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Food recs: Kansas City's best dumplings and dough-wrapped dishes

Dumplings are a staple of cuisines from around the world, and many varieties are available in Kansas City.
Buck Tui
Dumplings are a staple of cuisines from around the world, and many varieties are available in Kansas City.

Whether you’re craving dim sum, pasta, or empanadas, here's where to find the best dough-covered eats in the area.

What is a dumpling? It’s a broad class of dishes that consist of pieces of dough often wrapped around a filling. Many wonderful culinary traditions and cuisines, found in cultures around the world, fall into this category.

“Dumplings, to me, bring to mind dim sum and Chinese dumplings,” says Jenny Vergara, co-host of KCUR’s Hungry For MO . “Dumplings can also be like spoon-dropped into soup in the Midwest.”

Vergara, Mary Bloch of Around the Block, and Liz Cook, a writer for The Pitch, joined guest host Brian Ellison on KCUR’s Up To Date to discuss the many different variations of dough-swathed dining options found across the Kansas City metro.

“I think we have to kind of just broaden, just a little bit, our thinking around that (dumplings), because we really do have a really nice wide breadth of things to talk about,” Cook said.

Jenny Vergara, Hungry For MO:

  • Bo Lings — Steamed BBQ Pork Buns, and Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings. Bo Lings has been a great spot for dim sum, and they still roll carts around the dining room so you can pick and choose. The BBQ pork buns are white, fluffy buns filled with spice. The chive and shrimp dumpling comes in a clear, sticky rice flour wrapper.
  • ABC Cafe— Steamed Shrimp Dumpling, and Egg Custard & Coconut Bun. This small cafe has dim sum dishes that are incredibly good, fast and affordable. The platter of shrimp dumplings comes in a spicy red chili oil sauce. The egg custard bun makes for a great finisher.
  • Stray Kat — Steamed Soup Dumpling. Chef Katie Liu Sung has started hosting this pop-up inside her restaurant, Chewology, and its family-style coursed dinners are a deep dive into Taiwanese cuisine. At her first dinner in October, chef Liu Sung served a Steamed Soup Dumpling that was similar to a chicken pot pie — just tear into the top to reveal chicken, vegetables and sauce. This is one time it’s OK to play with your food.
  • Zero Zero — Truffle Burrata Agnolotti. Located in the Westside neighborhood, Zero Zero makes a couple different filled pastas every week. This agnolotti is made from locally-milled flour, free-range eggs, black truffle burrata, organic white truffle oil and salt.
  • Los Hornos — empanadas. This Argentinian eatery started as a pop-up, but now has its own space near Tiffany Springs. They make and sell around eight different empanadas, each baked to a golden brown. Choose from beef, chicken, ham & cheese, beef with sauce, corn & cheese, vegetarian, eggs & bacon, and sfija, or empanada árabe.
  • Cafe Corazon — Colombian cheese bread. There are two Colombian pastries I have fallen in love with here, made by a local Colombian baker. The pandebono is a perfectly round cheese bread made with tapioca flour and yucca or cassava flour. The empanada de Cambray is filled with guava paste and fresh farmers cheese. That and coffee is breakfast for me!
  • Tower Tavern — Italian Meat Stromboli. An amazing dish from a hidey-hole bar, The Italian Meat Stromboli is huge, and filled with marinara, pepperoni, Italian sausage, salami and mozzarella. If that’s not enough, it comes with chips, fries, or you can substitute a house or Caesar salad for an upcharge.
  • Little Butter Bakery — fruit hand pies. Kelsey Earl bakes out of her home kitchen. Through the pandemic she has been making and selling focaccia, cakes, pies, donuts, and bar cookies, but her seasonal fruit-filled hand pies are just the best. You will likely need to call ahead and special order her hand pies.
  • Heirloom Bakery & Hearth — Pop Tart. They may not have been the first to turn our favorite childhood treat into a breakfast staple, but their version is certainly one of the best. The fruit filling varies by season, but they always contain actual fruit with a delicious buttery crust and just the right amount of icing and sprinkles.
  • Weiner Kitchen — Bierocks. Wiener Kitchen makes and sells the best bierocks in Kansas City. They are nice and big, but still fit in one hand and are full of ground beef, onions and cabbage with seasoning. It’s a perfect dinner for one.
  • You Say Tomato — Pocket Reuben. The Pocket Reuben is really a genius idea, as it takes the mess out of the equation. Served at lunch, this bun is stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, baked into a rye bread pocket, and served with house-made Thousand Island dressing.
  • Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant — samosas. Crispy, flaky and filled! Samosas are to India what empanadas are to much of South America. Get either (or both) vegetable or meat samosas that are deep fried until they’re golden brown. Both are delicious dipped in their chutney.

