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A lined paper tray with thick slices of brisket, three sliced sausages, pickles, strawberries, and sauce, on a wooden table
Harp Barbecue
Harp Barbecue [Official]

The 26 Essential Restaurants in Kansas City

The birthplace of the Kansas City strip steak, a collab between a Turkish restaurateur and local pizza chef, one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite spots, and more places to eat in KC

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Harp Barbecue
| Harp Barbecue [Official]

To many, Kansas City will always be a cowtown. The city’s culinary scene was in large part defined by the Black pitmasters that established its barbecue traditions and the cattle ranchers that thronged the Kansas City Stockyards (the second-largest in the country after Chicago) to fill their smokers. Barbecue, burgers, and butchery are still a critical part of the restaurant scene. But chefs have been expanding the city’s palate for decades. Today, you’re as likely to stumble across a hand-pulled noodle shop or vegan lunch counter as a brisket sandwich.

The uniting feature of Kansas City’s dining scene isn’t a single ingredient or style of cuisine, but an inclusive Midwestern hospitality that infuses even the most stately dining rooms with a little warmth and whimsy. By all means dress for dinner if you like, but no one’s going to make a fuss if you forgo the white collar for something more casual (and less vulnerable to barbecue sauce stains). Whether you’re touring the high-end tasting rooms in downtown KCMO or the low-key carnicerias in KCK, every restaurant is working to ensure you feel right at home.

Liz Cook is a restaurant critic for The Pitch and writer of the experimental food newsletter Haterade.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Happy Gillis Cafe and Hangout

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Brunching at this cozy Columbus Park spot feels like eating in a good friend’s kitchen. The cafe has a charming retro vibe with a compact menu that will nonetheless appeal to fans of both greasy-spoon classics and multigrain avocado toasts.

The Town Company

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Chef Johnny Leach and pastry chef Helen Jo Leach may be coastal transplants, but they’ve already settled in nicely in the KC scene. Tucked inside the Hotel Kansas City, Town Company feels glamorous but warm, with easygoing cocktails and wood-fired dishes showcasing Midwestern ingredients. Even the dinner rolls are made with locally milled flour produced from heirloom Kansas wheat.

A plate of beef tartare dotted with fixings, covered with a wavy crisp flatbread.
Beef tartare.
Aaron Leimkuehler

The Campground

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Moody walls, lush landscapes, and a copper bar give the Campground’s dining room a rustic but stylish vibe (think: summer camp by a Hollywood set dresser). Plenty of patio seating and a casual outdoor bar bring the campsite feeling out of the dining room, too. Come for the craft cocktails in glassware bedecked with game fowl; stay for the smashburgers and retro snacks.

A bartender strains a cocktail into a highball glass decorated with illustrations of birds in flight on a bar with a blurred background of bottles and glasses
A campy cocktail
Beth Grimm

Golden Ox

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Lean into the city’s cowtown reputation at this faithfully restored 1949 steakhouse in the historic Stockyards District. The Golden Ox claims to be the birthplace of the Kansas City strip, but the menu’s packed with other midcentury steakhouse classics like plate-busting porterhouses, loaded baked potatoes, and dessert cocktails like the Pink Squirrel.

A huge piece of steak on an oval plate with a sprinkling of herbs on top
34-ounce dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye
Golden Ox [Facebook]

Clay & Fire

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“Eclectic” might be the best descriptor for a restaurant that’s part Istanbul, part Long Island, and embedded in a quirky duplex in a historically Latinx neighborhood of Kansas City. The menu is a collaboration between Turkish restaurateur Orcan Yigit and longtime KC pizza chef Brent Gunnels. Expect enough meze to make the table groan, tender kebabs, and a bubbly, chewy grandma pizza.

From above, a table full of colorful dishes, including whole grilled peppers, dips, and pickles.
A full spread at Clay & Fire.
Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden

Mildred's

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Every morning, workers in the urban core flock to Mildred’s, a family-owned cafe, for specialty coffee and the Standard breakfast sandwich — bacon and swiss with pillowy steamed eggs and a bright pepper-dijon mayo. If you can’t beat the morning rush, you can still score biscuits and gravy or a vegan breakfast hash all day long. Although Mildred’s has two locations, the Wyandotte Street cafe is cozy and close to attractions in the Crossroads Arts District.

