If there is one cuisine that Kansas City embraces (other than BBQ), it's Mexican. There are lots, and I mean lots, of Mexican joints around town. From the conglomerate on SW Boulevard to the outcropping of Tex-Mex places dotted throughout the metro, one need not drive far to get their fix.
And while many of these places dish out good food, most of these places have "Americanized" Mexican cooking. However, there are some exceptions and Mestizo is one of them. Definitely not your typical Mexican restaurant, Mestizo offers traditional Mexican fare that isn't found many places.
As I'm sure you know (or if you don't, you're about to), Mestizo is the brainchild of Chef Aarón Sánchez. Made famous by the Food Network, Aarón was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef and currently stars on Food Network shows such as Chopped and Heat Seekers. He is one of America's leading Latin chefs and it just so happens that he decided to open up a restaurant right here in Kansas City (well, technically Leawood but who's keeping track?)
The atmosphere at Mestizo was somewhat disjointed in my opinion. The design of the front of the house is a bit odd as three or four tables literally sit directly behind the hostess stand. This creates some awkwardness to those patrons who are unlucky enough to be seated there. Not only are they being watched by those waiting for a table, they miss out on the sexy and hip atmosphere that I'm guessing Chef Sánchez desired for the entire restaurant. When you make your way to the back of the house, the restaurant opens up and you are able to see its artful design. Plush booths give way for numerous high top tables and provide diners the opportunity to simultaneously watch the bartenders create their cocktails and the chefs hard at work in the open kitchen.
The menu is pretty inviting and offers a wide array of options, both culinary wise and portion wise. If you're in the mood for small plates, there are numerous offerings which are meant to be shared. And if you want a full entree to yourself, Mestizo offers the traditional entree.
With any new restaurant that we encounter, we try to dabble in a little bit of everything. In keeping with that tradition, we went with an appetizer, a small plate to share, an entree to share and a dessert.
We started out with the Queso Fundido with Chorizo and Potatoes. I've had queso fundido numerous times but never with potatoes. It was a great starter and a perfect compliment to the warm tortillas that were made in house.
For our second course, we split the Chile Relleno, which was recommended by our waitress. She clamored that it was baked rather than battered and deep fried like many of Mexican restaurants. Chile Rellenos may be one of my favorite Mexican-inspired dishes so I was all over this when I saw it on the menu.
Filled with red peppers, black beans and corn and topped with queso fresca, it was light and flavorful. My complaint is that the corn tasted like it was from a can. Since the entire midwest hasn't gotten a meaningful amount of rain in what seems like 6 months and that has led to the increase in corn prices, it very well could have been that they were using canned corn. While the presentation was visually pleasing, I was somewhat disappointed with this offering.
For our entree portion, we went with the Braised Lamb Enchiladas, Chile Colorado style and an Avocado and Tomatillo salsa. Chile Colorado is a traditional Mexican dish where a cut of meat is roasted in a red chile sauce until the meat breaks down and becomes super tender. In this case, they used lamb and incorporated the dish into enchilada form. The sauce was balanced and while offering a hint of spice, the full flavor of the lamb came through. And as you'll notice from the picture, there wasn't a pound of cheese melted on top. Definitely my kind of enchilada.
We finished with the churros which were paired with a vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate dipping sauce. I think it's pretty hard to screw up fried and sugared bread so I may not be giving them as much credit as due but they were solid. They reminded me of my summer in Spain and were the perfect ending to a good meal.
We both have been itching to try Mestizo for a while. Often times when a restaurant opens, it takes a couple months to work out the kinks. The restaurant has been open for long enough to stabilize itself and I'm glad we waited. The food was solid but nothing mind blowing. I really didn't have any complaints about our evening other than the Chile Relleno (which we still had no problem finishing).
It definitely is a nice escape from your standard Mexican spot and the menu provides an experience that you aren't likely to find around town. The service was great and the wait staff seemed knowledgeable about the menu. It isn't a place that we'd frequent on a weekly basis but it is definitely worth a try and one where we'll return.
5270 W. 116th Place