Local Flavor: the best places to eat and drink in Kansas City

Kansas City is synonymous with barbecue, but if you’re visiting just for the burnt ends, you’re missing out on the ever-expanding, diverse menu of flavors that KC dishes up daily – so save room.

Kansas City has been my oyster – or whatever the landlocked Midwestern equivalent is – since I moved here in 2022. I grew up in Kansas, about 200 miles southwest of KC, and visited Kansas City several times a year as a kid. After college, I moved to Europe, spending a year in Germany and a decade in London. But now that I’m back, it feels like I’ve arrived just in time – Kansas City is certainly on the cusp of something big.

It’s important for visitors to know their place in Kansas City – after all, the city confusingly straddles two states: Missouri and Kansas. Downtown Kansas City is on the Missouri side (KCMO), unless of course you’re talking about downtown KCK (Kansas City, Kansas). Suburbs sprawl in every direction beyond the downtown core, and while Kansas City became the first US city to offer free public transportation in 2020, you’ll want a car to get around if you’re short on time or heading to the suburbs.

Ready to get your glutton on? These are my favorite places to eat and drink in Kansas City on both sides of the state line.

The smoked salmon on roasted garlic bagel from Meshuggah © Meshuggah Bakery

Breakfast (and brunch)

I’m a natural early bird, which comes in handy for some breakfast spots in Kansas City that close early or shut up shop when they sell out. On Troost Ave, Blackhole Bakery is best known for its mochi donuts, which come in so many flavors – grapefruit rosemary, chili mango, birthday cake – that you’ll have to visit more than once to try them all. The smoked salmon on roasted garlic from Meshuggah Bagels on 39th St is fast becoming a weekend staple. Both of these spots are small, and Meshuggah has just a few seats (Blackhole is carry-out only), so get your order to go and head to a nearby park.

It’s dangerously easy for me to walk to Succotash from my apartment, which I often do on Friday mornings before the weekend crowds descend. If I’m feeling indulgent, I order the Burrito of Love: scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese wrapped burrito-style in a buttermilk pancake. Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, loves this place too – he says Succotash’s French toast is “magical.”

The Midwest is the land of wheat and meat, and ordering biscuits and gravy is often a good way to judge a restaurant’s breakfast caliber. Happy Gillis in the Columbus Park neighborhood is a top contender for the city’s best. District Biskuits in North Kansas City also serves B&G, but its fluffy, crumbly biscuits truly shine in its sandwiches. The Cure, a large biscuit stuffed with soft scrambled eggs, American cheese and bacon jam, fixes everything.

L: Queue outside Blip Coffee. R: Assortment of creamy iced-coffees
R: Queue of eager customers at Blip © Blip; R: Assortment of flavor-packed iced-coffee from Café Corazón © Café Corazón


I’m the WFH type, which means that by 1pm, I’m looking for a coffee shop where I can spend the rest of the afternoon for a change of scenery. On my regular rotation are Blip, a coffee roaster that also stocks motorcycle merch in a huge industrial space in the warehouse-filled West Bottoms district; Post Coffee Company, a cute-as-a-button spot on Broadway with pressed-tin ceilings and delightful drinks; and Rochester Brewing & Roasting Company, which, as a maker of both cold brews and beers, perfectly assists the transition from working hard to hardly working.

Some of KC’s best coffee shops show off the city’s multicultural side. Café Corazón in the Crossroads district pours flavors from Latin America, including yerba mate, horchata lattes and – my personal favorite – the Mocha Azteca, made with Oaxacan chocolate. Cafe Cà Phê is the city’s first Vietnamese coffee shop, and its inclusive ethos welcomes all. The Hella Good, with Vietnamese espresso, ube (purple yam) syrup and oat milk, is one of its signature drinks, and I loved the adorable latte art atop my Dirty Thai-Ger, which mixes espresso with Thai iced tea.

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L: Mezze plate. R: Meat sandwich with melted cheese
L: Falafel at Palestinian-American restaurant Baba’s Pantry © Baba’s Pantry; R: The Bandit sandwich © Bay Boy


Sandwiches might not be the sexiest of lunches, but Kansas City has several spots that might just be the best thing since sliced bread. If you don’t think a sandwich can be life-changing, then you haven’t been to Bay Boy, near the Country Club Plaza, a shopping district built in the 1920s that modeled its architecture after Seville, Spain. The Bandit, a roast beef sandwich with raspberry jam, sounds wrong, but after one bite, you’ll taste just how right it is. Weekday-only M&M Bakery is close to downtown but off the beaten track, and its Hook ‘Em Up sandwich is a masterpiece of pepper beef and turkey ham piled high on an onion roll. 