A halved sandwich stuffed with eggs and bacon on dark rye bread, beside a branded coffee mug.
Standard breakfast sandwich.
Jessica Cain

Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room

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Choose your own adventure at this chic Crossroads restaurant. You can stop by the Supper Club to share fried chicken and seaweed donuts with friends while listening to live music (check the restaurant’s website to see who’s playing). Or you can go for the Tasting Room to get up close and personal with chef Michael Corvino through 10-plus courses of elegant and innovative bites (wine pairings are available courtesy of sommelier Christina Corvino).

Build a multicourse feast of small plates showcasing local produce in this sleek and stylish dining room in the Crossroads Arts District. Don’t miss the house-made pastas and elegant desserts. The menu changes with the seasons, but the Duroc pork chop and duck neck agnolotti are fixtures for a reason.

A bowl with three large triangular cuts of stroopwafel in sesame pot de crème, smudged with date caramel and slices of kumquat
Sesame pot de crème with date caramel, kumquat, and stroopwafel
Novel [Facebook]

Town Topic Hamburgers

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High up on the list of iconic KC experiences is ending a bar crawl at Town Topic for a smashburger and tots. The classic American diner has fueled KC’s night owls for 75 years, serving up diner breakfasts, chili dogs, and chocolate malts 24 hours a day. Tame a hangover with a Haystack: a classic bacon-and-egg sandwich gilded with a layer of cheesy hash browns.

Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio

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Any trip down the Kansas City, Kansas, Taco Trail should feature a trip to Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio, a bustling neighborhood grocery with a first-rate lunch counter. Order tacos al pastor by the pair and dress them up to your heart’s content at the technicolor salsa bar.

Jarocho

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Oysters, ceviche, and grilled fish are the stars at chef Carlos Falcon’s original Veracruzano restaurant. Stop in on the first Sunday of each month for one of the best parties in town: an all-you-can-eat brunch stacked with fresh seafood, golden-brown empanadas, and bottomless margaritas.

A table with oysters on ice, corn topped with sauce and herbs, grilled shrimp in sauce, and prepared fish head.
A full spread at Jarocho.
Jarocho South/ Facebook

Fox and Pearl

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A butcher by trade, chef Vaughn Good continues to turn out excellent pates, cured meats, and chubby sausages cooked over the restaurant’s open wood-fired hearth. Sneak downstairs after dinner to sample fun cocktails and funky wines in the lounge while staff spin their favorite records.

A plate of thick sausage with sauce and grilled onion, and a burger with its top bun set aside topped with roasted toppings
Sausage and a burger at Fox and Pearl.
Fox and Pearl

Poio Mexican BBQ

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Chef Carlos Mortera’s fast-casual restaurant is a beloved spot for bold Mexican barbecue with global influences. The wood-fired whole and half chickens are truly family-sized, and you can order them for dine-in, carryout, or drive-thru. Whichever route you choose, be sure to grab sides of esquites and kimchi fried rice.

A tray lined with butcher paper. On top are saucy ribs, tortillas, and saucy chicken, with a quartet of sauces.
Meats and tortillas.
Poio Mexican BBQ

The Antler Room

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Refined but unfussy, this intimate Hospital Hill restaurant has a fun, well-curated wine list and an ever-changing menu of inventive small plates with international influences. Think: pillowy shokupan topped with shrimp mousse and XO crunch, or pork cheek ravioli with summer squash and lavender.

From above, a square slice of toast covered in curls of vegetables, on a white plate on a marble background
Shokupan with tomatos, ricotta, squash, rhubarb agrodulce, basil, and bonito
The Antler Room [Facebook]

Kitty's Cafe

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This cramped diner on the East Side has been famous for its pork tenderloin sandwich since 1951, which has little in common with the thin, plate-sized cutlets popular in the Midwest. Here, a modest-sized tenderloin is batter-dipped and piled into a three-ply stack for maximum crunch. Grab carryout or port your tenderloin to the small patio next door. Bring cash, and don’t let the line out the door deter you; it moves fast.

