More Kansas City restaurants are offering small plates, appetizers and snacks that cater to diners who are looking for shareable experiences instead of big meals.
“We used to go out in groups and we would all just get our own entree, and our own salad, and our own appetizer,” says Jenny Vergara of Feast Magazine.
Sometimes, that requires reaching in a basket or peeling shrimp and getting your hands dirty.
“We don’t always need the fork,” says Jill Silva, freelance food writer and owner of Jill Silva Food.
Here are the Central Standard Food Critics’ recommendations for the best appetizers, small plates and snacks in the Kansas City metro area.
- Fox and Pearl — Assorted small plates. These include pickled vegetables, potato rolls, hickory smoked ham and grainy mustard, potted cheese with roasted garlic crackers, and pickled and fried green tomatoes with green goddess dressing. I like to build little sandwiches out of a little of all of it.
- Nazareth Sweets Baklava & Cafe — Middle Eastern breakfast might not sound like snacking, but it’s savory, shareable and requires the right drink. On weekends only, they serve a traditional Middle Eastern breakfast for about $10 a person where you can feast on foul (a room temperature dish made with spiced chickpeas and lemon), fattah (chickpeas with yogurt), ajjeh (a scrambled egg with parsley and onions), and arayes (pitas sliced open and spread with a spiced beef mixture). There’s also fried baladi cheese, hummus, a cold vegetable plate, labneh plate, olive oil and za’atar spice and pita bread.
- Empanada Madness — Empanadas filled with shredded chicken, beef, cheese or potato with queso fresco and egg. One or two make a good snack.
- Johnny Jo’s Pizzeria — Garlic knots are like a bigger version of my favorite junk food snack — Dot’s Homestyle Pretzel. The garlic knots at Johnny Jo’s in the West Plaza are good sized; baked until golden brown, they can come naked with a bit of salt or brushed with garlic butter. Johnny Jo's also has a dessert knot brushed with nutella chocolate hazelnut spread.
- The Capital Grille — Breaded and pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers. Something about that vinegar, spicy, sweet heat from these Christmas-colored peppers against the crunchy fried calamari is just the best combination.
- French Market— Hannah fries with pesto aioli. These are crispy hot French fries lightly salted that come with a small side of pesto green aioli or mayo, and the French Market is a perfect spot to melt into a drink and a snack with friends after work because it’s so centrally located.
- Taqueria Vegana — Nachos, crunchwraps, ceviche, cubano sandwich and enchiladas. This Latin inspired vegan pop-up at The Bite every Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. has vegan versions of classic Mexican food junk food staples that sell out quickly. These are all smaller, shareable dishes, so bring friends and order them all.
- Wiener Kitchen — Bierocks. I do hereby declare Wiener Kitchen to make and sell 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.
- Shagan’s Chicken & Paranthas — Pani puris, vegetable pakoras and samosas. Home cook turned restaurant owner and chef Shagan Bajwa opened what she thought might just be her commissary catering kitchen for making and selling handmade lentil, potato and onion parathas, which is a type of Indian flatbread made with many different ingredients. She posts her ever-changing menu every day on Facebook.
Jill Silva, co-host of Chew Diligence podcast, freelance food writer, owner of Jill Silva Food:
- El Tenedor — Empanadas, croquetas and albondigas. Food trucks are a great source for some of the city’s best snacks. Empanadas and croquetas from El Tenedor, the Spanish tapas food truck by chef Carmen Cabia, are my jam. The meats may change but they are coated in panko and fried to crispy perfection, then garnished with a frill of salad and colorful squiggles of aioli.
- El Salvadoreno — Pupusas are always a filling snack or meal. They’re stuffed with your choice of pork, beef, beans or cheese and served with refried beans and a spicy cabbage curtido or slaw.
- Jarocho Mexican Restaurant — Spicy jumbo shrimp cucaracha. Chef Carlos Falcon’s most famous appetizer is worth getting your fingers dirty for. It's a pile of prawns dressed in a signature spicy sauce. I also recently had a bowl of the restaurant’s fresh guacamole and chips and washed it down happily with a Mexican Coke.
- Port Fonda — Chips and salsa. While this might sound like a ho-hum choice, it’s anything but. Chips and salsa are a favorite snack, and Port Fonda serves fresh, lightly salted chips with some of the most refined, house-made salsas.
