The Kansas City food scene is more international than it used to be, and whatever else might be in those global dishes, the key to a lot of them is rice.
"Rice is such a versatile ingredient that's used by so many different cultures," KCUR food critic Danielle Lehman notes. "What I love about some of the things on my list is that the rice is the focal point of the dish and not just an afterthought that is soaking up sauce."
According to Lehman, Jenny Vergara and Bonjwing Lee, here are the best rice dishes in and around Kansas City:
Danielle Lehman, Open Belly Podcast:
- Sura Eats — bibimbap. This casual version of a traditional Korean dish comes with beef, tofu or spicy pork; my favorite is the pork, which pairs nicely with the pickled vegetables, steamed rice and a runny egg on top. I like it with plenty of spicy Sura Sauce (a gochujang based sauce) on top.
- Sura Eats — kimchi fried rice. This dish's flavor is intensified because the kimchi is cooked into the fried rice. For a spicy and savory lunch, I like to add pickled vegetables and plenty of Sura Sauce.
- Sobahn's bibimbap is my favorite traditional bibimbap in town. It's topped with beef and traditional Korean vegetables like soybean sprouts, daikon radishes and shiitake mushrooms. Serving it in a stone pot gives the bottom layer of rice a nice crunchy texture.
- Sohaila's Kitchen — chicken biryani. Located in the Lenexa Public Market, this place serves some of my favorite Pakistani cuisine. This family recipe of chicken, basmati rice and Pakistani herbs and spices is served with a yogurt sauce and is incredibly fragrant, flavorful and comforting on a cold day.
- Fannie's African Cuisine — jollof rice. With a deep rich tomato paste, onions and bell peppers, this dish has flavors similar to Caribbean cuisine. Chef and owner Fannie Gibson was born in Liberia, immigrated to Kansas City in her teenage years, and today serves her favorite West African dishes on 41st & Troost.
- Broken Rice — broken rice plate. At this restaurant in Gladstone's Little Saigon Plaza, a simple plate of meat, fresh herbs and vegetables comes with white rice that was broken during harvesting and couldn't be sold. The difference is in the texture. I like to order it with the short rib, a flanken style rib with a sweet and savory marinade similar to a Korean barbecue style.
- Waldo Thai Place — khao tod nam sod. This dish is made with crispy fried rice, pork sausage, onion, cilantro, peanuts and chilis. The idea is to wrap up the rice in a lettuce leaf and squeeze with fresh lime, but I actually shovel it into my mouth with a fork as quickly as possible.
- POI-O — kimchi fried rice. This side dish at a Mexican spot off of Southwest Boulevard is spicy, savory and a perfect pairing for the wood-fired chicken. They also make their vegan kimchi in-house.
- Queen Sweets & Bakery — lamb shank meal. Braised until tender, this is served with house-made hummus and saffron rice featuring fresh herbs and spices, grilled tomatoes and onion.
- Karbon — Local Bowl. Typically made with black rice and quinoa, this bowl comes with locally sourced ingredients that change every week based on the season, and a bright citrusy dressing.
- KC Grill 'N Kabob — tahdig. One of my favorite Persian dishes, this is made with saffron and tumeric, then cooked over direct heat to make it crunchy on the bottom. Here it's served with sabzi (stew). This Lenexa spot also has a buffet on the weekends.
- The Russell — rice krispie treat. This traditional treat on the rotating dessert menu is upgraded with butterscotch and a layer of cookie crumbs. It's also gluten-free! The Russell is a perfect spot to grab a health-conscious lunch followed by an overly decadent dessert.
Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:
- Bo Lings — sizzling rice soup with chicken (for 2). Flavorful chicken broth, sliced onion, mushrooms, snow peas and thin slices of tender chicken breast are served in a giant, steaming bowl. A handful of crispy fried rice floats on top for added textured and crunch.
- Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar — charred Spanish octopus. This silky smooth risotto is made with layered Arborio rice, piquillo peppers, tart preserved lemons, pork salume and cilantro. Roasted almonds and smoky charred Spanish octopus add a crunch.
- Jarocho & Jarocho South — seafood paella. Chef Carlos Falcon packs this with fish, clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp and then pairs it with saffron scented Bomba rice.
- KC Koshary — koshary. This Egyptian street food specialty is filling, inexpensive and iconic. White rice, brown lentils, chickpeas and pasta are tossed together with cumin-scented tomato sauce and topped with crunchy fried onions. It also comes with condiments like Dakka, a kind of garlicky vinegar and shatta, a spicy chili sauce.
- Pirate’s Bone Burgers — horchata. Although they're most known for colorful veggie burgers, people also love the Latin-inspired coffee drinks that owners Zaid Consuegra and Lydia Palma introduced at their original coffee shop. This plant-based horchata is made with homemade rice milk, along with cinnamon and vanilla for warmth and sweetness. It can also be ordered "dirty" with a double shot of espresso.
- Baramee Thai Bistro — mango sticky rice. My favorite version of this classic Thai dessert is made with a long grain rice slow cooked with coconut milk and sugar. It's then covered with decorative fresh flowers and thin slices of sweet mango and topped with drizzled coconut syrup and sesame seeds.
- The Rieger — mushroom tahdig. Catch this Persian inspired dish while it is still on the menu. White rice with saffron and tumeric is cooked so that it's crispy, then flipped right before serving to reveal a sort of crust. The rice is then filled with eggplant, tomato, herbs, cucumber and a cooked quail’s egg.
- Waldo Thai Place — khao tod nam sod. This dish is so flavorful, funky and spicy that I actually crave it. Clumps of crispy seasoned rice are tossed with dried and cured pork sausage, scallion, red onion, cilantro, peanut and dried chili. Stuff as much as you can into a lettuce leaf and enjoy.
- Plate — Little Oranges. On a modern Italian menu, these crispy golden brown arancini rice balls deliver some old school comfort. Made of leftover saffron risotto, stuffed with beef short ribs and topped with basil oil, Taleggio cheese and sundried tomato sauce, they come to the table on a shareable plate.
Bonjwing Lee, The Ulterior Epicure:
- Kulture Kurry — biryani. Kulture Kurry has quite a few versions of this northern Indian rice dish that mixes curry spices and often meat and/or vegetables. They also offer biryani dishes with goat, chicken and paneer.
- Seva Cuisine of India — pulao. This version of Indian pilaf includes pineapple and a choice of meat. I’ve had the lamb version and it’s deliciously spicy.
- Kin Lin — dried salted fish-fried rice. I don’t know how this dish might be translated into English because I’m not sure it’s printed on the menu, but you can call ahead and request it. The bits of fish are extremely pungent and salty. They're reconstituted in water and stir-fried with rice and sometimes vegetables.