Kitty's Café continues a tender Kansas City tradition through its pork tenderloin sandwich
Kitty’s iconic dish recently earned recognition from The New York Times, which called it “possibly the most delicious fried pork sandwich in the United States.” The Midtown restaurant was originally opened in 1951 by a Japanese-American couple who settled in Kansas City.
Nestled along 31st Street between Kansas City’s Midtown and east side neighborhoods, Kitty’s Cafe has become a cherished symbol of timeless comfort recipes and enduring family heritage, said Jenna Soulivong.
Its word-of-mouth popularity spread largely from Kitty’s pork tenderloin sandwich — a menu item that that earned the restaurant recognition fromThe New York Times as a favorite in 2022, calling Kitty’s fare “possibly the most delicious fried pork sandwich in the United States.”
But the charming mom-and-pop eatery isn’t just a flavor of the week; it opened its doors in 1951, remaining a vibrant hub through ownership changes, evolving tastes, and new expectations for today’s food service industry.
Soulivong, daughter of the owner Charley Soulivong, can be found greeting customers with a warm smile while delivering their food.
“We are very grateful to be open for so long,” said Jenna. “We love to serve any and everybody.”
Honoring a flavorful legacy
Kitty’s Cafe traces its origins back to the dream of Paul and Kitty Kawakami, a Japanese-American couple who found themselves drawn to the heart of Kansas City during a tumultuous time in U.S. history. Their journey was marked by the trials of World War II confinement, yet their spirits remained unbroken, the Soulivongs described.
“Kitty was a lively person, she started this,” said Charley, noting how the vibrant persona of Kitty is forever enshrined in the cafe’s name, paying homage to her character and serving as a living tribute to her legacy.
In 1986, the Kawakamis retired, passing the torch of Kitty’s Cafe to new caretakers. Through the years, the cafe changed hands with each owner leaving their own mark on its menu. A turning point arrived in 1999, however, when Charley Soulivong, a restaurateur with a deep appreciation for tradition and culture, assumed ownership.
Charley didn’t just acquire a cafe; he inherited a treasure trove of cherished recipes that had been tenderly crafted from the cafe’s inception, the Soulivongs said. Since then, for more than two decades, Charley, alongside his children, Jenna and Dylan Soulivong, have steered the cafe, ushering it into a new era while upholding the legacy it embodies.
Keeping up with the times
What’s so special about Kitty’s Cafe?
Charley hasn’t changed any of the recipes — allowing Kitty’s legacy to live on through the food. Her classic recipes are displayed on the vintage menu where customers will find items from breakfast sandwiches to BLTs and burgers.
“We serve homestyle, American food,” said Jenna. We like that type of food because it’s comfort food and fills you up.”
“Our pork tenderloin sandwich is a local favorite,” she continued. “Almost everyone who comes in here orders it. My mother batters each tenderloin by hand every single day. It’s all homemade.”
The sandwich creation process remains faithful to tradition, involving thinly sliced pork tenderloin enveloped in a hearty tempura batter, then deep-fried to perfection. The result is a symphony of textures and flavors, with three crispy tenderloin pieces nestled beneath layers of crisp iceberg lettuce, aromatic white onion, succulent tomato, and the cafe’s signature homemade hot sauce.
But Kitty’s culinary tale doesn’t end there.
The menu has evolved to embrace modern tastes, offering a delightful variety of options beyond the beloved pork tenderloin sandwich. Choices now include fried chicken or catfish, a testament to Kitty’s Cafe’s ability to adapt while maintaining its core identity.
“We added things like burgers to the menu, just to make sure that there is something for everyone,” said Jenna.
Kitty’s Cafe takes pride in its understated charm, with limited seating that underscores the cafe’s focus on takeout orders. The inviting outdoor patio beckons patrons to enjoy their meals outside in the fresh air. Operating on a cash-only basis, the cafe defies the notion that quality comes at a premium, as each menu item is priced at less than $10.
While the cafe’s digital footprint might be minimal, glimpses of its homestyle offerings can be found on its Instagram page. “I can’t get enough,” said Austin Everett, a patron offering his own testimonial on the social media site. “The fish tenderloin is a personal favorite, and I find myself returning often during my lunch breaks for a quick bite.”
Kitty’s Cafe is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the summer months offering extended hours until 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.