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Food recs: Kansas City’s best places to eat in the Historic Northeast

An oval white plate sits on a table. It is filled with a salad topped with a white dressing. There is a lime wedge, a green sauce  in a plastic container and the main dish on the plate is a bed of rice topped with string potatoes and chicken bites.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A plate of chicken with rice and salad is a favorite at Yasmeen Cafe, a halal Somali restaurant just off The Paseo.

On Independence Avenue in the Historic Northeast, adventurous diners don’t have to leave Kansas City to get a taste of the world. Sip chai at Soma Cafe, taste dumplings at Afghan Market, and don’t forget to grab a Mexican pastry or tamale at Elvira’s Pasteleria y Panaderia.

The six neighborhoods that make up Kansas City’s Historic Northeast are home to many of the metro’s immigrant and refugee communities, and that’s one of the biggest factors shaping its culinary scene.

That diversity — in food and people — brought Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Bobbi Baker to the area years ago.

“It’s an amazing place to visit and live,” Baker told KCUR’s Up To Date host Brian Ellison on Friday.

Northeast resident Tricia McGhee, an organizer with Revolución Educativa, warned against any inclination to drive right past the unassuming storefronts that line Independence Avenue.

“There is a rich and deep community and cultural wealth that is evident in every space you step into,” she said.

One of McGhee’s favorites is El Pulgarcito, a Salvadoran restaurant that serves pupusas with curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage-based relish.

“If you’ve never had a pupusa, be prepared to have your life changed,” she said.

Lisa Peña, who leads a popular tour through the Northeast with her company, Urban Hikes KC, said she enjoys grabbing a chai at Soma Cafe in “Somali Mall,” near the corner at Olive Street, or at Yasmeen Cafe, just off The Paseo.

“It's piping hot and the flavors are so rich and deep, and there's a good gingery taste to it,” she said.

Peña also likes to peruse the produce aisle of Mercado Fresco, which has multiple locations on Independence Avenue and the “most interesting and tasty fruits.”

Below, the three share their favorite places to eat and shop for groceries in Kansas City’s Historic Northeast neighborhoods.

Tricia McGhee:

El Pulgarcito is Salvadoran food like you’ve never had it. Try the traditional pupusa with “loroco y queso,” or cheese and edible flower, and the fried plantain with sour cream and beans. Don’t skip the cabbage slaw, called curtido, on your pupusas!

KC Burgers, though not obvious by its name, has a generous menu of East African foods that are absolutely delightful. Try any dish with goat meat, and be sure to order some fried potato stuffed with boiled egg, also known as nafaqo, to start!

El Indio - Pollos Asados al Carbon, a food truck, is nearly impossible to drive by without noticing the enticing smell of roast chicken. A typical order will get you a half a chicken with grilled onions, peppers and corn tortillas to share.

Los Comales de Rebeca is the ideal lunch spot if you want warm, delicious food quickly. Chilaquiles in salsa verde, or fried corn tortillas covered in salsa, sour cream, and cheese, come topped with a fried egg or shredded chicken, and are a phenomenal way to recharge your day.

PH Coffee calls itself “the gathering place of Pendleton Heights,” and their seasonal offerings and good vibes are worth the stop. They frequently offer holiday and themed pop-ups with an expanded menu, including alcoholic beverages and mocktails in the evenings.

Las Marias Tortilleria is a small but delightful shop using a deeply sacred and delicious Mexican tradition known as nixtamalization to make its tortillas. Owner Enrique Chaurand will enthusiastically explain the method when you stop in.

Lisa Peña:

Yasmeen Cafe — chai. Come on your lunch break for delicious Somali chicken, vegetables, and rice or jabati flatbread. To drink, warm your soul with a chai. With or without milk, every sip of this gingery tea is bursting with East African spices.

Soma Cafe is tucked away inside Soma Retail Shopping Center, known as the Somali Mall. Their jabati and flavorful beans are a go-to for breakfast or lunch, along with their delectable, piping-hot beef, chicken or fish sambusas.

El Mercado Fresco is a complete grocery store, and is the place to find exotic fruits, homemade Hispanic pastries and delicious ethnic grains, all at an affordable price. They have two locations on Independence Avenue and one on Metropolitan Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas.

Elivira’s Pasteleria y Panaderia is full of freshly baked Mexican pastries, cakes and other sweets. Grab one or a dozen for your workplace to have with coffee. They also have a variety of fresh tamales all year round — including pork, chicken, peppers and cheese, corn and sweet raisin — and a savory menu for lunch.

Bobbi Baker: 

Core Coffee & Eatery is a locally-owned newcomer to the Pendleton Heights neighborhood, tucked behind the Pendleton Arts Block. Order the avocado toast and add smoked salmon or an egg. Owners Eric and Deanna Bellamaganya celebrated their first year of business in March.

Frutopia Paleteria & Ice Cream sells tacos, tamales, real fruit popsicles, and more than 30 flavors of freshly-made ice cream, including guava and cactus. They also offer catering and popsicle carts, and co-owner Sandy Knight told Startland News in May that they can create custom flavors.

El Taco can be thought of as the Historic Northeast’s version of Chipotle, but better. It’s one of the freshest, best-tasting meals you can find, made to order right in front of you, and it will leave you feeling plenty, plenty full.

El Torito Taqueria has American-style breakfast, Mexican-style lunch and dinner, and the most tender beef ever! They also have a salsa bar that boasts 10 different varieties, ranging from mild to habanero.

Afghan Market, on St. John Avenue, is a grocery that also serves hot food. Order the dumplings, which come with beans and a yogurt sauce, or try the Kabuli pulao, which is roasted lamb served on a fragrant, spiced bed of rice.

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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, I create sound-rich talk show segments about the individuals and communities that call Kansas City home. Whether it’s a poet, a business owner or a local lawmaker, I seek out diverse voices to help break down the biggest stories of the day. After listening to the show, I want Up To Date listeners to feel informed and empowered to make decisions in their daily lives. You can reach me at claudiab@kcur.org
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