Rakar Dumpling House is KC’s one-stop shop for Chinese food and … antique furniture?

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

Before Jim Zhang opened his restaurant Rakar Dumpling House in Leawood’s former Winstead’s last April, he was importing and selling antique Chinese furniture to KC interior designers. Originally from Beijing, Zhang knows his home decor well after 20 years in the business. He also knows his dumplings.

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

Through Rakar (pronounced ray-car), the renaissance man has melded both his passions into a one-stop shop for Chinese food and rustic home goods. Somehow, he doesn’t get lost in either pursuit. Whether you’re sampling the dumplings or eyeing a vase, both have quality at their forefront.

Rakar isn’t necessarily fast casual, although service is pretty fast, and it is definitely casual—I’d say it’s elevated casual. Five self-order touchscreens greet you when you walk in. If you want a beer, head to the counter and order from the cashier. Sit wherever you’d like, but don’t forget that the entire dining room is essentially one big furniture store. Every table, chair, porcelain urn and hand-blown vase is for sale. A concept that could easily read as stiff and sterile, Zhang and his team have managed to make it comforting, quaint, even homey. This isn’t Ikea or Nebraska Furniture Mart. Hell, there’s even a gentle babbling waterfall in a corner of the dining room. The antiques in the dining room and the small walk-through market area are gorgeous time-worn pieces that you’ll no doubt admire while sipping on some egg drop soup. 

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

The key to a great casual restaurant is being able to cut corners while simultaneously delivering quality where it counts. Zhang nails this. Not everything in the kitchen is made from scratch, and a significant portion of the menu caters to the Western palate. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel with his general Tso’s chicken, crispy fried egg rolls and crab rangoon. He knows what the majority of midwesterners want: the Americanized versions we’ve all come to know and crave. When I realize at 4:48 pm on Wednesday evening that I could really go for some pork lo mein, Rakar satisfies my craving perfectly. Each heaping plate of chicken fried rice and beef and broccoli are reliable, well-cooked and satisfying. The dumplings, on the other hand, are where Zhang chooses to deliver something more true to himself and his Beijing roots. 

A good dumpling should burst in your mouth with flavor-packed juices, and you can expect this at Rakar. A machine imported from China packs and seals the crescent-shaped delights daily to keep up with the demand. Start with the pork for tradition’s sake, but with seven filling options, including fish, vegetable and lamb, the world is your oyster. I was surprised by the lamb dumplings. Their gamey-ness was beautifully placated by a good dip in soy sauce. Zhang recommends his dumplings steamed but entertains us all with the option to pan-fry. 

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

Speckled throughout the menu are opportunities to try less familiar dishes—dishes from Northern China and what Zhang incorporates into his daily diet. Spicy sesame phoenix talons (chicken feet) and sweet and sour pork ribs are unapologetic offerings that you should take advantage of. The chicken feet are brined, boiled and served cold. Their cartilage chew was aromatic with sesame seed oil, and while the texture of one was enough for me, I was happy to experience one of Zhang’s rare pockets of truth. In Leawood’s comfy-cozy neck of the woods, chicken feet may not be a bestseller anytime soon, but for the adventurous, the experimental and the truth seekers, this is for you. 

Unfortunately for Zhang and his family-owned restaurant, he may always need to acquiesce to the midwestern palate. The delicious tangy pork ribs are meant to be served cold, but a few complaints from diners, who wrongly assumed they would be hot, has made Zhang start to flash fry them. Another complained that the soup dumplings had too little soup—a complaint that makes me wonder if the diner didn’t know that the dumplings are not themselves served in soup but instead have a bit of broth packed within them. It would be an easy misconception for someone who isn’t familiar with the dish.

There are only a few places that serve the highly coveted soup dumplings. As of February, Rakar became one of them. The brothy, meaty wrapped delights, hot with steam, must be eaten with a drizzle of Rakar’s homemade chili crisp for a savory, zingy combination. 

“Better than Trader Joes,” Zhang assures. I have to agree. 

Pictured above from left to right: Pan-fried dumplings, General Tso’s chicken, soup dumplings, spicy sesame phoenix talons and pork lo mein. Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

Be sure to order a plate of pickled cucumbers. It’s a great palate cleanser. When it comes to appetizers, I’d stick with the crab rangoon over the Hong Kong-style fried wontons filled with shrimp and pork. They were fine, but the accompanying side of mayonnaise was too rich and a lackluster accompaniment. For a sweet treat, the fried milk buns are soft, sweet pillows with a delicate crunchy layer on the outside. Served with a dipping sauce of sweetened condensed milk, they were a hit among those of us with a sweet tooth. 

As for drinks, you can indulge in a trendy bubble tea. Rakar makes its own tea mixes, and while my 12-year-old niece may be more their target audience, I was surprised to find I enjoyed the matcha flavor. My niece went with strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed the little burst of tapioca balls. More typical teas, like jasmine and mandarin orange, are also available along with soft drinks.

It’s important to note that Rakar front-of-the-house employees, as helpful as they were each time I visited, will not be assisting you throughout your meal. They’ll help guide you through the touchscreens to order your meal if it’s your first time, but two stand-alone shelving units in the dining room provide everything you need: soy sauce, dipping plates, chopsticks, silverware, to-go boxes, etc. Your dishes will come out swiftly, and don’t expect the kitchen to methodically pace them out. They won’t. Appetizers and entrees will make their way to you as soon as they’re made. When you’re finished, you can bus your table, or not.

Zhang and his family have managed to bring a truly unique concept to Kansas City. Rakar is familiar enough to keep a good customer base, but it keeps you guessing with rotating specials closer to home. The menu is solid, and Zhang seems to have what it takes to keep it interesting and consistent.  

Social Media

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to our newsletters

Kansas City magazine keeps readers updated on the latest news in twice-weekly newsletter. 

On Tuesdays, Dish brings you food news and our critic picks. 

On Thursdays, The Loop offers exclusive news reports and our curated events picks.