This post was originally published in August 2016, then updated in July 2018 and June 2021 after additional visits to Kansas City.
Like many other cities around the Midwest such as Detroit or Cleveland, Kansas City has a long culinary history that has seen a recent revitalization from local residents reclaiming their food and restaurant scene. From famed BBQ to avant-grade new American cuisine, Kansas City offers a little something for any type of eater.
As such, it should come as no surprise that I spent my time in Kansas City eating delicious foods! I have been to Kansas City three separate times, and during each visit, there are newly opened spots to discover and fall in love with.
Here are some of my favorite restaurants for foodies in Kansas City!
Another famed BBQ spot in Kansas City, Arthur Bryant is often called the king of KC barbecue and many of the other famous pit-masters in KC learned from him before starting their own restaurants. The “joint” has seen famous celebrities and politicians over the years, and nearly 100 years after its founding, there is still regularly a crowd of people waiting from some of their Q. I found Arthur Bryant’s to be more traditional than Joe’s and Q39, but nonetheless delicious. For sides, the beans are outta this world. A must get!
Perhaps my favorite of all the restaurants I visited on my recent trip to Kansas City, the Russell is a worthy lunch contender serving up some seriously creative and delicious dishes. I loved everything I ate here, and that is big compliment coming from a Chicago foodie! I am not often thrilled to eat salads for lunch, but at the Russell, I would happily eat a salad every day. They also serve up creative sandwiches, entrees and soups using seasonal ingredients and a rotating menu in addition to weekly specials. They market themselves as cafe and marketplace but the real highlight of the Russell is their space. It has a country rustic meets modern styling interior that compliments the jet black plates their meals are served on. I couldn’t stop taking photos in here!
In a swanky, well-designed space in the Crossroads neighborhood of Kansas City, Novel is bringing new American food to KC in innovative and creative ways. Their menu changes regularly, but you are sure to find some interesting combinations of flavors to spark your interest. I opted for 2 dishes — ricotta cavatelli with lamb sausage, summer squash, and mint and a crispy egg with tamarind chili oxtail ragu topped with napa cabbage slaw— both of which surprised me in how unique the flavor combinations I tasted! I’ve never had mint with paste before, and I admit, I kind of liked it!
Having spent nearly 2 years living in Germany while pursuing my master’s degree, I’ve developed quite an affinity for central European cuisine. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Grünauer in the Crossroads neighborhood of KC! This conveniently located spot offers authentic central European food, prepared with love, in a setting that feels straight out of Austria. The former freight house building has been restored and adorned with all the fixings you would expect in traditional gasthaus, and the menu is well-curated with the culinary highlights from this part of the world. The cheese spaetzle was absolutely incredible and the schnitzel was perfectly crispy without being overly greasy. This style of food can be pretty heavy, so dinner is a good choice. We went for lunch and promptly needed a nap afterwards.
No trip to Kansas City would be complete without some BBQ, and my favorite that I’ve had so far in KC is Q39. This upscale BBQ spot offers all the classic dishes you would expect from a barbecue joint created with modern and craft touches. I ordered a combo platter with ribs, brisket, beans and fries, loving every piece of it. The ribs were especially tender and juicy. The star for me though was their rich and delicious BBQ sauces, including a special summer cilantro BBQ sauce that really surprised me!
Antler Room was a highly anticipated new restaurant on the KCMO culinary scene during my visit in 2016 and remained a local favorite ever since. It has a beautiful wood panel feature wall and a comfortable bar to greet you as well as a more formal dining room. Their menu primarily features new American cuisine but the flavor combinations are interesting and surprising. I ordered a few dishes including fried olives, chestnut & parsnip ravioli and an onion pasta. The food is refined, creative and beautifully presented. The ravioli was bright, complex and earthy, while the fried olives were comforting and salty. The onion pasta was the most special though. It was an onion ash pasta base with an onion sauce, pickled pearl onions and dried onion. It was an onion feast, but so delicious!
