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[Wichita] Found: Real Mexican Chow in Doo Dah!

I knew it existed, I just didn't know where. Upon first arriving in town back in Feb/March, I pawed through the yeller pages looking for clues pointing to good chow in Wichita and I noticed the name Rostizeria Los Reyes and filed it away, meaning to try it at some point. In the meantime, Sarge and I have eaten some pretty crappy "Mexican" here: Felipe Jr (gawd, what awful food...should have known from the length of the line), Ajuua (at first they fooled us, it was acceptable, but with each visit, it got worse, and the lovely smell of sewer gas, initially confined to the back room, eventually filled the whole place...won't go back there ever), El Torero, a carbon copy of Ajuua, less the sewer perfume (same menu, same owner, same slop), Angela's on E. Kellogg (seems like the salsa was good, but the food was awful), Paisano on N. Arkansas (everyone raves about this authentic place...well, for starters, the chips had a sweet flavor, no, really sweet, reminiscent of Kix cereal...nasty...the margaritas were nasty, the food was nasty...never again); there might be more, but thankfully I can't remember them (oh, except one...Tacos Raymundo on 21st west of B'way...it was on that silly list posted by Denise "The Galloping Gourmet" Neil a couple weeks back of the top ten Mexican places in town as chosen by the Mexican Restaurant Marathoners...and it wasn't terrible, as long as you stick to the "real" Mexican choices like tacos (corn tortillas, please), gorditas, sopes, etc....the Americanized, or Kansasized Mexican is just as bad as anything else...Sarge made the mistake of ordering a combo special...aimed at gringos and she couldn't eat it...i nibbled, and understood why...).
Well, finally made it to Los Reyes (512 W. 21st, near corner of Waco) and so ticked that I didn't go there right away. It is wonderful. Now, I'm not gonna tell you that everything they have is wonderful because we've yet to try everything, but it's the only place in town so far that can satisfy the cravings of someone who's lived in Texas most of his life, travelled extensively in Mexico, and often savored the food of a restaurant in Austin whose menu is in large part directed by Mexican Chow Maven Diana Kennedy, and even better, eaten many 99¢ tacos at Mexican meat market taquerias in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and in Mexico proper.
The first taste was a couple of carnitas tacos and a gordita of carne al pastor....all were very, very good. The carnitas were properly crispy, though could have been more so...(I've tried a couple around town which, well, suck: they are not fried crisp in lard as they should be, but to accommodate tame Ameri-Kan tastes, are stewed or simply chunks of soft roast port...not the right thing at all), though the tortillas were not as good at the meat, the combo was more than satisfying...a sprinkle of onions, cilantro and nice, picosa salsa made these the best Mexican things I've found in town. The gordita was pretty good, though the masa was not freshly patted out and could have used more lard...still pretty decent...and the carne al pastor (pork in the shepard's style) was well-spiced, properly tangy and also very tasty. Would give them a high B+.
A few days later I dragged Sarge along and we had another delicious, if not perfect, meal. She went for a half dozen oysters on the half shell (Mexican? you ask...yep, if you've ever been to Mexico, you know how crazy they are for good seafood...shrimp, oysters, octopus, and various fish preparations...all on the menu at Los Reyes). It being an "R" month the oysters passed her taste test...with a bit of hot sauce and lime juice, she gobbled up each one from its shell promptly and greedily...oh, I don't eat them, so she wasn't being greedy...she did offer! She had a taco de carnitas and loved it as I had. My plate was labeled Michuacan (sic) Enchiladas...which included 1/4 of a roasted chicken. Now I've had this dish many times from outdoor food stalls in Michoacan and the version at Los Reyes doesn't really come close...no cabbage "salad" nor fried in lard spuds, and the enchiladas were too laden with sauce and cheese...the flavors were good, just not sure what what made them Michoacan style, except maybe the inclusion of the chicken which is typical "in situ" where the whole dish is prepared on a very large metal disc with an indentation in the center where oil pools, and the chicken is cooked along the edges as are the spuds and the enchiladas are dipped in the oil, then a sauce then the dish is assembled...all on the outdoor perimeter of the town square or plaza...they are usually called enchiladas placeras (from the word plaza) and are almost always delicious. Ok enough history.
Los Reyes is definitely tops on my list of Mexican places right now. I'm sure there are others as good, maybe better. I've got my eye(s) on the Broadway taco trucks which seem to only appear at night and on weekends. I'll skip Connie's and all the other places people have recommended. When I find something new, be sure I'll report on it. These places need the support, and it seems like white folk around here seem to be a bit leery of these authentic places...even Sarge was a tad skeptical until I assured her it would be ok; she was delighted with the experience. Next I'm gonna get her to try Laura's Tortas on Central...looks promising. But not sure I'm gonna get her to try Cafe Thai-Lao!!!!

