The roasted poblano and spinach cream sauce is icing on top of La Paloma’s chicken-and-spinach enchilada.
No matter what you order at La Paloma Mexican Grill (3014 E. Sunshine St., Springfield, 417-719-4484), you can bet that it will weigh on the fancier side of Mexican fare, as things like Swai fish tacos and Steak Feliz with steak, shrimp and the freshest grilled veggies help fill the restaurant’s multi-page menu. Regulars of the east-side eatery swear by the restaurant’s chicken-and-spinach enchiladas, which are lovingly filled with tender grilled chicken and fresh baby spinach before being topped with a creamy roasted poblano and spinach cream sauce, queso fresco, roasted bell peppers and some sour cream for a quick, tangy zip. If you’re out with friends, start the meal off right with the spot’s popular pork nachos featuring homemade chips, plenty of creamy white cheese sauce, grilled onions, tender carnitas and fresh pico di gallo. If you’re by on a Friday, be sure to order a $6 sangria—just like the grill’s margaritas, the sangrias here are made with all fresh ingredients including fresh fruit, wine and liquor.
The ceviche at El Patron Mexican Grill is loaded with shrimp, octopus and an array of fresh vegetables.
TALK OF THE TOWN
Jesus Torres opened El Patron Mexican Grill (595 Steele St., Seymour, 417-935-2298) in Seymour in January 2015, and the small town’s 2,000-some residents have been happy ever since. After starting a meal with a custom order of guacamole—made to preference tableside—hungry diners enjoy feasting on everything from fajitas and enchiladas to fully loaded burritos and hand-crafted tacos made with chorizo or perfectly tender carne asada. There’s also shrimp and octopus ceviche here, as well as Camarones al Mojo de Ajo—an entrée of decadent shrimp cooked in Mexican garlic sauce. If you’re feeling a little less adventurous on your visit, try the safe-yet-still-delicious favorite Chori Pollo entree featuring a pile of freshly prepared Mexican rice; tender, juicy and seasoned strips of chicken breast; a hefty serving of chorizo and a house-made creamy Mexican cheese sauce that ties it all together. And of course, it’s served with warm tortillas because everything is better when it’s perfectly portable.
Leslie’s Mexican Cafe & Bakery (1915 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield; 417-888-0557) is the real deal. Owner Anabel Verdin opened the itty-bitty cafe in 2015 after several years of demand from the loyal customers at her adjoining Mexican bakery and market. This family-owned and -operated cafe is serving truly authentic dishes to a hungry crowd. For example, their gorditas are hearty pouches handmade from fresh corn masa, then filled with refried beans and fresh-cut meat. The gorditas al pastor are phenomenal, stuffed to the brim with juicy seasoned pork and offering just enough crunch from the chunky masa pouches. Looking for a little more spice? The salsa bar at Leslie’s is a sensory delight. The spicy lineup includes Leslie’s house-made salsas and a number of traditional toppings like Salvadoran curtido, a tangy cabbage-based slaw commonly paired with pupusas. The options vary from week to week, but the salsa bar can include up to 12 options on a good day.
The secret behind El Imperial’s fan-favorite chile relleno is a cheesy mozzarella stuffing and light egg white batter.
A LIGHTER RELLENO
A family-owned eatery with legions of devoted fans earned from more than four decades in business, El Imperial (523 Main St., Cabool, 417-962-3388) is home to one of 417-land’s best chile rellenos. That’s because this version features a gooey mozzarella-stuffed Anaheim pepper that’s coated with an egg white–based batter, making it lighter and crisper than most. It’s also bursting with flavor thanks to a delicious house sauce—a blend of tomatoes, onions, peppers and a touch of savory bacon. Although El Imperial’s gregarious owner Mercedes Munoz spends little time in the kitchen these days, she still steps in to whip up two signature dishes based on her mother’s recipes: the subtly spicy Chile Colorado and well-balanced Chile Verde, which both feature melt-in-your-mouth pork that’s stewed in sauces boasting complex notes courtesy of skillful blends of dried chiles.