Anthony Bourdain featured this place on his show, so I knew it was the real deal. Part gas station, part BBQ restaurant, there is almost always a line out the door at Joe’s Kansas City. I ordered the fan favorite, Z-Man Sandwich, which is smoked pulled pork topped with provolone cheese, and two onion rings. It was every bit the hype! The meat was so moist and rich in flavor, and the onion rings were perfectly fried. I also ordered a side of BBQ beans and seasoned fries, which were super good. This place is well worth the wait!
Tucked into a nondescript shop in the Crossroads, Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate shop offers a simple interior to compliment their vibrant and diverse array of handmade chocolates. You’ll notice just one case of chocolate and a window into the kitchen. Although its pricey, this chocolate is some of the best I have ever had IN MY LIFE. You can order pre-assembled boxes of their truffles and bonbons, or you can assemble your own. They also offer hot chocolate! Called liquid chocolate, I ordered the simple Chocolate Noir. It’s just chocolate and milk. And Oh.My.God. The most rich, flavorful and creamy hot chocolate of my life. And you can get them with spices and herbs too!
Tucked into a sleepy strip mall on the Kansas side of Kansas City lies a hidden Italian gem. Italian Delight is a hole-in-the-wall authentic Italian diner with quick service and all the homemade classics you could hope for. The portions are huge but cheap making for an easy lunch or grab-and-go spot for Italian food. This family-owned business was started by a father from Brooklyn who moved to Kansas City and whose son has since taken over the business just like his dad!
This ice cream shop is a little far from downtown Kansas City but Betty Rae’s creamy concoctions are worth the drive. They focus on using local and seasonal ingredients to ensure the freshest and best flavors. There is typically a line during peak hours, so it is a good idea to go at a random time like I did (3:00pm). Betty Rae’s has a big selection of flavors to choose from, including some unusual flavors like Burnt End BBQ Ice Cream or Passionfruit Creamsicle. You can also get multiple flavors, so be sure to choose two that go together. I went for their Thou Mayest Coffee and Brown Butter with Candied Pecans both of which I loved!
I am always a sucker for a food hall, because they are great way to sample a lot of different cuisines in one place. And in a city like KC with so many incredible food options, Parlor is a perfect choice. The three level food hall is packed with bars, restaurants and fun street art murals to create a funky and inviting vibe. Sample fried chicken, Detroit-style pizza, classic Korean food and more at one of their eateries.
At the helm of this rustic Italian restaurant is Michael Smith, one of Kansas City’s most famed local chefs. With multiple James Beard awards under his built, if Smith opens a restaurant in KC, the locals will come. Farina is an excellent choice for an approachable yet memorable special occasion meal. The Crossroads location is easy to find with a spacious patio or beautiful space. The housemade pastas are the star of the show in my opinion, but the meat and seafood options are also quite lovely. The pastas are meant to be eaten as a primi course, so you can expect the portions to be slightly smaller, leaving you just enough room for a main or dessert.
A cozy spot along an up-and-coming stretch of 39th street, Room 39 offers a standard breakfast and lunch menu with classic favorites like breakfast burrito and veggie quiche. The friendly staff and regular crowd make the place feel homey, and the food is great! I opted for a corned beef hash and fresh orange juice. The corned beef hash was perfectly portioned and exactly the salty, fatty breakfast dish I was looking for! And wow, I forgot how delicious fresh squeezed orange juice is!
Located inside the Kemper Modern Art Museum, Cafe Sebastienne is a hidden gem. They offer lunch and dinner in either the sun filled cavernous cafe or restaurant wall-to-wall decked out in art. I opted for the restaurant seating and loved my experience! It is so fun to check out the floor to ceiling art that lines the restaurant. The food changes daily, so you’re bound to have a different menu than I did but I dined there for a Sunday brunch and loved the rich croque madam I ordered. It was stacked with tasty ham, the mornay sauce was spot on and a layer of fig jam really elevated the dish. Service is a little slow but with lots to look at, you’ll hardly notice.
Looking for food and a view? Check out the spacious and beautiful rooftop restaurant in the Crossroads Hotel, Percheron. This spot is primarily a bar with a wonderful menu of cocktails and beer options, but their bar snacks and food are worth a visit too! You can also order wood-fired pizzas up to the roof from the hotel’s first floor restaurant.