Word of Mouth 

A proverb in the restaurant business goes roughly like this: If you make one customer happy, he or she will tell two or three friends about your place; if you make one patron angry, that person will tell as many people as he or she can. But in the case of Lisa Lara, the owner of Tienda Casa Paloma (8220 Metcalf in Overland Park), her happy customers are also big talkers. Since the place opened in the former Big & Tall men's clothing store three months ago, devotees of the combination restaurant and Mexican market have been inundating me with calls, insisting that I go check out the joint.

I'm sorry I waited so long, because Tienda Casa Paloma has a lot of the qualities I like in a restaurant. It's comfortably unfussy, relaxed and inexpensive, and it serves nice, big portions. Lara -- a veteran of both the Hereford House and the former Gilbert-Robinson restaurant operations -- oversees a venue that is, on the surface, the very antithesis of the corporate restaurant. Customers order at the counter (in front of the kitchen, where Lara's husband, Bernardino, cooks the food) and take their meals, served on Styrofoam plates with plastic flatware, to one of the mismatched tables scattered around the room.

This cantina serves breakfast (all day), lunch and dinner, though the breakfast business isn't as brisk as it was in Lara's former location, the food court at Union Station, where the original Tienda Casa Paloma offered breakfast and lunch for 18 months. Lara moved her business to Metcalf, she said, to be closer to home; she had a baby between closing the original restaurant and opening the new location.

I've already made a brave initial dive into the lunch and dinner menu, loving every bite of the mushroom-and-onion quesadillas and Lara's famous squash-blossom variety of the same dish. And I'm still raving (to anyone who will listen to me) about the restaurant's signature entrée, pollo in pipian, a long-simmered chicken draped in a thick, slightly nutty pumpkin-seed sauce.

For dessert, there's Bernardino's homemade flan or the vanilla-iced tres leches cake (made by a local Mexican bakery) or, better yet, a whole freezer case full of locally made popsicles (paletas) in an array of offbeat flavors, such as mango, coconut and cucumber-chile.

The location is highly visible from Metcalf, but I still drove past it a bunch of times, making only a mental note to someday go in, until one of my pushiest pals demanded I eat there.

I'm glad I was listening.

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