This week, Chuck Eats KC has access to a culinary time machine. We can travel back in time to visit restaurants in the Kansas City area. Our travels today will mostly reflect my memories and favorites, but I have badgered a few friends for names of restaurants they fondly remember. Feel free to add your memories of these places or others in the comments or form below. There will be further visits by our time machine to Kansas City restaurants of yesteryear.
Annie’s Santa Fe
Annie’s Santa Fe was a popular Mexican restaurant during the 1980s and 1990s which had locations at several local malls, including Oak Park Mall and Bannister Mall. The Bannister Mall was the location I remember visiting. It may have been my first exposure as a young person to Tex-Mex that went beyond American style tacos and cheese-smothered enchiladas. You may remember those home style tacos consisting of hamburger, shredded cheddar cheese, and broken taco shells. Annie’s offered more ambitious plates and had interesting desserts and drinks.
My mother remembers that they had good spinach enchiladas, “which are so hard to find in Kansas City.”
I understand that Annie’s Santa Fe was a social hot spot for local young people in the 1980s. Don’t recall hanging out there myself, but it had a big bar, cheap margaritas, and all the delicious food.
Jasper’s (original location)
As a kid growing up in the 1970s, it seems that whenever we had babysitters, mom and dad were going to Jasper’s at 75th and Wornall (Waldo). They got dressed up, so I assumed it was a “fancy” restaurant. I suspect that my parents discovered it in the late 1960s, when we lived a few blocks away. My father does remember that they went there a lot. The Mirabile family still operate a Jasper’s in South Kansas City, which is a popular destination for gourmet Italian dining. The Waldo location lasted 44 years until 1997, when the family sold the property to Walgreen’s.
KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce was originally created by Richard E. “Rich” Davis M.D. in 1977. You can currently buy the sauces and rubs that followed at most grocery stores around the USA. After the sauce became successful, Davis created a local chain of five fast casual barbecue restaurants. The last one closed in 2009.
While I never had a chance to dine at one of these restaurants, I was a big fan of their sauce, which is distributed nationally. When I lived in Washington, DC in the 1990s, I could walk into any grocery store and find a bottle to remind me of Kansas City.
Mama Tio’s was a popular, family-owned Mexican restaurant located on the Paseo in south Kansas City. Opened in 1979, the restaurant closed in 2019. Along with the regular Mexican offerings, Mama Tio’s specialties included Mamas Loaded Fries, the Potaco, Tio’s Chimichanga, and the Sancho Supreme.
One of my favorite family dinner locations as a kid was the Putsch’s cafeteria which used to be in Prairie Village at Mission Rd. and 83rd. Our family used to have lunch at the cafeteria after church back in the late 1970s. I’ll fess up that the main reason that this tween at the time went to church during that era was for the lunch afterwards. My favorite options was their chicken and biscuits and gravy. Their mac and cheese was great too.
Putsch’s had multiple locations around the area. This was your classic cafeteria food where you pushed a tray down a shelf and pointed at the food you wanted. Basic American comfort food done pretty well. Affordable for families and popular with seniors.
Sam WIlson’s was one of those family restaurants with that kind of atmosphere that is pretty memorable if you are a kid. In many ways, the restaurant that existed during the 1970s on 103rd Street in South Kansas City, anticipated the fast casual theme restaurants of the 1990s to the present. Just look at that picture above. Looks like a “country” take on TGIF Fridays, right?
I remember Sam Wilson’s being the place where as a kid I got to try an adult “mega” salad for the first time. We take these kinds of salads for granted these days, but this was new to me. Salads during that era still involved a few leaves of iceberg lettuce, an anemic tomato slice, and some heavy dressing. Just ask my mom, who subsisted on those bad salads as a vegetarian during that era.
One of KC’s home grown pizza options in the mid 1970s was Schaal’s Pizza. Schaal’s was started by Paul Schaal, a professional baseball player who played for 12 years with the Angels and Royals. He is probably more famously known among Kansas City sports fans as being the third baseman replaced by Hall of Famer, George Brett.
