Where To Eat Now: 10 Great Restaurants From a Bold New Era Of Kansas City Food.

Written by: Dawnya Bartsch, Martin Cizmar, Liz Cook, Rachel Layton, John Martellaro, and Tyler Shane
Photography by Zach Bauman, Caleb Condit, Samantha Levi, Rebecca Norden, Anna Petrow, and Kelly Powell

How We Made This List

For this list, we looked at restaurants that have been open since December 2022. We paid our own way and did not announce ourselves. Advertisers were not favored. Restaurants of  every type were considered. We picked restaurants that offer an exceptional dining experience and enrich the city’s cultural landscape.

Of Course

Of Course dresses up zucchini and broccolini with a shiitake veloute, bourbon miso glaze, peppadew chutney and toasted hazelnuts. Photography by Kelly Powell.

When we first broke the news about Swetha Newcomb’s restaurant Of Course opening in Overland Park this year, she was particular about not wanting it to be labeled as “Indian food”—because it’s not, exactly.

Newcomb, who was born in India but grew up in Kansas City, relies heavily on her heritage to create dishes born from both worlds. She describes her food as new American with Indian influence. Since opening, however, the chef has leaned proudly into her heritage, and we’re officially classifying Of Course as a fine dining Indian fusion restaurant. We’re also naming it our 2023 Restaurant of the Year.

During her years as a private chef, Newcomb developed a style of her own—a sort of worldly fusion cuisine that, while certainly influenced by her Indian roots, couldn’t be put in a box. 

“I thought, ‘Why not combine everything that’s popular here in the Midwest with stuff that I grew up eating that I could not live without?’” Newcomb says.

She admits she “struggled for a bit” during her restaurant’s early days while trying to learn her customer base. Sometimes she would lean too traditional, other times too nouveau. Finding an identity is a common difficulty in the fusion genre, but Newcomb has found her sweet spot. The 28-year-old chef has tethered her menu to two baseline characteristics: Midwestern familiarity coupled with elevated Indian flavor. 

A stiff bourbon program and 22-ounce, 21-day-aged Akaushi wagyu ribeye (a menu staple) are how Newcomb has chosen to honor her location in deep south Johnson County. Of Course is tucked away in the newly developed Bluhawk shopping center, neighboring fast-casual chains like Five Guys and Jinya Ramen. 

“We didn’t know how it was going to go, but [Johnson County] is extremely excited,” Newcomb says. “They’ve never had anything like this, and there are no fine dining restaurants around until you get to Leawood. They feel like they’ve been heard and seen.” 

As is common with Indian cuisine, there’s no shortage of fragrant spices. Newcomb’s mom, Geetha Gondi, who is from Hyderabad, India, came in before the restaurant’s grand opening to teach her daughter’s staff how to make masala gunpowder, a cocktail of spices used for a variety of dishes. The egg curry, with its sweet, saucy tomato base, is also Gondi’s recipe, but Newcomb gives it her own touch with bits of crispy sage and buttery, lightly toasted sourdough in place of traditional naan. 

“She’s almost another food purveyor rep,” Newcomb says of her mom. “She’ll drop off different spices and ingredients that she thinks we should use.”

Floral cardamom lifts the sticky toffee pudding cake out of its rich sweetness. The signature dish of pav bhaji, Newcomb’s riff on the classic Indian street food, warms with dashes of mango powder, clove, coriander, star anise and more. Even the fries become poetic with a hefty shake of peri peri seasoning. Dishes you’ve seen before like Lamb ragu and scallops have been infused with masala, pistachio dukkah or curry leaf tadka.

“I don’t want us to be compared to other Indian restaurants,” Newcomb says. 

There’s no mistaking it: Of Course is in its own lane. Fire-orange lobster tails and whole branzinos situated upright on a bed of rice with their gaping mouths staring straight at you are some of the menu’s more luxurious counterparts. 

There’s also a greasy, double-ground angus brisket patty burger topped with a mountain of caramelized onions for those seeking something a little more midwestern. “There’s something about being in a fine dining restaurant and eating a fat burger that is really satisfying,” Newcomb says. But the rest of the menu is unapologetic in its devotion to Newcomb’s home country, featuring a pristine collection of shareable starters and entrees leveraged by the flavors of her childhood.

