35 essential KC tacos—we ate hundreds to pick them

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Photo by Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden

Kansas City is known around the world for barbecue. But, in some ways, we’re just as much a Taco Town—all things considered, taquerias probably outnumber pits in these parts. Over the last few months, our team has spent hours researching and amassed piles of Styrofoam takeout boxes sampling hundreds of tacos to make this guide to our thirty-five favorites in Kansas City.

Al Pastor At El Camino Real

903 N. Seventh St., KCK

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Photo by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

I’m something of a purist about al pastor. That is to say, I won’t often order it unless I see a trompo spinning in the front window. El Camino Real does it the, uh, real way—you’ll see a vertical rotisserie fired with a gas flame in the front, topped with a slice of pineapple that drips its sweet juices down as the meat slowly roasts. The result is the perfect pastor taco ($2), juicy and with the flavors of the chile marinade coming alive from the kiss of fire. –MC

Adovada at Dos de Oros Taqueria

650 E. Blue Ridge Blvd., KCMO

The first thing to know about Dos de Oros is that there are dos—if you’re down here on the southern edge of the city looking for street tacos, you want the tiny taqueria on the west side of the street and not the pleasant family restaurant to the east. Inside, you’ll find banda music from Edwin Luna playing, aguas frescas bubbling behind the counter and tacos with ultra-tender adovada piled high. —MC

Birria at Taco Cacao

7927 Wornall Road, KCMO

 

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Taco Cacao hasn’t yet opened a taqueria inside the former JerUSAlem Stone space in Waldo, but you’ll already see guys in stocking hats bundled up tight against the winter cold, waiting patiently to order from a white cart out front. The peculiarities of area freeway paths formerly made it quite a hike to get to cheap, casual street tacos from Brookside or Waldo. So expect a warm welcome for Taco Cacao and its classic lineup of taqueria tacos, all generously meaty for $2. The slow-cooked birria is mild and warming, its earthy flavors pairing well with the shop’s tart green salsa. —MC

Barbacoa at El Fogón

10450 Metcalf Ave.,Overland Park

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If you’re in the ’burbs and have a hankering for street tacos, El Fogón is the place to go. The taqueria tucked inside a strip mall off Metcalf is simple, the made-from-scratch tortillas are tasty, and the service is fast and efficient for a quick in-and-out lunch. The tender and meaty barbacoa with the hot green salsa ($2.19) is a special combination. —NB

Medio Pollo at El Pollo Guasave

1600 Central Ave., KCK

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The coastal state of Sinaloa is famous for banda music and for its rich cuisine, including a style of citrus-marinated grilled chicken made famous by the El Pollo Loco chain—now based in Los Angeles but born in the town of Guasave. At El Pollo Guasave in KCK, you get half ($8) or whole ($15) birds that have been butterflied and grilled inside this humble yellow structure on Central Avenue. The birds are less smoky than at El Pollo Rey, offering complex layers of fruity, spicy and char that’s haunted me for weeks. –MC

Al Pastor & Carne Asada at Tacos El Gallo

806 Southwest Blvd., KCMO

 

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It may be the hanging pinatas, the smell of homemade tortilla chips, the welcoming stove hands or the assortment of Mexican snacks and sodas, but something about Tacos El Gallo feels antiquated and genuine. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but try the el pastor and carne asada tacos ($2.50), which pair well with a crisp Modelo. –NB

Chicharron at Tacos la Guera Food Truck

5420 E. Truman Road, KCMO

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Photo courtesy of Tacos La Guera

The woman at the Tacos la Guera order window recommends the asada, and she is absolutely right to do so: It is delicious, faultless. You should get the lengua, too. It’s a soft and sweaty pile of joy, and that’s not a euphemism, we swear. But please, do not leave that food truck without at least one chicharron taco ($2). Crispy fried cracklins these are not. Instead, strips of skin-on pork belly are stewed until soft in a vivid salsa verde that pops with a feisty kick of jalapeño. They are just fatty enough to remind you of bacon—and just as addictive. Pull up to Tacos la Guera any night of the week and take note of the fandom: whole families and groups of friends sitting in their vehicles, happily plowing through paper plates piled with tacos. –NG

