What is a Kansas City taco and where can you find one?
As a kid, I hated Taco Tuesday.
Every time it rolled around at my school in rural Wisconsin, I was presented with the same uninspiring fare: two stale corn tortilla shells containing a frugal amount of bland ground beef, limp iceberg lettuce and some unspecified yellow cheese. How could we call these tacos? I was therefore dubious when I discovered the regional tradition of Kansas City tacos—deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with ground beef and dusted with parmesan.
Legend puts the origin of the Kansas City taco somewhere in the fifties. It reached the height of its popularity in the eighties, thanks in large part to Ponak’s (est. 1975), Manny’s (est. 1980) and Margarita’s (est. 1985). Margarita’s owner Dave Quirarte credits the Kansas City taco with saving his business.
“We were the new kids on the block, and the economy sucked,” he says. “Our sales were so bad that we decided to do two-for-one tacos on Tuesday, and it took off.”
Thirty-seven years later, Margarita’s tacos are still made the same way: Ground beef is seasoned with a mix of spices and cooked with tomato sauce and onions, then packed into corn tortillas (delivered fresh from Perez Food Products, right across the boulevard), pinned together with toothpicks, fried until golden and, finally, garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese and the customary dusting of powdered parmesan.
These are satisfying—crunchy, flavorful and absolutely delicious with a michelada. But with the rise of “authentic” street tacos, a writer for a national food blog asked how long this unique style can carry on. At Margarita’s, they’re in no danger.
Before the pandemic, Margarita’s would put out up to two thousand of their “original” tacos a day—double that on Tuesdays. Quirarte says the tacos are still the restaurant’s number-one-selling item.
“I still eat them,” he says. “I can sit down and knock off six, easy. They’re just damn good.”