The Best Food and Drink in Kansas for 2019
December 20, 2018
A stroll down the yellow brick road of food
The Best Food and Drink in Kansas
There’s no place like Kansas when it comes to cuisine. Though it’s not frequently a part of the culinary conversation in this country, the Sunflower State has some of the best fried chicken, ribs, and chili that you’ll find. So, to celebrate the best of Kansas, we rounded up the Jayhawk State’s finest foods, drinks, and culinary hotspots as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Kansas has no one culinary center, so to get the full tour of the state’s best food, you need to go on a road trip. Start off in the Kansas side of Kansas City for some doughnuts at Hana’s Donuts, then continue your day in Topeka for the Downtown Topeka Farmers Market, where you can buy locally-sourced produce and crafts for a successful morning. Don’t forget lunch at AJ’s NY Pizzeria, of course. Then hop in your car and cruise all the way down to Wichita for the finest dining in Kansas at Scotch & Sirloin.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. The results are the best food and drink in every state, and here are the finest that Kansas has to offer.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Cinzetti’s (Overland Park)
Modeled after an Italian piazza, Cinzetti’s boasts an all-you-can-eat Italian feast ranging in price from $10.99 to $16.99. More than 55 dishes are served from eight stations: Parmesan, Rotisserie, Tavola Calda, Antipasto, Marchetta, The Pizzeria, Fresh Made Pasta, and Fresh Bakery. Standouts include lasagna bolognese, fried calamari, chicken cacciatore, minestrone soup, six different pizzas, farfalle carbonara, house-recipe meatballs, made to order crêpes, and (because why not?) Kansas City-style barbecue.
Best Bar: Johnny’s Tavern (Lawrence)
Housed in a former tractor/farm implement store, Johnny’s Tavern was founded way back in 1953, and the original sign still hangs out front today. Since then, the bar has changed hands, undergone renovations to the upstairs to include an additional bar and party rooms, and expanded into eight other locations in Kansas and Missouri. Through all of that, people have never stopped coming back to the original location in Lawrence for the daily drink specials, the loyalty program, and Cajun Night on the first and third Wednesday of each month (Trivia Night takes over the other Wednesdays). As per Kansas state law, all bars must serve food, and Johnny’s honors this with some of the best pizza in town and about 25 topping options. It also happens to be the best place in town to watch a Jayhawks or Royals game.
The Best Bar in Every State
Best Beer: Buffalo Sweat, Tallgrass Brewing Company (Manhattan)
If you think this name is off-putting, you’re not alone. Buffalo Sweat? Umm… But we can promise you that no buffalo were harmed in the making of this beer. Tallgrass Brewing Company started experimenting with barrel-aging in 2012, and the result of the first experiment was this creamy oatmeal stout, infused with whole vanilla beans. If you love the iconic combination of chocolate and vanilla, then this beer is the one for you.
Best Brunch: Urban Table (Prairie Village)
Fresh, seasonal ingredients are used just outside Kansas City at Urban Table, in the preparation of a stellar and wide-ranging brunch menu. The weekend offerings here are decidedly outside-the-box, and decidedly delicious. Grilled doughnuts with smoked bacon praline syrup, chilaquiles, egg and cheese waffle sliders with sausage, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal pancakes, daily omelettes and quiches, Monte Cristo with goat cheese and house-made jam, a quinoa burger, cheesy garlic monkey bread, and Texas-style chili with jalapeño corn bread are just a few of the brunchtime possibilities, and many specialties can be done gluten-free. Coffee is provided by St. Louis-based Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co.
Best Burger: Cozy Inn (Salina)
There was a big White Castle-inspired hamburger stand boom across America in the early 1920s, and Salina, Kansas’ Cozy Inn is one of the last ones standing. Started as a six-seat counter in 1922, it gained local popularity for serving 1-ounce burgers griddled with chopped onions that came to be known nationally as sliders, and so is the birthplace of this beloved dish. To this day the grillmen are still doing it the old-fashioned way, in the same tiny room, with fluffy white buns made especially for them. A few things to know before going: You’ll want yours "all the way," meaning with ketchup, mustard, a pickle, and onions. Don’t ask for it without onions; don’t ask for it with cheese; don’t ask for fries (just grab a bag of chips). Request a sack and you’ll get six sliders, and expect to leave smelling like onions.