Fried Fish At California Taco Shop

1268 Kansas Ave., KCK

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A good fish taco should transport you to a warm seaside taqueria—even if you’re enjoying it in the middle of the Midwest on a frigid winter day. You can expect as much from California Taco Shop, where the fried batter encasing the fat cod fillet ($3) is perfectly salted and crispy and finished with matchstick strips of fresh cabbage and a dollop of bright lime mayo. Don’t skip the salsa bar: The hot verde molcajete is worth hoarding, but try the “XXX” sauce at your own peril. –NG

Tacos Dorados De Birria at Cancun Fiesta Fresh

4019 Pennsylvania Ave., KCMO

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Last fall, Westport’s Cancun Fiesta Fresh transformed its parking lot into a drive-thru to boost business during the pandemic. That makes it all too easy to get your hands on the trendiest tacos of the year: tacos dorados de birria (three for $12). Birria is the filling, which takes everything you like about tender beef barbacoa and makes it juicier. Tacos dorados—“golden tacos”—refers to the preparation: Corn tortillas are dipped into that deeply savory stew, stuffed with birria, cilantro and onions, deep-fried until golden, then served with a saucer of birria consomé for dunking. It’s the taco-French dip mashup you didn’t know you needed. –NG

Guisado Verde & Rojo at El Paso del Norte

3430 Independence Ave., KCMO

Calling all spice fiends: Do you gravitate toward bottles of hot sauce that have FDA warning labels? Do you carry whole serrano peppers in your bag for emergencies? Are you looking for your next fix? If yes, please see: the guisado rojo ($3) at El Paso del Norte. Chunks of pork are stewed in a hellfire-red guajillo sauce that some might call punishing, but once you get over the shock to your system, you’re left with an inexplicable desire for more. If extreme heat is not your game, go for the guisado verde ($3): pork stewed with potatoes in a rich (and more diplomatic) jalapeño sauce. –NG

Half at El Pollo Rey

901 Kansas Ave., KCK

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I think of the Chicken King as much as a barbecue restaurant as a taco spot. As you can tell from the tall stacks of firewood lining the east wall, the birds here are spatchcocked and cooked over live fire, sucking up lots of smoke as they make their way across the grates and to your foam plate. The chicken—it comes as a half ($8) or whole bird ($14)—is served with tortillas, a ziploc of escabeche and a little cup of blended salsa with a pinkish hue, all of which pair well with the smoked meat. –MC

Carnitas at Pepe’s Carnitas

3208 Strong Ave., KCK

 

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The smiling pig being roasted alive on the sign at the back door (the door to use) at Pepe’s Carnitas tells you what this restaurant on the north end of the Argentine neighborhood is all about. Inside, you’ll find a trough of tender braised pork served up five different ways, including in generous piles atop fresh corn tortillas ($2 each) with salsas that have enough bright acid to balance things out. –MC

Ahi Tuna At KC Taco Company

520 Walnut St., KCMO

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If you’re craving a poke bowl but feel drawn to the taco shape, the tuna tacos (three for $12) at Rivermarket’s KC Taco Company were made for you. Pretty pink cubes of raw ahi tuna are lightly dressed with soy sauce, fresh ginger, scallions and sesame seeds and spooned into bubbly, crispy wonton “shells” before receiving a finishing squiggle of inky hoisin sauce. –NG

Cochinita Pibil At The Corner Lalo’s Kitchen

5038 Lamar Ave., Mission

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“These are the best tacos in Kansas City,” said Lalo Alvarez, handing me a to-go container. I smiled behind my mask and thanked him. By that point, I’d been to at least a dozen different taquerias in town in half as many days, and plenty of taqueros had made similar declarations. In my car, I popped open the Styrofoam. Three tacos stared up at me, a tangle of vibrant cherry-red pork, neon-pink pickled onions and emerald cilantro inside crescent moon corn tortillas. A gourmand’s rainbow. I picked up a taco, intending to sample the goods before driving home and giving the rest to my roommate. The pork was finely shredded, oozing marigold-hued ink—and yet, the lambskin-soft tortillas hadn’t cracked.