Mary Bloch, Around The Block:

  • Buck Tui — Thai Sausage Dumplings. This Thai barbeque joint in Overland Park is serving up some glorious Thai Sausage Dumplings, swimming in an addictive ginger hoisin glaze.
  • Waldo Thai — Giaw Neung. This sister restaurant to Buck Tuialso has steamed pork & shrimp dumplings on the menu, though under a different name. These porky pockets have ginger, shiitake mushroom, ginger garlic hoisin sauce and cilantro — different but equally seductive.
  • Chewology — Ugly Dumpling. They have several dumpling options: a shrimp dumpling served with red vinegar, a beef and kimchi dumpling, and a pork and cabbage dumpling. My favorite, though, is the off-menu Ugly Dumpling, which is a free-formed offering swimming in sauce.
  • Princess Garden Restaurant — Fried or steamed dumplings. This Chinese restaurant is a longtime family favorite, and serves their pork dumplings with black vinegar and chili oil. I love making my own sauce with just the right amount of acid and heat.
  • The Antler Room — Georgian Soup Dumplings. This dumpling was on the restaurant’s original menu and continues to make repeat appearances. They contain an intensely flavorful meatball made with pork and beef, fenugreek, onion, garlic, and fermented Fresno chiles, and they’re plated with fresh chives and a spicy, chili oil — not easy to eat, but worth the mess.
  • El Pulgarcito — Pupusas. Pupusas are a type of dumpling from El Salvador and made with corn flour. I love the ones at El Pulgarcito in Merriam. I typically order the ones with chicken, jalapeno and cheese. Served with Curtido, a cabbage slaw made with vinegar.

Liz Cook, The Pitch:

  • El Pulgarcito — Pastelitos de Carne Molida. Cuban pastelitos are familiar to many, but El Salvador has its own savory version, akin to an empanada. The Pastelitos de Carne Molida here are fresh, crisp, and stuffed with a mild but flavorful ground beef mixture. Vegetarians should order a bean, cheese, and loroco blossom pupusa.
  • Blue Koi — Spicy Chili Pepper Wontons. These wontons are chubby, thick-skinned dumplings dressed with a bright chili, scallion and cilantro sauce — you can easily make a meal of them. Blue Koi also has one of the better vegetarian dumpling options, with a spinach-infused dough and a generous tofu and veggie filling.
  • Empanada Madness — Shredded Beef & Queso Fresco empanadas. This Southwest Boulevard mainstay is justifiably loved for its crisp, golden brown empanadas. It’s also a supreme location for fresh, generously filled arepas, including the KC OG, stuffed with pulled beef dressed in a sweet barbecue sauce.
  • ABC Cafe — Shrimp with Black Mushroom Dumplings, and Barbecue Pork Bun. Ordering a mountain of dim sum at ABC Cafe should be on everyone’s KC culinary bingo card. ABC is also one of the few places you can reliably get the soup dumplings called xiao long bao. ABC’s versions are smaller and a little less soupy, but the pork and scallion filling is tender and savory.
  • Wah Gwan — Jamaican patties. These pastries make an ideal starter or grab-and-go lunch, and the turmeric-yellow patties at Wah Gwan on Troost are uncannily good; delicate and flaky, and the saucy beef filling is rich and spicy.
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