The Best Burger in Every State
Best Chili: Woodyard Bar-B-Que (Kansas City)
One of the Midwest’s most popular barbecue joints got its start as a place to buy firewood in the 1950s, and it rose in popularity largely due to its burnt end chili. Black, kidney, and red beans are stewed in a paprika and cayenne heavy sauce, and huge chunks of falling-apart burnt ends from smoked briskets are tossed in for good measure.
The Best Chili in America
Best Chinese Restaurant: Lee’s Chinese Restaurant (Wichita)
When you sit down at your table at Lee’s, you’ll be asked if you want to look at the regular dinner menu or the Chinese menu. Even though the traditional Chinese-American favorites on the dinner menu are fresh and tasty, the Chinese menu is what sets Lee’s apart from the pack. Order salt and pepper wings, king-dao ribs, Sichuan ma po tofu (or Cantonese if you prefer it less spicy), five-spiced duck, and sizzling eggplant, and prepare to be the envy of all the other diners.
The Best Chinese Restaurant in Every State
Best Chocolate Shop: Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates (Wichita)
Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates/Yelp
Locals and tourists alike know there’s only one spot to go to in Wichita for your chocolate needs: Cocoa Dolce. Their chocolates have beautiful designs and beautiful flavors, including a few booze-infused picks (mimosa, red zinfandel). Don’t leave without trying their cheesecake, though. It’s some of the best in the country.
Best Coffee Shop: PT's at College Hill (Topeka)
PT's Coffee Roasting Co. has three locations in Kansas, but the one next to Washburn University is by far the most acclaimed. The atmosphere is perfect for a lunch break, study session, or even a business meeting, and their espressos, lattes, drip coffee, and pour-over coffee is top-notch. Their varied food menu and a rotating craft beer tap and seasonal cocktail menu means there's something for everyone.
Best Cupcakes: BabyCakes (Kansas City)
We’re cheating a bit here, as BabyCakes is actually on the Missouri side of Kansas City, but what’s a mile between friends? With cupcakes available in three sizes, this cupcakery believes in serving sweets that are both delicious and beautiful.
BabyCakes’ presentation is on point, using creative frostings and color combinations. This bakery dishes out a few playful jabs at their competition, saying: “We can proudly say we've never subjected our loyal customers to witness a tacky display of baking debauchery on Battle of the Cupcakes, Cupcake Mafia, Backwoods Cupcake Monsters, Deadliest Cupcakes, Real Cupcakes of New Jersey, Cupcake Dynasty, or any of those other History or ‘Learning’ Channel shows.”
In short, the cupcakes can speak for themselves. The bakery has six consistent flavors year round and dabbles in an array of seasonal flavors like “eggnog cake” and “pumpkin cake” with cream cheese frosting.
Best Dive Bar: Kirby’s Beer Store (Wichita)
Best Doughnuts: Hana’s Donuts (Kansas City)
Hana’s Donuts is a hidden gem of a doughnut shop, but it’s worth seeking out if you’re in Kansas City. These fresh doughnuts are filled to order, so there’s no risk of an overly soggy filling. The cream cheese-filled doughnut is genius, and the glazed doughnuts with fancy toppings, such as cinnamon glaze with roasted walnuts or white chocolate with coconut shavings, are as delicious as they sound.
Best Farmers Market: Downtown Topeka Farmers Market (Topeka)
Since the '30s, Topeka residents and visitors alike have spent Saturday mornings from April through November catching up with friends, listening to live music, and browsing locally produced food and craftwork.
101 Best Farmers Markets in America
Best Food Truck: The Flying Stove (Wichita)
With a constantly revolving menu, The Flying Stove gives its customers a reason to come back week after week. It’s hard to put a label on the style of cuisine; the menu reads traditional American with some Southwest inspiration. Currently on their menu is a rosemary chicken taco, “Mexican-flag fries” (which come with grilled pork, pesto, cheese sauce, and chili sauce all atop of truffle french fries), and a marinated kale and avocado sandwich on marble rye.
