Local Restaurant Evokes A Laid-Back Vibe
Normally when I’m on my way to the airport, I’m pretty excited. Maybe I’m headed to a far off land, or maybe the beach. Of course, budgetary restrictions means that the often dreamed of beach vacation happens less often than one would like. Now, we have an option to dine like we are on the Riviera Maya even if we never make it to MCI.
The recently opened Beaches Cantina in the space formerly occupied by Luna Azteca does its best to make you forget your zip code. With a tropical color scheme and lots of Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley on the playlist, the aesthetic definitely skews toward the Florida/Mexico side. The concept is owned by Montica Alexander and Staci Santoro. Alexander was formerly the owner of the Kansas City Cafe in Downtown Kansas City. She brought Chef Tom Harley up north and gave him free reign to play with flavors you might find beachside.
And play he does. The menu is going through a bit of an evolution as the restaurant settles into its neighborhood. On my first visit with a large group of friends shortly after it opened, the menu featured several entrees including meatloaf, mussels and grilled chicken, along with a roster of inventive taco offerings, sandwiches and burgers. We shared a few appetizers like the Korean pork belly, the chorizo fries ($6) and tequila steamed mussels ($6). The pork belly was a bit on the fatty side but seasoned well. The standout was the chorizo fries topped with crumbled Mexican chorizo and melted chihuahua cheese. They were definitely a dish worth fighting over.
I started with the rum and coke tacos, made of cola braised chuck steak with Jamaican rum caramelized carrots, onions and jalapeños with corn and crumbled queso fresco for $9. They were flavorful but not as sweet as expected, which is certainly a good thing. My husband had the Island Classic Cheeseburger ($10), which comes topped with house cured bacon, lettuce, melted cheese and onion. The burgers were large but not unmanageable and hand pressed in house. No frozen, pre-formed patties here. The service was a bit slow but we wrote it off to growing pains and a large group. I’m glad we did.
On my second visit to Beaches, it was obvious that the word has gotten out. As opposed to our first visit where we were practically the only table in the joint, when we came for happy hour which includes $1 off of beer, cocktails and tapas, we were joined by a steady stream of groups that seemed familiar with the restaurant. One of the owners greeted people as they came in and our server was prompt and friendly with great suggestions.
We tried a few more of the small plates, including an intriguing take on popcorn shrimp and citrus grilled chicken skewers. The shrimp, instead of being tiny, was instead dusted in popcorn. I loved the concept but in execution, it left me wanting fresher popcorn or at least fluffier kernels. The flavor was good but the sensation of getting popcorn in-between your teeth was a bit off-putting. The chicken skewers, however, were plump, incredibly juicy and surrounded by a delicious lime aioli that could probably make any dish better.
We also tried a few cocktails. Fair warning: The jalapeño cucumber margarita is not for the faint of palate. The chili flavor is strong and if you like spicy drinks, then you’ll flip for this one but for me, it was a little much. I enjoyed it more once I got used to the flavor and once I fished out the fresh slices of jalapeño.
Perusing the rest of the menu we noticed that the entrees had disappeared and instead been reworked into a much more extensive taco list. Each order comes with two tacos and a side of beans, slaw or rice. We tried the Peanut Butter and Pork Tacos ($8) and were pleasantly surprised. The dish included a fried banana, fresh cilantro and mint, and just a touch of peanut butter over shredded pork. Nothing was overly salty, as so many pork dishes can be. It was a surprising departure from the normal taco fare.
My cuban sandwich ($11) was similarly delicious. It’s hard to find a good cuban in Kansas City, but this hit the spot. Topped with house made pickles and melted chihuahua cheese, this pressed sandwich was just as good as those I had in Tampa.
Beaches Cantina is trying to transport its diners and doing a fine job so far. I look forward to seeing how this new classic continues to grow.