Today, I give a shout out to Ryan Davis and his wife, RaeChelle. I met them earlier this summer during a baseball outing we had here in the Quad Cities. RaeChelle Davis is the news anchor for WQAD, the local ABC affiliate, and is paired along side with another casual friend of mine, Jason Fechner. The Davis' grew up in Kansas City and went to school at Western Kentucky. We talked about places in and around K.C., how beautiful the campus was at WKU, and, of course, my visit to Mariah's in Bowling Green, KY. (See the post on Mariah's here.) We began to talk about restaurants around the greater Kansas City area and I was telling them about Oklahoma Joe's and how much I liked it. RaeChelle asked me, "Have you ever been to Jose Pepper's in Overland Park?"
I told her that it didn't ring a bell. She said, "Oh, my GOD! They have the best Mexican food in the whole world! When ever we go back home, we always stop at Jose Pepper's!" She was describing this cheese sauce at the place - escindada con queso - that was simply to die for. As she was describing the taste sensation to me, I thought Ryan was going to cry. Anything that good deserved a visit.
I was in Kansas City recently and got into my hotel in Overland Park just after 9 p.m. one evening. I looked up Jose Pepper's on my GPS and found that it was only 1.3 miles away. I threw my bags in the room and programmed the GPS to take me to Jose Pepper's. In a long and round-about way (my GPS has a tendency to do that rather than use the real world approach of taking a left turn instead of three right turns) I found Jose Pepper's (see map).
I immediately realized that I'd been there before.
About six years ago, I had just put on a new dealer in Overland Park. It was after closing time one night and I asked some of the sales crew if they wanted to go out and get something to eat. They suggested this Mexican restaurant that was tucked back in the corner of a strip mall off of Metcalf Ave. I remember the food was outrageously good and the margaritas were some of the best I'd ever had. The problem was that on subsequent trips to Kansas City and hankering for Mexican food I couldn't remember the name of the place. I had an idea as to where it was and driving up and down Metcalf I couldn't seem to find it. I figured that it probably went out of business.
However, this recent night when I found it, I realized that one of the big reasons why I couldn't find it was because it was hidden by a big bank at the corner of 103rd and Metcalf. Sure enough, there it was. I couldn't remember the name of the place (as I usually can't), but I can sure remember the food and, generally, where it is.
Jose Pepper's is actually a small local chain of Mexican Food restaurants under the J.P.'s Southwestern Cuisine banner. The parent company of J.P.'s Southwestern Cuisine is North Star restaurants which runs 8 Jose Pepper's throughout Kansas City, one in Topeka and one in Wichita, and the Cactus Grill in suburban Leawood, KS. (click here to see all the locations.) The original Jose Pepper's - the one at 103rd and Metcalf - opened in 1988.
Jose Pepper's has been getting some local notoriety lately - and not for the best type of P.R. They just settled a sexual harassment lawsuit that was brought on by an 18-year-old waitress who accused a former assistant manager at the Cactus Grill of inappropriately touching her and making sexual suggestions.
And earlier this year, a judge decided that a class action suit against the chain could go forward after Jose Pepper's was found in violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act by printing more than five numbers of a customer's credit card number on their receipt. The lawsuit covers over 45,000 transactions between December of 2006 and December of 2007. The lawsuit could award each person who used their credit card at a Jose Pepper's or at the Cactus Grill during that period up to $1000. Understandably, Jose Pepper's lawyers say the lawsuit would be "annihilating" to the chain, but the judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed.
Well, I certainly didn't care about any lawsuits when I got into Jose Pepper's around 9:15 p.m. There were a few people in the bar area and just a handful of people in the dining room. I contemplated sitting in the bar and having dinner, but I ended up going for a booth along the wall in the dining room. The hostess guided me to the table, dropped off the menu and told me that they had a 2 for 1 special on Patron margaritas - $10 bucks for two 28 oz. margaritas. I immediately signed up for one of those. A young man brought over some fresh corn chips and salsa to get me started.
The menu at Jose Pepper's features a number of authentic Mexican foods including enchiladas, chimichangas, tamales - even seafood tacos featuring grilled mahi or shrimp. Oooo... I remember this place now. They had GREAT mahi tacos! San Diego style with the cabbage. Ummm.... That's why I kept trying to find the place.
The original hostess - also a waitress - brought my first margarita to the table. She said that another waitress would be helping me out. Not long after that, a younger girl - well below 20 years old - with braces on her teeth timidly approached me to see if I was ready to order.
I was leaning toward getting the fish tacos, but I'd also been looking over the combination plates. The one that really caught my eye was the number 4 combo - a shredded beef hard shell taco, a pork tamale and a cheese enchilada. Only I asked if I could substitute a beef enchilada instead of the cheese enchilada. The young girl said, "Oh, gee. I don't really know if we can. I can ask." I also got an order of the espinaca con queso cheese sauce.
I'd downed my first margarita and was ready for the second one. When the young waitress brought out the espinaca, I asked her to bring me the second margarita. She said, "I'll get someone to get that for you." It dawned on me that since she was under 21 she couldn't serve me a drink. The first waitress/hostess brought me my other margarita.
I do have to say that the espinaca con queso was absolutely outstanding and sinfully rich. The chunks of peppers they put in the cheese sauce gave it a little kick, but not enough that deterred from the overall taste sensation. While the bowl wasn't all that big, it was way too much for one person to eat. But I did take a large chunk of cheese sauce out of the bowl.
I never really knew if the substitution I requested would make it to my plate or not. The waitress basically forgot about me and the food took an excruciatingly (it's a word - I looked it up) long time to get to my table. I was hoping that it was because the food was good and authentic, and not pre-made and micro-waved like you find at some Mexican restaurants. Finally, about 20 minutes after I ordered, my food showed up. The wait was worth it.
She was able to make the substitution of the cheese enchilada for the beef enchilada and the seasoning on the beef was outstanding. But the highlights of the meal were the pork tamale and the shredded beef taco, which was placed in its very own holder.
The pork tamale was just this side of heaven - flavorful, a nice corn meal outer shell with loads of seasoned sliced pork meat inside. The pork literally melted in my mouth. I'm not big on really doughy tamales, but this one was not that oppressive. It was sensational.
For as much as I like grilled fish tacos, I'm about as big a sucker for shredded beef tacos. And the shredded beef taco at Jose Pepper's was no exception. The beef was tender and ripe with flavor. The taco shell was nice and crunchy. It was as close to the perfect taco that one could ask for. You're much more likely to find a shredded beef taco on the menu than one that features ground beef. This one was 4 star taco.
I couldn't finish my meal - I left a good portion of the corn meal dough tamale on the plate, but picked out the pork. I made quick work of the shredded beef taco and finished what I could of the beef enchilada. The meal was exactly what I remembered it to be six years prior - completely outstanding.
I will say that the biggest drawback was the service at Jose Pepper's. It took too long for the food to come and I was almost over-gorged on the chips and espinaca con queso dip by the time it finally showed up. Also, having an underaged girl serving me while I was ordering drinks was a minor hassle. (I ordered a Dos Equis beer when she brought me out my food and the other waitress didn't get it to me until my meal was nearly finished.) But the food was just outstanding and it was tough to beat the $5 dollar 28 oz. Patron margaritas. Times two.
I certainly have to thank Ryan and RaeChelle for mentioning Jose Pepper's. And I'm overly glad that I was able to find it once again. Now that I know what I'm looking for and where it is, it will be a staple during my trips to K.C. - just like Oklahoma Joe's has become for me. I just hope that class action lawsuit doesn't hurt them in the long run.