M & M Bakery & Delicatessen

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Workers have flocked here for decades for generously stacked cold sandwiches and oversized baked goods. The mandatory order is the Hook ‘Em Up, a soft onion bun loaded with pepper beef, turkey ham, and both hot pepper and American cheese. Get your order in online before the lunch rush to snag one of the bakery’s enormous, cuddly soft apple fritters.

The Russell

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Lovers of big, beautiful salads won’t do better than the Russell, where wood-fired meats and vegetables are arranged into painterly compositions. Order online for an easy carryout lunch, and don’t skip dessert: The oatmeal cream pie is a particular favorite.

A dark wood bowl of sliced fried chicken, sliced avocado, sprigs of rosemary, and other sliced vegetables on a wooden table
Crunchy chicken salad
The Russell [Official]

Gates Bar-B-Q

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Expect to hear “Hi, may I help you?” more sung than spoken the second you step through the doors of one of the city’s oldest continuously operating barbecue spots. If you need a second to consider your order, just ask — but you can’t go wrong with the burnt end hoagie and barbecue beans. Gates is a local chain with a few locations, but the Main Street restaurant has a relaxed vibe and space to sprawl, with something to discover in each corner.

A table spread with a big plate of ribs, a small dish of baked beans, a stein of beer, fries, a burnt ends hoagie, and sauces
Ribs, baked beans, beer
Gates Bar-B-Q [Facebook]

Mesob Restaurant & Rum Bar

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Chef Cherven Desauguste and co-owner Mehret Tesfamariam marry Caribbean and Ethiopian flavors at this elegant Midtown spot with an extensive rum list. Try the pan-fried conch with cilantro-lime pesto or the doro tibs with collards on a generous canvas of injera. The cocktail list is stacked with punches, sangrias, and tropical-inspired sippers.

Slices of steak under roasted vegetables and awaze sauce, on a bed of injera with piles of sides
Goden strip steak awaze (steak tibs, shiro, red lentils, cabbage, potatoes)
Mesob Restaurant & Rum Bar [Facebook]

Champagne and sparkling wine are the focus at this romantic Westport wine bar with a cute patio. But the small open kitchen also puts out first-rate bar bites, from shoestring fries to crab salad and caviar to a “trio of Midwestern hams.” A more substantial, French-inspired menu is available during Sunday brunch.

A very runny egg topped croque madame, on a plate beside a fork on a wooden patio table
Croque madame
Ça Va [Facebook]

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

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Anthony Bourdain famously named Kansas City’s iconic gas station barbecue spot as one of his “13 places to eat before you die.” Order a slab of ribs or the Z-Man: a pile of lean, thin-sliced brisket topped with smoked provolone, fried onion rings, and the sweet-hot sauce that typifies KC barbecue. Dine-in space is limited; call in an order to-go to skip the long line.

A hulking sandwich, its top bun pushed aside to reveal slices of brisket topped with melted cheese, onion rings, and drizzles of sauce, sitting on a grease-stained parchment paper-lined metal tray
The iconic Z Man
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que [Facebook]

The Peanut

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The king-size Buffalo wings are the main draw here, but Kansas City’s oldest continuously operating bar and grill also scores points with cheap beer, iconic dive bar ambience, and a comforting cheddar BLT.

A bar exterior of red wood and brick, with signage for The Peanut using illustrations of in-shell peanuts, and alcohol brand ads
Outside the Peanut
The Peanut [Official]

The Restaurant at 1900

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“Upscale but playful” is the vibe in this light-filled modern restaurant with quirky decor and a wide-ranging menu. New England native chef Linda Duerr makes a predictably good lobster roll with lemon beurre blanc, but don’t skip her fresh pastas, which are structured around seasonal produce and foraged herbs. Lively cocktails and colorful desserts contribute to the fun, unstuffy feel.