The dining room is a class act, filled with warm, modern earth tones for an intimate and cozy vibe. It’s a refreshing change of pace for this part of the burbs. The cocktail and wine menus were curated by some of KC’s top talent, such as Jay Sanders, owner of the James Beard-nominated cocktail bar Drastic Measures, and Eric Noblet from UnKCorked liquor store. Sam Johnston now runs the cocktail program, and chef de cuisine Adam Amick-Sorvaag plays a hand in helping execute Of Course’s eclectic menu.

Newcomb met her general manager Lauren Cruz while the two were working at The Capital Grille—Newcomb in the kitchen and Cruz in the dining room.  

“We both had fiery personalities,” Newcomb says. “I’ve always dreamed of opening a woman-owned restaurant, and Lauren knows everything about the fine dining industry. We worked in a lot of toxic environments, so we learned what not to do when we opened this place up.”

Of Course feels like an homage to those who, like myself, grew up experiencing multiple cultures, those who had to navigate the complex dance of diversity. Newcomb’s ability to elevate the cuisine of her heritage while simultaneously keeping things cozy for those of us who may be experiencing it for the first time—and doing it all with style—makes Of Course our Best New Restaurant.

“My vision behind this is to give Indian food the credit it deserves,” Newcomb says.

Of Course chef Swetha Newcomb garnishes dried papad lentil crackers with fresh chives. Photography by Kelly Powell.

A full bar seats those looking for a more casual dining experience. It’s the only spot where Of Course’s burger and Taj Mahal beer combo can be ordered. Photography by Kelly Powell.

Insider Tip

Happy hour takes place on Tuesdays, with $4 off cocktails and mocktails. 


The Drink You Can't Miss

The Can’t C Me cocktail, named after a Tupac song, is a refreshing concoction that finishes with a bite due to the absinthe and green bell pepper-infused mezcal. A two-day milk punch clarification rounds out the potent combo and makes this one an easy sipper.

Kata Nori

At Kata Nori, each seat has a designated plate for the sushi chef to place your freshly made hand roll. Photography by Samantha Levi.

Insider Tip

Real wasabi sets Kata Nori apart from the rest. From freshly grated to a pickled relish form, order a flight for a side by side wasabi comparison.

You won’t find California rolls at Kata Nori. Instead, you’ll find the temaki variation of sushi where rice, fish and condiments are delicately wrapped in a cylindrical sheet of nori, an edible seaweed, and shaped like a small burrito. If you’re Midwest-bred like myself and questioning the practicality of the hand roll craze, I assure you Kata Nori is one of the most refreshing concepts to hit the KC restaurant scene in a while.

This temaki-style sushi bar is owned by a trio of KC natives: Kyung “KK” Kim, Nam Phan and their secret weapon, Anh “Bass” Pham. Bass brings with him unparalleled experience, having been the chef at the renowned sushi joint Uchi in Austin as well as opening sushi locations in both Dallas and Denver. Over the years, Bass has cultivated relationships with many of the best fish purveyors in the business, and as a result, Kata Nori has some of the best quality sushi to be found in the metro.

 Bass and his fellow hand rollers prepare the sushi to order in the middle of a 24-seat U-shape bar for all to see and hand them off to patrons as they’re finished. There’s no waiting for your fellow companions to receive theirs. You’re advised to devour it on the spot.

That’s because the beauty of the hand roll lies in the nori used at the restaurant. The structure maintains the seaweed’s crispness, so you get a gentle crunch as you bite into each one. As to the type of nori used at this new hot spot? “We’re keeping that a secret,” Kim says. 

Kata Nori can keep their secrets. I’ve eaten almost the entire menu and whether the fish is wrapped in nori or served as a crudo—meaning raw and topped with citrus, oil or a vinaigrette—it melts in your mouth. There’s no need to douse the sushi in soy sauce, but if you so desire, there’s a stunning aged tamarind sauce for dipping, also a top secret.


The Drink You Can't Miss

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And by that, I mean order the sake. It’ll come with a small wooden box for you to drink out of. Notice how the sake changes as it comes down to room temperature and takes on a woody flavor. 

KC Craft Ramen

KC Craft Ramen’s bustling and kitschy interior is adorned with plants you can purchase. Photography by Samantha Levi.

For Kenichi Ota, ramen is not just his business. It’s his hobby and passion, and he wants others to experience ramen this way, too. Ota’s new restaurant, KC Craft Ramen, is his latest attempt at spreading his love for ramen, and it seems to be working.

