In recent years, Kansas City's exciting and evolving restaurant scene has landed on numerous travel and food 'best' lists. Its chefs have also received nominations and awards from the illustrious James Beard Foundation. Out of the area's restaurants, 10Best narrows the options to those places with the most appeal and the best reputations among independently owned operations or those with only a few locations. Many chefs also have ownership in their restaurants. And plenty of them are dedicated to using fresh, seasonal ingredients purchased from small producers that operate within a short drive from the front door. You'll also find a wide variety of ambiance, from farmhouse cozy to chic, contemporary surroundings or old-school elegance. Whether you choose to dine at a classic, long-established restaurant or want to check out a more recent entry to the scene there's no shortage of great choices for memorable meals. You'll also find some well-priced and expansive happy hour menus, sumptuous brunch offerings and chef or prix fixe dinners that offer a terrific value; add pre-set wine pairings to create a mouthwatering dining experience. Here, Kansas City's enormous restaurant selection down to 10 popular spots offering a taste of the city that you just can't miss.
The Farmhouse - Kansas City
From rabbit ravioli and beet salad to pork confit or chicken with quinoa, The Farmhouse places a premium on locally and regionally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Many of them come from small producers in Kansas and Missouri. Cold weather dishes have included the savory lamb meatball, spicy Harissa Chicken Roulade, Ricotta Gnocchi, or Chicken Fried Catfish. Deviled eggs and assorted local cheeses are several choices among a handful of appetizers. At lunchtime, Rosemary Lamb Sausage Sandwich; Triple Decker Grilled Cheese and a cooked-to-order burger are some sandwich options. Locally crafted Jude's Rum Cake, special pastries and several other desserts nicely top off each meal. Set amid the River Market neighborhood, the restaurant's wide planked floors and large, weathered wooden tables create quaint surroundings in this farmhouse-inspired restaurant. Servers and bartenders are generally knowledgeable, attentive and friendly. (8165696032)
The broad menu at this Northland restaurant has an Argentinian flare reflected in grilled meats and seafood as well as fresh salads and vegetables with a touch of Spanish, Italian, French and other ethnic influences. Entrées include Peppercorn Crusted Filet with decadent Brandy Cream Sauce, Pan-Seared Rack of Lamb, and Baked Tilapia filled with shrimp and crab. Churros with caramel sauce and well-mixed cocktails are other highlights. The beautiful and romantic dining room offers great views of downtown Kansas City and a piano player enhances the ambiance; although the restaurant can be a little noisy at times. Generally attentive servers, who are happy to make recommendations, and dozens of menu choices, create a pleasant dining experience worth repeating. (816-741-3600)
Michael Smith restaurant offers a seasonally inspired menu with creative preparations. With previous experience in Denver, Chicago and France restaurants, and The American Restaurant in Kansas City, Chef Michael Smith was 1999 James Beard Award-winning Best Chef in the Midwest. In 2002 the Leawood, Kan. restaurant that he co-owned, was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. In his own restaurant, inventive flavor combinations may include rabbit gnocchi or wild mushroom tart. Fresh salads may feature watermelon, peaches and savory pesto; while Beet & Plum Salad is a sweet-savory combo with orange, blue cheese, hazelnuts, and prosciutto. There are always several pasta dishes available and the restaurant gets kudos for nicely charred red snapper, swordfish with tomatoes, or tasty zucchini spaghetti. The restaurant has an extensive wine list with individual glasses priced from $8. Enjoy your dinner amid an ambiance that is somewhat reminiscent of an art gallery, with brick walls and large windows. (816-842-2202)
Inventive food and fresh seasonal ingredients create a contemporary twist on authentic Mexican flavors. Once owner of a wildly popular food truck, Patrick Ryan brought his culinary passion to this brick-and-mortar spot several years ago. The restaurant serves a salsa sampler, and Queso Fundido dips featuring chorizo, crab, or beans (frijoles) that come straight from the wood-burning oven. Customers like chilaquiles, featuring chorizo verde, a fried egg, and crema; and Guacamole Port Fonda -- with hot-ranch chicharrones and raw vegetables. Available during lunch or brunch two Mexican sandwiches are priced at around $10, while tacos plus rice and beans run about $12. Unusual dishes include Albondigas (pork and ricotta meatballs) or Pulpo -- tomato and chipotle braised octopus with bacon, red onion, frisee, and grilled bread. Service is pretty quick and attentive, even when the place is packed. If you favor Tex-Mex food, you won't find it here. (816-216-6462)
novel kansas city
Novel's owner/chef, Ryan Brazeal, once worked in New York City restaurants. Today his Kansas City restaurant delivers understated, yet creative cuisine made with fresh, clean, seasonal and simple ingredients. Known for delicious and inventive food, Novel house favorites have ranged from Crispy Egg or rabbit sausage appetizers, to chilled corn soup, duck fat potatoes and Ricotta Gnocchi. Favorite entrees include Duroc Pork Chop, Lamb Shank and Seared Diver Scallop. The restaurant serves artisanal bread made by the very popular Westside bakery, Fervere. Novel operates in a renovated vintage home with multiple small rooms, providing a romantic yet cozy ambiance, with attentive and knowledgeable servers. Be sure to leave room for desserts such as Pumpkin Flan with pecan and marshmallow; Lime Cake with raspberry or Pistachio Meringue. Priced from $7, after-dinner drinks include Italian grappa, Portuguese tawny port, and French Muscat to name a few. With limited wine selections by the glass, some customers have complained about high prices. (816-221-0785)