The fish tacos at the original Purple Burrito (700 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield; 417-863-6688) location are a nautical delight unlike any other. The tacos are served in fresh corn tortillas and positively ooze a creamy homemade tartar sauce. The tortillas are filled with crispy, deep-fried fish, crunchy shredded veggies and a refreshing salsa. Our resident fish taco expert suggests ordering the tacos for dinner Tuesday through Saturday; they taste noticeably better. All four of the 417-land Purple Burrito locations serve the tasty California-style tacos as part of the Lopez family’s original vision to bring California-style Mexican food to Springfield.
Be prepared for a hearty meal with El Quetzal’s papusas, which come with a variety of fillings.
POP A PUPUSA
The scrumptious, simply prepared fare at El Quetzal Restaurant & Bakery (129 S. Main St., Carthage, 417-358- 7708) spans numerous cuisines, including Mexican (with dishes like the tender stewed pollo guisado and juicy carne asada), Guatemalan and Salvadoran. For a surprisingly filling meal, order the pupusas, of which owner Mildred Guzman says about 400 are sold in a single weekend. Filled with either loroco (an edible flower) and cheese or a choice of savory meat, the tasty masa pockets come four to a plate for only five bucks. With all the leftover cash in your wallet, grab some goodies to take home. Check out the authentic Latin American products displayed in the front of the restaurant and pick up a few of the Mexican and Guatemalan breads and pastries made fresh every day in the bakery.
The elotes at Elotes Don Toño pair perfectly with hearty tortas made with freshly baked bread.
Imagine how you feel when you’re getting ready for a snazzy evening out on the town. You take what you have, and then you make it the very best it can be with all of the right clothes, jewelry and accessories. This is exactly what Elotes Don Toño (1314 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield, 417-773-0250) does to prepare its Mexican-style corn on the cob. They start with a basic ear of sweet corn, boil it up right and then dress it to the nines with a sinful blend of mayonnaise, cream, Parmesan cheese and chili powder. Then, voila!, it’s the belle of the ball! This corn is served either on the cob or cut off (depending on your preference), and it makes a great side to any of the food truck’s other favorites, which include asada tacos and Dorinachos—nachos made with finger-staining cheese Doritos instead of the basic, expected and oh-so-boring pile of tortilla chips. If you’re in the mood for a sammie, order a torta made on bread that’s freshly baked daily at Leslie’s Mexican Café & Bakery, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try out the beef tongue that’s slow cooked with garlic, onion and special seasonings. And what’s that? You live near Branson? Well, save your gas: Elotes Don Tono recently opened a second location, Don Toño, at 1056 Indian Point Road.
STEAK YOUR CLAIM
The Hernandez family opened Primas Mexican Grill (multiple 417-land locations) in 2006 after reworking the concept of their first restaurant, La Mexican Kitchen. Their tasty legacy dates back to 1989, when the family opened the original La Mexican Kitchen in Fort Smith, Arkansas, after immigrating to the U.S. from Guanauato, Mexico. Today, they’re serving up fresh dishes inspired by the flavors of their hometown. Case in point: the Bistek Norteno, a perfectly zesty, seasoned flank steak. The juicy steak gets a flavor kick from a house seasoning blend, which includes garlic and cumin. Looking for something a little more indulgent? The chili relleno features crispy fried pasilla peppers that are stuffed with seasoned chicken or beef and smothered with zingy ranchero sauce and layers of gooey cheese. Hungry yet?
The mountaintop view isn’t the only good-looking thing at Arnie’s Barn. The carnitas tacos make an equally beautiful—and tasty—meal.
