Kansas City is an under-appreciated destination. There’s incredible jazz, beautiful parks (fact: Swope Park is twice the size of Central Park!), and of course, great food. Did you know KC has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other US city? Yep, just one of the reasons this is a great stop for eaters.
Here’s where to eat next time you’re in Kansas City.
Where to do Barbecue
Every big bbq region hangs their hat on a unique style. In Kansas City, it’s all about the burnt ends (aka crusty tips of a brisket of beef or pork) and that famous spicy, sweet tomato-and-molasses barbecue sauce. Barbecue aficionados are crazy-opinionated about who does ‘cue right. Anthony Bourdain claims LC’s does some of the best ‘cue in the country, and if he’s saying it, I’m believing him. Go for rib tips, ribs, brisket, ham and more, plus slices of white bread for sopping up the sauce. Paired with a side of beans and coleslaw, it’s the perfect intro to KC barbecue.
Started by Russ Fiorella in 1957, Jack Stack is considered one of the most beloved (and a little fancier) barbecue joints in town. Three generations later, it’s still operated by the Fiorella family, and this institution is not to be missed. You can’t really go wrong here, but be sure to order the burnt ends and a side of cheesy corn bake.
Another must? BB’s Lawnside BBQ—where slow-cooked meats are served with a side of blues music. Check out their calendar to see who’s playing. For a unique atmosphere and killer pulled pork, head to the original Oklahoma Joe’s KC Barbecue (pictured above), housed in a gas station. Chef-driven Q39 is a bit more polished than most bbq joints, but that doesn’t mean they’re not serving up the real thing. It’s delicious.
Farm-Fresh American cuisine
As far as local top chefs, it’s all about chefs Colby and Megan Garrelts. The duo opened fine dining (but by no means stuffy) Bluestem in 2004 to rave reviews. In 2013, they received the James Beard Award for best restaurant in the Midwest—basically an Oscar in the food world. Expect elegant preparations of farm-fresh American foods, like pickled beet salad with yogurt and basil; ribeye with farro, onion, watercress and veal jus; and yummy desserts like smoked banana fritters with brown butter. Their second restaurant, the more casual Rye, does excellent preparations of midwestern and southern comfort classics, like deviled eggs; chicken and dumplings; pulled pork sandwiches; and creamy mac and cheese.
I’m a sucker for coffee and baked goods, and Black Dog Coffeehouse is an excellent one-stop shop. Order a pour over coffee made with locally roasted beans form Messenger Coffee, and food made with baked goods from the onsite Ibis Bakery. Try an egg sandwich; fancy toast, topped with butter, sea salt and jam; or a ham and gruyere croissant. Their brioche is incredible, and if you visit on a Saturday, try to score a loaf of the citrus variation.
Eat, drink, sleep, repeat.
The Rieger Hotel originally opened in 1915 in the heart of downtown Kansas City. Built by J. Rieger & Co. Whiskey, the three-story brick building housed traveling salesmen, railroad workers and visitors to the area. Though the whiskey company shut down during Prohibition (but was recently revived!), the hotel lives on. Stylishly renovated, the building still features much of its original charm. If you can’t stay there, at least pop in for a meal or cocktail. The Rieger’s namesake restaurant does beautiful pastas, like rigatoni with duck ragù, white corona beans, escarole, pecorino romano, crispy duck skin; and bone-sticking entrees like bison bourguignon with red wine, mushrooms, pearl onions, lardons, parsley and potato purée. In the hotel basement, you’ll find Manifesto—an intimate cocktail lounge that opened in 2009, but harkens back to the time it served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Order a whiskey and imagine the place filled with gangsters (allegedly Al Capone was once a patron).
Speaking of drinks, if you love a leisurely glass of wine paired with cheese plates, or moules frites, visit Ca Va. Lots of festive champagne cocktails, wines, and French food will have you thinking Kansas City really is the Paris of the Plains.
Prefer margaritas? Head to Port Fonda. Start with some guacamole (served with chicarrones if you like—yep, those are pork rinds); and move on to carnitas or enchiladas fired in a wood-burning oven. If you’re the kind of person who hems and haws over which margarita to order, they offer flights, giving you four 3oz samples of their signature margaritas. Why don’t more places do this?! Great brunch, too.
Attention carb lovers!
Like noodles? You’ve got two fantastic, albeit very different, options. Famed Italian chef Lidia Bastianich, who lives in New York, opened a restaurant in Kansas City. I’m not really sure why, but suffice it to say Kansas Citians are lucky. From spinach lasagna to osso bucco, Lidia’s food is made with the love of an Italian grandma and you can taste it. For a completely different take on noodles, check out Columbus Park Ramen. Open only for dinner, this 350-square-foot casual spot churns out incredible ramen soups. Try the tonkatsu, a pork broth based ramen noodle soup with mushrooms, black garlic and mustard greens.
What are your favorite spots in Kansas City? What’s your favorite spot for bbq? Share in the comments!