Sept. 29, 2006
Mark felt like we were back in the roadside restaurant 200 miles east of Chichen Itza, Mexico, where we dined 15 years ago. I felt like I was dining in Northern New Mexico where I often travel.
And that was before the food arrived at Tarahumara Mexican Restaurant, 10001 W. 87th St., Overland Park. Orange walls, rugged wooden tables and chairs, a dark tile floor, deep brown ceiling beams and hanging clay pots created a cozy atmosphere.
My friend, Rick, grew up eating his mother’s Mexican food and this is one of the few local places where he has found Menudo (small, $5.50, large, $7.50), a spicy soup made with tripe and hominy in a bright red base, with garnishes of ground red pepper, oregano, raw, chopped onions and lemon.
This, too, is a family’s kitchen. Husband and wife Anastasio Garcia and Magdalena Meza-Medina sold homemade Mexican food from their house for several months before opening their first restaurant in downtown Merriam about eight years ago. They moved to Overland Park late last summer.
Each meal began with light and crispy chips and a smooth orange sauce with a jalapeño kick. The guacamole ($2.75) was a perfect blend of bright green, smooth and chunked avocado, tomato and onion bits, and just the right amounts of salt and heat.
Sincronizadas ($4.25) presented two lightly grilled flour tortillas with melted mozzarella cheese, bits of ham, onion, and tomato, and shredded lettuce layered between. On a second visit, we tried Queso Fundido ($4.99), which combined melted mozzarella and spicy chorizo in a small cast iron skillet. Grilled flour tortillas were placed on the side to wrap this satisfying mix of creaminess and heat. But it was a messy appetizer for two since we didn’t receive plates.
At dinnertime, my frozen margarita ($4.50, house) arrived icy-cold, tequila-rich and in a handcrafted, green-rimmed glass with plenty of salt. I drank from it beside my Platillo plate ($6.25), a terrific mix-and-match option for which customers choose three out of six different items. I ordered an onion enchilada, a chicken tostada, and pork tamale, served with refried beans and rice.
The enchilada featured mellow, stringy cheese mixed with sweet, sautéed onion bits in a flour tortilla that bathed in rich, red sauce, with a decorative squiggle of sour cream on top. Tender, lightly fried masa dough wrapped loads of tender, moist pork in my tamale, and a miniature corn tortilla provided the crispy base for succulent chicken, a generous smear of refried beans, tomato bits, and lettuce and cheese shreds.
Mark ordered Bistek con Papas ($9.45), which combined thin slices of grilled beef with potato slices, grilled jalapeños and onions, rice and refried beans. Pale orange rice was perfectly fluffy. Mark, who generally prefers whole beans, couldn’t stop raving about the mellow, perfectly salted and spiced refried beans, although they were a bit soupy.
Mark also raved about the flavor of his meat, but found it slightly tough in contrast to the fork-tender potatoes, peppers and onions. During our lunch visit, the pork steaks featured on his Chuleta Adobadas plate ($9.95) also were slightly chewy despite the thick red, mildly spicy marination sauce that coated each one. His side “salad” was a small handful of chopped iceberg lettuce, with a few tomato slices and slivers of onion sans dressing.
My Puerco en Salsa Verde ($9.95) included an enormous mound of large pork chunks whose texture resembled traditional American pot roast. But this was no ordinary pot roast. Heat from the spicy tomatillo sauce seemed to accumulate on my tongue with each bite, as sweat beaded up across my face. Rice and beans provided a pleasant counterpoint.
Tarahumara does not offer dessert so I ordered a tall glass of iced Horchata ($1.75), a highly refreshing rice drink accentuated with sugar and cinnamon.
The restaurant also serves breakfast plates, beginning at 7 a.m. For $4.75, try the Papas con Chorizo (potato cubes mixed with chorizo, onions, jalapeños and cheese) Huevos Rancheros or tamales, with refried beans and three corn or flour tortillas. Burritos are $2.50 apiece.
Service was a bit slow during our first visit, but kept a steady if laid back pace during our second. Tarahumara also offers limited free delivery service with food order minimums of $15-$20.
But when you can get authentic food and surroundings in a single package, why would you choose to eat at home?
Lisa Waterman Gray can be contacted at email@example.com.
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