Oh, the walls of Los Reyes are plastered with posters of Mexican musical groups, conjuntos, bandas, etc who've apparently passed through town---all the posters are autographed...so it appears that they all hit this place when they are performing here...I guess that is some sort of endorsement...at least it shows the food has something more Mexican to offer than On the Border, El Rodeo, etc... Okay, yes, that's a good sign...(no pun intended!).

If you've been here, post your comments, or if you have somewhere similar, post your tips... can't wait to find more hidden gems...

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  1. Glad you found something you like. I have a non food question for you, why do people say "Doo Dah"? I had a discussion with someone about that this weekend, they didn't know either. Am I too young to remember this? I didn't live here until 1988, is it an old school saying? Just curious...

    14 Replies
    1. re: shopgirl26

      I have no idea, really....i just moved here 6 months ago...

      But Sarge told me that some write for, I think, an alternative weekly coined the phrase. not sure why. Guess he was describing the ho hum nature of the city overall...???

      But it sure describes the food scene!!!! But I have to admit it's getting better!!!!

      1. re: shopgirl26

        "WSU alum Francis Schruben’s research found it began with college students in the 1920s"
        It has also been attributed to Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
        And regarding "authentic" Mexican food in Wichita...we have enough native Mexicans in residence that I'm sure real food must be available, but apparently our "Kansasized Mexican" is what sells commercially. You might just have to find a native and beg for an invite over for dinner.
        I've never experienced Mexican food in Mexico, so I can't offer an opinion on what would be acceptably authentic.I eat all my Mexican food locally, and I just assume that if it's being prepared by Mexicans, and there are Mexicans in the restaurant eating the food, then it must be acceptable to them at least. Maybe they don't know any better, either.

        1. re: podunkboy

          A couple of things, podunk:
          I DID find "authentic" Mexican in Wichita...that's what the post is about. I wrote an introduction which outlined the bad experiences I've had to reinforce the idea that, compared to the majority of what's out there, Los Reyes is exemplary. Did you read the entire post? Though I pointed out a few deficiencies, overall I praised Los Reyes to the hilt. It is a great place. And if you have not been there, you should go. Order something like pozole, or mole, or the carnitas, brains, tongue or carne al pastor tacos (corn tortillas, NO lettuce and tomato) and see what real Mexicans in Mexico eat, at least as close to that as you are likely to find in Wichita. In sum: the place rocks.

          Now, as to the statement you made regarding the majority of local Mexican places: "....I just assume that if it's being prepared by Mexicans, and there are Mexicans in the restaurant eating the food, then it must be acceptable to them at least." Consider this: Assuming we all agree that, according to Chowhound standards, McDonalds, Cheddar's, Texas Roadhouse, Applebee's etc prepare awful "American food", then, can we not agree that if an outside observer, say from Mars, assumes that, because the food in these places is prepared by Americans, and that there are Americans in the restaurants eating the food, that it is "authentic" or outstandingly delicious, at least according to Chowhound standards? Clearly it is acceptable to the patrons who keep returning, but that does not mean the food is good (according to 'houd standards). Yeah, maybe they don't know any better, or maybe they are lazy and go to the closest trough for their slop, or whatever...there are good and delicious places in Wichita to find "American food", them mom and pop local non-chain places which most people don't frequent because it just doesn't matter to them... Any Chowhound would agree that the Oasis burger is far better than anything Ray Kroc's yellow arched joints could ever produce. And that is the point of this board, to raise the level of consciousness of the readers here, who, supposedly, are looking for alternatives to Chili's, Burger King and Taco Bell (substitute Felipe's, Baum's, Ajuua, for these three names if you wanna). It's just human nature I guess that most folks will eat whatever is put in front of them---searching for something better is just too much work...and maybe that little hole in the wall is just not clean enough for them. Chowhounds, however, will drive miles and miles and put up with less than antiseptic surrounds in search of truly good, artisanal food...the Oasis burger for me is an example...it must be 10-15 miles from my house, but it's worth it...Applebee's is a mile away, yet I won't go there for any reason, as Sarge says, why waste the calories?
          I've been in the music biz in one way or another since 1969 and it's the same thing in that category...when I panned Led Zep's second LP, I was jeered by the mainstream, most of whom would rather swallow that second-rate derivative version of American blues than the real deal like Howlin' Wolf or Sonny Boy Williamson----they went to the trough of least resistance.

          Hope this explains things a bit. Break out, try Los Reyes...drive that neighborhood, find another yummy joint and post your findings here...brave the unknown...you'll find some losers, but that one winner will more than make up for the bombs.

