Kansas City can sometimes be a city of extremes. It has more than 100 barbecue restaurants and counting, yet it's also seen an explosion of more plant-based and vegetarian cuisine, including restaurants that are completely free of meat.
But as people across the country eat more vegetables for the benefit of their own health as well as that of the environment, it's spurring creativity on the culinary scene.
"We are a meat and potatoes town at our core so I think we've lagged behind," said food critic Jenny Vergara. But now, she said, "I think Kansas City is right there. We're understanding more of the benefits of eating plants."
One way to get up to speed is through KC Vegan Restaurant Week, a collaboration among several vegan restaurants in town. From Jan. 28 through Feb. 1, a different restaurant hosts each night with a special menu.
Until then, and whether you're a carnivore or a vegan, here are the dishes KCUR's food critics recommend when you're in the mood for something vegetable-forward.
Danielle Lehman, Open Belly Podcast:
- Pirate’s Bone Burgers — Sriracha chix. There are a lot of plant-based burgers out there, but if you’re craving a “chicken” sandwich, this should be your go-to. Pirate's Bone's in-house vegan sauces and toppings, such as the aioli and guacamole on this slider, add a lot of flavor and texture, too.
- Mattie’s Vegan Eats — jackfruit nachos. The two sisters who own and operate this food truck serve exclusively vegan eats. The nachos are topped with their homemade spicy vegan queso made from cashews. You can even buy a jar to take home.
- The Littlest Bakeshop — cupcakes. You can find this bakery in the former Pirate’s Bone space in East Brookside. Every dessert on the menu is both gluten-free and vegan. They’re especially known for their beautifully decorated cupcakes and their cinnamon rolls on Saturdays.
- Anousone — sticky rice plate. Located in Strang Hall, Anousone can customize almost everything on the menu to be vegetarian or vegan. For an introduction to classic Lao cuisine, I recommend this dish with the crispy tofu. Be sure to also ask chef Anourom Thomson for the vegan dipping sauces.
- Momo Bar KC — vegan momo. Similar to a dumpling filled with a variety of meats or vegetables, momo is a traditional comfort food in Nepal. Chef Miki Katuwal was born in Nepal, and now she and her husband Sid are bringing momo to Kansas City through occasional pop-ups around town. Keep an eye on their Instagram feed for dates and locations.
- Waldo Thai Place — vegan lunch. Waldo Thai Place just released a new vegan lunch menu including a vegan stir-fry dish with jackfruit and peppers, two rice noodle dishes with tofu and veggies and a bok choy sauté.
Mary Bloch, Around the Block:
- Princess Garden Restaurant — harvest vegetables. You can also order beef or pork with this, but I recommend getting the vegetarian version. It has lots of bright, crisp Chinese vegetables and is made with a black bean garlic sauce that makes the rice so tasty. You'll be delighted you tried it.
- Howard’s Café — veggie burger. This is made with lentils, red beans, grains and carrots. Chef Craig Howard worked very hard to make sure it didn’t fall apart like veggie burgers are apt to do.
- Novel — vegetable soup. Honeynut squash soup made with coconut milk braised tapioca, jalapeño schug and crisp black mustard seeds is what I'm in love with right now; in the summer I crave the corn soup — whatever vegetable soup chef Ryan Brazeal is cooking up, don't miss it. And vegetable side dishes, such as green beans with whipped tofu and fried cauliflower with raisins, could easily be the main attraction.
- Port Fonda — elote. I adore this Mexican street corn. This version is easier to eat than the traditional elote because the corn is off the cob and the kernels are tossed with spicy mayo, lime, cheese and cilantro in just the right proportion.
- The Restaurant at 1900 — Mezze at 1900. This is one of my favorite vegetarian dishes in the city. Chef Linda Duerr mixes it up, but currently it features roasted beet falafel and chutney, grilled haloumi, a spicy carrot and pepper spread, fried cauliflower, dukkah, pomegranate and roasted garlic naan. The various components play so well together that each bite is a treat.
