sunnyside up egg, not an over hard egg.

The Tacos Aztecas were fantastic: Large pieces of grilled skirt steak with grilled spring onions, cactus, roasted jalapenos and avocado.


Don’t they look good? And interesting? And exciting? Jesus Christ, ARE YOU HUNGRY YET? The beans were a fabulous, luscious reddish mash full of lardy, pinto-y goodness. The rice was solid but very typical.

But before I could get my panties in a bunch about this place I tried a tamal(e) and it was terrible. The dough was gritty, and the pork smelled…off. Considering how good everything else was this was quite a surprise, but true. So very true.

The prices were, I suspect, not typical for Independence Avenue lunch spots. A large lunch for two with leftovers cost 23 bucks or so. Most of the specials were about $8 so you could get out of there for under $10 on a normal day. It was damn well worth it. Charritos has good homemade food that, even if it is not consistent, is well thought out and carefully prepared.

Charritos on Urbanspoon
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Mar 172009

matador8Tacos El Matador is not much to look at from the outside, situated as it is on a particularly drab stretch of Merriam Lane. It lies just west of Earl Quick’s and the Boulevard Drive-In, separated from the street by a large expanse of crumbling parking lot. The sign out by the road is easy to miss but the building itself is a nice shade of pink, so it should be relatively easy to spot.

I heard about this place via email from Matt, a KC Lunch Spots reader who characterized the place as “very deserving of one of your reviews.” Boy was he right on the money. He also indicated that it is popular with folks who work first shift since you can get lunch food at a breakfast hour. This is a very interesting observation as I imagine it must be extremely difficult to get a burrito at 9am anywhere. Hell, you can’t even get a cheeseburger at McDonald’s during breakfast time.

El Matador is a delightful little joint on the inside, a situation which completely belies its locale and outward appearance. The interior features colorful booths, lots of light, a number of fresh plants and even some matador-themed artwork, including a couple of velvet paintings that I truly covet.


They do a fair amount of take-out business here, so I was unsure whether or not to order from the counter. After some pleasant but linguistically confusing back and forth with the waitress I realized that I could sit down and get waited on. Excellent.

The menu at El Matador is all over the place. The wall above the service counter is covered with signage advertising everything from menudo to pork tenderloin sandwiches. Perusing the full menu I found it likewise all-encompassing. Lunch specials include various taco plates and tamales in addition to cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches, complete with french fries. This had me a tad worried but I went ahead and ordered some tacos. If “taco” is in the name of the restaurant, I order them.

While waiting I was brought a basket of chips and two squeeze bottles of salsa. The red salsa here is proper–thin, hot, with good tomato and chili flavor. The salsa verde was veritably exploding with vinegar, lime, cilantro and hot chilies. It was also quite salty which proved to be a little too much for me in combination with the other flavors. While the chips themselves were nothing special, they were warm and crunchy.

I enjoyed my chips with a cold bottle of Jarritos tamarindo soda pop. Jarritos, long available in Mexican markets and urban corner stores is much more common than it used to be. I encourage those who haven’t tried it to do so next time you are out for Mexican grub. There are typically a number of bold fruit flavors to choose from such as lime, mandarin, strawberry and the aforementioned tamarind.


Within minutes, the tacos arrived and I was not disappointed. The carne asada tacos consisted of lean, tender, marinated piles of chopped steak on two small corn tortillas with a healthy topping of onions and cilantro. The carnitas tacos are prepared the same way; the shredded pork is not tossed in any kind of sauce which you tend to see a lot at other places. The consistency of the carnitas was virtually identical to good pulled pork. Both meats were free of excess fat and gristle which is a common problem.

I haven’t been everywhere, but these are the best tacos I’ve had thus far in Kansas City.


Everything was right about them. No yellow cheese, no chipotle marinades, no shredded iceberg lettuce. Just tortilla, meat, onion, cilantro, salsa. The street tacos at Cancun Fiesta Fresh and a few other places are very good, but cannot compete with EL MATADOR!