A SMOKY TREAT
If you have any trouble deciding what to order at Arnie’s Barn (150 Top of the Rock Rd., Hollister, 417-335-2777), take a gander at the mouthwatering pork shoulder cooking within view of the dining room in the wood-fired rotisserie. That juicy, subtly smoky, lightly caramelized pork, which was marinated in a roasted green chile and tomatillo sauce, will soon make its way into the eatery’s popular carnitas tacos, which are topped with more of the green chile and tomatillo mixture, plus chopped onions, cilantro and queso fresco. Or, you could always go with one of Johnny Morris’ favorites from Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock Executive Chef Mike Halbert’s thoughtful menu: the creamy buttermilk corn chowder, which has a Mexican twist thanks to a mix of red and green peppers, plus poblanos, some cayenne and toppings like herbaceous cilantro and a crisp green chile corn fritter.
Maria’s Mexican Restaurant (406 South Ave., Springfield; 417-831-9339) has been a go-to spot for hungry downtowners since opening a South Avenue location in 2001. The fried tacos are a definite customer favorite, offering fried taco shells that are perfectly crunchy and just greasy enough. The Gracia is a Maria’s Family Favorite dish with three fried shredded beef tacos, and it’s everything a taco dish should be. The fat shells are absolutely stuffed with juicy, shredded beef and topped with yummy cheese. Patrons on a cheese kick should order the queso de cabra, a gooey appetizer with melted goat-cheese fondue served over Maria’s homemade chorizo. Go nuts dipping the accompanying house tortillas in the indulgent stuff—it’s a crowd-pleaser.
WAVE THE FLAG
You’ll find a combination of authentic Mexican food and original recipes at Acambaro Mexican Restaurant (505 Plaza Dr., Monett, 417-354-8408). Take a bite of their “little kisses,” also known as Besitos Carambas, and feel a light, toasty crunch as you bite into savory shrimp with a bit of a kick. To create this original appetizer, Acambaro’s chefs take eight jumbo shrimp and stuff each one into a fresh, red jalapeño pepper. Hot, melted mozzarella cheese is poured into the jalapeños, and the melty cheese slides around the shrimp until it settles. After the jalapeño bites are frozen, they’re covered on all sides in gooey breading with the help of an egg and flour combination and fried until golden and crisp. Served hot with guacamole, sour cream and chili con queso, these little kisses are sure to bring some spice to the table before your meal arrives. Looking for a more authentic experience? Try the carne asada from the lunch menu. These steak tacos are a popular dish in Mexico made with grilled steak, fresh onions and cilantro in stacked corn tortillas topped with tomato sauce and lime for a tangy taste. You can request beef tongue or Mexican sausage instead of steak and add hot sauce to make a more traditional meal. The restaurant even incorporates its Mexican tradition in the presentation of some of its dinner options. If you order the Bandera, you’ll find yourself staring down at the green, white and red Mexican Flag on your plate. To achieve this creative visual, chefs place three large enchiladas side by side, one with beef topped with salsa verde, another with chicken topped with sour cream and the last with cheese topped with red ranchera sauce. The same employees have worked at the restaurant for years making meals like these, so you’re sure to have the same yummy experience every time you stop in.
It’s hard to share the delicious ahi tuna taco appetizer from Cantina Laredo.
Served three to a plate, sprinkled with cilantro and resting in small dollops of fresh guacamole, the colorful, mouth-watering ahi tuna taco appetizer at Cantina Laredo (4109 S. National Ave., Springfield, 417-881-7200; 1001 Branson Landing Blvd., Branson, 417-334-6062) may be 417-land’s prettiest platter of tacos. But this dish’s merits don’t stop there: The tacos’ lightly marinated sushi-grade ahi tuna pairs well with a touch of creamy chipotle aioli, tangy pickled onions and a crunchy jicama slaw. The enchilada de avocado is another nicely balanced plate. Avocado wedges, melty Monterey Jack, some poblano peppers and chopped artichoke hearts fill the enchiladas, which are topped with a drizzle of cool sour cream, some cooked red pepper and green tomatillo sauce, adding a nice zing to this vegetarian, gluten-free dish.