This is it, the big one. The US Coffee Champs event is culminating in one final showdown in Kansas City before hitting the world stage next month in Boston. You’ve packed your bags, you’ve readied your routine, your tasting notes are dialed in, but there’s one last thing on your mind… “Where the hell am I supposed to eat?!”
Rest assured, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re the type who likes a five-star experience, hole-in-the-wall dives, or if you’re just interested in collecting all your BBQ merit badges, we’ve got an ultimate guide to fulfilling all your multitude of culinary cravings. Come hungry, come thirsty, but come prepared, there’s countless options but limited time. Happy gorging.
*Kansas City is prepared to Uber and Lyft you around town from stop to stop.
SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2019 US Coffee Champs is made possible by Joe Glo and Mahlkönig. All of SprudgeLive’s 2019 competition coverage is made possible by Acaia, Baratza, Faema, Cafe Imports, and Wilbur Curtis.
Close to the Convention Center, With A Bit of Variety
In a rush to grab a quick lunch or that post-competition meal? The following options are within a close-ish vicinity to the Kansas City Convention Center, efficient for a brief stroll or a quick Uber/Lyft ride and include a variety of options.
Parlor is a hip “food court” comprised of exclusively Kansas City-based independent food and beverage concepts. Ranging from Yaki-Ya’s Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki to Mother Clucker’s hot chicken, Parlor’s many options are bound to suit a group of diverse palettes, all while providing libations sure to ease your coffee-logged minds.
Kansas City’s River Market district is one of the original city centers that has gone through a bit of a recent revival. There are a ton of restaurants, large and small, in the area which will suit for the majority of wants and needs. Some of the most notable include The Local Pig (meats and sandwiches), Freestyle Poké, The Bite (Korean-Mexican fusion, don’t sleep on the patatas bravas!), Habashi House for classic gyros, and Il Lazzarone’s Neopolitan style pizza and excellent amaro-forward bar program.
Just be cautious, the neighborhood can get a little jam-packed during morning/lunch on Saturday/Sunday with farmer’s market attendees.
Whether you’re in the market for a healthy option, a decadent full spread, or vegan variety, there are numerous options in the downtown KCMO area.
Probably my favorite breakfast option, the breakfast sandwich at Happy Gillis is simple and delicious. The seasonally rotating menu often features a fancy toast option, sandwiches, and salads. Nestled in the Columbus Park area of town, the space is cute and cozy but give yourself enough time in case of a wait.
Succotash, a quirky KC mainstay, is located in the Hospital Hill area just south of the Crossroads and features numerous vegan and vegetarian friendly options. Same thing goes here, be prepared for a wait, especially later in the morning.
Rye is the homey Americana counterpart to the James Beard award-winning Bluestem (Westport KC) and features fried chicken and other classic dishes. While it’s a great dinner option, I’m partial to the brunch. The hash browns are perfectly crispy and if you’re lucky enough to get there before the cinnamon rolls are gone you’ll be a happy camper.
The Filling Station
The Filling Station has a few locations throughout town and operates as a Messenger Coffee account. If you’re on the lookout for good coffee along with your breakfast, this option is a great one to keep in your pocket. I recommend the Everyday Bowl for your dose of quinoa and fresh berries.
While the earlier list of near-vicinity options will keep you covered for multiple options, the following are well worth the visit if you’re in the mood for something particularly notable.
Situated in the heart of the Crossroads (just a handful of blocks south of the convention center) is the site of the historic Rieger Hotel from the early 1900’s. Now the brainchild of chef Howard Hannah, The Rieger presents hearty and authentic dishes of all varieties, along with a truly excellent bar. I’d suggest ordering family style—the housemade pastas are always fantastic and the man knows how to cook a rabbit, just sayin’. Reservations encouraged.
Two sister restaurants owned and operated by the James Beard Award-winning chef, Michael Smith, Extra Virgin features a wide array of traditional tapas as well as many “adventurous” bits and bites. Again, family style is the way to go here—the smoked beets and chorizo-stuffed chicken thighs are great, when in doubt get the poblano mac’n’cheese. (There are a ton of vegetarian options here, too.)
Farina is Chef Michael Smith’s newly opened Italian-inspired restaurant located next door to Extra Virgin. It’s a hot new spot so plan on putting in a reservation. The pastas are all made in house and the quality shows. Don’t miss the sardines.
Hip, fun, and casual, Port Fonda is a contemporary Mexican restaurant headed up by the James Beard nominated chef Patrick Ryan. Open for brunch, lunch, or dinner, you can’t go wrong whichever meal you choose. Sporting an impressive selection of tequilas and mezcals, you’ll certainly quench your thirst here. I love the Chicken en Mole Amarillo for a homey cold-weather meal but when in doubt, get the chimichanga.
