Mexican restaurants

Off the beaten track

By Joe Stumpe

Mario Quiroz can't relax. The last time he checked, there were about 80 Mexican restaurants in Wichita.

That's plenty of competition! Quiroz, the owner of Frida's on West 21st, said.

What's a challenge for owners like Quiroz is a boon for lovers of Mexican food. The competition translates into a variety unrivaled for most cities of our size.

But to find some of the more authentic and adventurous Mexican food, you may have to venture off busy commercial strips on the east and west side. North Wichita remains the epicenter of Mexican food, with the south side running a distant second.

How will you know you're in a place serving real Mexican food? Let's just say that a statue of the Virgin Mary and a television tuned to a soccer game are better indications of authenticity than sombreros and maracas hanging from the ceiling.

In a few of these places, language might still be a problem. If it is, just point to the pictures on the menu, crack open a Mexican Coke and sit back to wait for a tasty meal that won't strain your pocketbook.

Here's a look at some of our favorites

Frida's, 1580 W. 21st, 201-6433. It's not every day you go into a restaurant and taste something unlike anything you've ever had before, but that's what happens to many people with the piratas at Frida's. They are essentially large flour tacos, stuffed with a choice of meat plus avocado, cheese, lettuce and more. Before serving, they're toasted on a kind of panini grill, a step which makes them mysteriously delicious. Two more essentials: the charro beans, which are slow-cooked with everything from pork rinds to hot dogs, and the salsa bar, which features 10 salsas made on the premises each day (ranging in heat from mild to blazing hot).

El Paisa, 2227 N. Arkansas, 838-0337. Back in the day when it was a tiny take-out joint that stayed open late, El Paisa became the first of the city's authentic taquerias to capture a big Anglo audience. It's much larger these days but the food is still good. Try the ceviche (seafood cooked in lime juice) and taco el pastor, slow-roasted pork in corn tortillas with cilantro, onion and a squeeze of lime. Simple and perfect.

Las Cazuelas, 2720 N. Amidon. The former Dona Lupes still serves up great homemade tamales and gorditas (a thick corn tortilla stuffed with meat or cheese) in a homey setting.

Paleteria La Reyna, 2925 N. Arkansas. Good entrees, including puffy fried flour tacos, but the reason people line up outside on warm summer nights is the homemade ice cream and water ices. There are about a dozen exotic flavors like mango, papaya and coconut.

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