Chow Town

Holy nacho: Nine things I learned on my first trip to Taco Via

In-a-Tub vs. Taco Via: What's the difference?

The Star's Sarah Gish breaks down the key differences between the food served by two beloved Kansas City-area taco shops: In-a-Tub and Taco Via.
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The Star's Sarah Gish breaks down the key differences between the food served by two beloved Kansas City-area taco shops: In-a-Tub and Taco Via.

Lately, I’ve been on a mission to check out all the Kansas City fast food joints I’ve never tried before.

I started at HiBoy Drive-In in Independence and In-a-Tub in the Northland. Then I ventured south to another taco shop with a cult following: Taco Via.

Founded in 1968, Taco Via has locations in Overland Park, Olathe and Lee’s Summit. I went to the one at 8896 W. 95th St. in Overland Park, which was bustling on a Wednesday afternoon. My first impressions:

1. The decor is nicer than you’d expect. Picture textured beige walls decorated with artwork, booths with earth-toned striped upholstery, faux floral displays and a fancy electronic menu board. Customers can watch sports or soap operas on two flat-screen TVs, and an arcade in the corner has Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man and a Star Trek pinball machine.

2. The portions are supersized. The taco ($2.19), bean burrito ($4.26) and taco burger ($4.14) were all 30 percent bigger than I expected, which made me feel like I was a kid eating adult-sized food.

3. The cheese sauce is bright orange — as in, the color of a traffic cone. The salty corn chips it was served with reminded me of the nachos I used to order after softball games, but the cheese has a slightly spicier flavor and a deeper color. At Taco Via, a bowl of nachos costs $3.56, or you can get a flat nacho for $1.96. It’s a disc-shaped corn chip with melted cheese, jalapeno bits and a swirl of taco sauce on top.

Regular customers are all about the nachos: There’s even a handwritten letter on the wall from a second-grader named Lincoln that reads “Dear Taco Via, I like your restaurant because you have great cheese dip. The nachos are nice and cheesy. Do you have any deals for students with good grades?”

4. Taco sauce is a must. At Taco Via, the bright red sauce is served from a pump by the soda dispenser, or pop machine, as I like to call it. It’s lightly spicy, a little tangy and it makes everything you dip in it tastier. It’s a favorite among longtime Taco Via regulars such as Rustin Dodd, The Star’s Royals reporter.

Says Dodd: “There was an urban legend among my friends that if you put a rusted penny in a small bowl of taco sauce while you ate, it would be totally clean by the end of the meal.”

I thought about testing the theory, but I didn’t want to waste the sauce.

5. Four napkins won’t cut it. Taco Via’s menu items are messy, in a good way. The taco overflows with shredded lettuce and cheese, and the taco burger bun doesn’t even try to hold in all that crumbly beef. Next time I’ll know to grab at least 10 napkins.

6. The bean burrito is dangerously cheesy. I should’ve known what I was in for when I read “X-Cheese Burrito” on the wrapper. Both ends of this thing spill out cheese that flows like lava. Wait 30 seconds before you take a bite, because that stuff burns.

7. Taco Via’s mascot is super-cute. She’s a friendly looking woman with pigtails, fluttering eyelashes, a tray of tacos and a big smile. According to Taco Via legend, she’s modeled after co-founder Antonette Throneberry.

8. Taco Via is not related to Taco Villa, the restaurant I grew up with in Topeka. Their names are pronounced the same, both serve taco burgers and a menu item called “The Thing,” and they even smell the same: like corn tortilla chips sizzling under heat lamps. But they’re two totally different taco shops.

9. Crushed ice is the best ice. Taco Via has fine crushed ice that makes any soda taste like a slush. I generally skip soda, but I’d heard regulars gush about this ice, so I had to try it with root beer. On a hot and humid afternoon, it really hit the spot.