          Oh, in Austin, Houston or San Antonio, there are plenty of crappy Mexican (or Chinese or Thai or American) places where most people are happy to have their lunch or dinner...they just can't be bothered to (literally) go the extra mile for a place that just might be much tastier. So, it's not just Kansas that has bad Mexican...and plenty of Mexicans eat in those mediocre places, even in San Antonio where the demographic majority is Hispanic.

          1. re: sambamaster

            tried to post a longer version of this yesterday, but just as I clicked on the post button, the chow site went bonkers and I lost all the details and don't feel like composing my essay again. so here are the cliff's notes version:

            someone on this site, another tread suggest Playa Azul was good mexican food. Well it isn't. Some friends of the Sarge suggested we go a couple friday nights back and so we were off. first, Sarge's margarita was made from one of those neon mixes that contain nothing natural. yuk. my beer, from a bottle, was fine. the food was simply awful. all geared toward the primarily anglo clientele who mostly don't know any better. We ordered something that was repulsively bad, two things in fact. Ok, then this synth player cranked up really loud in a very acoustically lively room. and then he added a singer. they were loud enough to fill an auditorium, but the room maybe held 50 people (side rooms add to the capacity). WAY TOO LOUD. IMPOSSIBLE TO HOLD A CONVERSATION. so we sat mostly in silence eating, or picking at, bad food. will never go back, so don't even try to offer me a million dollars to return. i'd have to say, "save your money" (or maybe, "can i just drink a beer...at 3pm, no music?") i'll stick with Los Reyes on 21st w. of b'way, or the nifty taco trucks.

            1. re: sambamaster

              There is a place at 25th and Arkansas called Mr. Taco. I was told to try it. It sounded like a hole in the wall type place. Sounds about in the right neighborhood for authentic food. Also, I forgot to mention Taco Nacho on south Seneca. The person that owns it also owns the Mexcian food market.

              1. re: sambamaster

                There's a Playa Azul in Hutch that's alright. It's the closest thing to authenthic except for Antojitas las Barbas, which is always filthy, and the meat is always tough and dry, no matter if it's al pastor, carnitas, or carne. The Playa Azul here offers both the typical "combination" dinners, but they also offer a few more regional dishes.

                They've started offering Tacos al Pastor on weekends, with what I presume is a Guanajuato variation (owners and most of the staff are from Guanajuato). They have chunks of pineapple in with the meat, which I've never had before - all of my al Pastor has been sans-pineapple.

                I'll have to try Los Reyes if I can remember to next time I'm down in Wichita. The Playa here is probably the closest thing I'll get to "real" Mexican food.
                I'll have to check out Los Reyes

                1. re: Antithesisofpop

                  Are you trying to imply that Antojitos Las Barbas is authentic BECAUSE its filthy and the meat is always tough & dry?

                  2) Al Pastor true Al Pastor (as it is prepared in Central Mexico where it was invented)... is Pork Steaks rubbed with Achiote, Chiles, Allspice, Mexican Oregano as basics... other Herbs & Spices depending on the cook... the steaks are layered on a Vertical Rotisserie with a sliced white onion between each steak... then the entire Trompo (as it is called for its shape similarity to a Spinning Top) is topped with a peeled half pineapple... so that the juices run over the meat & baste it while roasting. When the tacos are served it is customary to slice off a bit of the roasted pineapple to garnish the Taco... and its usually served by a simple salsa of Roasted Jalapenos, Pork Stock, Olive Oil & Salt.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    No, I was lamenting the fact that the only authentic Mexican place in Hutch is disgusting.

                    I can handle unconventional, hodge-podge, mobile kitchens, and different food, but I will not tolerate filth in a restaurant, no matter who's in the kitchen.

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      I was lamenting the fact that the only authentic Mexican restaurant in Hutch is dirty and has bad food. It's like some cruel cosmic joke. I did my "yay happy happy real Mexican food dance gracias a Dios!" in the parking lot. Then I ate there and it was awful and dirty. Then I ate there again, and it was awful and dirty AND I saw cockroaches - not one, but 4! Then I started going to Playa Azul because their food is somewhat less authentic, but properly cooked, tastes pretty good, and the restaurant is clean.

                      Possibly the reason I've never had Al Pastor with pineapple is because most of the places in South Carolina were owned and operated by people from Jalisco, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, or el D.F. - not exactly "central Mexico". I like the pineapple - it really rounds out the flavor of the dish.

                      Which reminds me of how the Brazilians grill pineapple - skin it, douse it with cinnamon and a little bit of salt, put it whole on a skewer, then rotisserie it over a grill...mmm...agora quero abacaxi...

                      Senor (o Senora?) Nopal, what is your take on gorditas? What do you consider an "authentic" gordita?

