Restaurants I Miss, U.S. Edition, Lawrence, Kansas

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This is the first installment of a series where I will be looking back at my favorite restaurants in cities outside of the Kansas City metro area. Some of these restaurants are still around. Some have moved and others have morphed into something new. Many are sadly gone. Today, I look back at Lawrence, Kansas in the 1980s, when I was a student at the University of Kansas. Future installments in this series will look at Madison, Wisconsin in the early 1990s, Washington, DC in the late 1990s, and various cities around the U.S. over the past 30 years. Please feel free to share your memories and thoughts in the comments below.

Lawrence is also part of the origin story for my decades of eating an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet.

My Lawrence list doesn’t include bars, as I prefer to focus on food. My drinking hangouts in the 1980s were The Jazzhaus and The Crossing.

Bucky’s – There was a free standing burger restaurant around 9th and Iowa, west of campus. I was never a big fan of hamburgers, but Bucky’s made some of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten. I would describe their format as being close to a classic Burger King Whopper. Just loaded with tons of toppings.

Joe’s Donuts – A popular bakery on 9th Street, north of the KU campus, which fed doughnuts to generations of KU students. No longer open. I recall it being a place you went for doughnuts at night, especially after you’d gone out to the bars. Was it open 24/7? I remember it having big windows in front, so you could see customers inside. It often had a line of students outside. I didn’t visit often, but I remember the doughnuts being very tasty.

Credit: Thad Allender/Journal-World Photo

Glass Onion – The Glass Onion was a coffee shop that opened in the mid 1980s above Yello Sub, on the north side of the KU campus. Currently the site of the Oread Hotel. It was in the “attic” of an old house that also had a Kinko’s copy store on one side. The Crossing bar was next door. It became a popular evening study and social hangout for students.

You might think, “Oh, a coffee shop next to campus. That’s pretty common, right?” The Glass Onion became a special place for KU students in the 1980s. While there were coffee shops around Lawrence, there were none close to campus, and this was within walking distance of campus. It made the smart decision to be open in the evenings, so it became popular spot for studying, dates, and social meet-ups.

I did not drink coffee when I lived in Lawrence and didn’t start drinking it until 2009. But I loved the Glass Onion for its social atmosphere and menu. One thing I will always remember about its menu was their bagels. Their bagels were not of the tier I’ve since experienced from bakeries and restaurants in subsequent decades, but they elevated bagels for me. Up to that point, bagels were those frozen Lenders bagels that you thawed or toasted, and then spread with plain Philadelphia cream cheese.

The Glass Onion bagels had extras like onions and tomatoes. There may have been bagel sandwiches. Open face, possibly? But their menu really was new and delicious. Throw in the social atmosphere and the vibe of the place and you have another unforgettable bygone restaurant.

Students enjoying The Glass Onion

La Familia – La Familia was a family-owned Mexican restaurant that operated for many years in downtown Lawrence, very close to The Bottleneck. I’m not sure if I dined here while I was a student, or after I graduated. I remember a friend recommending it. Impressed me enough that I recall it decades later. I recall the dishes being like Annie’s Santa Fe or like anything you’d get at a sit-down Mexican restaurant today.

Clyde’s Saloon currently occupies the former La Familia space.

Latin American Solidarity dinners at the ECM – The Ecumenical Ministries Center was a community center located just north of campus, a few blocks from the main student union. Once a week, activists and community residents interested in Latin American news, culture and solidarity, would get together for community and a free rice and beans dinner. Sometimes there would be a speaker. Sometimes a film. Food-wise this event introduced me to the virtue of rice and beans, which later became a staple of my vegetarian diet.

I’ve tried many times over the decades to replicate the taste of those simple shared dinners, but can’t recapture the taste. Maybe the special ingredient was the social community?

Pizza Shuttle – College towns always seem to have at least one local pizza chain that delivers to hungry students. Sure, you could order pizza from Pizza Hut or Domino’s, but local is always better, right?

Pizza Shuttle started operating in Lawrence in the mid 1980s. I remember that a few friends delivered pizza for them. My memories of my default Larence local pizza was a bit hazy, but as soon as I dug up the logo (pictured here), it was instant recognition.

