“I’ve always maintained that the best vegetarian food you can find anywhere is deep-fried,” joked KCUR Food Critic Charles Ferruzza.
But Kansas City’s meatless food scene has blossomed over the past few years. In addition to vegetarian and vegan-only restaurants, chefs at restaurants of all stripes are getting creative.
“I think people have such an unfortunate misunderstanding that vegetarian food is bland,” commented guest Food Critic Lisa Murphy. “And when done properly, it’s absolutely not. It’s every bit as flavorful and as delightful as food made with meat.”
Ferruzza and Murphy, along with Mary Bloch, go beyond pasta and salad to find the best vegetarian (and vegan) food in and around Kansas City.
Here are their recommendations:
Mary Bloch, Around the Block:
- The mushroom ramen at Columbus Park Ramen Shop. It’s a riff on the standard pork or chicken ramen. It’s made with an intense mushroom-charred leek broth, miso, black garlic oil, roasted and marinated mushrooms, seasonal veggies, nori and scallion. It’s hearty, and it feels like you’re eating a mushroom in every sip.
- The kale with the shaved Brussels sprouts at The Westside Local. It also has slivered almonds, parmesan, fried shallots and maple tahini (and brown-sugar bacon, which you can leave off).
- The Westside Local also has a lovely quinoa bowl. Currently, it’s served with smoked squash puree, Brussels sprouts, radish, kale and sweet potatoes. My favorite is the spring version with spring veggies.
- The Roots and Fruits dish at Char Bar, which has beets, Brussels sprouts, roasted parsnips, goat cheese and blackberry wine vinaigrette. Not a typical dish to find on a barbecue restaurant menu. It’s a large portion; it can be a full meal.
- The potato pizza (with Gorgonzola and radicchio) or the mushroom pizza (with Taleggio cheese) at Pizzabella.
- The veggie burger and fries at Howard’s Café. Chef Craig Howard makes his own cheese, and the burger is made with French green lentils, red beans, rehydrated porcini, brown rice, quinoa, carrots, garlic, nutritional yeast and vegan Worcestershire sauce. It’s hearty and satisfying.
- The Brussels sprouts crostini with ricotta, honey and preserved lemon at Plate. The Brussels sprouts leaves sitting atop the grilled bread are crispy and are beautifully complemented by the ricotta and honey.
- The Harvest Vegetable dish at Princess Garden. It’s an off-menu item, but it’s a vegetarian version of Harvest Pork, with the same fragrant flavor. It’s made with a garlic-ginger black bean sauce with broccoli, snow peas, peppers and more. It’s my favorite Chinese vegetable dish.
- The Magic Mushroom Sandwich is an old standby at The Classic Cup. It’s been on the menu forever, and it’s one of my favorite veggie sandwiches. Red peppers, lettuce, tomato and a really nice goat cheese aioli; it’s delicious.
- For Middle Eastern food: Jerusalem Café has a good hummus.
- For beans and rice: El Portón Café has black beans and rice. The Sundry has red beans and rice (typically with ham and bacon, but if you call ahead, they’re happy to make it vegetarian).
Lisa Murphy, health and wellness consultant, food blogger:
- The celery root bisque at Novel (vegan without the crab garnish). It’s a rich, satisfying, creamy soup.
- Fried oyster mushrooms and fennel at The Farmhouse (vegan without the sour cream; vegetarian with).
- The live nachos at Café Gratitude (raw and vegan).
- I love the hummus at Habashi House. It’s fantastic.
- The harvest chop salad at Heirloom Bakery & Hearth (vegetarian).
- Kale salad at The Westside Local (vegetarian without the bacon).
- Roasted eggplant pizza at Pizzabella.
- The quinoa at The Westside Local (vegan).
- The sprouted rye fritters at The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. Chef Howard Hanna does a great job with vegan and vegetarian food. The sprouted rye fritters are a main course; they’re fried and they’re sort of like falafel. The rye grain has been germinated; I guess I’d say it tastes a little bit nuttier, a little bit fresher, a little bit greener, a little bit more alive. They were delicious.
- Pakora curry at Chai Shai (vegetable fritters in yellow curry made from black mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves). Other tasty vegetarian dishes there include the yellow lentil curry and a vegan curry that’s made with potatoes and carrots.
- I like the veggie burger at The Westside Local. It’s made with sweet potatoes and quinoa. It comes with cheese, but they can substitute hummus for you. And it’s vegan; they use a vegan bun. I think it’s really nice and tasty.
- One of my favorite things at Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse are their non-dairy milks. I love the cashew milk; I order a cashew milk chai, which, as if it weren’t already rich and creamy enough as it is. The cashew milk makes it amazing.
Charles Ferruzza, The Pitch:
- Eden Alley. This venue calls itself “eco-conscious” and serves some wonderfully creative, inspired dishes, including delicious soups, sandwiches and wraps, a superb Mediterranean platter, a wonderful roasted potato burrito and a tasty vegan/nut-free loaf that evokes the spirit of the old Unity Inn, the first vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City back in 1906! I’ve always loved the veggie burger at Eden Alley; it’s a real hearty burger that’s very, very tasty. They don’t mind if you tart it up with stuff; it’s the condiments that make it so good. Also, shout-out to the roasted potato burrito.
- Chinese restaurants are always a good option when dining with a mixed crowd (meat eaters and non-meat eaters). I like Kin Lin for its tofu with chili and cumin (exquisitely seasoned) and eggplant with tofu in garlic sauce (once you eat that, you don’t miss meat).
- The ABC Café has an impressive all-day dim sum menu — very inexpensive — offering vegetarian-friendly small plates like red bean puffs, stuffed bean curd and turnip cakes.
- Thai restaurants typically have a few very good meatless options. I love the fried tofu (served with a couple of dipping sauces) at iPho Tower, as well as their vegetarian pho; they also serve a tofu banh mi sandwich that’s quite delicious.
- The desserts at Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse are possibly the best-tasting “healthy” sweets in town.
- The vegetarian lasagna at Anna’s Oven is made with homemade pasta noodles, and I think that makes all the difference in the world. It’s just delicious.
- The food at Sahara Mediterranean Café is really, really good: falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush. The lentil soup is to die for.
- The jackfruit barbecue sandwich at Füd. The jackfruit is marinated, and it kind of emulates pulled pork; that’s the closest meat substitute I’ve found, personally, in Kansas City. The jackfruit ends up being a little bit sweet with a barbecue flavor. I thought it was great.
- Mud Pie Vegan Bakery sells a jackfruit sandwich (from Füd) that’s like a Reuben. It tasted pretty great.
- The veggie burger at Houston’s is the best!
- One More Cup has some delicious Mean Vegan faux bacon and jerky.
- G's Jamaican Cuisine does a very nice Caribbean-inspired no-meat rice and beans dish.
- I had a mushroom sub at Planet Sub that was wonderful!
- Taj Mahal has a wonderful buffet with vegetarian options.
- There’s a delicious vegetable galette at You Say Tomato.
- Taco Street, which is a little hole-in-the-wall on Highway 40, has amazing food and a ton of vegetarian options.
- Blue Koi has wonderful vegetarian dumplings. I also like the deep-fried tofu cubes.
- Blue Nile has a good buffet with good vegan options.
Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at email@example.com.