Ota was born in Tokyo and has spent the last seven years working as a self-proclaimed “ramen consultant,” educating people across the country on traditional methods for ramen preparation. He also runs Ramen School USA, which offers courses about how to open successful ramen shops.

This year, after in-depth research, Ota decided Overland Park would be the perfect place to open an authentic Japanese ramen shop. He felt the community would be open to experiencing a bit of Japanese culture while enjoying fresh, house-made ramen. 

“I want to bring Japanese culture, not just a Japanese restaurant, [to KC],” Ota says. KC Craft Ramen is decorated with dozens of hanging plants and warm light fixtures. The aisle leading up to the counter is full of animation figurines for purchase as well as dozens of traditional Japanese sodas, juices, kombucha and teas. 

“People love it when they come to our store [and] the first thing they see is a small shopping area that introduces Japanese culture,” Ota says. 

The kitchen is open, so customers can watch as their ramen is made to order while sitting in a cozy wooden booth. Service is casual, but the atmosphere is well-designed, paying homage to Ota’s Japanese roots.

One menu staple is the KC Bun—decadent bao buns stuffed with a pork cutlet, crisp shredded cabbage and KC Craft Ramen’s original sauce, which strikes a delicate balance between sweet and heat. The KC Craft Red Ramen bowl, made with Ota’s fresh, house-made ramen noodles, is loaded with slices of tender pork, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, black mushrooms, corn, green onions and a soft-boiled egg finished with a spicy oil. The heat is mild, but you can increase the spice. 

“Everything we make is in-house, even the noodles,” Ota says. “It’s not done this way in any other ramen shop across the U.S.” We can definitely taste the difference.

Insider Tip

Sign up for KC Craft Ramen’s mailing list and you’ll be entered into a monthly lottery for a free meal. Two winners are chosen each month.

The Drink You Can't Miss

One of KC Craft Ramen’s standout offerings is a stone fruit kombucha. It’s imported from Japan and has the perfect balance of carbonation and fruitiness. 


Hemma Hemma’s tomato basil soup, house-made biscuit and farro salad tossed in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. Photography by Anna Petrow.

Ashely Bare’s Waldo joint may be the most unexpected restaurant to join Kansas City magazine’s roundup of this year’s top new restaurants, having only opened in September. The addition of Hemma Hemma could definitely be perceived as a gamble, but after a handful of visits, I’m calling it. Its cafeteria-style dining and approachable, solid seasonal fare is a winning combination. It’s already showing serious potential, and it will be exciting to see how Bare continues to develop Hemma Hemma (meaning ‘at home’ in Swedish). 

Bare started a meal delivery service in 2019, offering her homestyle-with-a-global-twist cuisine to clients who would stock their fridges for the week with her meals. Bare still operates a meal delivery service, and now, with her new shop’s market space, customers can also pick up her prepared meals. She is offering delicious grab-and-go options like miso meatballs, hand-breaded chicken tenders and spicy amatriciana pasta bakes. 

Although her prepared food is not to be missed, you should really grab a tray and get in line at the cafeteria, which is open for breakfast and lunch. Grab pickle-brined chicken with house-made ranch, tomato thai basil soup or a beef shawarma wrap. The breakfast quiche is wildly fluffy and filled with cherry tomatoes, dill, feta and quinoa. A plethora of cold salads mixed with all kinds of nutrient-dense veggies and grains await you near the end of the line.

Hemma Hemma is replacing District Pourhouse + Kitchen, and Bare has completely shaken its tavern feel with her chic vintage touch. Near the coffee bar sit multi-patterned lounge chairs against a plaid-wallpapered wall. Hovering above the dining room are retro pink lamps.


Insider Tip

Cooking classes are available in Hemma Hemma’s instructional kitchen. Learn how to make pasta,dim sum, Mediterranean mezze, eggs benedict and more by heading to Hemma Hemma’s website, hemmahemma.com. Oh, there’s also an event space available to rent underneath the dining room. 

The Year of the private chef

Private chefs are having a moment. Two of this year’s top new restaurants were started by former private chefs: Hemma Hemma’s Ashley Bare and Of Course’s Swetha Newcomb. They went from catering private dinners and constructing weekly meal preps to helming their own establishments. Harp Barbecue (which ranked sixth on our recent Best of KC Barbecue 2023 list) recently partnered with notable KC private chef Jayaun Smith to start Soul Food Sundays, a weekly collaboration that dishes up braised greens, fried fish and other soulful barbecue fare. Even Travis Kelce’s private chef Kumar Ferguson was recently featured in Vanity Fair and Startland News. 

