Some of you may recognize the name of this new little spot in the River Market: Tamale Wizard started as a food cart that frequented farmers’ markets and the Crossroads Truck Stop. Having achieved enough success to know they were on to something, the owners decided to open a brick and mortar location.
The narrow space is counter service only and everything is made to order, with a side of assistance if you can’t decide. Once your number is called you can take your plate to either sunlit tables by the window or booths along the brick walls.
While tamales are the main attraction, there are also a number of tacos, and the occasional enchilada special.
We ordered a chicken tamale with tomatillo salsa, a pork tamale with red chile sauce, and one with green chile and cheese. I also tried the cinnamon pork and potato taco, essentially ground pork that had been formed into bite sized morsels of goodness. A side of salsa comes with each taco or tamale, and there are a half dozen or so to choose from–avocado, mango banana, chile peanut, tomato jalapeno, cherry pistachio and tomatillo. Each of these can also be ordered with chips as a starter. Combos allow mix and matching and come with one or two sides. We both had the green rice, one had black beans and the other smokey pinto beans. At $8, a bargain for the portion and quality.
Though I’d sampled a tamale from the Tamale Wizard cart at the Overland Park Farmer’s Market last summer, my expectations were low. How would it translate to a full restaurant experience? Could the owners take the concept to scale? By my measure, they have succeeded on both counts.
The tamales and tacos were chock-full of their respective meats, the masa was light and not at all gummy, the salsas were fresh and flavorful with the appropriate amount of zing, and the rice and beans were superior to most around town. I was there during a quiet time of day, so I didn’t see how the made-to-order ideal translates to long lines, but they certainly had enough staff on hand to handle a rush.
With more businesses and residences opening in the River Market area, I hope there’s enough traffic for Tamale Wizard to make it on non-Farmer’s Market or concert days to make it. It certainly deserves to shine.