Why the Kansas City restaurant scene is so special right now

I wasn’t expecting to encounter Georgian soup dumplings when I sidled up to the bar at The Antler Room. I am a devoted dumpling enthusiast, especially of Chinese xiaolongbao. But I was late to learn that the Caucuses made a version of the broth-filled dumplings, which you’ll find next to cavatelli and grilled octopus on chef Nick Goellner’s eclectic menu. They were the best thing I’ve eaten all year. When food editor Natalie Gallagher wanted to put The Antler Room atop our list of the forty best restaurants in the city, she got no argument.

There were quite a few surprising little moments like that as we worked on this month’s issue. The best restaurants tend to reveal themselves in the little details. Sometimes that’s a great special using locally sourced lamb and fresh okra; other times it’s a whimsical take on PB&J (see: Jessica Armstrong’s peanut butter cake at Novel). In the case of our Restaurant of the Year, Fox and Pearl, it was the DJ — the cellar of chef Vaughn Good’s wonderful new restaurant has room not only for a sizable charcuterie kitchen but also space for a local DJ to spin his enchanting collection of obscure reggae records.

Our editors spent the past year trying about two hundred and fifty restaurants across Kansas City to make this list. Along the way, we expensed tens of thousands of dollars (we don’t write reviews of free meals) and filed more than a hundred bite-sized reviews throughout the year.

After all that, we spent hours debating which restaurants to include on our list and where to rank them. The battle was fierce. Our editors came in with their own opinions, experiences and proclivities. But the end result is what we think is the most complete and competent list of top restaurants that Kansas City has yet seen.

If you’ve been paying attention, you probably know that the city’s restaurant scene is on a serious upswing. But it bears repeating here: Kansas City’s food scene is special right now. That’s not just because we have an increasing number of diverse and talented chefs playing with an ever-growing array of local proteins and produce. It’s because this city still offers elbow room for people who want to try something unique. The twin restaurant and real estate booms of the last decade have made so many other big and growing cities inhospitable for passionate solo chefs looking to follow a vision.

Kansas City is blessed to be in a sweet spot, with an enviable mix of wealth, space and growth — not to mention some of the world’s best livestock. That may not last forever, so suck out the marrow while you can.

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