I took a bite.

My life after discovering the cochinita pibil tacos (three for $8) at Lalo’s Kitchen is largely the same as it was before, with one notable difference: Every day, I think about that bite. I see these tacos in my head, I feel their weight and warmth in my hands, and I recall the sublime layers of flavor.

Alvarez isn’t surprised when I declare my love for his cochinita pibil. They taste so good, he says, because he puts so much of his own heart into this dish.

It’s a long process: Alvarez layers the bottom of a large pot with banana leaves, then in goes boneless pork butt for a day-long bath in his boldly aromatic enchilada sauce (made with fresh guajillo peppers and a proprietary spice blend he’s packaged for sale at the restaurant) and a paste he makes from achiote, sour orange, garlic, onions, bay leaves and whole pepper kernels. More banana leaves cover the pork, locking in moisture and a subtly sweet, tropical buzz. (Traditionally, a whole suckling pig—the cochinita—is wrapped in banana leaves and buried in an earth oven—the pib—to cook, but Alvarez is keen on avoiding any health code violations.) After marinating, the pork roasts slowly for ten hours.

To serve, Alvarez forms a canyon with two corn tortillas, which he orders weekly from Tortilleria Morelos in Arkansas, and then spoons in a smoky chipotle sauce, then the cochinita pibil and garnishes. “They don’t use chipotle sauce with cochinita pibil in Mexico,” he says. “That’s more the way I want to eat it and serve it.”

His instinct is spot-on. Are these the best tacos in Kansas City? Listen, I don’t know. If you don’t like pork, they’re not the best tacos for you. But they are special. They are precious. They have so much heart. I didn’t share. –NG

Korean BBQ Taco At TikiTaco

1710 W. 39TH ST., KCMO

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We love TikiTaco for their fun and funky creations, the latest of which is a Korean BBQ taco ($3.50). Beef short rib takes a forty-eight-hour bath in a punchy marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, Asian pear and fresh ginger before it’s grilled to order, plated in a Yoli corn tortilla and crowned with cucumbers, pico and a sassy Korean barbecue sauce. –NG

Sonoran Taco at Ponak’s

2856 Southwest Blvd., KCMO

 

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When it comes to tacos from Ponak’s, it’s all about the cheese, please. This classic KC Mexican spot, opened by a Vietnam vet, makes a Sonoran-style taco with a flour tortilla, moist beef strips and, oh yeah, mountains of iceberg lettuce and shredded cheese on top. It’s $5 and not especially similar to what I’ve encountered in Sonora but delightful nonetheless. –MC

Chicken Fajita at Bonito Michoacan

1231 E. Santa Fe St., Olathe and 1150 Minnesota Ave., KCK

 

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The fajita tacos ($1.79) at the taquerias inside the area’s two Bonito Michoacan grocery stores are classic: seasoned chicken with mixed peppers that come fresh off the grill, sitting snugly inside corn tortillas and topped with onion and cilantro. –MF

Asada at Mi Pueblito Meat Market

1311 Minnesota Ave., KCK. Second Location in Shawnee.

The taqueria at the front of this grocery store on Minnesota Avenue gets meat fresh from the large butcher’s shop in the back. You can get asada at pretty much every stop along the KCK Taco Trail, but there’s a reason the simple, flawless steak tacos ($2) from this spot make our list. –MC

