In a lot of ways, I’m a creature of habit—driving, for one. Once I’ve established a route someplace, I never vary. I’m so directionally impaired that I like to commit a route to memory rather than risk getting lost. And this is how I found Tacos Kissi, which is the halfway point between my house and my good friend Sandra’s. It became a landmark, and I’d look for the brightly colored sandwich board that read, “Comida Estilo Casera.” Loosely translating this to “Home Cooked Meals,” I would imagine what that meant, especially considering their other sign, “Mexican Sushi.”
After a while, curiosity got the best of me, and I ventured in for a snack. There are a lot of things to love here. Any place touting home-cooked meals is offering a familial feeling, and Tacos Kissi has that in spades. Run by an incredibly hard-working family that seems to live here (and given that they are open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, that is a distinct possibility), Tacos Kissi manages to be clean and shiny, even during the rushes. Everyone seems to know everyone here, and after a visit or two, you’ll feel like family too.
If you love ceviche and seafood cocktails, you’ll be in heaven. The small ($6.99) comes served in a sundae glass, with a few saltines on the side. Personally, I prefer to use their homemade chips, as there is more heft there, but honestly I was just as happy scooping out tender chunks of shrimp and chomping away. The tomato-and-lime-based broth is so flavorful and loaded with cucumbers and cilantro that it could pass for a south-of-the-border gazpacho. It’s so refreshing and tasty that it nearly sings. I found that a quick splash of the soy that comes with the Mexican Sushi added an interesting flavor component, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tacos Kissi is laid out so the kitchen and salsa bar are the heart of the restaurant. You’ll find an interesting array of fruit drinks, like watermelon, my favorite ($2 for a small). Somehow their watermelon agua fresca manages to avoid that achingly sweet quality—thank goodness. Their horchata is excellent, as well. Thick, creamy and not too sweet, it has hints of nutmeg as opposed to the full-on cinnamon affront in lesser versions.
I’m thinking that comida casera also means “hot,” since all of their salsas are packing heat. Each of the three red flavors played “who’s the spiciest,” going from OMG to sweltering. The salsa verde was my favorite—with an herbaceous hit of cilantro rounding out lime and tomatillo, it’s still a bit over mild. Even the pico de gallo ranged from mild to flaming status. Just watch for the chopped jalapenos and you’ll be fine.
I love a salsa bar that loads in the cucumbers, and you’ll find legions here, along with very good spicy pickled carrots. Did I mention they were spicy? Clearly made in house, these guys were easy to nosh, but again, watch the heat—it will sneak up on you.
What will really sneak up on you is the need to try Mexican Sushi. Honestly, it’s one of those head-scratching things that you have to experience at least once. Before slicing, these rolls must be the size of a burrito, because each plate ($8.99) yields 10 giant slices.
Before anyone debates the merits of what could possibly be considered Mexican Sushi, let me give you a little disclaimer. I understand that rolls aren’t real sushi. I get it. I could join you in the debate. However, what is more important to me than authenticity (believe me, that is a debate I’d love to moderate, because I have firm feelings on the subject) is the “delicious” or “not delicious” label. So do I think it’s authentic? No. Do I want to eat it again? Yes.
I’d eat the Kissi Roll again in a hot minute. Loaded with breaded shrimp, tampico sauce, avocado and cream cheese, this little creation gets wrapped in seaweed and fried to toasty perfection. Personally, I love it when cream cheese gets heated and oozy. If you are in that camp, you’ll love Mexican Sushi. Bottles of eel sauce, Sriracha mayo and soy sauce come alongside, so you can season to your little heart’s delight. Do not skip the mound of crab salad that comes with each order—it’s addictive.
I’m currently craving the Mar y Tierre Roll—a sort of surf and turf, with carne asada, shrimp, avocado and cream cheese that is, again, deep fried until crispy. This one I love for the weird combination of flavors. The beef was flavorful and a touch salty, in the best way, which was a great counter to the tender shrimp. What I wasn’t a fan of was the Jimmi Roll. Stuffed with crab, avocado, tampico and, of course, cream cheese, this one did not appear deep fried. It did have a smattering of deep-fried carrots affixed to the outside. I couldn’t make sense of the carrots. The tempura-like batter on them didn’t add anything to the flavor, and honestly I thought it looked strange. I ended up eating the crab tucked inside and skipping the rest.
Where Tacos Kissi knocks it out of the park is in the taco department. Their Combo Plate gives you four tacos, charro beans and a drink for $7.99. I thoroughly enjoyed the Chicharones Taco ($1.79), which somehow managed to seem like pork belly in gravy and was inhaled in two seconds. It is the ultimate union of fat and salt, which, when you think about it, is the holy grail of flavor. The Tilapia Fish Tacos ($1.79) were lightly battered and came with cabbage and a titch of salsa. Flavorful, tasty and gone in two bites. The Carne Asada was excellent. Meaty, toothsome, with that perfect salty hit that makes your taste buds sit up and take notice.
I loved their Shrimp Tacos ($1.79), which came as no surprise given how good the ceviche was. Pillowy shrimp come cooked in a tomato broth, slightly thickened so it clings to the shrimp. You’ll get the garlic, cilantro and lime—Tacos Kissi understands shrimp.
They also understand birria. Their birria is slow-cooked in a red sauce, loaded up with more mild chiles. The meat literally melts in your mouth. Birria, for the uninitiated, is goat. And at $1.79, a Birria Taco of this caliber is almost impossible to find. There is no gamey aftertaste, no strong iron-rich flavor that might be found at other places. Here, it makes me think of the way your grandmother might cook it, low and slow, all day Sunday, until you can’t wait any longer to try it.
The sides are great, too, like the Charro Beans, a soup-like creation of beans cooked in spicy broth. Loaded with cilantro and many, many chiles—by now you must be sensing a trend—the beans manage to retain their form as well as being remarkably tender. The Corn ($2) comes served in a cup, and they must combine a full stick of butter with the lime juice and chile, before sprinkling queso fresco on top. It’s an excellent rendition of street corn, with a heavy emphasis on butter.
Sometimes when you are a creature of habit, the way to shake things up is to explore those spots that you see every day: the restaurants, shops, coffee bars or any number of places that seem interesting, or just plain weird. I like weird. Heck, I like most things, as long as they taste great. And if you like shrimp, or tacos, or deep-fried things stuffed with cream cheese, you’ll love Tacos Kissi.