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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

From loaded barbecue platters and red-sauce Italian to al pastor tacos and paratha wraps, these are the must-try eats in Kansas City.

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Harp Barbecue
| Harp Barbecue [Official]

To many, Kansas City will always be a cowtown. The city’s culinary scene has in large part been defined by the Black pitmasters who established its barbecue traditions, along with the cattle ranchers who thronged the Kansas City Stockyards (the second largest in the country after Chicago’s) to fill their smokers.

Barbecue, burgers, and butchery are still a critical part of the restaurant scene. But immigrant chefs have been expanding the city’s palette (and palate) for decades, and today, you’re as likely to stumble across a pho shop or a vegan lunch counter as a brisket sandwich.

Update June, 2021:

The pandemic has been as brutal on restaurateurs here as anywhere. Still, it hasn’t shaken the vibrancy or variety of dining options in the urban core, where small, independent restaurants dominate. In 10 minutes, you can drive past high-end tasting rooms and farm-to-table brunch spots in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, and wind up at one of the many casual taquerias and carnicerias in Kansas City, Kansas.

Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the Kansas City Department of Health.

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.

Garozzo’s Ristorante

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What’s romance without a little cheese? For decades, Garozzo’s has served devoted fans with stuffed artichokes and chicken spiedini to a Frank Sinatra soundtrack. Savor old-school Italian American comforts in a dining room that’s both intimate and family friendly.

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 with universal appeal to fans of both greasy-spoon classics and blue-corn avocado tostadas alike.

Pigwich / Local Pig

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End a trip through the lively shops and stalls of the City Market with a visit to Pigwich, where the focus is on hefty sandwiches made with locally sourced meats from the beloved butcher shop next door. The burgers here are unilaterally excellent, but so are the spicy pork meatballs that top the sandwich shop’s banh mi.

A long sandwich on parchment paper, stuffed with meat, cheese, and pickles
Pulled pork shoulder and smoked pork brisket Cubano
Pigwich [Facebook]

The Campground

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Come for craft cocktails in glassware bedecked with game fowl; stay for the smashburgers and confit quail. 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.) Carryout, patio seating, and reservable dining cabins bring the campsite dinner vibes out of the dining room, too.

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 in to 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 is packed with other midcentury steakhouse classics too, from plate-busting porterhouses to loaded baked potatoes to 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]

Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room

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Choose your own adventure at this chic Crossroads restaurant. In the supper club, share fried chicken and seaweed doughnuts with friends while listening to live music. (Check the restaurant’s website to see who’s playing.) In the tasting room, get up close and personal with chef Michael Corvino through 10-plus courses of elegant, innovative bites. Wine pairings are available courtesy of sommelier Christina Corvino.

Build a multicourse feast of small plates showcasing local produce in this sleek, stylish dining room in the Crossroads Arts District. Don’t miss the house-made pastas and creative 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. This 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.

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 funkier 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 burger at Fox and Pearl
Fox and Pearl [Official]

The Antler Room

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Refined but unfussy, this intimate Hospital Hill restaurant has a fun, nicely curated wine list and an ever-changing menu of inventive small plates with international influences. If they’re on the menu, try the little gem salad with blue crab and tempura furikake, and the pillowy khachapuri laden with house-made ricotta and confit garlic.

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 diminutive diner on the East Side has been famous for its pork tenderloin sandwich since 1951. Kitty’s tenderloin 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 here 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 olive oil chocolate chip cookie is a local 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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Gates is one of the city’s oldest continuously operating barbecue spots. Expect to hear, “Hi, may I help you?” more sung than spoken the second you step through the doors. 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. There are a few locations, but the Main Street restaurant has a relaxed vibe and space to sprawl, with something new 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 flash-fried conch or a plate of doro tibs with collards, yellow lentils, and 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 duck fat kettle corn to rustic cheese boards and terrines. 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]

Café Sebastienne

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Visitors to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art can continue their education in the dazzling on-site cafe, where the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with rotating artworks. Make a reservation for weekend brunch and leave room for chef Rick Mullins’s desserts, like a recent sweet potato whoopie pie.

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

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Anthony Bourdain famously named Kansas City’s most iconic gas station barbecue as one of his “13 places to eat before you die.” Order a slab of ribs, or go with the Z-Man: a pile of lean, thinly 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 a takeout order 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 a quirky decor and a wide-ranging menu. Chef Linda Duerr, a New England native, makes a predictably good lobster roll, 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 in the urban core. Vegans have plenty of options here too, from chickpea tacos to the tofu breakfast scramble.

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

Chai Shai

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Warm service and homestyle cooking define this Brookside Pakistani restaurant with a menu inspired by the street foods served in chef Aasma Tufail’s native Lahore. Grab a flaky paratha wrap filled with crisp pakoras to go, or linger on the patio with samosa chaat and thick slices of cold, spiced mango.

A metal bowl of lamb chunks in broth with pickled onion, sliced avocado, and herbs, on a plate with a big piece of naan, sliced mango, and a small cup of sauce, all on a wooden table beside a vase of flowers
Lamb karahi
Chai Shai [Facebook]

Harp Barbecue

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Harp Barbecue is a relative newcomer to the local barbecue scene, but founder Tyler Harp is already topping local best-of lists and earning national praise for his thick-sliced, fatty brisket and creative homemade sausages, all served from a small prep area inside Crane Brewing in Raytown. On summer Fridays, Harp offers burnt-end “flights,” but for the full menu, stop by on Saturdays. 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 nam prik orng, a richly spiced chili dip, and the Very Chuggable cocktail, made with sake and St. Germain. Heat seekers should ask for Pam’s Special, which combines crispy ground pork and calamari with a blizzard of chopped chiles.

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

Jarocho South

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Oysters, ceviche, and grilled fish are the stars at this suburban satellite of chef Carlos Falcon’s original Veracruzano restaurant. For an indulgent showpiece, order the whole fried pompano with a side of guajillo salsa. The pool-blue walls and happy hour margaritas will help you forget you’re in the landlocked Midwest.

A table with oysters on ice, corn topped with sauce and herbs, grilled shrimp in sauce, and prepared fish head
The full fishy spread
Jarocho South [Facebook]

Garozzo’s Ristorante

What’s romance without a little cheese? For decades, Garozzo’s has served devoted fans with stuffed artichokes and chicken spiedini to a Frank Sinatra soundtrack. Savor old-school Italian American comforts in a dining room that’s both intimate and family friendly.

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 with universal appeal to fans of both greasy-spoon classics and blue-corn avocado tostadas alike.

Pigwich / Local Pig

A long sandwich on parchment paper, stuffed with meat, cheese, and pickles
Pulled pork shoulder and smoked pork brisket Cubano
Pigwich [Facebook]

End a trip through the lively shops and stalls of the City Market with a visit to Pigwich, where the focus is on hefty sandwiches made with locally sourced meats from the beloved butcher shop next door. The burgers here are unilaterally excellent, but so are the spicy pork meatballs that top the sandwich shop’s banh mi.

A long sandwich on parchment paper, stuffed with meat, cheese, and pickles
Pulled pork shoulder and smoked pork brisket Cubano
Pigwich [Facebook]

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

Come for craft cocktails in glassware bedecked with game fowl; stay for the smashburgers and confit quail. 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.) Carryout, patio seating, and reservable dining cabins bring the campsite dinner vibes out of the dining room, too.

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 in to 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 is packed with other midcentury steakhouse classics too, from plate-busting porterhouses to loaded baked potatoes to 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]

Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room

Choose your own adventure at this chic Crossroads restaurant. In the supper club, share fried chicken and seaweed doughnuts with friends while listening to live music. (Check the restaurant’s website to see who’s playing.) In the tasting room, get up close and personal with chef Michael Corvino through 10-plus courses of elegant, 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, stylish dining room in the Crossroads Arts District. Don’t miss the house-made pastas and creative 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. This 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

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.

Fox and Pearl

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 burger at Fox and Pearl
Fox and Pearl [Official]

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 funkier 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 burger at Fox and Pearl
Fox and Pearl [Official]

The Antler Room