The Antler Room
IMHO, The Antler Room is consistently serving up some of the best food in the Kansas City area. Items on the menu come and go and the inspiration comes from various cultures but at the end of the day, the execution is just flawless. Find out for yourself, bring your friends, and do the family-style thing as you’ll want to try everything on the menu. Pro-tip, get the Fois Gras Torchon as a dessert—it’s like french toast on steroids.
Novel has been a mainstay in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood for years, but recently moved to a new dining room space nestled in the Crossroads Neighborhood. The new space is larger, and the food is as good as ever. With a recurring and elegant global twist, this food is distinct. You should order whatever looks good from Novel’s huge selection of farm fresh vegetable sides, because you gotta get those greens. Delicious.
A literal smorgasbord of flavors can be found at this Scandinavian comfort food staple alongside a plethora of Aquavit-based cocktails. The space is cozy, warming, and filled with all of the cured meats and pickled bits you’ve ever dreamed of. The Wild Mushroom Strudel will make you take you right back to childhood memories (if your childhood was spent frolicing in the Bavarian Alps).
Destinations and Spots Off The Beaten Path
The following options are quirkier, more specific, and not commonly found on the “hot 15” clickbait lists we’re all so familiar with. These are the local gems I’ve found over a lifetime of eating in the KCMO area, and if you’re in the mood for an adventure or a field trip, they are all well worth it.
This is the best Chinese food in town, hands down. Family-style is, to me, the only way to go at this Cantonese eatery. Got 4 people who want to share? Here’s an excellent starting point: ong choy, Peking pork, beef chow fun, curry puffs, and (an absolute must order) the XO turnip cakes. Other than that, get your chicken feet, the tendon/tripe salad is amazing…yeah, this place gets me gushing. About a 15 minute drive from downtown, definitely doesn’t hurt to make a reservation if you’re going with a large group.
Kitty’s has been serving up Pork Tenderloin sandwiches (their specialty) to the Kansas City area for nearly 70 years out of their tiny little shack of a space and there’s good reason for it. That damn sandwich is, at this point, legendary, but it’s also really its whole own take on the style. It is not the “size of your face” Midwestern tenderloin sandwich you may have seen on TV. Instead, at Kitty’s they break the loin down into a couple of manageable slices, which are then tempura battered and fried. The breading is perfect, the bun is steamed glory, and that hot sauce…it’s the stuff dreams are made of. You’ll want to get yours with everything on it, most definitely, along with a side of Kitty’s exemplary tater tots and a cold root beer to wash it down. Kitty’s is a CASH-ONLY establishment and there is always a little wait if you hit the lunch rush. Be prepared.
Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio
Anytime the subject of street tacos comes up, you know you’re going to find yourself in a heated debate. The passion for tacos runs deep in Kansas City and, for me, this is and has been one of the consistent best. The al pastor and asada are great but if you really want to do yourself a favor you’ll order the barbacoa, which is like honestly eating a pile of meat-candy. The spicy avocado salsa is also essential.
Tacos El Gallo
One more taco place for ya! If you’re a street taco enthusiast and you want to hit at least one spot while you’re around, make it this one as it is centrally located and going to be a lot easier to get to from most neighborhoods. Consistently some of the best buche (pork stomach) tacos around, and I really love the pickled habanero/red onions.
Bars and Late Night Food
Long days and longer nights. Let’s face it, after a full day of sipping and slurping all those coffees, you’re thinking about how the hell to balance it all out. We’ve got you covered no matter the mood you’re looking for.
Quick FYI: bars in Kansas City can have one of two different liquor license options and are likely to be open until 1:30AM or 3AM, respectively.
This age-old Kansas City dive bar is about as authentic Old KCMO as it gets. Saddle up at the bar and get yourself a Deuce (shot and a beer for $5), slam a few quarters in the 45-filled juke box, and unwind. They spin soul records every Friday night til 1:30am, so bring your dancing shoes.
If Champagne and natural wines are your speed then Ça Va is your destination. Owned and operated by former barista competitor and all around badass, Caitlin Corcoran, Ça Va features a curated selection of sparkling and still wines paired with delicious snacks and a Parisian-influenced setting. Evenings often feature various musicians and performers while the Sunday Brunch (worthy of its own mention) brings out the sound of soulful 45s.
The bar at the previously mentioned Rieger restaurant is one of my personal favorite cocktail and wine bars in town, it’s small but elegant and the seasonal creations always hit the spot.
However, settled in the basement of The Rieger is the dark and dusky, candle-lit, speakeasy-esque sibling bar, Manifesto. Here they specialize in high-end and high-creativity cocktails made from scratch with a national reputation—when the Bartenders Guild / Tales of the Cocktail crowd are in town, this is a big time stop. If you haven’t been to Manifesto yet, go ahead and make your reservation now. It’s a small space and it fills up quick, but it’s very worth the trip downstairs.
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge
Recently named a James Beard “Best cocktail program” nominee, The Monarch (not to be confused with Monarch Coffee, totally separate businesses) is serving up some of Kansas City’s most creative cocktails in an elegant, engaging space. This bar is attempting to change the game and it seems well poised to do so. Looking for an extra special ($$$) experience? Make reservations for the Parlour Room, a private bar space bound to bring you an experience unlike anything else in town.
