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Central Standard

Food Critics: The Best Vegetarian Food In Kansas City In 2018

Pirate's Bone
The beet burger at Pirate's Bone.

Vegetarian options pop up on a lot of Kansas City menus, from high-end restaurants to brand-new coffee shops … and yes, even at barbecue joints.

“Now, it’s just part of everybody’s diet. You don’t have to ask for something vegetarian. It’s just a dish without meat or fish or whatever,” KCUR food critic Mary Bloch told host Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard.

“It doesn’t have to be anything you feel deprived about,” said health coach Lisa Murphy.

Murphy, Bloch and food critic Charles Ferruzza searched out the best vegetarian food in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • Princess Garden — Harvest Vegetable dish. 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 and peppers. It’s my favorite Chinese vegetable dish. I love it; it’s a real treat.
  • Boru Ramen — crispy Brussels sprouts salad. Made with carrots, red cabbage, cilantro, almonds and nuoc cham vinaigrette. I make it my meal!
  • Messenger Coffee Company + Ibis Bakery — black rice bowl. With house kimchi, roasted vegetables, an over-easy egg, gochujang (a Korean spicy paste) and spring onions. It’s just a delightful way to start the day.
  • Happy Gillis — Greens & Eggs. Ibis Bakery country bread with sautéed greens, garlic, goat cheese, soft egg and dukkah spice. And go next door for whatever the vegetarian ramen is at the Columbus Park Ramen Shop.
  • The Antler Room. Any vegetarian pasta that is on the menu is a slam-dunk. Right now, they have a ramp bucatini (but it does have scallop butter). They have fabulous veggies as well. My current favorite is cauliflower with an avocado/pea puree with preserved local vegetables and gochujang dressing.
  • The Rieger. The menu changes often, but a current vegetarian item is based on a local tofu. Grilled Chunco Tofu is served with seven grains, roasted mushrooms and chimichurri.
  • Howard’s Café — veggie burger and fries. 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. The burger is really good; he worked hard to perfect it so it doesn’t fall apart.
  • Char Bar — Roots & Fruits. Beets, Brussels sprouts, roasted parsnips, goat cheese and blackberry wine vinaigrette. Not a typical dish to find on a barbecue restaurant menu. It is a full meal; it’s not a little dainty side salad. The roasting really brings out all the flavors
  • Room 39has a satisfying veggie burger with black beans, bulgur wheat and portobello mushrooms.
  • Black Dirt just started serving lunch, and they have an interesting-looking veggie burger that is on my list to try.
  • Corvino Supper Club has a mushroom burger that’s a vegetarian version of its famous house burger.

Lisa Murphy, health coach and mindfulness expert:

  • City Market Coffee House— vegan breakfast burrito. Stuffed with potatoes, spinach, tofu and vegan chorizo and served with mango salsa.
  • Mission Taco Joint — Cho-Fu taco. It’s a delicious street taco with smashed avocado, soy chorizo, ancho-agave barbecue, toasted pepitas, arugula, pickled jalapenos and crispy onions. Vegan.
  • Mission Taco Joint — New Year’s Resolution. This is a hearty burrito: a whole-wheat tortilla wrapped around portobello mushrooms, black beans, vegetable quinoa, pickled tomatillos, crispy onions, jalapeno salsa and cilantro pepita pesto. Vegan.
  • Char Bar has several vegetarian-friendly items on its menu, including a smoked jackfruit barbecue sandwich (vegan). It’s on some nice white bread with some fresh-sliced avocado. It’s delicious.
  • The Rieger’s ever-changing seasonal menu currently has several vegetarian and vegan options. A few of my favorites: a radish salad with creamy tofu purée, sugar snap peas, smoked egg yolk, and pea shoots (vegetarian/vegan-friendly); raw and roasted turnips with miso butter and local honey (vegetarian/vegan-friendly) and an interesting tofu main course: grilled Chunco Tofu with seven grains, roasted mushrooms and chimichurri (vegan).
  • Messenger Coffee Company + Ibis Bakery is very veggie-friendly. I love the fresh milled vegan pancakes with house-made pecan butter and coconut milk caramel. Their avocado tartine (fancy avocado toast) is vegetarian as is, or they’ll make a vegan version featuring scrambled tofu in place of the egg.
  • Blue Nile Café has a vegan menu that includes samosas and several veggie dishes. I always order the veggie combo, which comes with a choice of four vegetarian options and endless injera.
  • It’s not officially on the menu, but the chefs at Extra Virgin will make delicious vegan fried rice with lots of vegetables. The small plate menu includes many other vegan and veggie-friendly dishes.
  • The tiny kitchen at Pirate’s Bone creates an entire plant-based menu. Highlights are the activated charcoal waffle and the colorful beet burger. The waffle is amazing; it’s a regular waffle with charcoal in it, so it’s the color of charcoal. (Similar to how squid ink makes pasta black). Served with pure maple syrup or a dusting of powdered sugar; it’s really delicious. The beet burger comes on an activated charcoal bun. It’s served hot, like a veggie burger.
  • Café Gratitude’s entire menu is 100 percent plant-based and organic. I love the “I Am Grounded,” vegan nachos made with roasted potatoes. I also like the “I Am Blessed,” which is a vegan version of eggs benedict served during weekend brunch: gluten-free bread topped with marinated mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, avocado and cashew hollandaise sauce and served breakfast potatoes.
  • I love the veggie burger at Yard House. It’s vegan and it’s really, really good. It has quinoa and vegan powder, and it comes on a great bun. It’s a nice vegan option for a burger.
  • Betty Rae's Ice Creamoffers three non-dairy options (vegan): chocolate made with a coconut cream base, agave and cocoa; vanilla is a silken tofu base, thickened with rice milk, brown rice syrup, a few bananas and avocados; and they always have a fruit sorbet. They also have vegan cones and vegan chocolate sauce.

