Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taco Via: 8615 W 95th St

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I think this place kind of sucks, but then again, I didn't grow up in Kansas City. When people talk about Taco Via, they talk about growing up in the 80s and the appeal of a more naive and happy time. Nostalgia is so completely powerful that I cannot argue with these people. Read this meditation on Taco Via and the heyday of fast food taco shops and see if you don't agree. Sure, the phenomenon resulted in my least favorite chain restaurant of all time, Taco Bell, but we had some laughs along the way.

Taco Via

There are no fewer than four Taco Via groups on Facebook. The Wall posts are exclamation point-ridden nuggets of pure yearning for childhood and blind allegiance to a geographic region through its own quirky local business.

I would guess that this is a family operated spot. Two grumpy middle aged white women run the registers, a middle aged white guy and a teenage white boy put the food together and an old white lady with a limp buses tables. No attractive people work or eat here. Of course there is nothing Mexican about Taco Via. I suspect that among its enthusiasts, this is part of the charm.

Order at the counter. The menu is a little crazy, I can't really process it every time I eat there because it is so large, varied and full of colorful pictures that compete for your attention. There is a taco burger, which you would have to pay me to eat. Of course burritos, tacos and the like abound. They also have an ongoing lunch special: a taco, sancho and nacho for 6.95, which includes a drink. What's a sancho, you ask?

Taco Via

Yeah, it's pretty much indistinguishable from Taco Bell's "soft taco" except that it is about 3 times as large. It also tastes like nothing. The taco meat is mushy and finely ground, with only the subtlest of seasoning. Add some iceberg lettuce, underripe tomatoes and shredded yellow cheese and you are in business. Tacos get the same treatment but are much more palatable than the dreaded sancho.

Taco Via

Apply the taco sauce, available from a pump container on the counter, very liberally. The sauce helps foster a sensation somewhat similar to "flavor," but not quite as pleasant.

The nachos are funny little things, not nachos as we have come to know them. At Taco Via a nacho is essentially a single tostada shell with melted cheese and a little taco sauce on it. If you like, they will add some chopped canned jalapeƱo peppers which make a world of difference, in a good way.

Taco Via

You get your drink with your food, not before. I can only assume that they are trying to prevent free refills by controlling the flow of beverages, but I really don't know why. During the lunch rush you can wait a few minutes for your food to arrive so I would appreciate being able to sip a drink.

There are many more things on the menu, but I think it's safe to say that they are all variations on a theme. Also, I really don't feel like making multiple visits in order to sample all the wacky offerings. I'm getting old and my colorectal health is a concern.

There used to be many more Taco Via locations in the metro, but now there are only three: this Overland Park location, one in Lee's Summit and one in Olathe. I heard from a reliable source that the owners of the chain required franchisees to pipe Christian music throughout their restaurants, close on Sundays and otherwise subscribe to a religious point of view in their business operations. A short-lived Gardner location is reputed to have used tray-liners with the 10 Commandments printed on them.

Take a look at the founders. Do you have a hard time believing that these people were hyper-religious nutjobs?



A few years back, several locations abruptly left the Taco Via family and changed names. This was the case at the old 75th and Metcalf location (where a KFC is now) and the still-operating Taco Uno in Shawnee. A 2006 article from the Shawnee Dispatch only cites "differences of opinion" as the reason for Taco Uno leaving the Via franchise, so I'd love to hear if this uber-Christian story is true. There is no such discernible activity at the 95th street Taco Via. In fact the location is not even listed on the Taco Via website.

28 comments:

Average Jane said...

Ugh, what horrible food! I used to work near the 95th Street location in the early '90s when there weren't any other restaurants nearby (even the McDonald's came later). We all ate at Taco Via way more than we would have liked because we had no choice. The 25-cent soda refills were nice, though.

Matthew S said...

I think they had a smothered burrito at the 75th street location that I used to like when I was a kid. Also, my 9-year old niece loved that place. It must be a kid thing. Last time I went to the location on 95th, I wasn't impressed. I wasn't impressed by the decor, food, or price.

Why so much interest in the Christianity slant on the story? Sounds like you're looking for an opportunity to bash something for being Christian owned and operated. If it was a franchise, I assume that the franchisees knew what they were signing up for. Either way, I wouldn't consider this restaurant to be God-honoring specifically.

The DLC said...

Thanks for checking in Matthew, perhaps I should clarify my perspective. I don't care for restaurants (or any business really) that inject a religious point of view into the simple act of serving food. For those of us who are not believers or who belong to different spiritual communities, it is very offputting. Christian music and 10 commandments on the trays strikes me as a little extreme. If someone is wearing a cross or has a religious picture on the wall, I don't really care.

Also I just think that this is an interesting angle since so many people seemed confused when the Taco Via franchise--which by most accounts was popular--suddenly imploded. I'd love to hear if anyone knows more about it.

m.v. said...