- Little Bill’s at the City Market — Pimento cheese. One of my junk-food guilty pleasures is Cheez-Its, so Little Bill’s pimento cheese is one of my favorite cheesy foods.
- Boru Ramen Bar — Bao buns. My favorites are the king mushroom with sweet soy glaze and Kewpie mayo, and the pork belly with hoisin mayo and quick pickle. There’s also togarashi fried chicken with slaw, and bulgogi with gochujang.
- Q39 — Smoked beef brisket poutine and buffalo cauliflower florets with buttermilk dressing. Other fun appetizers that really break the barbecue mold here are: jumbo wings that boast being the “Best Wings on the Planet”; spiced onion straws; and pork belly and sausage corn dogs with barbecue sauce and maple syrup.
- Krokstrom Klubb & Market — The Copenhagen “street” dog, one of Krokstrom Klubb’s most popular bar snacks, has won me over even though I’m not a huge hotdog fan. The pickled polse custom-made by Fritz’s is served on a specially baked Farm to Market bun and garnished with curry ketchup and fried leeks. Order it with the thin-cut, pickled and twice-fried Danish fries drizzled with mayo.
- Waldo Thai — Stuffed chicken wing and crispy calamari. Waldo Thai is a perfect place for unique and fun shareables and creatively named craft cocktails. The chicken wing is deboned and stuffed with ground pork, bean thread noodles, shitake mushrooms, celery and yellow curry. The crispy calamari comes with ginger, serrano chili, garlic, scallions and cabbage.
- Char Bar — Chicken wings, pimento cheese and the Charred Bits and Grits platter. In the Snacks section of Char Bar's menu, these are my three favorites due to their smokiness. The chicken wings are brined and served with a spicy barbecue sauce and buttermilk dressing. The creamy pimento cheese is made with Tillamook cheddar and served with blistered grapes and toast. The Charred Bits and Grits is a platter of cheese grits topped with burnt ends, sausage, bourbon pig candy, pickled jalapenos and barbecue butter.
- Rye — Rye Butcher Board is a great place to start a meal here. The meats are cured in house and served with grainy mustard, pickles and sliced baguette. You must also order the whipped goat cheese with simple flavors of cheese, honey, salt and herbs with grilled sourdough bread.
- Trezo Mare — Fried calamari and goat cheese fondue. Whether I’m sitting on the patio or by the fireplace, these are two appetizers I order at Trezo. Instead of the usual ring shapes, the fried calamari is cut into strips, breaded and fried and sprinkled with parmesan. The goat cheese fondue is served with grilled bread, flatbread crackers, grapes and a grilled pineapple compote. You can find both menu items at the bar during happy hour, as well as marinated olives, flatbreads and braised duck sliders.
- Artego Pizza — Southwest egg rolls. Besides making great pizza, Joe Perez makes some great appetizers. These egg rolls are crispy even though they're baked, and Perez fills them with corn, black beans and cheese, and serves them with a green goddess sauce. I also like the pretzel plate with cheese dipping sauce; bruschetta waffle fries; and oven roasted hot wings with garlicy, chunky blue cheese dressing.
- BRGR Kitchen and Bar — Taters & Onions is my favorite section of the menu. You can order a combo of the French fries (regular, truffle, sweet potato), tots (regular or truffle) or onion rings — or get all three. Delivered to the table in old-fashioned metal pitchers on a board, it’s enough for two to three people to share.
- Strip’s Chicken — Owner Todd Johnson also recently added gizzards, which are boiled in a brine, making them more tender, then dipped in a seasoned batter and pretzel breading and served with Zyng sauce made from roasted jalapenos and horseradish. I'm also fond of the crispy chicharrones, and fried portabella strips are a great substitute for French fries.
- La Bodega — Pincho de pollo y chorizo (chicken and chorizo skewers) with a mouthwatering garlic cumin aioli. La Bodega is great for communal eating with friends. There are so many good options, and the happy hour price is budget friendly.
- Broadway Butcher Shop— Snacking board. Put together a board of high-quality meat and well curated cheeses to bring to a party or a shareable situation.
- Savory Addictions— Nuts. You can get these at various locations in the metro area, such as The Rieger.
Rylie Koester is an intern for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @RylieKoester.