The barbecue melts in your mouth. The aroma and mouth-watering taste of a freshly grilled steak ranks among the most flavorful meals you’ll ever enjoy. That about describes Kansas City’s culinary scene, right?
Oh, mon amie, the City of Fountains can also be called the City of a Million Dishes. It’s much more than a barbecue city. Since my wife and I visit Kansas City several times a year (a benefit of living within a few hours’ drive), we have carved out a few favorite restaurants but still find new places to challenge our taste buds.
In creating this list, I really thought about places where I’ve had some of the best meals of my life. And while food is essential to a great dining experience, decor, ambiance, and service are just as important. A bad server can create an unpleasant experience, whether or not a meal was enjoyable; however, the opposite is also true. A great server can make an average meal seem like dining at a Michelin-star restaurant (OK, maybe not that impressive, but still).
In no particular order, here is a look at some of the best dining experiences in Kansas City.
1. Andre’s Confiserie Suisse
Specializing in the smooth, tasty art of Swiss chocolate making, Andre’s Confiserie Suisse has handcrafted some of the best candies and pastries in Kansas City for three generations. Among the mouthwatering candies are Kansas City whiskey caramel drops, orange peels, and truffles. If you’re not sure which chocolates to buy, grab a box of assorted treats.
But it’s not just the sweets that attract visitors to the Plaza-area eatery. Enjoy André’s unique menu that also features weekly specials. The breakfast menu includes a souffle sandwich with gruyère cheese and your choice of meat/veggie on zopf bread to Andre’s Omelette, which includes gruyère cheese and bacon.
Lunch, served 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m., includes breakfast holdovers egg pie (gruyère and Emmentaler cheeses), a ham and cheese croissant, chicken salad, vol-au-vent (chicken and mushroom white wine crab sauce in a puff pastry shell), and a beef popover, featuring seasoned baked beef in a puff pastry shell.
Andre’s is a popular spot for group dining, so make a reservation for parties of at least six people.
- Dine with a group; leave with sweets.
2. Minsky’s Pizza
With 18 locations around the Kansas City metro, it’s pretty easy to find a Minsky’s Pizza for lunch or dinner. It’s no joke when Minsky’s is called Kansas City’s best pizza, with its hand-rolled dough, sweet base sauce, and ample topping options.
Each of Minsky’s 18 pizza choices is covered with cheese and baked to a delicious presentation. You can add items to your pizza from a list of more than 60 choices, and the restaurant offers gluten-free pizza. But Minsky’s isn’t just known for pizza; its appetizers are great (I highly recommend the meat or cheese St. Louis–style toasted ravioli).
The menu also includes chicken wings which are huge and tasty, calzones, pasta, salad, and burgers.
- Toasted ravioli
- Jumbo wings
3. Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio
The aroma of freshly-made tortillas wafts through the market, making you feel like you’re in Mexico during a visit to Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio. The Mexican market in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas — yep, across the state line — is one of the most popular stops on the city’s Taco Trail (which includes 50 Latino eateries).
From street tacos to full meals — including quesadillas, tamales, burritos, and birria tacos — Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio uses fresh, seasoned meats, such as barbacoa, pork, and chicken, and other ingredients, for an authentic Mexican dining experience. With a salsa bar, you can choose how hot or spicy to make your entree. The market’s deli also features fried pork belly among its selections. During your visit, consider taking home authentic Latino goods, including hot sauce, candy, and even piñatas.
Pro Tip: Watch as store employees make and package fresh tortillas. If you’re like me, you can spend quite a bit of time watching the tortilla process from start to finish, as they make their way along the assembly line, including warmers.
Standout Deli Item
- Fried pork belly
4. Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque
No visit to Kansas City is complete without a stop at the original Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque joint in the historic 18th and Vine district, known for jazz, baseball, and barbecue. Just a few blocks from where the Negro National League (a prominent Black baseball league in the early 20th century) was formed, dining at Arthur Bryant’s adds to the area’s legacy. Home to where burnt ends (leftover pieces that fall off the bone during cutting) were created, you know you’re stepping into history as soon as you enter the nearly-century-old eatery.
The decor isn’t fancy. It seems more like a neighborhood joint than a world-famous restaurant. No white tablecloths or fancy silverware here. Instead, you’ll find tables and chairs seemingly out of the 1950s, pictures of past presidents who have dined at Arthur Bryant’s hanging on the walls. You place your order at the window and pick up your tray of goods. You’ll sit next to folks who will feel like old friends by the time you finish your meal. It may be a classic KC restaurant, but Arthur Bryant’s isn’t a tourist trap.
Pro Tip: You can’t go wrong with anything you order, but consider a combination of two meats — beef, ham, pork, sausage, turkey, or burnt ends — along with standard sides, such as fries, onion rings, baked beans, potato salad, potato casserole, and coleslaw. Rib fans will want to feast on Arthur Bryant’s baby back ribs.
- Baby back ribs
- Meat by the pound
5. Santa Fe Cafe
Tucked away in a small strip center, Santa Fe Cafe offers home-style comfort food that you may mistake for Grandma’s house. Friendly service and a bright, clean dining area create the environment for an outstanding dining experience.