Must be something with fake Mexican food in this town,this looks like a fast food version of Don Chilitos.
As far as Christian thing, Christianity is still a major religion here so it stands to reason that a large part of all businesses in this country is Christian-owned and operated (except for the showbusiness-we all know who runs that).However only some of these companies make a big deal out of it i.e. Chic-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby for example. I personally don't care about it,it falls in the same category as people knocking on my door trying to read bible to me,or other ways to intrude into my life-I don't fault them for doing that,just smile and ignore.

Chimpotle said...

Wow, so much to talk about. The one on 75th & Metcalf only changed after they had moved to where the Chinese Buffet is now next to Fritz's Chili. When they changed names it was also called Tacos Del Sol or something like that. I never heard the Christan rumor. The one on 95th is certainly open on Sundays.

My brother loves the taco burger. It's one of the few items I haven't had. In-A-Tub has something very similar. I pretty much grew up eating the Taco Dog, which was delicious. Can't say I've consumed one in the last decade though. The only things I eat there now are tacos and nachos. The Taco Via nacho is an iconic food item for me.

The drink thing is definitely to prevent refills. They fill your cup almost full with ice. I have seen people come into Taco Via with their old large plastic cups and just get a drink and leave. The last time I saw this, the pre-teen girl with her mom also helped herself to a drink of taco sauce from the little paper cups.

Barleywhiner said...

My wife worked at one of the locations in the 80's. She speaks with horror of the white onion sauce. I went with some coworkers recently, and I felt miserable afterward.

Johnna said...

Taco Bell used to have a burger, too...maybe called the Bell Burger? Why go to a taco place if you want a sloppy joe?

Chimpotle said...

It's less a sloppy joe and more a loose meat sandwich with "taco seasoning." In-A-Tub's is called the Pocket Burger.

JH said...

Yeah, I have friends that are all nostalgic for Taco Via. I don't care for it personally.

Oh, and I have to chime in on the religion thing - people need to keep that shiat to themselves. The world would be better if they did.

Brian Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Johnson said...

Hahaha... a "sancho" is a married woman's man on the side.

Faith said...

I don't remember Taco Bell ever having a burger...at least not the California locations. We specifically had to go to Del Taco when we were younger, because my twin wouldn't eat anything other than burgers when we went "out" for food, and they had a Del Burger there that she liked.

Taco Via was vile the one time I tried it years ago...went to the Olathe location with a friend of mine that suggested it. The whole experience made me uncomfortable. That's just the best word I can find to describe it.

MrJayhok said...

Taco Via is not for people who did not GROW UP on it. It appeals to the younger palete, and it stays with you as you grow older. But I've taken enough older adults here for the first time to realize that if you didn't grow up with the Taco Dog, the Sancho, and the NAcho, you'll will not appreciate their subtle and not-to-subtle nuances. That being said, I did grow up with it and most of your review are damn near fighting words! Long Live the Via!

And by Via, I mean the only original location left at 95th & Antioch. The franchise stores ARE NOT the ones I grew up with at Oak Park Mall, Metcalf South, and 95th & Antioch.

Kansas Scout said...

Just because people are religious does not make them "nut jobs". While I am only marginally religous, I found your comment terribly intolerant and harsh. So what if they are more religous than you? What does that have to do with the food and service?
In my trips there I saw no sign of such things. As you did not care for the religous point of view in these folks, I don't care for your branding them nuts. Frankly, I could care less what you thought about that. I am only interested in the food which is the only reason I stop by.

The DLC said...

Kansas Scout, let me be clear. The Taco Via at 95th and Antioch has no religious activity going on whatsoever. I have no idea what their beliefs are.

I simply heard a story about the owners of the franchise forcing franchisees to close Sundays, use 10 commandments placemats, and play Christian music. I was trying to get to the bottom of why Taco Via disappeared. If the story is true, then I think it's safe to brand the activity a little nutty.

I would never boycott a business for being religious, only for supporting political/social causes I object to. Unfortunately, the two often intersect.

I appreciate you checking in to get my take on food. I will occasionally venture into related topics but rest assured my primary goal is not to offend.

Brian Johnson said...

You did see this when you visited their website, right?

http://www.taco-via.com/images/taco_via_balloon_copy_dh4p.jpg

Brian Johnson said...

The commandments.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dustjelly/3799388293/

Andrew said...

I worked at a Taco Via about 7 years ago. It's not so much that the founders are hyper-religious nut jobs, they are just genuine assholes. Nobody could tolerate them. When I worked there they took chicken off the menu, not because it wasn't selling, because it was, but because the founder didn't like any deviation from the menu he created.

Stacy and Jeremy said...