- Poi-O — charred broccoli, kimchi fried rice, elotes. You definitely don’t have to have the roast chicken to have a satisfying meal, because the side dishes here could be meals in themselves. Order them all to share around the table.
- Columbus Park Ramen Shop — miso mushroom. This satisfying vegetable ramen has an intense and redolent mushroom flavor. It comes with smoked tofu and black garlic sesame oil and it's quite comforting to have this time of year.
- Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que — Portobello Z-Man. I bet you’re surprised to see a barbecue restaurant on this list. One of the most popular dishes on the chalkboard menu here is the Z-Man, which can be ordered with a mushroom instead of brisket. Joe's also recently tested the sandwich with an Impossible™ Burger patty. If it gains traction, it'll be added to the menu.
- Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room — carrot agnolotti. I’m a sucker for all carrot pasta and this one with ricotta and kale is currently on the menu. The texture and colors really make this dish stand out, and though Chef Michael Corvino changes up the menu often, there are always some lovely vegetable small plates to choose from.
- Antler Room — squash and mozzarella agnolotti. This is another great place to go to for wonderful vegetable small plates or carrot pasta.
- Pirate’s Bone Burgers — beet burger and black bean burger. I’m partial to both of these. The beet burger benefits from the crunch of the cabbage and the jalapeños really add some spice to the black bean burger.
Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:
- Mickey’s Hideaway — barbecued carrots with citrus segments, caramelized fennel, ginger, garlic and a Moroccan glaze that feels as deeply spiced as a good Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. That's my favorite offering on the "Dirt Candy" section of the vegan menu, which also includes a raw broccoli salad with shaved pears, dried cherries, pickled onion, daikon, peanuts and miso dressing.
- Jerusalem Cafe — vegetarian combination. This comes with falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj, spinach pastry, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, Kalamata olives and pita bread. Another great vegetarian option here is the tabouli salad.
- The Fix KC — nachos made with homemade tortilla chips, tomato, olives, jalapenos, pico de gallo salsa, sour cream and a homemade cashew "cheese" is one offering from this new vegan/vegetarian place that opened in the former Attitude spot at 31st and Cherry. They also have a burrito full of vegetables like squash, peppers, onion and avocado covered in a tomatillo-jalapeno salsa, served with a side of black beans.
- Dead Beet Taco Shop — seitan tacos. In this pop-up at Dodson’s Bar & Commons, one of owner/chef Kat Willis' classic tacos features carne asada made with the popular meat substitute seitan, black bean puree, queso fresco, tomatillo salsa, bread-and-butter radishes and a squirt of lime. (The next pop-up is scheduled for Jan. 28 at 6 p.m.)
- Kind Food — Kind curry. This spot in the Iron District features quinoa, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, bell pepper and onions in a creamy yellow curry sauce that will warm you up with just a touch of spice.
- Solstice at Strang Hall — apple crunch salad. Full of spinach, radicchio, walnut brittle, cranberries, blue cheese, fennel and cider vinaigrette, this is definitely a favorite of mine. It's fresh and a little sweet, yet satisfyingly crunchy.
- Nida at Strang Hall — seared cheese taco. This crispy eggplant taco has a tomatillo-tahini sauce with pickled chilies and arugula. Definitely get elote as your side.
- Canihaveabite — Streets Of Thailand. This dish features Thai mung beans, cabbage, carrot, turnip slaw, sautéed mushrooms with ginger and garlic and is finished with sesame and sunflower seeds. There's also the Vegetable Stack, where vegetables are layered over baked polenta with Irish cheddar cheese.
- Happy Apple Cafe — strawberry, mint and mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches are among the offerings at this spot that opened on Troost with the goal of making plant-based eating fun. Others ara fried lion’s mane mushroom with candied arugula and a squirt of vegan cheese, and plant-based donuts for folks to enjoy with a cup of coffee.
- Urban Cafe — Urban Bowl.
- Green Room Burgers & Beer — Veg Brownfield.
- Taqueria Vegana (a Wednesday pop-up at The Bite) — "Beef" Crunchwrap.
- Cafe Gratitude — I Am Comforted and I Am Present.