With names conjuring up the days of the pioneer, you can order the Conestoga with your choice of bacon or sausage with two eggs, hashbrowns, and toast; or the Farmer, which features a chicken-fried steak with country gravy, two eggs, hashbrowns, and toast. Whether you’re here for omelets, the breakfast special, or the lunch menu, the food is delicious. You can taste the freshness of the ingredients with each bite.
Santa Fe Cafe is open 6 a.m.–2 p.m. daily, with a 7 a.m. start on Sunday.
- The Farmer
6. Carollo’s Grocery And Deli
Kansas City’s largest Italian market, Carollo’s Grocery and Deli may be better known for its sandwiches than the wide selection of pasta, olives, and other Italian groceries. Order at the old-fashioned deli case and choose your sandwich from a menu written on a board on the wall.
I don’t eat meatball sandwiches often, but it called out to me during a recent visit, and I added provolone cheese. Carollo’s sandwiches are so delicious and filling that you may want to consider splitting one with your partner — or save half for later. Is there anything better than a meatball sandwich for a midnight snack?
Other sandwiches on the menu include caprese (tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic vinaigrette) and the Napolitano, with prosciutto, capocollo, salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette. If you’re an olive connoisseur like me (my wife may say addict), order a small dish of Mediterranean olives as a side. Enjoy the sandwich at a table outside the deli, elsewhere in the City Market, or another spot in the River Market neighborhood — possibly at the Town of Kansas Observation Deck to take in views of the Missouri River.
- Take your meatball sandwich out on the neighborhood.
7. Corner Cafe
There seems to have always been a restaurant on the main corner in Riverside. Well, at least since the 1940s. Originally called Reese’s Cafe, this location went through a variety of owners and name changes. But in 1983, that all changed with new ownership and the final name change to Corner Cafe.
After a complete renovation in 1994, Corner Cafe expanded its seating capacity. But, you’ll want to grab a table in the vintage section, complete with an old-fashioned diner counter. For a true nostalgic feeling, grab a seat on one of the stools and enjoy your meal next to soon-to-be friends. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may want to visit for each meal. For breakfast, consider a classic omelet with hashbrowns and toast. Lunch and dinner menus include burgers, sandwiches, and entrees, such as the cafe’s classic chicken and noodles, chicken livers, pot roast, or catfish dinner.
- Grab a stool in the vintage section.
8. Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop
Considered one of the best, if not the best, Asian dining experience in Kansas City, Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop is an amazing outing. With decor that’s colorful and Thai-influenced, it’s easy to see why Lulu’s is popular. With a second location in Westwood, Lulu’s original spot in the Crossroads Arts District is the perfect spot to enjoy an authentic Thai noodle dinner.
With decor that’s colorful and Thai-influenced, it’s easy to see why Lulu’s is popular. Preparing each dinner per order, Lulu’s specializes in using egg noodles, cellophane noodles (made from bean sprouts), and rice noodles. From pad thai to drunken noodles, you’ll add the protein you prefer, such as chicken, beef, and pork. Choose the heat factor you like (1 is about as spicy as I go these days). Each table has condiments to add even more heat to your meal.
Lulu’s appetizers, such as the Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai lettuce wraps, are the perfect way to start your visit. Lulu’s also has a well-stocked bar with lots of options to pair with your meal.
Pro Tip: While in the Crossroads district, take a self-guided tour of the area’s impressive art murals.
- Thai lettuce wraps
- Drunken noodles
With two downtown locations, Mildred’s has been serving a unique breakfast and lunch menu for more than 20 years.
Breakfast at Mildred’s is simple: Choose a sandwich featuring steamed eggs, cheese, and your choice of topping (bacon or vegetarian options). Other items include breakfast hash, quiche, and guacamole toast, as well as biscuits and gravy. Mildred’s lunch options include guacamole chicken club, BLT, and cranberry turkey sandwiches, as well as a variety of salads and soups. Coffee aficionados will enjoy its freshly roasted coffee, including lattes, espresso, and cappuccino.
- Breakfast sandwiches
- Freshly roasted coffee
When the slaw challenges the ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, you know you’re in for a special dining experience. Q39, with its original restaurant in the Westport district, is perhaps the best barbecue eatery in Kansas City. And that’s saying a lot for a city known for outstanding ‘cue. With its apple slaw bathed in a creamy sauce, the sweet side dish adds to the delicious hickory-smoked meats.
But you came to Q39 for the meats, right? And are they amazing! Its spare ribs may be the most succulent in Missouri, lightly coated with sweet sauce. The charred chicken is second to none, and the certified Angus brisket challenges the best barbecue joints in the KC metro. Q39’s burgers and salads also score high points.
- Apple slaw
- Spare ribs
11. Lula Southern Cookhouse
Having a mom who grew up in the South and a grandmother who never lost her talent for Southern cooking, Lula Southern Cookhouse quickly became one of my new favorites in Kansas City.
With a menu straight from the Deep South, you’ll find entrees such as Mississippi Delta Catfish — blackened for your pleasure and served with sides, such as dirty rice and braised collard greens. Grab a half- or full-size fried chicken, and you’ll swear Colonel Sanders is the chef, as the golden-brown chicken is perfectly seasoned. Add a side of grits, mac and cheese, or baked beans, and you’ll have a meal any southerner would be proud to serve… and eat. Bring your appetite (and plan for plenty of leftovers).
Oh, and don’t call it dinner. Lula serves supper.
- Mississippi Delta catfish
- Fried chicken