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Food recs: The best restaurants and bars in Kansas City, Kansas

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Customers look over the menu at Bonita Michoacán. The one-stop shop is a grocery store, bakery and taqueria in Kansas City, Kansas.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Customers look over the menu at Bonito Michoacán. The one-stop shop is a grocery store, bakery, and taqueria in Kansas City, Kansas.

Just a short jaunt across the state line is an overlooked food scene. Explore all the offerings of Kansas City, Kansas — including Mexican restaurants, meat markets, dive bars, Chinese food, a donut shop and more.

When people think of the Kansas City food scene, Missouri and barbeque are often top of mind. What often gets overlooked is the diverse array of local restaurants just across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas.

It's home to a thriving community of mom-and-pop eateries, locally-owned chains, and bars that offer great prices, a broad spectrum of food and a comforting atmosphere.

"There are really some hidden gems out there in terms of, not just food to eat, but bars to hang out at," Feast and Kansas City Magazine contributor, Natalie Torres Gallagher told KCUR's Up To Date. "There's a lot of character and a lot of personality in KCK."

The city has been on the radar of IN Kansas City Magazine food columnist Jenny Vergara since 2007.

"We're starting to talk about KCK and Wyandotte County in a much more meaningful way in the food scene than we ever have before," she said.

Below Torres Gallagher, Vergara and KCUR's Paul Nyakatura, a Kansas City, Kansas, native, share their recommendations for navigating the scene.

Paul Nyakatura:

  • Sparker Kitchen offers hearty soul food cuisine from a one-person home kitchen operation that includes delivery and meal prep. Try the Salmon Philly. When you order, make sure to get a side of Sparker Fries, perfectly seasoned with an amazing texture.
  • Cakes and Grub by D. Nave is the venture of another home chef. Darian Nave occasionally cooks on weekends for pickup only. Highlights here include the oxtails, smothered pork chops, and decadent sides, including mac and cheese, greens and yams.
  • Ms. R’s Cafe has been a downtown staple for decades. They offer soul food and my favorite burger in town. Make sure to ask what the daily specials are; They're $12 and up, and come with two sides, which change daily.
  • GG’s Barbacoa Cafe is the perfect hangover cure. Order it however you’d like it; In breakfast sammies, tacos, platters — it's all good. Plus they’re open for breakfast on Saturdays.
  • Tao Tao is the "G.O.A.T." of Chinese in KCK. The only place I can get fried noodles. Get you some fried noodles and dessert rangoon.
  • Hamburguesas Los Compas is a Strawberry Hill delight. Due to the language barrier, I once accidentally ordered carne asada fries, which are not on the menu. Don’t hesitate to order carnitas tacos at this burger spot.
  • Danny’s Bar & Grill is such a classic bar and grill, and a great place to watch your local team and have a beer. You'd think their menu is too big for everything to be good, but they crush it with every item. Service is top tier, too. 
  • El Pollo Guasave is perfect for a quick family dinner when you haven’t made plans. Fire-grilled chicken sold by the whole or half, served with tortillas, rice and pickled red onions. 

Natalie Torres GallagherFeast Magazine and Kansas City Magazine:

  • Tarahumaras Mexican Restaurant #2 has birria tacos, shrimp tacos, guisados de rojo or verde — everything is so good! — even guacamole (and I’m a guac snob). They do all-day Mexican breakfast, too, so I’m desperate to try their chilaquiles.
  • Palacana offers ice cream made in-house that I will stan until the day I die. Formerly Paleterías Tropicana, this locally-owned chain has been in the area for almost two decades and is still run by José Luis Valdez and his family. They have six locations.
  • El Torito Mexican Restaurant & Taqueria is inside El Torito supermarket, and it can be a little chaotic navigating everything. You can order at the counter and wait for your food to go, which is what I usually do, or you can dine in with full service and a margarita. I go here for gorditas, a little sandwich-type thing with cheese and meat stuffed into masa and grilled or fried. 
  • El Machetazo is a phenomenal antojitos, or street food, shop with lots of ice cream options, plus savory entrees. The highlight is called a “machete” — essentially a foot-long quesadilla that resembles, well, a machete. This place does their own homemade tortillas. In love.
  • Anna’s BLD Bistro certainly serves up a "big little deal" — though the “BLD” stands for “breakfast, lunch, dinner.” Owner Angelynn Howell does everything from cheeseburgers and onion rings, to neckbones and grilled basa fish. She started in catering before opening the bistro, and it's still a big part of her business. Ms. Anna keeps things affordable, portions generous and customers happy. It's a true neighborhood gem.
  • Jarocho is sometimes misunderstood. It’s a Mexican restaurant, but not the place for $3 barbacoa tacos. Chef-owner Carlos Falcon brings the Veracruz style seafood he grew up with to the menu, which means not just ceviche, but cocteles de pescado, grilled lobster, oysters and whole fried fish. It’s beautiful seafood that no one else in town is doing.
  • Chixen Kansas City got me so excited when they opened because I love a burger, but I don’t always want beef. These are basically chicken smash-patties done up in all kinds of creative, decadent ways. I love the “Monarch,” a chicken burger with jalapeños, barbecue sauce and “beef bacon.” Chixen is also halal.
  • Fritz’s has been around since 1954, and what a charming, quirky place it is. It’s one of those restaurants where dining in is half the fun; the food is delivered via toy trains. Burgers are the thing to get, and I love that you can add hashbrowns or onion rings as toppings. 
  • Mockingbird Lounge is a great place for brunch and cocktails. Their biscuits and gravy come loaded with chorizo. I can’t say enough good things about this place that’s been around for six years or so, and just seems to keep getting better.
  • Hillsiders is the neighborhood bar of my dreams. It opened in October 2022 with relatively little fanfare, which I have to respect. It’s just a good bar: booths, a pool table, a dart board, a patio, a couple TVs, and a solid 1970s gold soundtrack. Just a bar you want to drink in. 

Jenny Vergara:

  • Jarocho's chef Carlos Falcon continues to bring Kansas City the freshest seafood and fish dishes inspired by Veracruz, Mexico. Fresh oysters, ceviche, octopus, fish, and lobster are ready to be enjoyed along with a margarita, beer or wine. They have a second location out south, but there is just something about the KCK location — like you just discovered the best little beach shack restaurant by the sea.
  • Italian Delight is a place where you can find the same New York-style pizza, pastas, salads and strombolis served by the family of one of the original Avelluto’s Italian Delight partners, Frank Brunetti. For those who miss the old Mission location, which closed last year, it's time to rediscover all the Italian Delights that await in Kansas.
  • Chixen Kansas City started as a pandemic ghost kitchen operated by chef Anthony Olusegun Dedmon, and has built a strong following for his addictive ground chicken burgers that are seasoned, smashed thin on a flattop and then griddled until crispy and caramelized around the edges. Order ahead on their website, then pick them up from their walk-up window, because there is no dine-in seating.
  • Tacos el Tio This is one of my favorite family-run places for street tacos in Kansas City, Kansas. This is the place to get simple and satisfying tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and tortas, providing you bring cash because they don't take cards.
  • Hana’s Donuts has been making donuts and pastries with flavors like wild blueberries fritters, pistachio, and almond cake, along with traditional glazed yeast donuts and donut holes since 2012. Now, you can find owner Hana Simcak's donuts in many of Kansas City’s coffee shops and pastry counters like the one at Caffetteria in Prairie Village.
  • Bonito Michoacan Taqueria is a Mexican grocery store, bakery, and taqueria all in one. Choosing your own culinary adventure, including street tacos, burritos, tortas, flautas, and quesadillas, all of which can be made into platters.
  • El Camino Real is the place to enjoy pineapple and pork served on house made corn tortillas. Ruben Martinez has been making his tacos al pastor since the late 1990s, and opened his first location on 7th Street in the early 2000s. Eventually, he opened a second location in Armourdale.
  • Kinship Cafe & Coffee has been earning regulars for a little over a year by serving delicious breakfast burritos and sandwiches along with favorite coffee drinks in a light bright space. Now the owner is fighting to keep his building in KCK — a GoFundMe account has been created to help shop owner TJ Roberts purchase the land before it gets sold to a developer.
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As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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