That's true, though it should be noted that the place does serve enchiladas and tacos as well as burritos, quesadillas and nachos. What has surprised the diners at the new Leawood location are the dishes that one doesn't find at most traditional Mexican-American restaurants: a grilled pork tenderloin marinated in plum and hoisin sauces, Caribbean barbecued shrimp, smoked salmon bruschetta.
"Our menu is very eclectic," says Peter Doucette, co-owner with brothers Bobby and Newton "Bud" Cox. The trio also operate the original, 9-year-old Coco Bolos in Manhattan, Kansas. "We have a little bit of everything."
Well, that might be a slight exaggeration. The Coco Bolos menu isn't a crazy quilt of international culinary choices like, say, the novel-length list at Cheesecake Factory, where one can start with Thai lettuce wraps and Vietnamese shrimp rolls before devouring a bowl of Hungarian goulash. Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes dominate the Coco Bolos menu, but there are a few unexpected alternatives, including St. Louis-cut pork ribs seasoned with a South Texas dry rub and smoked over hickory wood. Oh, and crème brûlée.
Doucette and the Cox brothers had planned for several years to open a version of the Manhattan operation in a bigger market. They chose Leawood, Doucette says, "because it's a fast-growing area with a lot of people and a lot going on." The new restaurant quickly caught on with the neighbors in the surrounding new subdivisions there was a 45-minute wait for a table on a recent weeknight. But my midtown friends only have to hear "151st Street" to quickly lose interest.
"Oh, I don't want to drive out that far," one friend said when refusing my dinner invitation. "Isn't that practically in Lawrence?"
On my first visit, for Sunday brunch, I had to present Marilyn, Patrick and Debbie with the illusion that we were taking a day trip, even though it took just 30 minutes to drive to the restaurant from the Plaza. Marilyn, who is old enough to remember when Kansas City barely extended much past 80th Street, was amazed that there could be a restaurant way out in what used to be farmland. The area is now dotted with a crop of taupe-colored mini-mansions that all look exactly alike.
Doucette says the restaurant's name comes from a kind of high-grade African wood, though the restaurant uses good old American hickory for smoking and grilling meats. It's a good choice, too, because you can smell Coco Bolos a block or so before pulling into the parking lot.
"The place smells great," Debbie said as we climbed out of my car. "And you say it's Mexican?"
Well, it's sort of Mexican, I tried to explain as we walked into the dining room, which is painted in bold shades of maize, emerald and tomato-red. The dishes on the Sunday brunch menu are almost all inspired by Mexican cuisine. Still, in a few cases, even that inspiration was a stretch. For example, when I asked our server if the Chorroz toast was anything like the sugar-dusted fried pastries, churros, that are so popular in Latin American countries, she shook her head. "It's more like French toast," she said.
The menu describes it as "traditional thick French toast with a New Mexican kick." I asked the waitress to identify the "kick" in the recipe. "We use Grand Marnier when we make them," she explained.