KC adventure: El Pollo Rey
The first time I ever ate anything calling itself Mexican food was probably when I was little and my mother prepared tacos at home. If you grew up in the U.S. anytime before 2000 you have probably had these, too. Brown some ground beef with the seasonings in the packet; chop up some lettuce, tomatoes and onions; stuff it all into hard taco shells with some grated cheddar cheese. Tacos. Or something resembling them, anyway.
It was years before I had real Mexican food, but somehow I caught the idea that Mexican cooking is one of our great cuisines and often overlooked. The balance of seasonings, the emphasis on fresh ingredients and the incredible range of what we call Mexican cooking have won me over. Give me a good mole´ any day.
Since moving to Kansas City I've had excellent Mexican food, from mole´ to menudo and various things that I can't really identify but taste great. It's been a delight. My local supermarkets have aloe, cactus pads, dried chiles and more. Yum.
Earlier this week I had a hankering for lunch out and decided to explore Kansas City, Kansas. I live on the Missouri side and haven't explored the urban neighborhoods just west. I went for a drive, remembering that Kansas Avenue had some interesting places with a high density of Mexican establishments. As I drove along I saw the tell-tale tail of smoke. Here in KC that usually means barbecue.
Not barbecue, oh no, but the sweet smell of wood-grilled chicken at El Pollo Rey.
The place was full of men on lunch break, I think I was the only woman customer. Most of the patrons were Mexican. There were only three items on the menu - 1/2 chicken, whole chicken and wings. I could see the birds grilling right behind the counter. It smelled amazing.
I got a half-chicken, which comes with a baggie of red onions, a spicy ground sauce, beans, rice and tortillas. I also ordered an avocado which only added $1 to the bill.
It was exquisite. The chicken was perfectly cooked, well-seasoned with salt and wood smoke. There are no utensils beyond a spoon to dollop out sauce and beans. I didn't need more. Tear off some meat, add condiments (oh, those onions), wrap in the tortilla and consume. Wipe your fingers and start again.
It's a kind of primal eating experience and one I can't wait to repeat. But don't feel obligated to believe me, go there yourself. Get a little greasy. Enjoy.
1101 Kansas Avenue
Kansas City, Kansas