Best Fried Chicken: Chicken Annie's (Pittsburg)
Chicken Annie’s is known throughout Pittsburg, Kansas, for its signature fried chicken. The restaurant had humble beginnings: When founder Ann Pichler’s husband was injured in a coal mine accident in 1934, she began serving fried chicken out of their home to support the family. Word quickly spread of the delicious fare, and in 1972 the restaurant moved from her home to its present building. The homestyle hospitality, however, has never gone away. The family continues the tradition of excellent food with their thin-crust fried chicken and house-battered onion rings.
The Best Fried Chicken in Every State
Best Hot Dog: Fritz’s (Leawood)
Fritz’s is Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse (it opened in 1927), and is renowned for its smoked meats, especially its sausages. They supply many of the city’s best restaurants, but the best place to sample the merchandise is by visiting the shop for lunch. Several different hot dogs and sausages are available (including a fried bacon-wrapped dog with lettuce, tomato, and mayo), but make sure you save room for some barbecue beef or ribs.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Harry’s (Manhattan)
An institution inside the elegant Wareham Hotel, Harry’s has an elegant, romantic air highlighted by dark woods, crown moldings, white tablecloths, and a lived-in, old-fashioned vibe. Widely regarded as the finest restaurant in town, Harry’s menu is chock-full of upscale dishes, like cilantro rum lobster, pinot noir blackberry duck, filet mignon bordelaise, and rack of lamb. Its wine list has also consistently earned awards from Wine Spectator.
Best Ice Cream Stand: College Hill Creamery (Wichita)
College Hill Creamery/Yelp
The glowing Yelp reviews on this Kansas creamery are reason enough to go. “Adorable little house converted into ice cream and coffee. Two floors, little playhouse above, plenty of comfy couches. I had the pumpkin ice cream and espresso affogato. Twice. It was delicious,” wrote a customer who gave College Hill five stars.
Best Italian Restaurant: Albero Café, Wichita
This College Hill standby offers a wide selection of Italian classics and creative specialties like Italian nachos and shrimp dip, and there’s a wide variety of customizable pastas. Chef-owner Hassan Ballout spent 10 years in the kitchens of some of the city’s best Italian restaurants, and when he decided to strike out on his own three years ago he struck gold. Standouts include fried calamari (sliced into strips instead of rings), Tuscan white bean soup, penne al pesto, grilled grouper with lemon herb garlic butter, and Italian lemon cream cake.
The Best Italian Restaurant in Every State
Best Mexican Restaurant: Taco Republic (Kansas City)
This low-key and inviting restaurant is one of the coolest spots in Kansas City — and one of the most popular patios. The fun menu includes items like five-cheese queso, spicy tequila lime wings, grilled shrimp tostadas, and a very popular wood-fired chicken, but the tacos are the star of the show here. The Salazar (pork belly, salsa verde, cilantro, onions, and chicharrónes) and Tecate Barbacoa (beer- and chile-braised brisket with onions and cilantro) are fan favorites, but you have to try the classic slow-cooked cochinita pibil, marinated and roasted pork topped with pickled red onions and tostones. It’s a taste of the Yucatán in Kansas.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Scotch & Sirloin (Wichita)
Scotch & Sirloin/Yelp
Scotch and sirloin both have a reputation for being pricey luxuries, and a visit to the restaurant with that name is a luxury too. Start with a $27 cheese and meat board, a $28 appetizer sampler, or a $56 shellfish bouquet, and go for the $46 bone-in rib-eye or $45 slab of prime rib for your main course. A $76 Chateaubriand for two is also a wise move.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Death Star, Wake the Dead Breakfast Bar (Lawrence)
Located in the hipster-friendly town of Lawrence, Wake the Dead is a great place to have breakfast for dinner — or any other meal for that matter. Order the Death Star, which consists of egg, cheese, and ham or bacon, topped with lettuce, tomato, and Sriracha aoili — all of which would be normal enough if it weren't for the fact that it's sandwiched between two halves of a doughnut.