I can definitely see why people don't like the food, decor, or much else about Taco Via, but I am one of the nostalgic ones! My Mom still lives blocks away, and I find myself in there once a month or so. Personally, I never get meat there. Bean tostada or a bean burrito and a nacho or two. I'm a sucker for terrible food sometimes! They updated the inside a few years back...though not much. Mainly new booths. Gotta love the 80s Santa Fe style art on the wall!

nixhex4311 said...

Reporting from LS...yes, this location is run by a Christian family whom I believe have ties to the Grace Methodist Church (not that that is really important). There are pros and cons to what you are speaking of. For me, the cons are the awful churchy/choral christian music being played, the off-putting 10 commandment place mats (isn't it blasphemous to smear taco juice all over these), they ARE closed on Sundays, and the overall stuffy atmosphere (very common to see folks saying "grace" over their sancho). However, the family that owns it seems to be nice enough, the place is SPOTLESS clean, the food is better than Taco Bell, and they are a quick and economical choice.

Olentangy said...

The tacos are not bad, but you have to use their taco sauce. If you take these out and put Pace or Ortega taco sauce on them it ruins the experience. Kind of like scraping off the special sauce on a Big Mac and putting ketchup on it. Everything else they serve overpriced crap. Take out is the way to go, the atmosphere at the restaurant is 1960's hospital cafeteriaesque.

Shicho said...

Taco Via, Taco Bell; all same same. Just best way keep stray cat population down. Cats wicked creatures, wicked!

danielle said...

Also reporting from LS - I didn't care for the food at first, but it's grown on me. I agree that the sauce is what makes it. Also a fan of the nachos, the cheese is unique and we're fans. The thing around here that makes Taco Via stand out is also their ice - for some reason it's awesome.

The family is very nice who owns the franchise. The whole family works in the LS store (or at least they used to,) - it's a mom, dad (founders son), daughter and son. They haven't always been closed on Sundays or been as religious in the stores - that happened probably around 10 years ago. They decided to take a leap and make some changes. I haven't heard about them forcing other franchises in the area to do so, but not to say that wasn't asked of them. They're involved in a different church than the one suggested, but I don't think it really matters which one. They've got great hearts and mean well, I think they were trying to find a way to help show their faith a little more but have taken it to the extreme. I would agree with the original point that food and strong faith don't necessarily need to mix. Chick-fil-A is also Christian-based, but they take the motto of going the extra mile in service, apply it to food service, and have done well.

Tenchi-kun said...

I'll always hold a special place in my heart for Taco Via, especially the old location @ 75th and Metcalf. My mother worked there as a teenager, and my father worked at the full service gas station that was next door. It was all because of Taco Via that my parents met.

Jessica said...

Whatever! Way better than taco bell or taco johns--rather, reminiscent of taco tico or taco grande. Nobody has a sancho anymore! If I didn't have to venture into BFE to get it, I would have it more often!! It is the only way fast food mexican should be done--with the exception of cancun fiesta fresh in westport.

Matty'sFood said...

Taco Via rocks! My kids and I drive 20 minutes on some Saturdays to the Lees Summit location, the closest one to us. There is something tasty about the "meat," (although I'd bet the mortgage there's some sort of "filler" in it, but hey, meatballs and meatloaf taste darn good because of the fillers.) The nacho is unique, and I've always been amused at how popular they are, I'd wager they sell more nachos than any other menu item. The tacos are big and fat and full, as I usually am when leaving there. But the star of the whole show is the sauce: that completely unique bloody mary-flavored elixer. I have been know to slurp a whole one of those little paper cups it comes in! The family is there working together every Sat at least, and you really do wonder how they can have such a close nuclear family without getting sick of each other!

KsVirgo63 said...

Matty'sfood...I with you! The girls and I have our trips to Taco Via. We LOVE it...it's about 30 min away...but worth every min/mile. I would love to buy one of the steamers used to make their wonderful flat nachos.

Also, about the employees mention at the 95th st. location. Debbie has worked for Chuck(great guy) for probably 25 yrs.now.....my gosh time goes by..anyways she is a loyal,hard working, devoted, on time....worker. Kudos to her for showing up everyday willing and ready to go. Also, Kudos to Tim...he is the middle aged guy man you speak about. Thanks to both, when we eat there I KNOW it is served from a clean,no bugs kitchen by clean hands. Thanks all.Now I'm carving Taco Via....gotta go
1 more thing..... 95th st and the 75th street(now gone)does not have the Christianity theme, Chuck Kraus has operated these stores for many many yrs and is "Grandfathered" in on his contract with Thornberry. Chuck is a great guy...would love to run into him sometime. Hi chuck if your reading this...been sober for 6 yrs now...thanks for so many kind words, you are truly the best! Teresa...!

CFI said...

The food at The Via is merely a vehicle for the sauce. It's the best ever and I have no idea why. For those of us that grew up on the place, it's nostalgia at its best. The tacky decor, the cranky lady at the register (who has been there for decades), it's all part of the experience. I still love going there and will continue to do so. The Via nachos forever!

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