Harry’s Bar and Tables
Harry’s is simply the bar that bartenders go to. Admittedly, the Westport neighborhood in which Harry’s is located can get a little crazy on the weekend, but the service and the staff here are some of the best in the biz and you can even get a quality late-night bite for your troubles. When in doubt, Harry’s is the place—you will find hospitality pros from around town here closing things down most nights.
Oh you like tiki bars? Well, we just so happen to have the one that was named 2017’s best tiki bar in the world according to critiki.com. TikiCat is the “speakeasy” basement tiki expansion of HopCat in Westport, an independent chain of beer bars based out of Michigan. You’ll need to make a reservation if you’re planning a visit but more importantly, plan that Uber/Lyft because these drinks are not for the faint of liver.
Can you say that you’ve even been to Kansas City without a trip to Town Topic? This 24/7 burgers and fries diner has been around since the 1930s and is exactly the greasy spoon you’d expect it to be. It’s a classic KC staple and if you should find yourself out into the wee hours of the morning, you’ll find this haven crowded with compatriots eager to quench their late night cravings.
Corvino Supper Club
Corvino should probably also be listed under dinner options but I typically find myself here for a late evening bite. Boasting a unique late night menu and a locally-famous (delicious) housemade cheeseburger, this is an excellent choice if you’re looking for somewhere a little classy, but not uptight. They feature live music every night and the food and beverage programs are top notch.
Tower Tavern is all kinds of places wrapped into one. It’s not quite a sports bar and it’s not quite a dive bar, it’s just an authentic neighborhood bar located in one of the next up-and-coming neighborhoods in KC that happens to serve quality food into the late-night hours. Food highlights include the Shrimp Pizza (get that Cholula on the side) and the grilled chicken pesto sandwich.
Okay, okay, fine… You read all the way to the bottom, so here’s the list so many have written before, and for good reason. Yes, the BBQ in Kansas City is that good. Yes, you should help yourself to it while you’re here. And yes, it does border on religion here. Everyone has their #1 spot in town and they’re probably ready to fight you over it. I can already feel the threats coming in for what I’m about to say… but, without further ado, here is my own humble take on where to get BBQ in KCMO.
Fine, I’ll say it—it’s probably my favorite BBQ spot in town. Purists will call it a cliché but what they do here is so undeniably good, it doesn’t matter. Joe’s is located in a large gas station and has been patronized by everyone—really everyone—who has come to KC with food in mind over the last decade, from Anthony Bourdain on down. I don’t typically eat a lot of BBQ in my day-to-day but I go out of my way for a Z-Man sandwich, Joe’s legendary brisket sandwich topped with an onion ring and provolone cheese (also available as a vegetarian portabella version). My other recommendation would be the ribs, which don’t get as much attention here when it comes to hype, but are really exemplary versions of the KC style.
When you go, be prepared for a long wait, the line often stretches out the front door and around the side of the building but a pilgrimage is a pilgrimage.
Also, Night of the Living BBQ Sauce is the best sauce, fight me.
Q39 boasts tons of awards from various BBQ competition wins, which are prominently displayed on their trophy wall. Everything I’ve had here has been really good, without a doubt. Seems well-rounded over all, whatever your meat of choice may be, but I especially love the wings here, with a sweet and sticky molasses sauce that keeps you coming back for more.
Gates is a real KC experience, starting with aromas you’ll encounter which permeate the neighborhood and quickly followed by the greeting you’ll receive the moment you walk in the door. As a long time staple of Kansas City, this is a must-visit for BBQ-heads and first-time tourists alike.
Jack Stack falls into the polarizing “white tablecloth” category of BBQ. Some people love it, some people shrug at it. I say go for it! See what it’s about. The real star here are the sides—the porky beans are insanely good, as is the cheesy corn.
This is kind of a wild card move but if you’re headed here, check out the prime rib french dip sandwich! It’s my Jack Stack’s go-to and for good reason. Finish your meal off with a slice of warm carrot cake and an extra loop down on the belt.
Kansas City BBQ history doesn’t feel much more authentic than it does at Arthur Bryant’s. The flavor is vinegar-forward and definitely causes some polarity amongst BBQ fanatics but for me, this is the classic, the vintage, the old dog. For me, the sour, spicy, and sweet flavors characteristic of Bryant’s BBQ pair harmoniously and the experience is one certainly worth your time.
Charlie Burt is the lead photographer for SprudgeLive and contributor based in Kansas City. Read more Charlie Burt on Sprudge.
Top photo © Checubus/Adobe Stock
Dislcosure: In his capacity as a freelance graphic designer, Charlie Burt has contributed menu and branding design work to Port Fonda and The Monarch Bar. He was not additionally compensated for their inclusion in this list, and both spots have been independently verified as delicious and worth your time by the Sprudge editorial team.