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Oh, Those Tacos in the Ozarks!

Oh, Those Tacos in the Ozarks!

Latin fare excites this region’s taste buds

Conventional cuisine in the Ozark region of the United States (primarily southern Missouri and northern Arkansas for those who missed out on the binge-worthy Jason Bateman Netflix show of the same name) was largely influenced by a Tex-Mex and Southern “iron curtain” on dining. That was until agribusiness reshaped the demographics and opened doors to extensive Latin fare options.

From the influx of cultural impact, more novel Latin tastes started to penetrate the market, serving the Ozarks in their truest forms.

Authentic tastes from Mexico and Central America, however, are tough to recreate. It’s more than homemade yellow corn tortillas, mouth-watering marinated carnitas and Chihuahua cheese. It’s family.

Central to the Recipe

At Antojos Tacos y Mas in Springfield, Mo., the Aparicio family works at every corner of the modestly sized restaurant to ensure quality. Owner Hugo Aparicio proudly shares that his mom holds down the kitchen, while his wife manages front of house. Altogether, the Salvadoran family welcomes their diverse clientele with open arms.

“We learn [customer] names, always say hi to build that type of relationship,” says Aparicio, who previously managed a restaurant, working his way through the ranks of that operation.

Aparicio says he opened Antojos Tacos y Mas in 2018 to deliver eclectic Latin fare on top of Mexican mainstays. Fajitas, enchiladas and burritos are table stakes. He sets his restaurant apart by fusing Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan influences, calling it “more Central American” fare.

He raves about two champions on Antojos Tacos y Mas’ simple, yet refined menu: pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish with handmade masa tortillas filled with melted cheese, succulent chopped pork and the family’s secret sauce, as well as platanos fritos, a Salvadoran and Honduran-influenced golden plantain breakfast dish with scrambled egg, beans and sour cream.

The tacos are also crowd pleasers, offering clean, traditional options of carnitas, lengua (beef tongue) and carne asada, all served with cilantro and onions. But the highlight is Antojos Tacos y Mas’ mouth-watering barbacoa tacos with jicama, carrot salad and queso fresco on a flour tortilla.

“The mixture makes it a pretty interesting taste,” Aparicio says of the barbacoa tacos, which surprise customers at first.

Similarly, across town on Sunshine Street, Cesar’s Old Mexico restaurant made a commitment when the owners opened its doors three years ago: Be authentic Mexican food with unique Latin offerings. They stripped the wheels and axles off the street taco concept and made it better.

The restaurant features an open kitchen and serves only fresh ingredients, large portion sizes and tasty margaritas—all at affordable prices. Customers love everything about it, and they keep coming back.

“We treat everyone like a family,” says owner Cesar Ortiz. “We know 90 percent of our customers, and they’re like our family.”

Ortiz, a former cook, added more items to his colorful menu, including sopes (crunchy corn discs with meat), pozoles (Mexican soup or stew), pupusas, The Big Tijuana (fajitas), all made to order. He is especially proud of Cesar’s Old Mexico’s trinity of taco favorites: al pastor, lengua and carnitas.