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Food Critics: The Best Italian Dishes In Kansas City In 2019

Laura Norris
Spaghetti and meatballs at Ragazza.

Whether you begin a meal with "buon appetite" or "tuck in," Central Standard's Food Critics can point you in the direction of a hearty dish personalized to your palette.

Pitch food writer Liz Cook says we're living in a good time to find a range of Italian cuisine. Prior to the early 1990s, she says, American perception of Italian dining was locked into the idea of cheap and plentiful pasta, leaving little room for fine dining.

"Starting around the '80s we see this regional shift where we're bringing in new dishes, and then Italian cuisine kind of becomes more in the fine dining realm. Now we’re seeing a little bit more of an interplay between those," Cook says.

Sometimes a range is possible even under one chef, like at Ragazza, which recently moved from Westport to Main Street in the Southmoreland neighborhood.

Food writer Mary Bloch loves the restaurant's giant meatall.

"You can share it with the whole table. There's great red sauce, and they've got focaccia to mop it up with," Bloch says.

KCFoodGuys.com writer Carlton Logan suggests going beyond the basics with Italian food.

"There are some great places that have raviolis with some very interesting fillings, shrimp or just a pesto sauce, and I think sometimes we need to think about those as well as just the basic what we're used to as Americans," Logan says.

Here are the critics' picks for Italian food around Kansas City:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • Bella NapoliAmatriciana rigatoni. It’s made with pancetta instead of the more traditional guanciale.
  • Lidia's – Polipo Alla Diavola. That’s spicy grilled octopus, potatoes, broccoli rabe, capers, and olives.
  • Ragazza – Amatriciana and lasagna.
  • Farina– Bolognese and the amatriciana. They're on the Four Kings of Rome menu. Also, take advantage of it still being summer to order the heirloom tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, peaches, basil and pomegranate dressing.
  • The Antler Room (not an Italian restaurant) – Burrata tortellini. That’s pistachio pesto and pecorino. Who can resist pillows of pasta with burrata?
  • Jasper's – Tableside mozzarella with fresh tomatoes. It's not too late. Go now.
  • Novel – Ryan's lamb sausage pasta with gnocchetti. That's sheep's milk cheese, summer squash, pistachio, and fava bean tapenade.
  • Osteria Il Centro – Chicken Marsala. Served with mushrooms and Marsala wine, garlic mashers and spinach.
  • Fox and PearlPorchetta. The meat is served with turnip mash, currently peaches and onions, accompanied by mint-ginger salsa verde.
  • 715 in Lawrence – Lasagne bolognese or Italian sausage pizza.
  • Extra Virgin –  Any octopus dish. The current one has potatoes, olives and chilis, a classic combination.

Liz Cook, The Pitch:

  • Plate – Bone & The Hare. That's black truffle, silky rabbit ragu, carrot-top pesto, floury house-made cappellacci (think: dumplings).
  • Ragazza – Braised lamb shank. Served with a salty, cheese-drunk mushroom risotto that's more comforting than any alfredo. They have good house-made limoncello, too.
  • FarinaClam dip and parmesan clam toast. Sip a draft beer and pick through a cold, creamy clam dip with a bright pop of salmon roe while a server shucks oysters nearby. The parmesan clam toast is a great, overlooked appetizer: tender clams, crunchy toast, and deep flavors from the dried tomatoes and parmesan.
  • The Antler Room (not an Italian restaurant) – Georgian soup dumplings. So many people think pasta when the think Italian food that it's worth talking about the Antler Room's house made pastas...even if most of them are inspired by other national cuisines. These soup dumplings are pasta dumplings filled with a rich, chile-spiced pork and beef broth. (If you've never had soup dumplings before: nibble a mouse-sized hole in the dumpling and slurp out the broth. Then you’re safe to chow down.) Start with the heirloom tomatoes with tempura corn while they're still in season. 
  • V's Italiano Ristorante – Go to town on classic Italian comforts in American portions while you perch in a romantic booth with a plaque that has the names of all of the couples who got engaged there. The Sunday champagne brunch, which features a pasta station and the restaurant's famous rum cake, is a great value.
  • Anthony's on Grand – Jazz. This is a bowl of olive oil tossed with parmesan and enough minced garlic that you'll still be tasting it three days later.
  • Garozzo's – Spiedini. The skewered chicken dish has been their signature since they opened in 1989. Also order a crispy stuffed artichoke or an ice-cold iceberg salad dredged in Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Carlton Logan, KCFoodGuys.com:

  • Jovito's Italian Cafe and Bakery – Chicken parmesan panini and lasagna.
  • Ragazza – Bucatini All'Amatriciana. The bucatini noodle is like a spaghetti noodle but it's much bigger and is hollow. This is served with a spicy red sauce. The eggplant parmesan is excellent.
  • Trezo Mare – Scimeca's grilled sausage and peppers. The bacon and potato pizza is wonderful, and the shrimp diablo is divine.
  • Jasper's– Supper Club experience: multicourse dinners, communal seating, family style service ... it's a great way to enjoy food and meet old friends and make new ones.
  • Bella Napoli – Traditional Italian pasta dishes and pizzas. Monday night pizza special $6. Tuesday night select bottles are half price. And on Thursday, you can get homemade gnocchi with sauce for $18.

Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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