Charles Ferruzza, KCUR food critic:

  • Bo Ling’s. Vegetarian dumplings, followed by baby bok choy with garlic or fresh pineapple fried rice with vegetables.
  • Fogo de Chao — the seasonal market table. It’s well-laden with seasonal salads, roasted vegetables and enough meatless choices to make a satisfying meal.
  • Nara — pad Thai with vegetables.
  • Nara — double pan-fried ramen with tofu.
  • Jasper’s — spaghetti with fresh broccoli, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes, you just need a non-meat pasta dish.
  • Blue Bird Bistro — vegetarian biscuits and gravy.
  • Eden Alley — veggie burger. It’s a classic. It tastes like what you think a veggie burger is supposed to taste like.

Listener recommendations:

  • Banksia has some great vegetarian items. I like the spanakopita. It wasn’t just a little thing; it was a rolled monstrous puff pastry filled with feta cheese, spinach and onions. It was really good.
  • The Russell — tomato and burrata toast. Served on grilled sourdough, and it was to die for. It was so fresh. It comes with chips or you can substitute a side salad with a light vinaigrette. They also have a good roasted root vegetable salad with maple vinaigrette.
  • Urban Café has really good veggie options. My favorite is a scramble bowl with vegetables, quinoa and tofu or eggs. It’s delicious. They also have the best smoothies in town. You can choose your ingredients. I usually have spinach, kale, banana with ginger and blueberries.
  • For a cheaper option, I really love the falafel and hummus sandwich at Jerusalem Café in Westport. You can’t go wrong with it; it’s just really great and tasty.
  • McCoy’s Public House — vegan masala. It’s basically a mix of roasted vegetables with a brown sauce that’s like a garam masala sauce. It’s a very savory gravy, and that’s something, as a vegetarian, that I’ve missed: that gravy taste. They’re always changing up their vegetarian and vegan options, too.
  • The Happy Greekin Independence — Hercules Plate. Comes with hummus, pita, stuffed grape leaves, spanakopeta. The soup of the day, which is often roasted red pepper soup, is to die for.
  • Blue Koi — black bean tofu. With jalapenos and bell peppers. It’s spicy, but not too spicy. The vegetable dumplings are so good, too.
  • Blue Koi — Ants on a Tree.
  • Eden Alley — Avocado Vera Cruz.
  • Boru Ramen — mushroom ramen.
  • Kin Lin — spicy tofu vegetables.
  • Chai Shai — vegetable samosas.
  • Seva Indian Cuisine — veggie pakoras.
  • Habashi House — falafel.
  • Genghis Khan — vegetarian Mongolian BBQ
  • Choga Korean Restaurant — soft tofu stew.
  • Kurry Leaves Indian Cuisine has the best vegetarian food I’ve had so far in KC.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.