BLT Taco at Mission Taco Joint

409 E. 18th St., KCMO and 5060 Main St., KCMO

Mission Taco Joint steers West Coast-style—which you can thank owner-brother duo Jason and Adam Tilford for. The brothers grew up in California before migrating to St. Louis and opening Mission Taco Joint in the Delmar Loop and eventually two KC locations in the Crossroads and South Plaza. The Joint’s splashy menu includes coastal taco styles like mango habanero shrimp and spicy chorizo and pineapple. The BLT Taco ($3.75) is also a winner here—on it you’ll find, quite literally, the biggest piece of beer-battered bacon you’ll ever lay eyes on, chipotle aioli, avocado, lettuce and pickled tomatillos. –NB

Lamb Birria Tacos Dorados At El Menudazo

904 N. 18th St., KCK

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Taco trends come and go, but menudo is forever. At El Menudazo, the simple menu delivers on both. The shop has developed a cult following for its menudo, a slow-boiled soup of tripe and hominy said to cure hangovers, colds and whatever else ails you. Then there’s the other half of the menu built around trendy tacos dorados de birria. These tacos are filled with a rich stew of beef or lamb (get lamb) and fried until golden, then served along with a rich consomé broth for dipping ($2.75 each with cheese plus $1.25 for consomé). –MC

Oreja at Taqueria Super Taco

3616 Independence Ave., KCMO

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We owe a lot to the humble pig. Bacon, of course. Ham. Al pastor. The list of porcine gifts is as long as a CVS receipt, and it includes—though perhaps not as prominently as it should—oreja (pig ear). At Taqueria Super Taco, you’ll find wavy strips of slow-braised oreja ($2) that are both tender and, thanks to the cartilage, chewy. The customary smattering of onions and cilantro accentuates the oreja’s mellow earthiness. –NG

Lengua at Taqueria El Poblano & Mini Market #2

You can think of lengua as the gateway to the broader world of offal. At El Poblano, lengua ($2) is braised until tender and shredded. Shredded is not typical—usually it’s diced—but the effect is exquisitely soft, lightly earthy cow tongue that tastes not unlike mom’s pot roast. Not even warm butter melts with this much grace. El Poblano serves its street tacos in the customary corn tortillas with cilantro, onions and a generous helping of guac, which does not cost extra. –NG

Tripas at El Rey del Taco

6450 E. Truman Rd., KCMO

 

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The tripas taco ($2) at El Rey del Taco sings so sweetly it deserves a record deal—and you might not expect to hear that about cow intestines, but we swear on the angelic vocals of Luis Miguel, it’s the truth. Tripas are cleaned, boiled and then pan-fried (ask for them extra crispy) before getting a rough chop and touching down in a corn tortilla landing strip with red onion and cilantro. Playfully gummy, wonderfully farmy, this tripas taco shows the rest of them how it should be done. –NG

Grilled Fish at Rudy’s Tenampa Taqueria

1611 Westport Road, KCMO

 

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When Rudy’s opened in 1993, fish tacos were not widely seen at Mexican restaurants around town. They were an instant hit, and twenty-eight years later, Rudy’s still serves them the same way–flaky grilled pollock fillets shoved inside a puffy fried flour tortilla with lettuce and pico de gallo. Order the Tijuana taco plate (two tacos with rice and your choice between beans and nopales, $12) or get your fish taco a la carte ($4). –NG

Shredded Beef Puffy Taco at Margarita’s

Five locations including the original at 2829 Southwest Blvd., KCMO and in Johnson County at 7890 Quiver Road, Lenexa.

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Puffy tacos are what they sound like: They’re flash-fried so the flour tortillas puff up and get brittle and crunchy. The style was supposedly invented in San Antonio back in the days of disco, but they’re also a favorite at this beloved five-strong local chain. At Margarita’s, order two of the puffy tacos filled with shredded beef ($5.50 each) and generously topped with two types of cheese, shredded and sprinkled, for a big and hearty meal. –MC

Deshebrada on Flour Tortillas At San Antonio

830 Kansas Ave., KCK

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If you were only going to eat one taco on this list—though you should instead eat many tacos on this list—this would be my top pick. San Antonio makes fresh flour tortillas that are perfect with the simple, stewy shredded beef known as deshebrada ($2). Splashed with green or orange salsa, these are beef tacos in their purest, most elemental form. –MC