                      The ones I had at my favorite spots in SC were made from corn masa, fried crispy in a bit of oil (or, more likely, lard), split like a clam shell, and stuffed with goodies.

                      Then I come to Kansas - I get something made out of wheat and lightly grilled (at Antojitos Las Barbas). This confuses me, and possibly further explains my dislike of the restaurant - dirty, AND they desecrated my memories of perfectly crispy gorditas!

                      Maybe its just a regional difference - the way southeners her tend to bake their macaroni and cheese in a casserole and northerners tend to make a cheese sauce and then mix in the boiled pasta. I personally prefer baked macaroni and crispy gordiatas.

                      1. re: Antithesisofpop

                        The story behind Al Pastor begins with Christian refugees from the Ottoman Empire. I believe it was in the late 20's that an Iraqi immigrant in Puebla invented what has come to be known as the Taco Arabe... he came up with bread that is a cross between a Tortilla & a Pita... stuffed with Shawerma style meats and served with Salsa & Mexican garnishes. He hit it big right away, was imitated and the popularity of the Vertical Rotisserie spread throughout Central Mexico.

                        In 1966 the owners of El Tizoncito in D.F. ( http://www.eltizoncito.com.mx/ ) invented the Taco Al Pastor as we know it... combining that unique marinade with the sweet pineapple & roasted onion.... it was a winner and has spread since. The are other much better versions of Al Pastor in Mexico City.... but I can't remember a single version without the pineapple.... I think its essential to have all the components.

                        There is a type of taco that is much older than Al Pastor... the Puerco Adobado.. which is pork cubes marinaded in a similar tangy chile paste + sweet spices like cloves & cinammon.... then grilled or griddled... this is what often gets passed as Al Pastor... but that is like saying a Grilled Chicken breast basted in BBQ Sauce is real Q.

                        Regarding... Gorditas... your version fits what I have had... although not always fried... some people partially cook them over a dry griddle and set aside... then when you order them they spoon melted fat over them... and finish cooking on the griddle... split & stuff. In terms of hedgemony... well Aguascalientes & Zacatecas are the Mexican states that are known for gorditas and prepare them as such with Shredded Pork in Guajillo Sauce, Nopales braised in Guajillo sauce, Bean & Melted Cheese, or Roasted Poblanos & Melted Cheese being the most icononic stuffing that I can remeber.

                        But Gordita just means "A thick one"... and I know there are some towns where thick Wheat tortillas are the regional thang... but I have never had them personally.

                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                        What is the white cap over the pineapple? Tortilla?

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            In conclusion...I miss my taco truck in SC. If you're ever in North Charleston, Los Parados have their truck (big, white, non-descript) on Ashley Phosphate in the parking lot of the BP gas station/strip mall (just west of I-26). At least I hope it's still there when I go home for Christmas! I'm gonna go eat Playa Azul tacos now.

            2. I'm shocked, Angela's was awful? That's sad to hear. What did you have? The smothered burritos is the way to go. I haven't been in years, I left Wichita in 1987. Last time I visited was back in 2002 and it was great. I went there all the time growing up. Maybe I remember it being so good, because they don't have very good mexican food here in California. It takes a little getting use to. Probably because it is authentic.

              1. The Doo Dah that I know and love came from a columnist at The Wichita Eagle newspaper, Bob Getz. He wrote in the 70s and 80s.
                Have you tried Zarragos - or something like that - in Parklane shopping center? I have seen many latinos eat there. Their beans are very good.
                There's also a hole-in-the-wall place on Pawnee near K-15 that has customers that don't speak English. They have a sauce there that looks like pure wickedness. It burned my mouth just looking at it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BAChiliburger

                  I heard that Los Zarragas (sp?) has moved from Parklane up to the "east of Amidon on 21st" area (maybe in the old Mr Steak building?). I think if you drive up to 21st and Amidon and start driving east, you should be able to find several "authentic" restaurants along there.
                  I like the Wichita Mexican food, although I've been told it's not authentic enough -- Taco Lopez on West street, Angelas on 21st, Felipe's, Cholita's, La Chinita, La Posada...it's what I've grown up eating.
                  And I was a big fan of El Getzo, the Eagle's not been the same since he retired.

                2. I highly suggest listening to sambamaster... he knows what he is talking about. With regards to some of the opinions that "Kansas Mexican" is just fine... I now regret having defended the palette of Plains State people in the Rachel Ray - Average Couple from Tulsa thread... mark my words - I have seen it in California as well - a couple of decades from now you will be getting some very representative Regional / Specialized / Authentic Mexican and your palette will be revolutionized and you will wonder how you ever liked the stuff you do now.