As a kid and huge fan of the Royals, I was probably excited about getting pizza at a restaurant owned by a baseball player. But I still recall the pizza being a disappointment. I can best describe my memory of it as being a home made pizza box style pizza with lots of sauce, little seasoning, and hardly any cheese. But hey, pizza made by a former Kansas City Royal!
Our stop in the 1970s will include the Shakey’s Pizza that was located on South Troost. I am quite sure Shakey’s was the first pizza I had as a child growing up in south Kansas City. I recall the pizza being that style which could be descried as classic roadhouse pizza (think Fun House Pizza or classic Pizza Hut). Thick chewy crusts and tons of cheese. But Shakey’s was special because of the atmosphere. While it did not have the casino economy and distractions of a contemporary Chuck E. Cheese, it was fun for us kids at the time. It had the window where you could watch the staff prep and bake pizzas. It had those clunky wooden benches, communal tables, and there were old classic movies and shorts being shown. Do I recall there being live music during our first visits?
It seems like every big city with skyscrapers has one that has a revolving restaurant on the top level. There is even a long Wikipedia page devoted to listing all these formats around the world. Skies Restaurant & Lounge, located atop the old Hyatt Regency Crown Center, closed in 2011.
Menu items were very typical fancy steak house options: KC strip steak, lobster tails, filet mignon, “Mediterranean Roasted Walleye,” and soups and salads.
Never got a chance to dine at Skies or check it out. Never was a destination in my family, though I remember it being a “fancy date” destination. You would expect it to do well in this era, because with those views of Kansas City, the restaurant could easily promote itself as an Instagram and selfie hot spot.
If you were looking for cheap hamburgers, fries and shakes during the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s, local burger chain Smaks was a popular choice. The chain had around a dozen restaurants around Kansas and Missouri. While many locations were stand-alone buildings, some Smaks were located inside shopping malls like Ward Parkway Mall. I remember the location at 103rd and State Line Road. I only remember the burgers, which were good for cheap burgers, and the wrinkled, glazed buns.
The chain closed down around 1983, after a decade of dealing with growing national fast food chains.
What readers remember about the restaurant:
“I remember Smaks as a child because there was one a block from my childhood home and the hickory burger was my favorite, great place to eat.”
If you ask a Kansas Citian who makes great pies, Tippin’s will probably be mentioned. You can still buy their pies at area grocery stores like Hen House. Some of our favorites include their Key Lime Pie and the Blackberry Pie. Tippin’s was a local chain of fast casual restaurants from 1984 to 2004. At one point, the restaurant had 19 locations in Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. I have family and friends who worked for the chain.
Located in the Westin Crown Center for decades, the Polynesian-themed restaurant featured a Tiki Bar atmosphere with Asian/Oceania food and Kansas City classics. part of a chain, the Crown Center location opened in 1973 and closed in 1996. The Kansas City restaurant was long an anchor restaurant in the Crown Center complex. The chain still has restaurants open around the world.
If you are a fan of submarine sandwiches, you are probably familiar with Planet Sub, which has dozens of locations around Kansas City (and other cities). Planet Sub grew out of the Yello Sub mini-chain, which had two restaurants in Lawrence, Kansas. We are piloting our time machine to Lawrence in the 1980s, to pick up some of our Yello Sub favorites from that era. Our favorite location was just off the University of Kansas campus, next to the old Crossing bar. We’d pick up some of our vegetarian favorites, like the Meatless Masterpiece. Many of the original sub options are on the Planet Sub menus, but the 1980s version of those subs were larger and probably had larger bread.
My favorites, which are still available at any Planet Sub locations, include The Meatless Masterpiece, 4 Cheese, Californian, Spicy Cheese, and Tempeh BBQ. My favorite, which is sometimes available off menu, is the Tempeh Reuben.
The other original location of Yello Sub is still open at 23rd and Iowa in Lawrence, Kansas.
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