If you’re heading to the Midwest, Kansas City has plenty of tempting culinary offerings, from low to high brow, on both sides of the Missouri River. And if you’re in a pinch with figuring out where exactly to eat, it’s best to take heed from native son Bonjwing Lee (aka the Ulterior Epicure), the area’s go-to source when it comes to all things food. Here are a few of his tastiest recommendations.
One of the most exciting eateries in the city, Bluestem is where the husband-and-wife executive chef team of Colby (James Beard winner for Best Chef: Midwest in 2013) and Megan Garrelts dazzles with a distinctive culinary voice that’s complemented with warm hospitality. Billed as progressive American dining, the restaurant offers three-, five- and 10-course tasting menus (with exceptional wine pairings) that feature local ingredients in dishes like potato and truffle tortellini with braised rabbit; pork loin with glazed bacon, faro verde, seckel pear and Tuscan kale; and duck breast with fennel, turnip, poached cherry, almond and brown butter. Pair the latter item with a floral Domaine Cheveau and your taste buds will have all the flavor they could want.
The American Restaurant
This Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant at the Crown Center has been considered one of the most esteemed fine-dining addresses in KC for decades. Descending the impressive staircase into the dining room, there’s no mistaking the grandeur of this establishment that was designed, in part, by culinary giant James Beard. Helmed by executive chef Michael Corvino, the kitchen aims to reinvent American cuisine through innovative dishes such as foie gras torchon with curry, persimmon, mustard and puffed black rice, and black cod with toasted beet, horseradish, grapefruit and brandade tortellini. And for more than 40 glorious years, the restaurant has done just that.
Another gastro gem from the Garreltses, the recently opened Rye serves a fried chicken that’s a thing of legend. Located just outside of Kansas City in Leawood, Rye is a true neighborhood restaurant offering farm-to-table New American fare in a modern farmhouse setting — come on the right night, and you’ll even find a guy hand-rolling cigars. On the menu: the Rye butcher board featuring housemade cured meats; bourbon barbecue shrimp; burnt ends with sourdough toast; the aforementioned fried chicken and a chef-curated reserve steak program. Naturally, the bar offers a strong list of rye, cocktails and wines.
For a quick grasp on what KC’s vibrant dining scene is all about today, head to this spot in Westport for modern Mexican fare, a bar that boasts a few dozen types of mezcal and a crowd filled with diners of all ages and servers with all kinds of body art. Beyond the free-spirited dining room, though, you’ll most remember the tequila-heavy cocktail and margarita pitchers and a the menu taking a delicious spin on Mexican street food like chicharrones (fried pork rinds), carnitas tacos (braised pork shoulder, adobo, grilled pineapple, cilantro, onion and lime), octopus enchiladas and pibil-style pork belly.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Of course, it’s not a proper visit to Kansas City without some authentic barbecue. Should you see Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue or Gates Bar-B-Q, pull over immediately and have your napkins at the ready. Another wise lunch or dinnertime option is Joe’s. The original restaurant counter, located inside a gas station, often sees a line formed nearly an hour before opening. (There are two other suburban Kansas locations.) People come from across the country — you might even hear a few foreign accents in the queue — to taste the beloved barbecue. Some hotels offer shuttle buses just so guests can experience the smoked ribs, pulled pork or signature Z-Man sandwich, a slow-smoked beef brisket with provolone cheese topped with two crispy onion rings on a kaiser roll.