There are refried beans and tortilla chips at Frida’s Contemporary Mexican Cuisine, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is typical Tex-Mex. Frida’s menu embraces regional Mexican cuisine, with a style more familiar to Mexico City than Overland Park, says co-owner Ivan Marquez.
“We decided to bring the real dishes we’d eaten in Mexico here,” says Marquez, who opened Frida’s about three years ago and in June moved the restaurant north to 121st Street and Metcalf Avenue. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning, because people weren’t used to eating that way.”
The new space is warm, with avocado, rust and goldenrod tones and plenty of wood, iron fittings and arty pendant lights. Photos of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and copies of her iconic self-portraits line the walls, while table-toppers share her story.
The Frida’s menu includes dishes from Jalisco, Baja California, Oaxaca, Nuevo León, the Yucatán Peninsula and other areas. They reflect the evolution of food in Mexico, and sometimes, the history of the country itself.
Take the chile en nogada, a dish from Pueblo said to have been created for Augustine I of Mexico at the end of the Mexican War of Independence in 1821. Its colors represent the Mexican flag — green poblano chilies stuffed with steak, apples, plantains and nuts topped with a white walnut-cream sauce and sprinkled with red pomegranate seeds.
Other dinner entrees ($15.99 to $19.99) range from the chuleta de cerdo al achiote, a bone-in loin chop marinated in apple cider and achiote paste (made from red annatto seeds and spices), char-grilled and topped with mango-habanero sauce to pescado al totomoxtle, fish simmered with white wine and spicy vegetables and wrapped in a corn husk.
There are chicken, steak and shrimp dishes as well, and each comes with a suggested wine pairing. That’s unusual in Mexican restaurants, but it makes sense given the country’s wine-producing heritage, Marquez says.
“We drink a lot of wine with our food in Mexico. The wineries there are amazing,” says Marquez, who laments that few of his favorites are available here. So, he instead relies mostly on wines from California, Argentina, Chile and Spain.
Appetizers ($8.99 to $10.99) include timbal de sandia (a watermelon-zucchini timbale) and enmoladas (mole-dipped tortillas stuffed with cactus and shredded chicken). There are also salads and soups ($7.99 t $11.99).
The lunch menu ($6.99 to $9.25) includes traditional tacos, a pork and green tomatillo chile verde, quesadillas doña queta made with soft corn tortillas and either sautéed flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) or goat cheese and huitlacoche. That last ingredient is described as “corn mushrooms,” and it’s literally a dark-colored fungus that grows on ears of corn and tastes sweetly smoky.
And for dessert? The ample dinner options ($6.50) include churros, flan and a mousse made with dark Mexican chocolate. But what tempts me is the especiales de atole. It’s based on atole, a warm drink made with masa, water, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. One day someone put the leftovers in the freezer instead of the refrigerator; the frozen version tasted so good that Marquez tweaked the recipe by adding a bit of cajeta (goat milk caramel) and put it on the menu.
Marquez likes offering customers something new, and will soon add snacks to the happy hour menu at his pretty tiled bar. He’s also opening a taqueria on 119th Street that will focus on tacos, tamales and burritas, which differ from burritos in that they contain only meat; toppings are on the side.
It’s just another unexpected taste of Mexico Marquez thinks Johnson County is hungry for.
Anne Brockhoff is a regular contributor to FYI | Food. She blogs at fooddrinklife.wordpress.