The Insider’s Guide to Eating in Kansas City—and Supporting Its Communities Too
From Taiwanese street food to wood-fired Mediterranean and legendary barbecue, this all-American city just might surprise you, thanks to these tips from Max Kaniger, the founder of a local non-profit addressing food insecurity.
“People consistently underestimate Kansas City,” says Max Kaniger, founder and CEO of Kanbe’s Markets, an organization that works to eliminate food insecurity by increasing access to fresh and affordable food. (Donate to help support their mission.) The Kansas City native, who grew up in the Brookside neighborhood, firmly believes that despite any misconceptions about his hometown, it truly excels in the food department, especially for a city of its size. As he simply puts it, “We have some absolute world-class restaurants and chefs in Kansas City.”
Kaniger’s roots in the culinary world run deep—his parents owned and operated restaurants. “I was raised within the restaurant industry, surrounded by a deep appreciation for food from a very early age.” That passion was the seed that sprouted Kanbe’s Markets’ Ugly Dinner series, which focuses on sustainability by collaborating with some of Kansas City’s best chefs to create menu items and use produce that would otherwise be thrown away. (These events happen regularly throughout the year, so check their site for upcoming dates to enjoy a dinner that’s great for you and great for the community.) The founder credits his team for the original idea but admits to constantly talking about his love of the local restaurant scene.
“One of the things I believe we excel at more than anywhere else is food and connection,” Kaniger adds. He continues, “I love it here. The people and the community are a big part of what makes it special.” Inspired by this sentiment, here are Kaniger’s picks for eating and drinking your way through Kansas City.
Where to eat in Kansas City
When it comes to restaurants that epitomize the warmth of human connection, Kaniger immediately points to The Prospect KC. “There’s just a kind and loving atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re walking into a friend’s house, but then the food that comes out is absolutely world-class.” Led by chef Shanita McAfee-Bryant, who personally welcomes guests as they step inside, it offers exceptional cuisine and focuses on training aspiring individuals, both kids and adults, for the restaurant industry.
Another of Kaniger’s top recommendations is The Antler Room, operated by talented husband and wife duo Leslie and Nick Goellner. “They do such a wonderful job—they’ve cooked all over the world,” Kaniger says. “And they’ve chosen Kansas City as their home, so those experiences are reflected in their food that they get to share with us right here.”
Downtown, there’s Affäre, a restaurant specializing in modern German cuisine with a farm-to-table approach. Just across I-35 in a neighborhood known for creativity, the Westside, Clay & Fire serves phenomenal wood-fired Mediterranean dishes within the confines of an old house.
In the Westport area, Kaniger can’t stop raving about the Taiwanese street food at Chewology, helmed by Katie Liu-Sung. “She’s an incredible chef,” he says. “And her love for food and her team just kind of oozes out onto every plate.” Nearby, find Chingu focusing on playful Korean-inspired dishes. “There’s not a single bad thing on the menu,” Kaniger says, making it the ideal place to dine with a large group so that you can try everything.
Heading a bit further south on 63rd Street, there’s Baba’s Pantry, an award-winning Palestinian-American restaurant that Kaniger holds in high regard. “The owner is probably the nicest person ever. And his whole family is there helping him run the place,” he says.
For those in search of a dining spot in Brookside, near his childhood home, Kaniger recommends Earl’s Premier. He suggests starting with oysters and cocktails, followed by a stroll down the street to French Custard for homemade ice cream.
It’s worth venturing just across the Kansas-Missouri state line to dine at The Restaurant at 1900, where the combined talents of executive chef Linda Duerr and general manager Keith Goldman are behind one of the city’s best all-around dining experiences.
About 15 minutes north in the charming town of Parkville, Acre is another restaurant outside the city limits worth visiting. Chef and owner Andrew Longres, a local legend who previously led the kitchen at several top KC restaurants, offers locally sourced ingredients and open-fire cooking on a wood-fired hearth.
Although Kaniger emphasizes that Kansas City offers much more than just its renowned barbecue, he also acknowledges its reputation as a top destination for smoked meats is well-deserved. Trying some burnt ends, pulled pork, or ribs is practically required during any visit–his personal favorite spots include Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque and LC’s Bar-B-Q.
However, for out-of-towners, Kaniger suggests Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ, which has multiple locations around town. “One of them in the Freight House District is close to downtown and central to the city in this cool old building that I think people love to see. And the food is amazing—their cheesy corn is a must. Plus, the family that owns it could not be better people.”
As for coffee, Kaniger sends visitors to Blip Roasters, his neighborhood coffee shop. As a motorcycle enthusiast, he particularly enjoys their Sunday Meet Up and Bike Nights. “You’ll find tons of motorcycles out front, and people will meet there to go on or finish rides. I love it and also live really close.”
He also recommends two other favorite morning spots, Mildred’s, known for delicious offerings like a breakfast wrap with eggs and chipotle aioli or a breakfast sandwich featuring Dijon-mayo and served on marble rye, and Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters in the River Market, as well as at two other locations.
Where to drink in Kansas City
Kaniger is also well-versed in the city’s drink scene after a stint working at Harry’s Country Club, which also held one of Kanbe’s Markets earliest fundraisers. “It’s a great classic cocktail bar. If you want a great martini or an old fashioned or something like that, Harry’s Country Club does that perfectly,” he says.
For those searching for something more unusual, Kaniger likes The Campground, an intimate aperitivo cocktail bar in his neighborhood. Another favorite in the West Bottoms area is The Ship, a beloved Kansas City institution that’s enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to its solid bar food, fun atmosphere, and diverse live entertainment offerings. Kaniger recalls recent visits, ranging from DJ nights to drag shows and live bands.
Kansas City has its fair share of classic dive bars, including The Peanut on Main Street or Hi-Dive Lounge on W 39th Street. Additionally, Tower Tavern, conveniently located near Kanbe’s Market’s warehouse, finds its way into Kaniger’s regular rotation.
For a stunning view of downtown Kansas City, Kaniger suggests heading to The Mercury Room, perched atop a building in The Crossroads Arts District. And on the weekends, Panthers Place opens its doors, revealing a jungle-like outdoor space hidden behind an old Airstream trailer. “It’s a place I would take people if they’ve never been to Kansas City. It would surprise most out-of-towners to see a bar like that here,” he explains.