The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange
Once a favorite hotel for traveling salesmen, railroad workers and others, this renovated classic 1915 building still retains many original tile floors, and vintage bathroom fixtures. Chef Howard Hanna and the staff offer a fresh, innovative and seasonal menu, impeccable service and one of Kansas City's best bars, serving innovative cocktails. The open kitchen with counter seating puts customers right into the action. Taste-bud stretching culinary creations include Dill Pickle Soup or Braunschweiger Mousse with mascarpone, caraway crackers, stout mustard and pickled green tomatoes. Whether you choose bass or bison, KC Strip or rabbit -- or even a vegetarian entree -- inventive sides such as Sweet Potato Gratin and Fried Brussel Sprout Leaves add interest. During Happy Hour you might even tempt a youngster with the "PB&J" sandwich -- a combo of sunflower seed butter, persimmon jam and Grains Galore bread. (8164712177)
French and Italian influences infuse Story's menu with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients that are used whenever possible. Since opening in May 2011 the restaurant has served appreciative customers amid sleek modern surroundings. A 2013 James Beard semifinalist nominee for Best Chef Midwest, Chef Carl Thorne-Thomsen was also Food & Wine magazine's 2014 winner of The People's Best News Chef. Beautifully plated, eclectic dishes run the gamut from smoked duck empanadas to steak tartare, shelled lobster, and foie gras. A hot appetizer, vegetarian ravioli includes Swiss chard, walnut pesto and cheese, while ceviche is a 'cold' starter. A fall menu featured seafood, short ribs, as well as a stuffed chicken breast, and duck breast. Portion sizes aren't overwhelming, and excellent, attentive service is the norm. Temperate evenings are the perfect time to enjoy wonderful food and a great glass of wine on the expansive patio. (913-236-9955)
A delightful surprise located on Smithville, Missouri's tiny town square, this highly respected restaurant is definitely worth the trip from Kansas City, Mo. Wood and warm colors create an inviting ambiance inside this one-time drugstore. The restaurant has received stellar reviews from the Kansas City Star, Bon Appetit and Time Magazine, for Midwestern dishes with inventive and tasty twists. Ingredients from dozens of farmers and even staff-foraged items, infuse individual dishes with fresh flavor presented artistically. Think house-made rabbit sausage, duck breast with lentils, a micro salad mix and herbed goat cheese; or grilled Duroc Pork with house cured bacon, radish, potato, zucchini, English peas, green beans, parsley and much more. The staff is very detail oriented, from the kitchen and servers to the knowledgeable and award-winning bartender. Ice cream and sorbet, carrot cake beignets or a riff on classic Missouri Butter Cake create sweet endings to memorable meals. (816-532-2300)
The American Restaurant
The American Restaurant has consistently received AAA Four Diamond ratings. With its panoramic urban views, The American is also a favorite among the nation's top romantic restaurants. Executive Chef Michael Corvino brings more than a decade of five-star hospitality experience to this culinary landmark, offering inventive seasonal cuisine. Bar Fare may include foie gras on a miniature English muffin, with lemon marmalade and almond butter or chicken liver mousse and accompaniments. Whole Milk Ricotta, Oysters & Caviar and Miso-White Asparagus are several spring 2014 appetizers, while traditional entrees showcase gnocchi, Pacific black cod, Maine scallop, squab and KC strip. Add a specialty cocktail or choose from half a dozen decadent desserts for an unforgettable meal. (8165458001)
Elegant and urban without feeling fussy, the restaurant offers a fixed price menu of New American cuisine with three, five or ten courses created under the direction of Chef Colby Garrelts, who received the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. First course offerings have included corn soup with crab fritter, green tomato, fines herbs and pink peppercorns or marinated beets with cucumber, grilled bread and green goddess dressing. Foie gras, house-made ricotta capelleti and braised rabbit, hamachi or sea scallops dishes were recent second and third courses, while pork belly or black Angus ribeye were fourth course options. Colby's wife, co-owner, and renowned pastry chef, Megan Garrelts, creates sweet treats such as key lime sherbet with angel food cake and caramel or goat cheese cheesecake with blueberry, honey and pickled peach. Dining at Bluestem is more than a meal -- it's a culinary event. (816-561-1101)
About Lisa Waterman Gray
Lisa Waterman Gray moved to the Kansas City area 35 years ago and has written professionally for 20+ years. A member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association, she's excited about the recent local explosion of great food and drink.
Childhood moves and living with international students created Lisa's insatiable interest in travel. She has shared her passion with Midwest Living, msn.com, offbeattravel.com, and AAA Midwest Traveler - to name a few.
When Lisa's not on the road or computer, she sells olive oil and balsamic vinegar and makes dynamite desserts. In October 2014 she'll attend Slow Food International's Terre Madre conference, in Turin, Italy.
Read more about Lisa Waterman Gray here.
Connect with Lisa via: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest