Wining & Dining

By Dennis Boone

You can follow this list every year to know who registers highest with readers in the bakery category—or you can just follow the traffic, especially on Saturday mornings, to north Waldo and McLain’s Bakery. Indoor or sidewalk dining, the savory dishes, and succulent pastries are a great way to start your day (but take some home for later, too!) Again, a Gold winner. This year’s Silver goes to Ibis Bakery, with a dazzling selection of bread and other baked goods available at a dozen coffee shops and bistros around town. Clock Tower Bakery in Overland Park cooks up Bronze for its popular treats (try the carrot cake!) and their heartier lineup of sandwiches and British-inspired fare.

In Kansas City, barbecue is king, and the competition for this throne each year is fierce. Only a handful of votes separated the three top vote-getters this year, with Joe’s Kansas City taking the Gold by a whisker, thanks to its melt-in-your-mouth goodness available at locations in Leawood, Olathe, and the original location in Kansas City, Kan. The unique Z-Man sandwich gets a lot of press nationwide, but there’s much more to the lineup of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey treats. Silver honors go to Q39, masters of smoked goodness who helped make the burnt-end burger a thing. Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, now with six locations, bears the Bronze.

Since the first keg rolled out in 1989, Boulevard Brewing Co. has been building a dedicated corps of true beer lovers throughout Kansas City, then the Midwest, and now almost nationwide—its signature pale ale and other varieties are available in 45 states, thanks to last year’s addition of West Virginia. Cheers, Mountaineers. Small wonder, then, that readers raise their glasses and toast Boulevard with this year’s Gold. The name is the clue that K.C. Bier Co. specializes in German-style brews, and in less than a decade, the name has become a specialty-brewing force to be reckoned with. Strong enough with readers, in fact, to earn Silver honors. Not to be outdone, Bronze winner Martin City Brewing Co. has developed a fan base of its own with the brewpub format combining eats and drinks. 

There’s a reason the hamburger became an American icon. They’re so darn good and so very versatile. The burger interpretation blending chuck and short rib cuts at BRGR Kitchen + Bar is the Gold winner here, serving up satisfaction at its Power & Light and Prairie Village locations. The apex of the selection pyramid at BRGR has to be the Steakhouse, fashioned from K.C. Cattle Co.’s wagyu beef. The modest façade at Walsh’s Corner Cocktail belies the culinary craftsmanship that made its Bacon Cheddar Burger a fan favorite, and those fans declare Silver status for this iconic Waldo fixture of 44 years. Five Guys, with more than a dozen area locations, wins Bronze for wowing not just with burgers, but with a signature recipe and Cajun-style fries that make a sandwich a meal.

If there’s a category where the top winner seems pre-ordained, this is it. First Watch extends its remarkable run with a 28th consecutive Gold—the only establishment ever to finish No. 1 in this category. If you’ve sampled the breakfast bounty at any of its nine area locations, that will surprise you not. From chorizo sandwiches to crab-cake Benedict or shrimp and grits, this is worlds away from milk and cereal to start your day. For Silver, Eggtc. steps up to the plate with its Italian bistro feel and a robust lineup of omelets, pancakes/waffles, sandwiches, Tex-Mex, skillets, and more. Corner Café, dishing it out in Riverside and Liberty, splits the Bronze with that iconic fixture on the Country Club Plaza, The Classic Cup.

A business lunch isn’t just lunch: It’s an opportunity to build, to connect, to foster growth. So the venue matters and readers say Bristol Seafood + Steak + Social, either in Leawood or the Power & Light District, sets the Gold standard here. Sure, this is beef country (as the lunch cut filet mignon attests), but Bristol’s seafood-laden menu answers the lunch bell with a mixed grill offering of shrimp, salmon, and lump crab cake. For Silver, the steak, pasta, fish tacos, or fish and chips at Trezo Mare Restaurant and Lounge in the Northland help set the tone for your conversation. The Bronze gets divvied up in a tie between a pair of Overland Park favorites, YaYa’s Euro Bistro and J. Alexander’s, both featuring main dishes with steak, chicken, or fish.

The Capital Grille is solid Gold for its unique presentation of beef at its best—dry-aged strip, bone-in ribeye, and filet mignon—or its spin on chicken or lamb chops. The food is top shelf, and so is the service, adding to a special experience that tells your clients: We care. Stock Hill, with a reputation as one of the nation’s best steakhouses, serves up the Silver for its lineup of treatments built around ribeyes, filets, and strip steaks, including wagyu, Black Angus, and dry-aged versions. Something lighter? Go for the jumbo sea scallops or lump crab Oscar. Battling to a draw for Bronze are 801 Chophouse, another master of the plated steak, and Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, the must-go location to treat out-of-towners to the definitive barbecue dinner.

