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Food recs: Kansas City’s best restaurants for cheap — and incredible — food

A closeup of Pakistani curry and rice dishes.
Sohaila's Kitchen
Located in the Lenexa Public Market, Sohaila's Kitchen serves Pakistani fare at an affordable price.

Finding an affordable meal in Kansas City isn’t as easy as it once was, especially as the restaurant industry emerges from the COVID pandemic. This list of local diners, markets and counter-service spots will help you eat well without spending more than $15.

With many Kansas City restaurants still struggling to find enough workers and national menu prices rising 24% since early 2020, finding an affordable place to dine out or order in has gotten harder. But it’s not impossible.

Jenny Vergara, who writes for IN Kansas City magazine, says there are plenty of options for dining on a budget here, especially with all the mom-and-pop establishments in town.

“I think that’s part of where we are in the country,” she told KCUR’s Up To Date on Friday. “It’s part of our Midwestern roots.”

Flatland writer Jill Silva says the Lenexa Public Market is a popular food hall with a variety of affordable local options. Silva likes to order a popular Korean noodle dish called japchae from Kimchi and Bap.

Natasha Bailey, executive chef at Thelma’s Kitchen, heads straight to Dagwood’s Cafe for the ultimate diner experience.

“You can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner there, so there's lots of variety,” Bailey says. “And the price point is amazing.”

Below, Vergara, Silva and Bailey share their favorite restaurants in Kansas City to order a full meal for less than $15.

Jenny Vergara, IN Kansas City and Hungry for MO:

The Combine Custom 5 Slice. This pizza parlor and deli offers a large selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza from Pizza 51 — not to mention beer on tap. The Custom 5 Slice is a large slice of cheese pizza for $6.99 with your choice of 5 toppings.

The BoroughCheeseburger & Tater Tots. You’ll get a 6-ounce ground chuck patty — crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside — with a slice of American cheese, ketchup, mustard, dill pickles, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato for $8.50. For an extra buck and a half, you can get an order of Tater Tots.

Sohaila’s KitchenChicken Biryani. This dish is $11.99 on Fridays and Saturdays only, and it is delicious. It has basmati rice, flavored with exotic spices like saffron and layered in a thick gravy with chicken, served with a signature mint yogurt sauce.

The Italian Sausage Co. has the best Italian sandwiches in the city. One featured this summer has made their permanent menu, and has mortadella, salami, pistachio crema, black pepper and burrata cheese on a Ciabatta Rustica. It comes in around $12.50.

Tacos Valentina is tucked inside the Torn Label Public House, and features made-from-scratch tortillas using heirloom Mexican corn. Get their tacos — any of them will do. Mole vegano is $4.50, barbacoa is $5.00, and carne asada is $5.50 (with beef from the local Barham Family Farm).

Kitty’s Cafe Pork Tenderloin. This world-famous delight comes with two thin pork patties dipped in tempura-like batter, fried golden brown, and stacked on a bun with hot sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickle. I can’t believe something this good, costs only $8.50.

Sushi U.N.I is quick and delicious. They have a Sashimi Appetizer that comes with three pieces of tuna, two salmon, two tako or octopus, and a crab stick that is only $12.95 — and plenty to make a meal. My real love is their Spicy Crab Salad for only $5.95.

Jill Silva, Flatland:

Billie’s GroceryTurkish Eggs + Grilled Halloumi. This hearty, zesty breakfast features thick, house-made labneh, Buttonwood Farm poached eggs, chili oil, za’atar, roasted tomato, grilled halloumi cheese and grilled baguette. At $14, the combination is filling, comforting and exotic.

Baba’s Pantry — Chicken Shawarma. Nearly everything on the menu here is less than $15, and the shawarma can be had as a wrap or pita (make it a combo with fries or Salata Arabi, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley and mint in a vinaigrette). Their rotating flavors of lemonade are made fresh daily.

MeddysHummus Stacked Bowl. The hummus bowl includes your choice of protein and roasted vegetables for $12.99, and is served with pita on the side. The patio is an awesome place to eat in warm weather and sometimes features live music.

Kimchi and BapJapchae. One of Korea’s most loved dishes is japchae: sweet potato glass noodles mixed with spinach, peppers, mushrooms, onions, carrots and green onions. This $14 version includes rice and a choice of beef bulgogi, chicken bulgogi or crispy tofu. The dressing is sesame forward.

African Dream CuisineSmoked chicken. This Lenexa Public Market merchant offers West African specialties including Kongla fried rice, Banso seasoned potatoes, sauteed cabbage and fried sweet plantains.

Romeito Cuban RestaurantTostones Rellenos. This Olathe restaurant serves fried green plantains adorned with green olives, tomato sauce, and your choice of chicken, beef or shrimp. They also offer traditional Ropa Vieja, or shredded beef, onions, and peppers in a tomato sauce served over rice, and other pressed sandwiches for less than $15.

Taco Naco KCvegan tacos. Taco Naco’s two locations have lots of options, but two stand out for vegans: the Mushroom Mole taco at $3.75, and the Potato Pipian taco at $3.90.

Cafe Brazil by LOLA is located in a Brazilian martial arts studio, and they serve a Cheese Bread Sandwich, with Canadian bacon, and a shepherd’s pie for less than $10. Don’t forget a Brazilian chocolate truffle called brigadeiro for $2.50 each.

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

Hemma Hemma has a marketplace and a hot line, which is basically an elevated cafeteria-style dining room. Selections change daily, but a few of my favorites are the baked oatmeal and the BEC, with local Berkshire bacon, eggs, cheddar cheese and aioli on a brioche bun.

Yoli Tortilleria is a James Beard Award-winning tortilleria that produces stone-ground corn tortillas and Sonoran-style flour tortillas. Head to their shop in the Westside and pick up empanadas, enchiladas, burritos and other items from their grab-and-go.

The Spot KCThe Spot Burger. This cafe is part of a community-driven culinary space in the Historic 18th and Vine district offering a variety of grab-and-go items, including baked goods and coffee. The burger comes with collard greens slaw, bacon jam and blue cheese on an egg bun.

Strang Chef Collective on the Plaza houses four concept restaurants in the Cascade Hotel. While it might fall on the more expensive side of affordable, several dishes fall between $10 and $15, like the Birria Grilled Cheese from Verde, and the Polpette from Parma.

The Snack Shack on Johnson Drive is a beloved diner-style burger joint that serves griddled burgers on buns by Kansas City’s Roma Bakery. Burgers start at $5.50 and go up to $8.75. Grab a side of fries, onion rings, or 50/50 for $4.

Hien Vuong RestaurantMi Xa Xieu. This Vietnamese restaurant in the City Market has amazing food at a great price. I love the Mi Xa Xieu, which is egg noodle soup with wontons, sliced BBQ pork, and served with lettuce, bean sprouts, hot pepper and herbs.

Dagwood’s CafeBiscuit and Gravy Special. This old-school diner has been around since 1938 and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The biscuits and gravy come with two eggs, your choice of meat, and hash browns or home fries.

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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.
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