Kansas Avenue in Kansas City, Kan., doesn’t look much like a food Mecca.
Tall, deserted grain elevators loom at the intersection of Kansas Avenue and Seventh Street Trafficway. Everything seems slightly decrepit, vaguely industrial, definitely blue collar.
But there is life here — auto repair garages, used appliance stores, truck parking lots and some of the most authentic Mexican food in our metro area.
Here is some of what Kansas Avenue offers to eat on the strip of road just west of Seventh Street. Remember to call ahead for their current hours of operation.
This is the lamb (birrieria) restaurant. You can get lamb tacos, a plate of lamb or lamb barbacoa, the slow cooked meat that is prepared so many different ways in Kansas City.
Tradition holds that the meat is steamed over a cauldron of water buried in the ground, essentially steaming and smoking at the same time.
In practice in Kansas City, barbacoa is the term for slow cooked, sometimes steamed, meat. Usually beef but here at Birrieria Michoacana it is lamb. Of course there are dishes made with pork and beef also.
The reastaurant is located at 719 Kansas Avenue. Its telephone number is 913-281-8929.
Reyna’s Mexican Bakery
This bustling Mexican bakery has cases full of typical Mexican pastries.
Then there is the lunchroom at the side. Clean and tidy, you order from ladies manning the steam table and pay at the cash register.
There are a few tables that are non-descript, but the food is definitely not — cactus and chorizo tacos, slow cooked pork, tamales, breakfast burritos in the morning. Everything I’ve tasted has been good.
The bakery is located at 727 Kansas Ave. It’s telephone number is 913-281-2287.
El Pollo Rey
The king of chicken is housed in what looks like an old Dairy Queen. But as you approach and big gusts of smoke billow out of the chimney, you realize it isn’t serving soft serve any more.
Inside the grill is a sight to behold. Wood fired, glowing, covered with rows of half chickens, it is fascinating to watch the grill men control their flames. El Pollo Rey offers only three things: half chickens, whole chickens and wings.
They come with beans, rice, a fresh salsa, and excellent pickled onions.
The restaurant is located at 901 Kansas Avenue. Its telephone number is 913-371-4243.
Tortilleria Carniceria San Antonio
Picture this: As you come in the front door of this repurposed grocery store, there are Mexican dry goods to the right and a busy tortilla factory to the left.
About halfway through the room there is a counter to place orders and a grill for prepared food.
And the back third of the store is a butcher shop and meat and fish market.
I love this place for its willingness to serve the community in so many ways and for the great tacos and tortas (sandwiches) they serve.
Al Pastor, the rotisserie pork of Mexico, is delicious here tucked in a tortilla, as is the barbacoa, which is served only on Saturday and Sunday.
I bought dozens of tamales for Christmas Eve this year, and I’m addicted to the carnitas tortas.
A small warning: no sauce, even the one with avocado, is mild. They have great flavors and they will make tears come to your eyes.
The restuarant is located at 830 Kansas Ave. It’s telephone number is 913-281-6433.
Always busy, this restaurant is filled with mostly gringos who you can tell come here often. They know the staff and each other.
Ninfa’s also manufactures tortillas and is known for its excellent pork-chunk style chili. The place is grungy and it has something unusual for Kansas City Mexican restaurants: liquid Parkay bottles on every table (for your tortillas).
Good chili, grunge, Parkay, and house-made tortillas. No wonder it’s popular.
It’s located at 964 Kansas Avenue. It’s telephone number is 913-621-1743.
Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock 'n' roll caterer back stage to the stars, then with her own Kansas City based catering company, Cafe Lulu, food writing, novelist, private chef. Lou Jane has written and had published nine culinary mysteries and one cookbook. She recently moved back to Kansas City and eagerly awaits the next chapter of her food career.