After 18 years in the same location, Los Alamos Market y Cocina, located at 17th and Summit in the Westside, received quite a facelift this spring.
Owner Agustin Juarez and his son, Benito, decided it was time to reinvent their business model to stay relevant to the changing needs of the neighborhood. They did away with what was left of the original market, removing all of the grocery store shelves and products to add tables and chairs, creating a total of 60 seats. With this move, the space finally feels like a restaurant, and Los Alamos Market y Cocina is now Los Alamos Cocina.
The restaurant is run by Juarez and his wife, Blanca, who recently joined him as a cook, along with his son, who will eventually take over the business. Los Alamos Cocina specializes in Mexican platters piled high with their famous spicy pork adobo, barbacoa, chilies rellenos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles with pozole and menudo served only on the weekends.
“We are known for our menudo on the weekends. I came to the United States with my family when I was 12 years old, but I grew up in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a border town, where we enjoy a type of red menudo, so that is what I make and serve here,” says Juarez.
Juarez started his transformation from market to restaurant with cosmetic changes to the outside of the building. He blasted the red paint and signature mural from off the side of his building, returning it to its original stately blonde brick. He then added several large picture windows across the front of the space, allowing passersby to see in and guests to see out. Juarez also repaved the parking lot in back and added a brand-new air conditioning unit to the building to keep his family and his guests comfortable. In the kitchen, he made room in his large walk-in cooler for kegs of beer he plans to serve once his liquor license arrives. Juarez also plans to add new window awnings and a wrought-iron sign to the front of the restaurant.
Los Alamos Market y Cocina originally opened in 2001 as a full-service grocery store, with refrigerated cases full of food and beverages lining the walls. As big-box chains and large-scale grocery stores replaced the need for the neighborhood corner store, Los Alamos had seen a gradual shift in customers over the years. The demographics in the Westside neighborhood also began to change, creating more opportunity for places to eat and socialize. With that in mind, the market slowly started serving food many years ago.
Juarez ran the store with his then-wife, who would make their lunch every day from a small stove in the corner of the shop. Customers would come in and smell the food cooking, and eventually started asking if it was available for purchase. “I didn’t want to open a restaurant then; I was a store owner,” he says. “So, I finally told my wife at the time, just make what you would normally make for us plus a little more, and we will sell it until it is all gone. Once we were out, we were out.”
As food service picked up, Juarez decided to eliminate two aisles of groceries and add a few tables and chairs to the space. Over time, he eventually upgraded the kitchen, adding a real hood and a commercial stove, yet he never admitted to himself that Los Alamos was becoming more restaurant than market.
That explains the quick, casual way guests have always ordered food at Los Alamos, which resembles the way meat is ordered at a butcher counter. To order, simply take your place in line in front of the temperature-controlled glass deli case, which displays the 14 or so items prepared from scratch daily. Choose an item from case and order either a platter (entrée with rice and refried beans) or tacos (entrée served in tortillas, with rice and refried beans on the side) or a burrito (entrée stuffed in a flour tortilla with beans and rice).
Juarez is typically standing behind the counter, taking orders and happily walking guests through the offerings. After ordering, grab a seat in the space and Juarez, his wife or son will deliver your food when it's ready. You can help yourself to the refrigerator case full of waters and sodas, and then pay Juarez at the counter near the front door on your way out.
“With the remodel we now have 60 seats in our restaurant, and if we turn them at least twice a day, this space as a restaurant makes more financial sense for us than it did as a market,” says Juarez. “I am doing a lot more walking now between the kitchen and register, and someone recently joked about getting me a step counter, but I am afraid I would blow it up.”
Juarez also offers daily specials, displayed on a small chalkboard on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, including fish tacos, chicken mole, pork verde, chilaquiles and huevos rancheros. He would also like to test opening for dinner on Friday nights, offering single items like a carne asada platter made with grilled beef skirt steak, sautéed onions, jalapeños, charro beans and tortillas.
The Juarez family has waited a long time to finally make the transition from market to restaurant, and they plan to take their time growing the business profitably. But with these new changes, Los Alamos Cocina will continue to rightfully hold a place of prominence on its own little corner of the Westside neighborhood.
Los Alamos serves breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday from 6am to 5pm. The restaurant is closed Monday.
Los Alamos Cocina, 1667 Summit St., Kansas City, Missouri, 816.471.0450