Joco Diversions

Frida’s Taqueria is fast, but it doesn’t taste anything like fast food

Lately it seems like fast-casual burrito joints are rolling out left and right.

Chipotle has nine locations in Johnson County, and Freebirds World Burrito, a California-based chain, recently opened in Mission and Overland Park.

So how does a locally owned business like Frida’s Taqueria compete? Offer more choices and make everything from scratch, says Ivan Marquez, who co-owns Frida’s Taqueria with Vladimir Honc.

“My food is fresh, and we have authentic Mexican products,” Marquez says, “tamales, empanadas, soft corn tortillas...”

The prices are also a little lower. At Frida’s Taqueria, tacos cost $2.50 and burritas, $5.99. Both come with rice and beans.

Since the grab-and-go Mexican restaurant opened last year, it has become a popular destination for people who work across the street at Sprint’s headquarters and shoppers who need a quick refuel. (Frida’s is right next to a Whole Foods and less than a mile from Town Center Plaza).

Recently, during a never-ending afternoon of errands, I followed a friend’s recommendation and stopped by Frida’s Taqueria for a late lunch. With its turquoise walls, framed Frida Kahlo posters, and salsa-red chairs, the restaurant is more colorful than its location in a sand-colored strip mall. If you’ve never been, it takes a minute or two to get acquainted with the menu — much of it is in Spanish, and there are eight fillings to choose from: Two varieties of chicken and pork, three kinds of beef and fish simmered with tomato and spices. Luckily, the servers are as patient as they are friendly.

Chili verde, or shredded pork in green tomatillo sauce, is typically my go-to order at Mexican restaurants. So I requested #9, a chili verde burrita, and picked out toppings: Black beans, spicy salsa, Monterey Jack cheese, and a healthy sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Every ingredient tasted fresh, as though it was recently chopped, shredded or simmered.

Frida’s Taqueria shares a few of its recipes — including the pollo Yucatan, or spicy grilled chicken — with its sister restaurant Frida’s Contemporary Mexican Cuisine, an upscale take on south-of-the-border cuisine at 7200 W. 121st St. in Overland Park. But everything on Frida’s Taqueria’s menu is made on-site, Marquez says, including the creamy, dreamy tres leches cake, the warm tortilla chips, and the perfectly seasoned guacamole, ripe with hunks of tomato, onion and cilantro.

The bottom line: Frida’s Taqueria is fast, but it doesn’t taste anything like fast food.