A role with chopped lobster and crab, on a plate with sweet potato chips and greens, on a white tabletop
Maine lobster and king crab roll
The Restaurant at 1900 [Facebook]

Urban Cafe

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Rashaun and Justin Clark’s casual cafe is a neighborhood fixture, dishing up smoked pork belly sandwiches and grain bowls in a historic building on thriving Troost Avenue. Vegans have plenty of options here too, from chickpea tacos to tofu breakfast burritos.

A bowl of chia seed pudding topped with sliced banana, strawberries, blueberries, oats, nuts, and coconut
Smoothie bowl
Urban Cafe [Facebook]

Earl's Premier

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Although Earl’s opened in 2022, it’s already become a neighborhood fixture in East Brookside. Part of that has to do with the restaurant’s casual vibes and lived-in design, which lands somewhere between Maine oyster bar and Revolutionary War museum. Post up at the charming zinc bar to try a gargantuan shrimp cocktail, sip a frozen gin and tonic, and chat with the shuckers while they pile up the freshest oysters in town.

Mattie's Foods

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Sisters India Pernell and Arvelisha Woods have been convincing Cowtown carnivores to try their vegan comfort food since opening their first food truck in 2019. During the pandemic, they upgraded the truck into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Brookside. Now, newly converted diners and long-time vegans can load up on seitan-studded nachos and sliced tofu “brisket” in a sunny yellow dining room with floral accents and plenty of natural light.

Three biscuits filled with various fillings, beside a coffee and can on a sunny windowsill.
Biscuits at Maddie’s.
Maddie’s Foods

Harp Barbecue

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Harp Barbecue is still a relative newcomer to the local barbecue scene, but that hasn’t kept founder Tyler Harp from topping local best-of lists and earning national praise for his thick-sliced, fatty brisket and creative sausages, all served from a small prep area inside Crane Brewing in Raytown. Stop by on Saturdays for the full barbecue menu, or come on Friday nights for tacos served on Sonoran-style tortillas from Lawrence, Kansas, tortilleria Caramelo. The team regularly sells out, so line up before 11 a.m. if you’ve got your eye on a specific item; the wait is worth it.

A lined paper tray with thick slices of brisket, three sliced sausages, pickles, strawberries, and sauce, on a wooden table
Brisket, sausage, and fixins
Harp Barbecue [Official]

Waldo Thai

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Waldo Thai is unique in the metro for its focus on Northern Thai, or Lanna cuisine, and hip date-night atmosphere. Start with the richly spiced nam prik orng dip or the kua ma thua ma kheur, which features eggplant and longbean fragrant with shrimp paste. The restaurant’s cocktail menu changes frequently, but always there’s a sense of humor (currently, the drinks are all named after BTS songs).

A hollowed out pineapple overflows with shrimp, rice, and herbs on a large plate
Shrimp pineapple rice
Waldo Thai [Official]

Happy Gillis Cafe and Hangout

Brunching at this cozy Columbus Park spot feels like eating in a good friend’s kitchen. The cafe has a charming retro vibe with a compact menu that will nonetheless appeal to fans of both greasy-spoon classics and multigrain avocado toasts.

The Town Company

A plate of beef tartare dotted with fixings, covered with a wavy crisp flatbread.
Beef tartare.
Aaron Leimkuehler

Chef Johnny Leach and pastry chef Helen Jo Leach may be coastal transplants, but they’ve already settled in nicely in the KC scene. Tucked inside the Hotel Kansas City, Town Company feels glamorous but warm, with easygoing cocktails and wood-fired dishes showcasing Midwestern ingredients. Even the dinner rolls are made with locally milled flour produced from heirloom Kansas wheat.

