Always on the lookout for new places to try while I'm on the road, I ran across a contemporary Mexican food place in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park during a recent visit - Frida's. It wasn't far from my hotel and it seemed to get glowing reviews on both Urbanspoon and Yelp. I took off to go find Friday's one windy and cool fall evening.
In many cases, Tex-Mex food is starting to become boring. Ivan Marquez believed that to be true and he wanted to have his own restaurant where the Mexican food had a more contemporary twist complete with using the freshest ingredients and a combination of different foods for a more modern flare. Marquez, his wife, Mary, along with an investment from Victor Esquada, the like-minded owner of Ixtapa in far northern Kansas City and Guadalajara Cafe in Lee's Summit, opened Frida's - named after the famous 20th century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo - in a small strip mall near 148th and Metcalf on the far south side of Overland Park in January of 2010.
Business was immediately off the charts. Marquez knew that he would have to relocate his business eventually and when El Espolon went out of business in 2012, Marquez quickly moved into that location. It featured more than double the space of the original Frida's, a larger bar area, an outdoor patio seating area, and it was closer to the center of the Kansas City metro area. The new and improved Frida's opened in June of 2012.
Since opening the new location for Frida's, Marquez opened Frida's Taqueria on 119th Street in The Fountains shopping and entertainment complex just east of Metcalf in nearby Leawood. It featured a stripped down menu and more of a casual fast food atmosphere than the more sleek and contemporary Frida's. And in the summer of 2013, Marquez teamed with with his General Manager at Frida's, Marco Diaz, to open Diego's Bar and Grill in the north Kansas City, MO suburb of Gladstone. Diego's is named after Frida Kahlo's artist husband, Diego Rivera, and features a more American menu with a few Mexican items tossed in.
It was around 7:30 when I found Frida's in a shopping complex just south of 119th on Metcalf. (see map) It's located on the corner of the complex and there was sufficient parking in front of the place. I went in and was greeted by a hostess who asked me if I wanted to sit in the dining room to the left, or in the bar area to the right. I went with the bar area and she led me to a booth along the wall. She dropped off a menu and it wasn't long when my server for the evening, Rob - a fast talking waiter - came over to ask me what I wanted to drink. I was going to just get one of Frida's house margaritas to start off with, but he immediately talked me into getting one of their signature jalapeno/cilantro infused margaritas. Sure, why not?
Frida's menu is a tantilizing mix of modern and authentic Mexican food with entrees featuring skirt steak, seafood, pork and chicken. While the menu isn't long, it's certainly interesting and diverse. If you're looking for ground beef tacos, combination plates and fajitas, Frida's ain't the place you're looking for. Frida's features a half dozen appetizers that are big enough to share including tamales that are stuffed with your choice of either Poblano pepper strips and topped with a chipotle sauce, or stuffed with pork and topped with a chile verde sauce. That, on its own, sounded great.
Rob came back with the jalapeno/cilantro margarita and while I did get a hint of jalapeno taste in the mix, I couldn't really taste much - if any - of the cilantro. It wasn't spicy, but had a nice little aftertaste that was pleasing. It was worth the try, and, quite actually, it was pretty good. But one was enough for me.
He also brought a small basket of fresh chips and salsa. The salsa was a dark red color and had a strong hint of chili powder and one other spice that I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. But it was a very pleasing taste sensation.
I was looking at a number of things on the menu. The Puerco Oaxaca featured a grilled pork loin that was topped with Oaxaca cheese and a spicy tomatillo sauce with sauteed onions and garlic. They had fish tacos, too, but they were "Baja style" - battered and deep fried. However, I noticed that they did have grilled fish entrees on the menu and I'm sure that chef Deigo Rios (who has worked with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey) could have made grilled fish tacos for me if I asked. But I decided upon the "Chile Relleno de Callo al Cilantro" - a roasted Poblano pepper stuffed with lime and cilantro sauce-sauteed scallops and topped with a tomatillo sauce. I was finished with the margarita and I ordered up a Dos Equis Amber to take me through the rest of the meal.
Rob brought out the chile relleno with scallops and the picture above left is how the meal was presented to me. It featured two large Poblano peppers flanking a bed of green rice. A light and spicy tomatillo sauce was ladled on top of the peppers. The picture above right is what the scallop stuffing looked like. Chunks of tomato were part of the stuffing. The scallops weren't big, but they were meaty enough for the stuffed pepper.
The taste was magnificent. The Poblano's had a smoky flavor to them, the scallops were tender, and the tomatillo sauce had just a hint of a spiciness - not enough to take away from the overall taste of everything that was involved in the stuffed pepper. The combinations of tastes that went into the dish were unlike anything I've come across with Mexican food. It was truly a unique culinary experience.
Frida's is the ultimate change-up when it comes to Mexican food. And because of that, some people who are used to American-ized Mexican food with cheese melted on top of a combination plate of a burrito, enchilada and cheese stuffed pepper may not care for the food at Frida's. But if you have an adventurous spirit and go into the place knowing that the food at Frida's is truly different, I'm guessing you'll enjoy the experience like I did. (Photo courtesy Pitch.com)