It’s a coveted gig, private chef-ing. It allows chefs to manage their own schedules and clients without the infamous chaos that’s de rigueur in a traditional restaurant kitchen. But as we’ve seen from this list, it’s also a profession that acts as a springboard for bigger business opportunities. Private chefs are making their mark despite being hidden away.

What is the transition from private chef to the restaurant world’s busy demands like? When we asked Newcomb, she had one word: “Insane.” But it seems owning her own restaurant and having control of its kitchen is worth diving back into the chaos.

“Insane, but in the best way,” Newcomb says. “Being back here in this environment made me realize how much I missed it. We all work together as a family.”

The Drink You Can't Miss

You can grab a cup of joe and some homemade baked goods at the bodega, but for something on the brighter side, head to the market and grab Sanzo or Poppi sparkling water, a Zen Donkey Farms cold-pressed juice or kombucha.

It all started with the oven. When the former Cafe Europa in Brookside’s Crestwood Shops closed, it left behind an enviable neighborhood restaurant space with a wood-burning oven. For restaurateurs Todd Schulte and Cory Dannehl, who were fresh off the runaway success of an oyster bar a few blocks away, a wood-fired oven was all the inspiration they needed to launch a new Italian restaurant with pizzas.

“We opened up Earl’s Premier, and we really had no intention of opening anything else quite so soon,” Schulte says. “But the space became available and it seemed like a no-brainer.”

The oven didn’t pan out—once they got into the space, Schulte and Dannehl discovered it was in bad shape, so they replaced it with an imported Italian electric oven—but the restaurant, Bacaro Primo, works anyway. The cozy Italian joint with a horseshoe bar and a Coliseum-sized salami selection is one of the most roundly pleasant new restaurants the city has seen in years.

It’s a place with satisfying pastas in rich sauces, Neopolotin-ish pizzas with lightly charred crusts, a lineup of spritzes and carefully selected meats and cheeses from all over Italy. Bacaro Primo is not reinventing the wheel, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a perfect neighborhood modern Italian spot.

One of Bacaro Primo’s best qualities is its self-assured presentation of excellent imported foodstuffs. No, that thick and perfectly al dente pappardelle that’s umami-bombed with rich wild boar ragu and Parmigiano-Reggiano is not made in-house. Rather, it’s Pastificio Di Martino imported dry from Naples. And it’s perfect.

“We’ve certainly gone out of our way to source authentic Italian meats and cheeses,” Dannehl says. “For the most part, they are all imported. We actually use fresh mozzarella and burrata out of Connecticut—it’s a super high-end product. But everything else is from various regions in Italy.”

That includes the olives battered and fried Scotch-egg style, which has become a signature item. “People come in for just a drink and that,” Schulte says.


The Drink You Can't Miss

 Primo Negroni, the classic Italian cocktail. Here, it’s made appropriately bracing with dry gin, Barolo Chinato and red aperitivo.

Bacaro Primo’s marinara pizza is delicious in its simplicity, with house-made tomato sauce and toppings of dried Sicilian oregano, extra virgin olive oil and lots of sliced garlic. Photography by Zach Bauman.

Insider Tip

The Italian electric oven is an advanced piece of equipment that allows Bacaro to cook with different temperatures at the top and bottom of the oven, says co-owner Todd Schulte.

The Urban Egg

Belgian waffles with the works- fresh strawberries and blueberries, homemade vanilla creme anglaise, whipped cream and maple syrup. Photography by Zach Bauman.

Breakfast tacos piled with hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, peppers, onions, avocado crema and cotija cheese. Sub portobello mushrooms for bacon or chorizo to make it vegetarian. Photography by Zach Bauman.

Urban Egg brought a winning brunch format from Colorado to Kansas City, but it was also a homecoming of sorts for founder Randy Price, who graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School in 1983.

Price says the restaurant’s focus on quality ingredients and local suppliers and an “each-guest each-plate approach” are key to the appeal. “Our food is always fresh, never frozen, prepared in-house from scratch in an open display kitchen.”

Variety is another calling card. Diners can go light, combining a salad or granola parfait with a fresh-squeezed juice blend, or they can indulge in an espresso martini alongside a decadent stuffed French toast with crème anglaise, maple syrup and whipped cream. Gluten-free pancakes and muffins are available, and you can even mix and match pancake “flights” from among five choices.

Price says the most popular menu choices include the chicken and waffle eggs benedict with bacon jam and chili maple bacon butter; the buttermilk biscuit with sage sausage gravy, made with sausage sourced from Kansas City-based Scimeca’s; and the cinnamon swirl pancakes with royal icing. Other choices range from sandwiches to avocado toast to steak and eggs. 

(Note: Your correspondent was particularly impressed with the carnitas bowl served with eggs, hash browns, green chili and avocado.)

The high-ceilinged space offers a tasteful contemporary design, with well-spaced tables and a glass-walled kitchen. Decor touches include giant close-up photos of fresh fruits and vegetables and a display of recovered aspen tree trunks.


Insider Tip

Another reason to enjoy Urban Egg: their track record of charity and community support. They recently raised more than $40,000 to support Maui wildfire victims. 

The Drink You Can't Miss

The medium-spicy house bloody mary pairs perfectly with any of Urban Egg’s southwestern/Tex-Mex dishes.


The shrimp fried rice at Noka is a labor of love. It takes two days to create the house-made seafood sauce it’s cooked in. It’s topped with smoked fish aioli, bonito flakes and pickled Asian pears. Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden.

It should come as no surprise to see Martini Corner’s Asian fusion restaurant Noka on this list. In the midst of me writing a review for the November issue, chef and owner Amante Domingo overhauled his menu—a watershed act that took his dishes from confusing to stellar and completely altered my review. Domingo had hustled back to the heart of his ambitious vision, and it was a success.

“I’m a Midwest boy,” Domingo says. “I’m not a West Coast or East Coast chef that wants to bring new gastronomy to KC. I want to bring my take on it and not overcomplicate things.” 

Despite Noka’s highly curated and contemporary Japanese farmhouse design, the restaurant isn’t pretentious, just cool. A dramatic wall of Japanese clay pots and the restaurant’s communal seating were inspired by one of the last conversations Domingo had with his father.

“He told me that he wanted to take me to a sushi bar he had seen in the Yucatan,” Domingo says. “So I built a restaurant that I thought visually a sushi bar in the Yucatan would feel like.”

Fusion means experimentation, and Domingo is having fun without the guardrails of tradition. From breaking a clay pot to get to your chicken to watching your creme brulee dramatically lit aflame tableside, Domingo is promising his patrons not only delicious food but an experience, and he is breathing new life into KC’s food scene. 

A sophisticated drink menu accompanies Noka’s dishes, some of which maybe served on a slab of rock or butcher block.  

Choosing DIY steak tartare lettuce wraps, gochujang mac and cheese and togarashi-spiced brownies for dessert would be an acceptable way to approach Noka’s menu. But I recommend going big : splurge for an entree, maybe the duck with plum sauce or the 32-ounce ribeye with kimchi butter. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

With Noka’s recent addition of a raw sushi bar, it’s clear Domingo plans to keep offering Kansas Citians something different while challenging himself along the way


Insider Tip

Weekend happy hour includes half-off sushi and sake until 6:30 pm. Need we say more?


The Drink You Can't Miss

Bar manager Audra Frost nails the cocktail and mocktail offerings, but the wines are particularly excellent. Grab a glass of Breaking Bread’s zinfandel blend for a crisp, lighter bodied wine with notes of jasmine and persimmon.


Is KC Having A Sushi Renaissance?

Unlike barbecue and steakhouses, KC’s sushi scene has always been lacking. But change is on the horizon. Chefs and restaurateurs are coming out of the woodwork and upping KC’s sushi game, especially with the recent additions of sushi bars at Noka, Kata Nori and the soon-to-be-open Crossroads omakase restaurant Sushi Kodawari.

Kodawari chef Karson Thompson wants to prove there’s no reason why KC shouldn’t have the same quality sushi that can be found on the East or West coasts. With the right purveyors, quality fish is completely feasible, he says.

“When I was looking into coming back to the city, I was really kind of surprised to see that there was nobody in Kansas City really doing this concept,” Thompson says. “It looked like there was a gap to fill in the Kansas City market.”

Both Kata Nori’s and Sushi Kodawari’s owners have connections to Japanese fish markets, enabling them to select the best. This direct access means higher quality fish for their KC customers, but it also means KC sushi lovers might be paying more than they are used to. But from our dining experience at Kata Nori, we think it’s worth it.