Swap the rolls for pita bread at Baba’s Pantry, a Palestinian-American deli that Bon Appetit named as one of the best new restaurants in the entire country in 2022. Nowhere else in town does falafel and chicken shawarma as good as this. For a special treat, stop by on Fridays at 5pm for kunafa, a traditional Palestinian dessert of thinly shredded pastry, sweet cheese and sugar syrup.

Kansas City BBQ with mac and cheese, meat sandwiches and drinks
L: Brisket sandwich at Slap’s © Slap’s BBQ; R: The Z-Man sandwich and all the trimmings at Joe’s BBQ © Lauren Keith


Unsurprisingly, the most commonly asked Kansas City food question is the best place to eat barbecue, but if you ask four Kansas City residents, you’ll get seven or eight answers – and none of them are wrong. KC owes much of its legendary barbecue status to Henry Perry, a Black pitmaster who opened a barbecue restaurant in town in the early 1900s. Although Perry’s restaurant no longer exists, he trained apprentice pitmasters who carried on his craft at the thriving institutions of Gates Bar-B-Q and Arthur Bryant’s.

Kansas City barbecue has deep roots but continues to evolve, with a new generation of pitmasters firing up the smokers for their own takes on tradition. The Z-Man sandwich (sliced brisket, smoked provolone cheese and onion rings on a Kaiser roll) from Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue holds legendary status, best devoured at its original location in a gas station. In KCK, Slap’s BBQ, well, slaps. (Its name is actually an acronym that stands for “Squeal Like a Pig.”) Burnt ends – the fatty charred ends of brisket, like smoked beef crackling – are a Kansas City invention and a must-order here.

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L: Crispy pork ribs. R: Creamy ceviche
L: Crispy pork ribs at Corvino © Bongjwin Lee; R: Leche de tigre at Corvino © Martin Diggs


For a decadent dinner close to downtown, Corvino is my top choice. The darkened dining room is perfect for a date night or a celebratory meal with friends. The menu is always shifting slightly, but the seaweed donuts with trout roe and cream to start are essential. Reservations are recommended, though you might be able to slip in without one at slower times. If you have a group (or are dining solo with a big stomach), head to the Antler Room and order as many of the small plates as you can handle. Options rotate frequently but might include fresh pasta, potato gyoza or grilled octopus.

Even though it opened only in April, I’ve already been to Green Dirt on Oak twice. This restaurant takes farm-to-table food seriously, sourcing many of its supplies from its own herd and patch of land in Weston, Missouri, about 30 miles northwest of Kansas City. The charcuterie boards are works of art.

For a cheaper and no-reservations-required option, eat your way through KCK’s Taco Trail. You might not have time to visit all 60 of the taquerias in this part of town, so prioritize Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio, a taco bar inside a grocery store, and the al pastor tacos at El Camino Real.

Fully-stocked bar in Kansas City and a close-up shot of a negroni cocktail
Swordfish Tom’s is one of the best cocktail bars in KC © Zach Bauman


In the early 1900s, Kansas City was nicknamed the “Paris of the Plains” for its wide boulevards, lavish public fountains and its “sinful” nightlife that didn’t even stop during Prohibition, thanks to Tom Pendergast, a corrupt political boss who controlled KC for more than a decade from 1925. You’ll notice his name pop up at many modern Kansas City drinking establishments, from Swordfish Tom’s, a cocktail bar (one of the best in the city) in a basement boiler room, to Tom’s Town, where you can spy the copper distilling vats through the bar’s windows, both located in the Crossroads district.

Take a drink of history at J Rieger & Co in the East Bottoms, forced to close during Prohibition but resurrected nearly a century later when it was reestablished by the founder’s great-great-great-grandson. Rieger’s old fashioned is one of my favorite drinks in town, and of course, the bar also pours a cocktail called Pendergast, with whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine herbal liqueur and Angostura bitters.

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