I also enjoyed a side of refried beans. Nothing fancy, but I think Mexican-style refried beans are among the best comfort foods around. I wish I could have tried their rice, but alas, even my stomach has limits. The whole lunch set me back about 9 bucks and it was worth every penny.

All in all I loved this place. The experience actually makes me curious about their Americanized menu items like the tenderloin and the burgers. If they can do a taco this well, I wonder what the other stuff is like?

Tacos El Matador on Urbanspoon

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Mar 092009

Daniel’s BBQ closed up almost as soon as it opened, the space is currently oc

Daniel's BBQWell, here’s some good news for my friends and avid readers out in Shawnee: Margarita’s on Johnson Drive near Quivira has recently turned into Daniels Bar-B-Q, a highly respectable joint that, based on one visit by yours truly, seems like a winner for either lunch or dinner.

I first heard about this place via Fat City a month or so ago. Then I forgot about it and was happy to “discover” it last week having no recollection that Owen beat me to the punch by a long shot.

Daniel’s sits in a strange little strip mall, occupying the weirdest space in the building. When I opened the front door, I did NOT expect to see a rather sizable staircase extending down in front of me. While other stores in the strip lie at street level, Daniel’s is down in the basement. Well, sort of. Once you enter you realize that the slope of the land outside actually puts a good portion of the place above ground, windows and everything.

This is a place with at least 3 or 4 levels. There is a sunken dining area, a raised bar, and the aforementioned south dining room which sits halfway up the stairs. With all the steps, this place would be a nightmare for wheelchair users and stumbly, drunk people.

All in all, it’s kind of a cool room, just the right mix of dingy and comfortable. The funniest aspects are the remnants of its life as a Mexican restaurant. A faux-road sign attached the wall at one end of the bar reads “Corona Street.” And one end of the dining area is decorated with this stunning, southwestern mural:

Daniel's BBQ

This is a table service joint and despite the odd entry, I was greeted immediately and given a choice of where to sit. After I sat down and received my Pepsi, the waitress took the calculated risk of informing me that I had a sizable piece of the straw wrapper stuck to the bridge of my nose. This, I very much appreciated.

They have the usual BBQ offerings with the addition of bar food staples like wings and burgers. But the place smelled enough of smoked meat that I opted for one of their “long bun” sandwiches with fries–a good deal at $5.99. They offer three sauces: Regular, Hot and Competition sauce.

The regular sauce, as is often the case, is the best of the lot. It’s a little sweet but has a nice tang and is hotter than one would expect. This is one of the better traditional sauces around. The competition sauce is a molasses-laden, dark, sweet sauce which I did not care for at all.

Daniel's BBQ
The pulled pork had excellent smoke flavor and a dry rub that really came through after cooking. The texture was a little dry, but fans of burnt ends will enjoy it. The beef was also very good, but was sliced way too thinly for my taste. My major problem was with the little sub rolls they serve the sandwiches on. I would much prefer white bread or even a nice soft bun. These long rolls are more conducive to Italian sandwiches at the airport. The fries are typical crinkle cut taters, not likely homemade. They did cook them nice and crispy which is all too rare.

Daniel's BBQ

Daniel’s website also advertises that they are accommodating to gluten-free diets. If you know anyone with celiac disease or just a general intolerance to gluten, you know that this is a major selling point. The meat, sauces, fries and beans are guaranteed gluten free, but more importantly they plan to offer gluten free beer and baked goods.

The service was simply outstanding. I never felt lacking for anything. My server brought my check over just as I was finishing up. “I know you are probably on lunch,” she said. Yes, someone who gets it. Likewise she refilled my drink without me having to ask. In general she was genuine, pleasant and really goods at her job.

The closest BBQ joint to Daniel’s is probably Bates City Shawnee BBQ on Quivira. RJ’s is not too far away either. I think Daniel’s can roll with either one of them. The beef is better than Bates, and the pork may very well be if you like the drier texture (I do). The original sauce is far better than RJ’s odd, sweet concoction, though the atmosphere can’t really compete with the little roadhouse ambiance.

All in all, this is a welcome addition to the suburban KC barbecue landscape.

Read more:

Daniel's Bar-B-Q and Catering on Urbanspooncupied by Char House

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