Beyond the fish, these new restaurants are also paying homage to sushi culture, which means intimate dining rooms and open kitchens where the chef prepares the food in front of their customers.

Vintage ’78 Wine Bar

Vintage ’78’s wine flight and “cheese clock,” which includes 12 slices of cheese accompanied by an illustrated guide so you’re sure to remember your favorite. Photography by Samantha Levi.

Insider Tip

Try the jamón ibérico de bellota. The rare ham comes from Spanish boars that are the direct descendants of wild Iberian peninsula boars. These free-range pigs almost exclusively eat acorns that have fallen from trees, creating a ham with a delicate, fatty, nutty flavor.

The Drink You Can't Miss

Talk Dirty To Me. They’re talking soil. This flight of red wines gets its name from the various soils the wine grapes were grown in, with descriptors like “forest floor” to describe the varietals.

Like fine wine, Overland Park’s Vintage ’78 Wine Bar keeps getting better with time. After opening in the spring with a deliciously limited menu—but one that paired nicely with the bistro’s extensive wine list—the chic yet comfortable restaurant is slowly expanding its food choices, too.

The focus remains on its libations, as it should, but a few more savory dish choices means there are that many more reasons to go. If you want to just nibble away at truffle popcorn paired with a nice pinot noir, or whatever suits your fancy, that can be done. But perhaps something more substantial is needed. In that case, Vintage ’78’s decadent lobster roll created by chef Kyle Ketchum, who spent much time in Boston perfecting his trademark sandwich, perfectly complements your glass of Champagne. 

“It’s an opportunity to taste and experience things that you may or may not be familiar with,” says owner Michael Scherzberg, whether that’s Vintage ’78’s wines or its cheese and charcuterie choices, all of which can be explained by the educated and friendly staff.

Scherzberg and his partners Ketchum and Megan Downes, who serves as general manager, spent much time refining the elegantly cozy bistro’s concept. The trio, who have known each other for years through various hospitality industry gigs, wanted to offer world-class wines along with cheeses and charcuterie in an environment that felt like Cheers—a comfortable place where everybody knows your name. I’d say they succeeded.

Vintage ’78—1978 was a good year for wine and is the owner’s birth year—is a new space, but it has a timeless quality. Crisp white paneled walls, bold contemporary paintings created by Scherzberg, a lush blue velvet banquet and French bistro marble-topped tables and chairs adorn the space. The back of the bar has clean open shelving lined with row after row of Riedel crystal glassware, ensuring you have the right glass for the right wine.

A large glass window lines the back wall, offering a view of the temperature- and humidity-controlled wine cellar, a fabulously dark and moody room. Vintage ’78 also has a wine club. “Drink well more often,” Downes says. “That’s our motto.”

Cheers to that.

District Biskuits

Chef Guroux Khalifah is focused on the important stuff. When I interview him, it’s clear he’d rather be in the kitchen, but I need to know his secrets or, at the very least, gain some insight into why his fast-casual biscuit joint is so damn good.

It’s tucked in between a Lucky Dragon Chinese restaurant and a brick-clad Farmers Insurance off Armour Road in KC’s Northtown. You’ll get your food quickly, as at any other fast food spot, but the fried chicken will be sous-vide and the buttermilk biscuits will be made from scratch. That’s Khalifah’s secret—he uses his classic French training to create a superior product but knows where to cut corners to deliver efficiency.

The menu is centered around daily homemade buttermilk biscuits, a recipe that uses a rough lamination technique—a layering method of butter between layers of dough—that Khalifah has perfected over the years. They’re structured but tender and rich with butter. A touch of sugar gives the outsides a soft crunch. They might sandwich a filet of gleaming hot Nashville chicken or be smothered with a house-made gravy. 

If it’s your first time, order The Wonder, the breakfast biscuit sandwich that propelled Khalifah from a pop-up in his uncle’s fried fish establishment, Lutfi’s, to his current brick-and-mortar. If you’re hungover, however, Khalifah has a remedy for that: The Cure, a biscuit sandwich stuffed with soft scrambled eggs slapped with American cheese, a smear of bacon jam, caramelized onions and chives. Go ahead and indulge in a side of mac and cheese. Maybe a milkshake and slice of red velvet cake, too.  

