When I was in Springfield, MO recently, I had to stop and have dinner at Maria's Mexican Restaurant. It's one of my all-time favorite Mexican restaurants in the world.
Maria's is located in the heart of the downtown area of Springfield (see map) - the most non-descript downtown area of any city with a population of over 150,000 in the United States. I'm not kidding. Downtown Springfield is not much - no large buildings, no distinguished features. It's as "blah" as any Midwestern downtown area that you can see.
Maria's is run by Chris and Monica Guest (right). They started Maria's as a small "hole-in-the-wall" take out place in Springfield in 1996 using a lot of authentic Mexican recipes gleaned from Monica's grandmother. Chris Guest (not the actor) had been in the restaurant business for a number of years and they moved Maria's in their present location in 2001.
The decor of Maria's gives you the feel of an authentic Mexican cantina. It's colorful and festive, and the lighting isn't overly bright so it's not to overbearing. There's a small bar area that always seems to be packed with college students from Missouri State University, which is just down the street. Behind the bar is an impressive selection of top shelf tequila ready to pour.
I sat in one of the spacious booths and ordered up a house margarita. And as always, I have trouble figuring out what I want to eat at Maria's - it's all very good. They have excellent deep fried tacos with your choice of ground beef, shredded beef, chicken or pork. And their burritos and enchiladas also feature the above fillings.
I ended up wanting to try their shredded beef burrito - downtown style. That's a burrito topped with sauce and cheese for $1.29 extra. And because I love them so much, I had to have a deep fried shredded beef taco. Within five minutes, my order was on the table, fresh and hot.
The burrito was HUGE! One of the biggest burritos I've ever seen on a plate. I let it cool down a bit and ate my shredded beef taco - which was excellent, as always. I ate as much of the burrito as I could, which was a little over half. And it was excellent, as well. Next time, I'll have to bring a bigger appetite.
By the way, Maria's Mexican Restaurant should not be confused with a small chain of restaurants - Maria's Mexican Restaurant - located in NW Arkansas and SW Missouri. The Maria's in Springfield is a single location, much better and way more authentic than the other Maria's.
I've eaten at Maria's about four times now and each experience was great. The food is about as close to authentic Mexican that you can have in the U.S. If you ever get down to the Ozarks, it's worth the visit to Maria's Mexican Restaurant.