I don’t recall what type of pizzas I ordered in college, but I remember that their pies were very good. Probably better than corporate pizza chains you can order from now. They still operate in Lawrence and Kansas City.

Rax – This was a national chain, so wasn’t a purely Lawrence only restaurant. I went to their location on 23rd Street all the time. Think a better version of Arby’s in terms of menu. Rax in the 1980s innovated the big unlimited salad bar concept, which was subsequently adopted by many restaurants. I was leaning towards a vegetarian and healthy diet. I loved being able to go to a fast food restaurant and creating big salads of my choosing.

Tin Pan Alley – This was one of my favorites during my Lawrence years, which closed before I left. The menu could be described as a mix of American and fast casual. Very common these days, a bit innovative in the 1980s. Like a diner with healthy options. It was a narrow restaurant, in a historic building, with a tin ceiling, and an entrance from a narrow passageway between buildings.

I remember Tin Pan Alley as contributing to my later switch to a vegetarian diet. Looking at the menu below, I can spot several of the dishes I enjoyed: Veggie Burrito, Veggie Grinder, and the Avocado sandwich. These entrees showed me that interesting vegetarian options were possible to get when eating out. I probably also got their Reuben. I’ve always loved Reubens.

In 1989, I worked across the street, in the real estate office of the County Clerk.

Oh my god, look at those prices!

Village Inn – We love the Village Inn that still operates in Overland Park, Kansas, but when I was a student at KU, we’d often go get breakfast, even after midnight, at the Village Inn at 9th and Iowa streets. With a vibe of a Denny’s, Shoney’s, or Perkins, the Inn always had good food. The current one in Overland Park is one of our faves for breakfast and a slice of pie.

Yello Sub – This sandwich restaurant got me through college and helped me adopt a vegetarian diet in 1989. The original location is long gone, replaced by the Oread Hotel complex. They had a second location, near 23rd and Louisiana. Their third location, on 23rd Street, is still open. The Yello Sub expanded to a small chain in the 1990s, eventually spinning off the Planet Sub chain that can be found around the Kansas City area. Many of the original sandwiches can be found on the current Planet Sub menu.

Yello Sub’s signature style of sub sandwich is that all sandwiches are baked. Every sandwich gets wrapped in aluminum foil and stuck in the oven to be baked for several minutes. That means toasty bread and gooey cheese. Half of their menu included vegetarian options, which was very unusual in the 1980s for any restaurant, especially fast food. I wasn’t a vegetarian yet when I was a student eating at Yello Sub, but I discovered that vegetarian restaurant options were delicious and possible.

Richard Gwin/Journal World-Photo
Recent menu from the surviving location at 23rd and Iowa Street. Design very similar to the 1980s version with many of the same sandwiches.

I am planning a longer profile article and Youtube video on the Yello Sub.

Faves Nominated by Friends

  • La Tropicana – This was suggested by friends, without elaboration. I remember the name and I vaguely recall it being on Massachusetts Street near 23rd?
  • Dos Hombres – “This place was really popular. I don’t remember if it was as good as my memory says, but it was a big deal every Friday.”
  • Pyramid Pizza – “I still think that Pyramid was the best pizza in Lawrence for a period of time that included my undergrad years.”
  • La Familia – “Had the authenticity that Dos Hombres lacked and lacked the crowds Dos Hombres had.”
  • Border Bandido – “Honestly, the food was just fast food-grade Mexican food. But they had an all-you-can-eat taco bar and friends and I would go there and gorge ourselves senseless.”
  • Glass Onion – “It seemed so new and cool and hip. A real coffee shop with fancy coffee drinks, years before Starbucks entered my consciousness.”
Pyramid Pizza interior. Photo by Rob A.
Pyramid Pizza pie

Other Suggestions From Social Media

  • Cornucopia
  • Bob’s Smokehouse
  • Paradise Cafe
  • Furr’s cafeteria
  • Gumby’s Pizza
  • Mojo’s Wings
  • Drake’s
  • Russell’s East
  • Vermont Street Barbecue
  • Don’s Steakhouse
  • Herbivores
  • The Low Rider
  • FiFi’s
  • Vista Burger

How and Why Did Chuck Become a Vegetarian?

Interested in the backstory of how and why I became a vegetarian right before I left Lawrence? Read my vegetarian backstory.

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