A plate of beef tartare dotted with fixings, covered with a wavy crisp flatbread.
Beef tartare.
Aaron Leimkuehler

The Campground

A bartender strains a cocktail into a highball glass decorated with illustrations of birds in flight on a bar with a blurred background of bottles and glasses
A campy cocktail
Beth Grimm

Moody walls, lush landscapes, and a copper bar give the Campground’s dining room a rustic but stylish vibe (think: summer camp by a Hollywood set dresser). Plenty of patio seating and a casual outdoor bar bring the campsite feeling out of the dining room, too. Come for the craft cocktails in glassware bedecked with game fowl; stay for the smashburgers and retro snacks.

A bartender strains a cocktail into a highball glass decorated with illustrations of birds in flight on a bar with a blurred background of bottles and glasses
A campy cocktail
Beth Grimm

Golden Ox

A huge piece of steak on an oval plate with a sprinkling of herbs on top
34-ounce dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye
Golden Ox [Facebook]

Lean into the city’s cowtown reputation at this faithfully restored 1949 steakhouse in the historic Stockyards District. The Golden Ox claims to be the birthplace of the Kansas City strip, but the menu’s packed with other midcentury steakhouse classics like plate-busting porterhouses, loaded baked potatoes, and dessert cocktails like the Pink Squirrel.

A huge piece of steak on an oval plate with a sprinkling of herbs on top
34-ounce dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye
Golden Ox [Facebook]

Clay & Fire

From above, a table full of colorful dishes, including whole grilled peppers, dips, and pickles.
A full spread at Clay & Fire.
Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden

“Eclectic” might be the best descriptor for a restaurant that’s part Istanbul, part Long Island, and embedded in a quirky duplex in a historically Latinx neighborhood of Kansas City. The menu is a collaboration between Turkish restaurateur Orcan Yigit and longtime KC pizza chef Brent Gunnels. Expect enough meze to make the table groan, tender kebabs, and a bubbly, chewy grandma pizza.

From above, a table full of colorful dishes, including whole grilled peppers, dips, and pickles.
A full spread at Clay & Fire.
Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden

Mildred's

A halved sandwich stuffed with eggs and bacon on dark rye bread, beside a branded coffee mug.
Standard breakfast sandwich.
Jessica Cain

Every morning, workers in the urban core flock to Mildred’s, a family-owned cafe, for specialty coffee and the Standard breakfast sandwich — bacon and swiss with pillowy steamed eggs and a bright pepper-dijon mayo. If you can’t beat the morning rush, you can still score biscuits and gravy or a vegan breakfast hash all day long. Although Mildred’s has two locations, the Wyandotte Street cafe is cozy and close to attractions in the Crossroads Arts District.

A halved sandwich stuffed with eggs and bacon on dark rye bread, beside a branded coffee mug.
Standard breakfast sandwich.
Jessica Cain

Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room

Choose your own adventure at this chic Crossroads restaurant. You can stop by the Supper Club to share fried chicken and seaweed donuts with friends while listening to live music (check the restaurant’s website to see who’s playing). Or you can go for the Tasting Room to get up close and personal with chef Michael Corvino through 10-plus courses of elegant and innovative bites (wine pairings are available courtesy of sommelier Christina Corvino).

Novel

A bowl with three large triangular cuts of stroopwafel in sesame pot de crème, smudged with date caramel and slices of kumquat
Sesame pot de crème with date caramel, kumquat, and stroopwafel
Novel [Facebook]

Build a multicourse feast of small plates showcasing local produce in this sleek and stylish dining room in the Crossroads Arts District. Don’t miss the house-made pastas and elegant desserts. The menu changes with the seasons, but the Duroc pork chop and duck neck agnolotti are fixtures for a reason.

A bowl with three large triangular cuts of stroopwafel in sesame pot de crème, smudged with date caramel and slices of kumquat
Sesame pot de crème with date caramel, kumquat, and stroopwafel
Novel [Facebook]

Town Topic Hamburgers

High up on the list of iconic KC experiences is ending a bar crawl at Town Topic for a smashburger and tots. The classic American diner has fueled KC’s night owls for 75 years, serving up diner breakfasts, chili dogs, and chocolate malts 24 hours a day. Tame a hangover with a Haystack: a classic bacon-and-egg sandwich gilded with a layer of cheesy hash browns.