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Food recs: The best food and drinks in Kansas City’s Midtown neighborhoods

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Diners sit in a sunlit cafe with black and white checkered floors and red velvet curtains
Westport Cafe & Bar
"Creative new dishes are always on the menu, and everything’s plated with confidence and style," food writer Liz Cook said about Westport Cafe & Bar, pictured above.

Midtown is home to many of Kansas City’s best-known restaurants and bars, but it has its fair share of hidden treasures to offer, including cool coffee shops, neighborhood dives and family businesses.

Ask a Kansas Citian where Midtown is and you’re sure to be in for a wild ride, and possibly a heated debate. Despite its hotly-contested definition, one thing’s certain: Midtown has a thriving food scene.

“One of the things that makes Midtown restaurants so good is the fact that they are consistent, and they're able to pivot,” Natasha Bailey, executive chef at Thelma’s Kitchen, told host Brian Ellison on KCUR’s Up To Date Friday.

Natalie Torres Gallagher, a contributor to Kansas City and Missouri Life magazines, said the Midtown culinary scene is becoming more diverse, too.

“The restaurants are really representative of the communities that are within the neighborhoods,” she said. “I'm excited whenever I see something like My Village Grill expanding closer into the quote-unquote ‘center’ of Kansas City because it means that we're broadening our palates.”

Liz Cook, writer for The Pitch and creator of the Haterade newsletter, cited Room 39 as the quintessential neighborhood spot. It’s about evolving “throughout the day based on what the community needs,” she said.

Below, the three share their favorite places to eat and drink in Kansas City’s Midtown neighborhoods.

Liz Cook, The Pitch and Haterade

  • Ça Va is an intimate Westport bar known for Champagne. It also offers some of Midtown’s best bar snacks, including duck fat kettle corn and thin-cut fries. More substantial items like a quiche or croque madame can turn drinks into dinner.
  • Chingu is a buzzy and vibrant brick-and-mortar spot in Westport that marries Korean street food, Korean barbecue and homestyle comforts. Portions are generous and made to share. Don’t miss the kimchi pajeon, a thick-sliced kimchi and onion pancake.
  • Mesob is an Ethiopian and Caribbean restaurant with an extensive rum and rum cocktail list that pairs well with the spicy doro tibs, the crisp-but-silky griot, and a lightly sour injera. Watch for nightly taco specials featuring flash-fried conch.
  • Room 39 transforms from a casual morning pitstop for coffee and a breakfast burrito to a candlelit dinner destination with creative cocktails. Expect a rotating menu showcasing seasonal produce. The four-course tasting menu remains one of Midtown’s best date night deals.
  • Westport Cafe and Bar doesn’t have to be this good. I’d appreciate the vibe at this cozy French bistro even if the menu never evolved beyond oysters and steak frites. Creative new dishes are always on the menu, and everything’s plated with confidence and style. The cocktails change up just as frequently.
  • Kitty’s Cafe – tenderloin sandwich. Kansas Citians flocked to this stamp-sized counter-serve decades before The New York Times placed it on a list of America’s best restaurants. Still, Kitty’s iconic tenderloin sandwich, a three-ply stack of tempura-battered pork with housemade hot sauce, deserves the attention.

Natalie Torres Gallagher,  Kansas City and Missouri Life magazines:   

  • Sama Zama’s owner, Erika Koike, a native of Japan, focuses on homestyle Japanese dishes. The menu is extensive, including bento boxes, hearty bowls of ramen and udon noodles, and deliciously battered chicken (tori kara age) and pork cutlets (tonkatsu).
  • Harry’s Bar & Tables is always the right choice, partly because they do it all: classic cocktails, cheap beer and well drinks, decent wine, and really good pub food. Here, you can appease even the most diverse friend group.
  • Andy’s Frozen Custard cream soda freeze. You can usually count on a line of cars wrapping around Andy's drive-thru on weekends, no matter what the season is. My personal favorite treat, which may be a little underrated, is the cream soda freeze.
  • Cafe Corazón is a reflection of the Latin American cultures where so much of the world’s coffee is grown. Stop into this charming shop and enjoy ethically-sourced beans roasted in house. There are Argentinian empanadas, tamales, and yerba mate in the traditional serving gourd with a mate-specific straw called a bombilla — hard to find outside of South America.
  • miniBar offers surprisingly classy $10 draft highballs. There’s also a mojito made with tart mint soda, and a whiskey cocktail with a punchy ginger soda, both courtesy of Fancies Sodas.
  • Twin City Tavern, one of the oldest bars in Kansas City, is not the kind of place that leans on legacy to draw folks in. Like any good “townie” dive, this bar on State Line Road offers great deals and a slate of Midwestern bar food, including mini corn dogs, Frito pie and homemade chili.
  • Miami Ice is a family-run spot doling out shaved ice, frozen custard with mix-ins and other cold treats. I’m personally obsessed with the shaved ice-topped frozen custard cups, like a snow cone with a delightful surprise inside.
  • Meshuggah Bagels’ owners were determined to bring the NYC-style bagel to KC. Their bagels are pleasantly dense and malty with a balanced bread profile, and they have a thin crust that captures toppings like sesame seeds, poppy seeds and toasted garlic.

Natasha Bailey, Thelma’s Kitchen and Hungry for MO:

  • Bijou offers small plates, craft cocktails and all-day happy hour on Tuesdays. The food is delicious and reasonably priced, and the brunch menu released last month includes fried chicken with honey jalapeño cornbread.
  • Union on the Hill – Muskets & Lavender. My favorite drink here has butterfly pea flower and lavender-infused Rieger gin, Aperol, lemon, blueberry syrup and cava. I’m going back on the next rainy day to try the filet meatloaf with English peas and veal sauce.
  • The Fix! – fried breakfast burrito & smothered chicken biscuit. This all-vegan comfort food restaurant is the perfect place when you want a meal that is good for you and fills you up. They serve coffee, kombucha and tea.
  • Rozzelle Court Restaurant, inside the Nelson Atkins Museum, is the perfect spot for a day date. I still think about the ribs I had last November. Grab a Thou Mayest coffee while you’re there.
  • Sister Anne’s Records & Coffee is your one-stop shop for coffee, zines and records. Jim and Carl have created a hidden gem in the neighborhood with an amazing record collection and one of the best cups of joe in the city!
  • Goat and Rabbit – cocktails. Home of the espresso martini, so if that's your jam, this is your place. For those who prefer a savory cocktail there’s the Kind of a Big Deal, made with horseradish gin, fresh dill-infused Dolin Blanc vermouth and whole, pickled caper berries.
  • Billie’s Grocery – Caesar salad. They have wonderful gluten-free options, and their salads are so fresh. The Caesar is made with a raw cashew dressing and includes crispy chickpea and Brazil nut Parmesan.
  • The Antler Room is my favorite Kansas City staple. They serve a grilled house focaccia with whipped 'nduja, heirloom tomatoes, herb vinaigrette, pistachios and bacon aioli. They also serve decadent and creative desserts.

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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.
Claudia Brancart is an Up To Date producer for KCUR 89.3. She graduated from Pitzer College in Los Angeles where she majored in World Literature and Studio Art. You can reach her at claudiab@kcur.org.
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