Best Pancakes: Doo-Dah Diner (Wichita)
Just about everything is made from scratch at this homey Wichita destination, founded in 2012 by the husband-and-wife duo of Patrick and Timirie Shibley. The banana bread French toast, crispy corned beef hash, and avocado eggs Benedict are to die for, but regulars know to not miss the big, fluffy pancakes, topped with housemade vanilla molasses syrup.
Best Pizza: AJ’s NY Pizzeria (Topeka)
AJ’s isn’t kidding around when they call their pizza New York-style; the recipe is the same one that’s been used at a Brooklyn pizzeria for more than 50 years, and the owners consulted with a “dough doctor” named Tom Lehmann as well as the American Institute of Baking on their dough recipe. You can top your pizza with your choice of four sauces, seven cheeses, 12 meats, and 15 vegetables, or you can choose from their 17 available options; if you really want a taste of New York (or as close as you’re going to get in these parts, at least), go for The Big Apple: sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, homemade meatballs, Canadian bacon, ham, mushrooms, onions, black olives, green peppers, mozzarella, and parmesan.
The Best Pizza in Every State
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: The Depot (Leavenworth)
Located inside a former train station that was constructed in 1887, The Depot is today one of Leavenworth’s most popular restaurants. And it also happens to serve the best breakfasts in the state, starting at 7 a.m. daily. The menu here is fairly straightforward, but everything is made with the highest-quality ingredients, and there’s some real talent on display here. Popular specialties include biscuits and gravy, house-made corned beef hash, pulled smoked chicken hash Benedict, fried chicken tenders and waffles, and huevos rancheros. Don’t miss the cinnamon rolls or mini doughnut-muffins rolled in cinnamon sugar.
Best Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere: Renaissance Cafe (Assaria)
Located in the teeny tiny town of Assaria (population: 500; blink and you’ll miss it) smack-dab in the middle of Kansas, Renaissance Cafe still manages to routinely get recognized for its food, which is simple-but-impressive Italian homemade pastasdishes, as well as entrees like chicken saltimbocca, wild grilled salmon, pork tenderloin stuffed with raisins and spinach, and porcini-dusted filet mignon. Food aside (*gasp!*) the place is still worth a visit, as the restaurant itself surrounds a sunken gymnasium in a 97-year old former high school. The prices went up recently, following the menu overhaul by new executive chef Shana Everhart, but it’s still a reasonably priced eatery — and well worth it for high-quality fine dining in the heart of rural Kansas.
Best Ribs: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que (Kansas City)
Formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s, Joe’s Kansas City boasts ribs that are a deeply burnished shade of red thanks to a rub heavy with paprika, cumin, brown sugar, and chili powder. These ribs are postcard-picture-perfect, and you’ll most likely find yourself snapping a photo of them before you even take that first bite. But once you do, you’ll learn what the fuss has been about. Moist, juicy, smoky, tender — all those adjectives you thought you knew the definition of will conjure only one image in your mind from here on out: Joe's pork ribs.
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Best Sandwich: Pulled Pork at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que (Kansas City)
Kansas City has no shortage of great barbecue spots, but if you’re looking for a true taste of KC barbecue on the Kansas side of the city, head to Joe’s Kansas City. Slow-smoked pulled pork is the house specialty, and there’s no better sandwich around than a pile of that on a bun.
The Best Sandwich in Every State
Best Soup: Tanya’s Soup Kitchen (Wichita)
Located in Wichita’s trendy Douglas Design District, Tanya’s commands long lines on a daily basis. All soups are made fresh daily and rotate nearly as often, but favorites include tomato basil bisque, vegetable stew, and creamy artichoke gorgonzola. Can’t decide on one? Try a flight of four.
The Best Soup in Every State
Best Steakhouse: Hereford House (Shawnee and Leawood)
At this 60-year-old steakhouse, steaks are raised locally, hand cut, and Certified Angus; let your server know exactly how big you want your steak or prime rib to be, and it’s all yours. Aside from Kansas City strip, rib-eye, top sirloin, prime rib, porterhouse, and fillet, country fried steaks, pork ribs, and burgers are also favorites. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.