Tag Archives: Cabana del Pollo

Restaurant Row: Merriam Lane

I challenge anyone to find a street as chock full of good food as Merriam Lane/Drive. Stretching roughly from Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas and following I-35 around and down to Shawnee Mission Parkway in Merriam, this stretch of road isn’t much to look at, but delivers the goods when it comes to simple, delicious food.

It all starts at Quick’s Bar-B-Que where you can pick up some of the best ribs in town. They also have fried bologna sandwiches and deep fried, spiral-cut hot dogs if that’s your bag.

Next up, Tacos El Matador, a highly under-appreciated Mexican joint that serves good, traditional food alongside American diner favorites like burgers and tenderloins. The tacos are excellent, especially the barbacoa.

matador9

Tacos El Matador, 1230 Merriam Lane

Further down the way is Woodyard Bar-B-Que, fresh off a stint on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The food is pretty good here but the laid-back atmosphere out on the deck is what keep me coming back. Try the salmon or the burnt ends.

Woodyard patio

Woodyard Bar-B-Que, 3001 Merriam Lane

The Burger Joint is another old fashioned diner that I don’t visit enough. Honestly I’ve only had the burgers here because they are so damn good, made from freshly ground, never frozen beef. The owner is a real character too.

Speaking of burgers, up at the intersection of Merriam Drive and Antioch lies Grandstand Burgers, an old-school shack that dishes up excellent burgers and fries. Don’t expect to eat inside, however since there are only a handful of seats at the counter. Fortunately a few picnic tables in the parking lot get the job done.

Head over into Merriam proper and check out La Cabana del Pollo. This place has been through more iterations than Joan Rivers forehead but this one is probably the best. While the grilled chicken is fine, their classic dishes like cochinita pibil and tamales are the strong suit.

Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita Pibil, La Cabana del Pollo, 5816 Merriam Drive

Lastly, the gem of this jaunt down Merriam Drive is El Pulgarcito, a Salvadoran joint that seems to charm everyone who tries it. They had no air conditioning on my last visit, but don’t let that stop you from stopping by for some excellent tamales and pupusas.

While 39th street west, Main street south of the Plaza and Westport road are sometimes referred to as local restaurant rows, this stretch of road, while not highbrow, can compete with any of them.

Holy Mole!

I am a huge fan of mole, the complex, rich mexican sauce made from a host of ingredients, but based on dried chiles which are toasted, soaked, pulverized and pan-fried. Mole is actually a general term and can refer to a myriad number of sauces throughout Mexico. Here in Kansas City (and indeed most U.S. cities) it usually signifies what is more correctly known as mole poblano due to its reliance on the dried poblano chile, known as an ancho.

I have tried to make mole, and it ain’t easy. It involves dozens of ingredients which variously include raisins, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, corn tortillas, and bread which wind up being a fairly pedestrian-looking reddish brown sauce.

turkey mole

Photo by Stu Spivack on Flickr

The process takes a long time, and I won’t get into the details. Suffice it to say that, despite the effort, you may still wind up with a mediocre version of the stuff. This is why I typically turn to restaurants for my mole fix.

Because it involves a complicated recipe, even restaurants that have mole on the menu might not have it available. This was the case for me at no less than three local establishments including Cabana del Pollo, which Mary Bloch reported made it from scratch. Yes, there are commercially available mole pastes that can be thinned out with stock or water. Obviously homemade is preferred but I can understand the appeal of the concentrated stuff for busy restaurateurs.

I have also had mole at Taqueria Mexico, El Patron, El Pueblito, Poco’s and probably half a dozen other places over the years that elude my memory. None of them were bad, but were uniformly too sweet and not as complex as I’ve seen at restaurants in other cities.

The best mole I have experienced is probably at the newly opened Gavino’s in Overland Park of all places. The presentation isn’t much but the mole definitely appears to be homemade, deepened by a flavorful stock.

Chicken Mole Poblano

Gavino's Chicken Mole Poblano

It’s nice to have found a good mole, but I’m on the hunt for the best. Any ideas?

–Dave LaCrone