This first appeared in my bi-weekly Substack newsletter.
One thing that can be said about Kansas City, is that the area has an amazing variety of world cuisine. We have our famous native cuisine such as Kansas City barbecue. Kansas Citians have their favorites, but love to try new things. Which cuisines does Kansas City lack? This question is often asked in various local food groups. The cuisine and concepts that people cite changes as new restaurants open, old ones close, trends change, and new people from other countries move to Kansas City.
I have followed these discussions closely in recent years and have added my own thought. This week I thought I’d summarize some of the popular answers and expand on some of my own choices.
This is the most mentioned restaurant format that locals claim they’d like to see more of, but some delis that have opened in the past five years seem to struggle to find customers. Many people say they love a good delicatessen, but will they vote with their money? But maybe Kansas City is keeping delis afloat, with delis like Milwaukee Delicatessen Company, M & M Bakery and Deli, Bay Boy Specialty Sandwiches, Scimeca’s, and other independent and corporate options.
South and Central American
One of my favorite cuisines to indulge in when I lived in Washington, DC was Salvadorean. Kansas City has a growing roster of Central and South American style restaurants, but locals seem unfamiliar with these cuisines. Looks like there are less than five Salvadorean restaurants, but the ones that are open include El Pulgarcito, Restaurante El Pulgarcito, The Corner Salvadorian Food, and El Rincon. One of my favorites in this category is Empanada Madness. South American restaurants around the metro include Antojitos Del Peru Peruvian Food, Café Corazón, and Taste of Brazil.
Cuban and Caribbean
Kansas Citians also often ask about Cuban restaurants (and coffee). How about the rest of the Caribbean? Caribe Blue Restaurant is one place that offers Cuban food. Caribbean places include Island Spice, G’s Jamaican Quisine, Sankofa Café, and the upscale Mesob Restaurant. Can Kansas City support more of these cuisines?
One cuisine I’ve been hoping for, Nepalese, appears to finally be here in Kansas City. Yuva Eats offers Nepalese food in Olathe. This cuisine offers a slightly different version of the more widely known Indian cuisine. Think chicken with curry, dumplings, lentil fritters, noodles with shredded chicken, butter chicken, lamb korma, and much more.
Kansas City has lots of wonderful Chinese restaurants, but not one that is purely vegan. Why do I care about a vegan-oriented Chinese restaurant? Years ago, I used to patronize a vegan Asian restaurant in Rockville, Maryland. The restaurant had all of the common Asian dishes made vegan style, but also featured more traditional dishes and formats made vegan style. Think Clay Pot Duck (made with gluten). This style would feature the use of meat substitutes (beyond tofu), like seitan, jackfruit and others.
Vegetarian Soul Food
One of my favorite restaurants in Washington, DC, which I wish I had dined at more often, was Soul Veg. The cozy restaurant was on George Ave, across the street from Howard University. There was also one or two more vegetarian/vegan soul food restaurants up the street. From what I remember, one of these had a religious tie-in which explained the vegan angle.
Kansas Citians who remember Ruby’s Soul Food should think of this style as a vegan take on soul food. Typical dinner options at Soul Veg included collard greens, corn on the cob, vegan mac & cheese, lasagna, and beans. They may have had desserts and smoothies. I’d love to see something like this in Kansas City and I think the locals would support it.
Comfort Food Diner
Sure, you can find diner food and comfort food all over the metro in some form, but are there any destination comfort food restaurants that kick the plates up a notch? I’m thinking here of KC version of the Madison, Wisconsin institution, Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. Succotash and You Say Tomato come close, but they aren’t open for dinner and don’t offer Monty’s huge range of desserts (including lots of vegan options).
Kansas City is seeing more and more farm-to-table concepts like The Farmhouse, Silo Modern Farmhouse, and the recent Black Dirt, but we need something like a fast food version of this format so working class people can have healthier eating options. The existing restaurants are affordable a weekly or monthly destinations, but farm-to-table needs to be more ubiquitous as a dining format.
Health Kits for Budget Conscious
More restaurants are experimenting with this format, more so because of the pandemic, but this was a growing format pre-pandemic. People are looking for different takeout/curbside options and this format can be easier to prepare for kitchens and restaurants with less diners.
Chili, Chili, Chili!
I’ve long been puzzled as to why there aren’t more chili restaurants in this city. Most of us make chili at some point in our home dining rotations and many of us like a good chili or chili dog. I have fond memories of two restaurants in the Washington, DC area that revolved around chili. The legendary Ben’s Chili Bowl in D.C. (opened in 1958) offers classic meat-based and vegetarian chilis. You can get a half smoke chili dog (half smokes are a local cuisine). Hard Times Café is a long-running sit-down chili parlor where you can get chili in multiple formats (with spaghetti, onions, cheese). Can Kansas City support restaurants like this?
Barbecue Around the World
Not sure if this format exists anywhere, as it would be hard to pull off in the back of the house. How about a barbecue restaurant that allows you to sample the differences between Kansas City, Carolina, Memphis, and Texas style barbecue? Or would this be too much heresy?
Subscription Meal Prep Services
Similar to the health kits mentioned above, subscription meal delivery is another growing concept, where customized meals are delivered to your workplace or home. Some larger services doing this right now include Healthy Meals, Krown Concepts Meal Prep Service, Fresh n’ Lean , and MealPro. This is a concept that people are looking for and a service that restaurants could get into to make up for dine-in changes.
I will be adding additional suggestions and feedback as I hear from people. Some of these additions have been edited. Let me know if you want your name or initials attached to your contribution.
- “Would love hot dog restaurant. QT is about the only place to get a hot dog.”
- Turkish restaurants
- “Cuban and pierogi”
- “Polish/Croatian food“
- More Persian food
- More Polish restaurants
- German food
- “Afghani, NY Chinese (house special soup with roast pork)”
- “Hello! For vegan soul food please refer to Mattie’s. For Chili please refer to the historic Dixon’s chili. BBQ is tough because kc does not have one type of bbq- it’s a town where all styles are welcomed, so to feature a kc style would just spark a debate lol. The prominent BBQ joints in kc all have unique tastes and that is why we love them. We do have a hot dog restaurant but I would love to see one that includes gluten-free options, something that many cities don’t have. I would also like to see more south Indian cuisine…. I’ve only found two restaurants that offer dosa.”
- “Kosher. Somehow not a single kosher deli in town, and only a few sporadic spots here and there that offer it at all.”
- “More organic or non-GMO choices, New Mexican food as in the state of New Mexico, and I agree about more Nepal/Indian cuisine.”
- ” I would agree that delis–Jewish owned and focused on classic jewish favorites–is a real hole, and one that used to be full. To have lost Weiss Cafe, the New York Bakery, Bretton’s, left us smaller and sadder. I would add that King G’s is doing an admirable job in the deli sandwich category, and its muffaletta is as close to New Orleans as we’re going to get.”
- “I do think that Calvin Trillin makes a great point in his book, Feeding a Yen, that part of the joy of travel is to seek out the foods that are famous elsewhere and that cannot (and should not) be mimicked by imposters. while Grinder’s pulls off a decent Philly cheesesteak, it ain’t philly, and I know that if that’s what i most want, it’s better to dream about the real thing than eat a sad fake. so when it comes to some of the cuisines we lack, maybe that’s as it should be. Any so-called cuban sandwich I have had in KC makes me cry for Miami. “
What cuisines or restaurant concepts do you think Kansas City is missing? Please share below.