“Our menu, our concept is crafted for the culture of Black people in Kansas City,” Khalifah says. “It’s crafted for the culture of Kansas City.”

As I sit down, listening to ’90s R&B playing overhead, I realize Khalifah has truly created something all his own—indulgent homestyle food with genuine KC roots. His operation has soul, something you don’t often see at a fast food spot.

District Biskuits’ new dinner menu- fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy, braised greens, mac and cheese, fried mac and cheese balls and bread pudding. Photography by Samantha Levi.

Insider Tip

Chef Khalifah has just expanded his menu to add dinner. Fried chicken, braised green beans, Southern-style baked mac and cheese, whipped mashed potatoes and gravy, cheesy grits, dressing, coleslaw and fries will all be available during District Biskuits’ evening weekend hours.

The Drink You Can't Miss

Have you heard of the french fry and ice cream combo? Well, the Southside Shake takes it to the next level with chocolate and vanilla ice cream topped with crispy fried potato bits and a dollop of whipped cream. For an extra $1.95, you can add booze to it. 


Barbacoa’s grilled Caesar salad, elotes and chopped brisket tacos. Photography by Zach Bauman.

If you want something done fast, call Roman Raya and Madeline Buechter. In just a few years, the culinary team took their street-food concept Taco Tank from a pop-up cart to a stall in Crossroads’ food hall Parlor to a permanent spot in a shipping container in North Kansas City’s Iron District. This April, the pair opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Barbacoa, in a sunny corner space on 55th and Troost. 

Barbacoa’s mission is to marry Mexican flavors with Kansas City barbecue techniques. It’s a natural coupling—barbacoa is barbecue’s etymological (and literal) ancestor. But when I ask Raya if he considers Barbacoa to be part of the KC barbecue scene, he hesitates. “We honor the barbecue side of things, but really, the face we’re presenting is a Mexican restaurant,” he says. 

And Barbacoa is a different kind of Mexican restaurant for the city, showcasing Raya’s elegantly plated dishes and Buechter’s creative, food-friendly cocktails. Menu highlights include a smoky, saucy plate of adobo wings with a cooling cilantro crema and campechano—here, not tacos, but a whole grilled ribeye served alongside chorizo and salsa macha. The goal, Raya says, is to offer guests the feel of a nice steak dinner without tugging the dish too far from its pragmatic street-food origins. 

Those dishes are also signs of a new restaurant finding its footing. Early Barbacoa menus looked a little different, with traditional showpiece entrees and a la carte sides such as fideo seco. But Raya found that diners weren’t sure how to pair them or how much to order. “We adapted our menu to be a little more on the shareable side and just make each plate stand out as its own,” he says. 

Barbacoa’s menu changes often; if you like a dish, there’s no guarantee it’ll stick around. But that’s part of what makes the restaurant so fun—there’s a playfulness to Raya and Buechter’s creations that never feels too irreverent.

“This menu is going to constantly evolve as we figure out new ways to incorporate traditional ingredients and to have fun but still honor the dishes as they are,” Raya says.

Insider Tip

Wednesday walk-ins might find a table, but weekends (both brunch and dinner) tend to fill up. Reserve a couple of days in advance.

The Drink You Can't Miss

The Street Vendor, which tops a blended base of mezcal and tequila with corn milk, agave and lime. The menu describes it as “comically sippable.”

 We agree.

Three Restaurants We Said Goodbye to This Year

KC’s food scene saw tremendous growth this past year, but there were a few favorites that shuttered their doors and deserve a proper send-off. 

Whether it was your first meet-up of the night or the final shot of the evening, the Drunken Worm was a classic stop for any great night out. Its absence—and its massive margs, expansive tequila list and large plates of authentic tacos—will surely be felt. 

A Strawberry Hill staple, Mockingbird Lounge was considered one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets. Their craft cocktails and brunches were just a small part of what made Mockingbird Lounge a front runner in the revitalization of Strawberry Hill’s food scene. They announced their closure the same day as the Drunken Worm, and patrons took to Facebook to remember the restaurant’s drag shows and comedy nights.

From its black and red exterior to its neon ‘Poio’ sign, Poio Mexican BBQ added flair to every fire-cooked meal they served. The KCK establishment is remembered for its grilled chicken boxes, which were catered event staples. Poio went out with a bang, and patrons were able to celebrate the restaurant and their staff at Poio’s farewell party in April, where they served one final dinner.