Tijuana Sausage at Sancho Streetside

11101 Johnson Drive, Shawnee

 

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Most of the inventive menu items at Sancho Streetside come off the kitchen’s wood-fired grill. Order the Tijuana sausage taco ($5) for a taste of what happens when spicy pork sausage is smoked with pecan wood and encased in a flour or corn tortilla with arugula, jack cheese, pickled jalapeños and spicy-sweet cayenne pepper crema. Spoiler: only good things. –NG

Bacon Breakfast Taco at Summer Moon

9127 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park

Austin-born Summer Moon has locations across Texas, all serving coffee made from beans that are roasted over an open fire of oak and drinks that use its own Moon Milk creamer. Summer Moon recently expanded to Overland Park, bringing the state’s beloved breakfast tacos ($4) along for the ride. These are textbook Texas breakfast tacos, with fluffy eggs and a bit of bacon nestled in a super-soft and pliable flour tortilla, and they pair well with a latte. –MC

Birria At Tacos El Guero 100% Michoacanos

1410 Minnesota Ave., KCK

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Every once in a while, you come across a dish that bowls you over. You know what I mean: In the few moments where your tongue acclimates itself to the taste and those hard-working neurotransmitters connect the dots in your brain, you’re suddenly tasting a memory long forgotten, a legacy that isn’t yours, someone else’s first heartbreak. Somewhere between the cloves and cumin and cinnamon, between the ancho and guajillo, the succulent beef birria ($3) at Tacos el Guero captures this magic. Served in corn tortillas with diced onions, cilantro and a side of irresistible consomé. –NG

Tacos de Canasta at Miranda’s Mexican Food Truck

3029 Southwest Blvd., KCMO

In the 1960s and ’70s, Luis Lezama’s family would make a living by selling their tacos de canasta by the railroad in his hometown of Veracruz. When he and Ana Mirandas, his co-chef and wife, opened their food truck in 2019, he dusted off the family recipe. In Mexico, vendors sell tacos de canasta out of a basket (the canasta) lined with plastic and wax paper, which keeps them warm. Fillings vary, but Lezama braises pork shoulder with lard and a pepper medley for four hours before draining the liquid. His modernized tacos de canasta ($2.50) mimic the effect of his family’s recipe while keeping the health department happy: He dips corn tortillas in the juice, stuffs them with pork, cabbage, radish and cilantro and gives them a quick fry on the flat-top. The effect: a little crunch, a lot of flavor and total satisfaction. –NG

The Jorje at Taco Republic

500 County Line Road, KCK

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The Jorje at Taco Republic ($4.50) is like a taco roulette—you don’t know if you’re getting the crispy, craveable pork belly or refreshing blackened shrimp in every avocado and chipotle aioli-accentuated bite. Either way, these two proteins make a fantastic taco combo you won’t find anywhere else. If you’ve got the thirst for an outside-the-box margarita, try their take on the Mezcal marg with desert pear syrup and a hint of lime. –NB

Suadero at Taqueria Hernandez Food Truck

4722 Independence Ave., KCMO

If you’re unfamiliar with suadero, pay a visit to Taqueria Hernandez food truck, parked at the O’Reilly Auto Parts store on Independence Avenue Suadero ($2) is a smooth cut from the breast of the cow (carnicerias call it “rose meat” for its pink hue). At Taqueria Hernandez, it is delicately stewed until it shines, resulting in a taco filling that is boldly, unapologetically beefy. –NG

Carnitas At Ricos Tacos Lupe

802 Southwest Blvd., KCMO

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You can’t miss Rico Tacos Lupe. The storefront is bordered in a bright orange paint. Inside, you’ll find a quaint, character-filled tavern with friendly masked staff waiting to take your order. If there’s one takeaway, it’s that you try the tender carnitas tacos ($1.75) drizzled in their zesty green salsa—they’re crushable in just a few bites. –NB

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