Tacos usually aren’t the first food that comes to mind when you think of Kansas City. But instead, barbeque is synonymous with the Kansas City brand. However, tacos are also a special treat where the Kansas City Taco Trail is a relatively new attraction filled with tacos just as tasty as the barbeque. Kansans are as passionate about tacos as they are about BBQ.
Note: Thank you to Kansas City, Kansas for hosting my visit to these Kansas City Taco Trail taquerias.
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Kansas City has a history of Hispanic heritage that began in the early 20th century when Mexican immigrants came to Kansas to help build the railroads. Congress limited the number of European immigrants through the 1918 Foreign Exclusion Act after World War I. As a result, in 1910, 55 percent of all railroad track workers were Mexican. By the 1920s, the number was 95 percent. When Mexicans immigrated they brought their recipes and taco traditions with them.
With 52 locations on the taco trail, the only requirement for a venue to be included is to serve tacos. Feast on the best street tacos in town at these no-frills, hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving authentic Mexican fare.
When you sign up for the KCK Taco Trail, you can earn various prizes depending on how many places you visit. Here are some of my favorites and their specialties, listed in the order that I visited. Each spot has something that makes it stand out from the rest.
El Camino Real on the KCK Taco Trail
El Camino Real is a small, locally-owned taqueria with authentic Mexican street tacos. The Al Pastor is the must-try taco here. Everything is unique about these tacos. First, they make the corn tortillas from scratch and cook them one by one right in front of you. Then, there’s the pork. Loaded on a rotisserie and cooked low and slow, with fresh pineapple on top, marinating the pork as it cooks. As diners order each taco, they take a house-made corn tortilla, shave the pork off the rotisserie and garnish it with raw onions and cilantro. It doesn’t get any fresher than this. The fun is watching them make the tacos.
Piper’s Pro Planning: If you plan to visit more than one taqueria in succession, remember to order only tacos rather than the entire taco plate. El Camino Real was my first stop, and it was lunchtime. I ordered the taco plate complete with beans and rice, forgetting we had several more visits that afternoon. Pace yourself!
Bonito Michoacan Taqueria
Part grocery store, part meat market, and deli, Bonito Michoacan Taqueria is a combination venue with about a dozen tables. They serve cafeteria-style, so when you reach the front of the line, be prepared to tell the server behind the counter how many tacos you want. You specify what type of meat those will be and if you like onions or cilantro. They serve the tacos on flour tortillas.
Even though they’re known for their lengua (tongue) and steak tacos, I wasn’t feeling particularly adventuresome and opted for the steak. They have several salsas that you add from the self-serve bar, along with options like pickled red onions. You’ll find the two green salsas to be relatively mild, while the red is spicier.
Finally, after your tacos, be sure to walk across the parking lot and visit the Bonito Michoacan Panaderia (bakery). You’ll be glad you did. They feature a variety of bread, cakes, cookies, and pastries with authentic Mexican flavor. The Tres Leches cake was a treat that perfectly completed my taco lunch.
Piper’s Pro Planning: Ask around to discover each taqueria’s specialty. What are they known for? Most likely, that’s what you’ll want to order at each spot.
Tacos El Guero—100% Michoacanos
This neighborhood taqueria seats about 30 people, where the cooktop and prep area are on display. Their menu lists nine taco varieties, with a rumor that they also serve barbacoa tacos that they don’t list on the menu.
At Tacos El Guero, they serve all their tacos with fresh raw onions and grilled onions, cilantro and include pinto beans inside the taco with the rest of the filling. Finally, they surround the filling with flour tortillas that they cook to a golden brown on the outside. I sampled two tacos here, the birria de rez and the chorizo.
- Asada, beef steak
- Lengua, beef tongue
- Chorizo, Mexican chorizo
- Pastor, pork
- Buche, stomach pork
- Campechanos, mixed beef steak with chorizo
- Tripa de Res, beef tripe
- Birria de Rez, beef birria
- Pollo, chicken
Piper’s Pro Planning: Michoacán is a state in the western part of Mexico. The neighboring state of Jalisco located in west-central Mexico is home to birria a classic meat stew. While beef birria is made with beef, other types of birria include those made with goat, lamb, or a combination of meats. A blend of chiles and spices gives it a red shade.
Paleterias Tropicana offers a standard-size fried taco, rather than the smaller street taco. The restaurant tops the tacos with cabbage slaw and avocado.
In addition to the fried taco, they’re known for the house-made ice cream and sorbets. Be sure to give their filled house-made churros a try. You can even use the ice cream once it’s softened as a dipper to make them even tastier.
Piper’s Pro Planning: I always enjoy some frozen treat after any Mexican food, so no matter where you decide to have your tacos, stop by Tropicana afterward for some ice cream or sorbet.
El Toro Loco Mexican Bar & Grill
El Toro Loco Mexican Bar & Grill is a casual spot offering delicious Mexican food, authentic street tacos, and margaritas. The extensive menu features many types of tacos; however, one of the few places I went that offered seafood tacos. The Cancun provides your choice of grilled shrimp, tilapia, or salmon served in a divided ceramic platter specifically designed for tacos. They accompany the plate with black beans and rice. I had the grilled shrimp, which made for a nice change.
Piper’s Pro Planning: You’ll find a wide variety of Mexican beer and margaritas at El Toro Loco.
Taqueria Mexico #4
Taqueria Mexico #4 is one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Kansas City, Kansas, and they feature an expansive menu. By now, you may be tired of tacos, but FOCUS, we are sampling tacos on the KCK Taco Trail. Here, I had a new to me type of taco, the nopales or a cactus taco. Served on a flour tortilla, the nopales come sliced in long strips resembling green beans. Their flavor is slightly sweet.
Even though I ate tacos at six different taco shops, I didn’t have the same type twice. And there were still so many options to try.
Piper’s Pro Planning: If you want to sample several of the taquerias on the Kansas City, Kansas Taco Trail, I’d suggest that you don’t try to do more than three in one day. But, if you only have one day, visit a different venue for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, you can find breakfast tacos, dessert tacos, and more traditional meat tacos for lunch and dinner.
Finally, while Spicin’ Foods isn’t a taco shop, if you’re making tacos at home, this is the place to get some of your salsas to take home and remember your trip along the KCK Taco Trail.
Piper’s Pro Planning: If you’re also exploring barbeque joints, they also have those sauces to take home as a souvenir of your visit.
Plan your next Midwest Road Trip Adventure to include Kansas here!