Judging by reader enthusiasm, Jaime Geer Steinman has missed not a beat since taking the leadership baton from the namesake and founder at Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions. That means another Gold finish for the venerable catering institution, which adds a special touch of class—very tasty class—to weddings, corporate gatherings, and other mass-appetite events. A close second with readers is Brancato’s Catering, which earns the Silver for its selection of bite-sized selections, some savory, some sweet, and masters of the craft after half a century in business. Blind Box BBQ, billing itself as “a modern take on a Kansas City classic,” and the homestyle offerings from The Russell split honors for Bronze. 

By combining forces organizationally as FairWave Holdings, a specialty coffee collective,  The Roasterie and Messenger Coffee Co. created something of a java giant in Kansas City. That’s reflected in balloting that earned readers Gold for these two iconic brands, which raise the concept of a morning caffeine jolt into something of an art form. You can’t go wrong with either location, the Southwest Boulevard home of the Roasterie or just south of the loop at Messenger. Len-exa-based Black Dog Coffeehouse, which derives part of its appeal to readers from beans roasted by Messenger, snags the Silver. Bronze honors go to Scooter’s, the no-nonsense micro-shops with 15 locations to fuel mornings for drivers on the go. 

Family-owned Jason’s Deli, “where all good things start with wholesome ingredients,” is the choice for Gold honors. Serving up deli-style fare from five area locations, Jason’s offers sandwiches, soups, pastas, wraps, and more, including gluten-free options. Silver is a two-way tie. Scimeca’s Deli, the retail face of the noted sausage-making empire, overcame the challenges of a 2020 founding—we all know what happened that year—and is impressing with its sandwiches, pastas, and lasagna. It ties with Browne’s Irish Marketplace, now 135 years in business as one of the city’s oldest continuously-operating concerns. Though a scant 567 miles from its namesake city, Milwaukee Delicatessen Co. nonetheless brings a touch of Cream City to these parts and gets the nod for Bronze.

We’d be lying to suggest we’re surprised to see Stroud’s racking up yet another Gold in this category. And why not? That pan-fried chicken just like grandma used to make, and all the family-style servings of side dishes are the foundation of a memory-making event not just for family, but friends, co-workers—anyone with a taste for the authentic. Corner Café scores in an-other category, this time with Silver. And Garozzo’s Ristorante, one of the most popular Italian venues in the city (more on them in a minute), basks in Bronze glory.

Whether it’s an event for dozens or just a family gathering for dinner, you count on your grocer to have your back. For this readership, it’s Hy-Vee in a landslide for Gold. Is some of that support a matter of convenience? Perhaps so—the brand lists 25 stores in the Kansas City area. Hen House, approaching the 100th anniversary of that little grocery they started in Kansas City, Kan., checks in with Silver honors. And Bronze goes to Whole Foods, the outfit that changed retail grocery with premium natural and organic foods. 

After work, getting your weekend on when 5 o’clock gets here on Fridays, or relaxing through that weekend, McCormick & Schmick’s is the place to be for happy hour. So sayeth our readers, delivering Gold honors. Perhaps it’s because the right libations set the stage for the steaks and seafood yet to come with dinner at the Plaza location. Louie’s Wine Dive has proven popular with local oenophiles (yeah, we had to look it up, too), serving vintage offerings at its Overland Park location, as well as in Clayton, Mo., and Des Moines. Splitting the Bronze are Nick & Jake’s in Overland Park, Shawnee and Parkville, and Summit Grill in Waldo, Lee’s Summit, and Gladstone.

Nearly 50 years after Minsky’s introduced us to gourmet pizza, it has a lock on the hearts—and appetites—of Kansas Citians. It offers a creative range of pizzas, as well as sandwiches (including one of the best Philly’s west of Pennsylvania). Next up is Waldo Pizza, snagging Silver with a strong showing. Serving from nearly a dozen locations in the region, from Topeka to Warrensburg, Spin! Neopolitan Pizza racks up Bronze. 

In the Barbecue Capital of the World, something lighter is frequently in order, and Plaza-based True Food Kitchen comes through. The seasonally-driven menu is built around healthy, nutrient-rich dishes, such as spaghetti squash casserole, organic Tuscan kale salad, and grass-fed steak tacos, and there are, naturally, gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan offerings. First Watch scores a surprising Silver in this category, flexing muscles that are not just bacon and eggs. The Mixx, in Overland Park and on the Plaza, and Café Gratitude in the Crossroads split the Bronze.

Take away winter’s hogging of each calendar year here; there are still plenty of days and evenings where outdoor dining is a true Kansas City pleasure. No setting is finer, say the ballots, than Trezo Mare Restaurant and Lounge in the Northland, which snags this Gold. The Silver goes to Gram & Dun, where the Plaza venue adds a touch of class to the experience. Sharing the Bronze are Char Bar in Westport and YaYa’s Euro Bistro.

There’s more to impressing visitors than barbecue alone; the barbecue experience is what matters, and here, the food-only voting flips: This time, Gold goes to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which offers a touch of refinement in its six locations. Silver goes to Q39 in Midtown and Overland Park, while Joe’s Kansas City earns a share of the Bronze. The other half goes to YaYa’s Euro Bistro, which makes a splash in yet another category. 

For being a landlocked metro area, we sure are blessed with seafood options. Not the least of which is Bristol Seafood + Steak + Social, which reels in the Gold yet again. How fresh is ocean’s bounty there? This fresh: If you want to know tomorrow’s specials, they say, you’ll have to ask them tomorrow. Silver honors are divvied up between McCormick & Schmick’s and Eddie V’s, both close enough and quality enough, to form your own personal seafood-hopping experience if you add in another Plaza competitor, Ocean Prime, which made an immediate splash upon opening early this year.

Ancient Spartans understood that there could be room for two kings, and if barbecue holds one throne in Kansas City, it’s Spartan counterpart (counterSpart?) is steak. It’s easy to find a great one in this town, and this time around, the best of the best for Gold is at 801 Chophouse. At either the Power & Light District or in Leawood, you’ll enjoy prime cuts seared to perfection, with all the right sides. That puts The Capital Grille, the all-time top cut in this category, into Silver status. Carving up Bronze together are Hereford House (in Shawnee, Leawood, and Zona Rosa) and J. Gilbert’s in Overland Park.

Game’s on! Where to watch? This region is swarming with sports-themed bars, and the competition for reader votes is always intense. This year, Gold honors go to The Peanut, that South Plaza icon (with offshoots throughout Kansas City), where the game is sometimes secondary to those delightful chicken wings. Johnny’s Tavern, which started in Lawrence nearly 70 years ago, now fills beer glasses in 12 locations from Topeka to Kansas City and is popular enough to snag Silver. Bronze goes to Twin Peaks, serving sports fans in the Northland, Olathe, and Independence.

Whether you’re capping off a relaxing weekend or looking ahead, Sunday brunch is a special event at YaYa’s Euro Bistro, where the buffet-style offerings appeal to appetites of all sorts. Bristol Seafood + Steaks + Social weighs in with Silver, and you can’t tell us the carrot-cake waffles didn’t help spike that voting. Splitting the Bronze honors are enterprises well-familiar to this year’s voting bloc—Nick & Jake’s, and Blind Box BBQ.

The contest for Gold here, it turns out, was no contest at all: Ocean Prime made its debut in late winter and ran away with the voting. In boxing terms, a TKO against anyone else who opened since mid-2021. How’d they do it? One look at the steak-and-lobster tells you all you need to know.  

Again, there’s one standard—the Gold standard—where we declare a champion, and this year (spoiler alert: you’ve seen this before) it’s The Capital Grille. They say great waiters are great by the way they blend seamlessly into the dining experience—the ones that stand out usually do so for the wrong reasons. Trust us: the latter group is not working at The Capital Grille, where the goal is to treat each diner like the only one in the room.

It’s not quite time to retire the trophy, but Bo Ling’s comes through with Gold once again, asserting its primacy in the minds of readers who value Asian food done right. You’ll find those temptations from the East on the Plaza, in the City Market, and in Zona Rosa, at two locations in Overland Park and yet another in Lenexa. New to the scene and making a respectable charge for top honors is Bamboo Penny’s, which brings tropical Thai flavors to Leawood. Bronze is shared by two well-established players, Downtown fixture Vietnam Café, and Leawood’s Blue Koi.

French cooking, as any Francophile will tell you, is a world apart from that of other nations. Which might be why restaurants—especially those grounded in the style of Provence—do so well in Kansas City. Start with a namesake operation, Gold-winning Café Provence in the Prairie Village Shops. There, lamb, rabbit, and veal share the stage with beef and chicken entrees at this family-owned enterprise. A close second for Silver goes to Le Fou Frog, located in the River Market but with roots that also extend to Provence. A pair of rising stars in this category are Bronze co-winners Café des Amis in Parkville and the self-evident location with Westport Café.  

Italian food: luscious, silky smooth, and filling. That trifecta brings life to plates at Garozzo’s Ristorante in, appropriately enough, Columbus Park. There, owner Michael G. and his team treat your tastebuds with pastas, lasagna, steaks, and more. Do try the Chicken Spiedini there, or go for the Bistecca Canzoneri. Molto, molto bene. Another iconic name in KC-style Italian is Cascone’s Italian Restaurant on North Oak Trafficway, where beef, chicken, veal, and fish have been served up for nearly 70 years. A two-way split for Bronze is shared by Jasper’s Italian Restaurant, a longtime fixture in south KC, and a recent newcomer, Ragazza Food & Wine, at 43rd and Main. 

For our money, it’s the No. 8—the burrito bursting with beef, pork, and cheese—but you can’t go wrong with any of the lunch or dinner offerings at Jalapeno’s Mexican Restaurant. Readers agree, and that means another Gold for this enterprise with locations in Brookside and southern Johnson County. For your south-of-the-border fix Downtown, Manny’s of Kansas City lives up to its self-proclaimed “Spirit of Mexico” motto by building on a four-decade history of authentic fare. The food is fabulous, but don’t forget the margaritas. Not far down Southwest Boulevard sits another West Side staple, Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen & Bar, specializing in both eats and drinks true to the genre.