Every great city has them: defining dishes that do more than just feed the countless locals and visitors who walk through restaurant doors. These meals tell a story, either about the way food was, the way it is or the way it will be, sometimes all three at once. Kansas City has a number of treasured menu items that are as unforgettable as the Western Auto sign or a late-night session at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Here are some of KC’s most iconic meals and dishes:

Burnt What Now?

Most people cringe at the thought of their food being burnt to an overdone crisp, and with good reason. Diners need not fear this KC specialty, however. Crunchy, juicy and fatty all at once, burnt ends were once given away for free by area barbecue restaurants, who thought them to be useless. However, fortunes for burnt ends changed in the 1970s as places like Arthur Bryant’s began to sell them. Now, the dish is a delicacy. To try the classic style, check out Gates Bar-B-Q, the aforementioned Arthur Bryant’s, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, Danny Edward’s Famous KC BBQ, Q39 or Plowboys Barbeque, among many others.

That’s not all, though. Tons of restaurants all across town feature the KC favorite in non-barbecue dishes. Try out the Burnt End Hash at Rye, a can’t-miss that’s only available during weekend brunch. Or Beer Kitchen’s Smokestack burger, which features burnt ends atop a custom burger blend, plus smoked gouda, whisky barbecue glaze, chipotle aioli, pickle relish and crispy jalapeno straws. Hungry yet? 

Westside’s “Famous Footwear”


Image via Facebook.com/ferverebread

Despite the fact that “Cheese Slipper” sounds like it belongs in a long-forgotten fairy tale, they are in fact very real and very delicious. So delicious in fact that people line up outside the door of Fervere Bakery during evenings when the hotspot cranks out the highly coveted bread. The basic rundown of a cheese slipper includes organic wheat flour, a bevy of cheeses (including Tillamook medium aged cheddar and cheese curds) plus olive oil and other necessary bread-baking ingredients. This is just the beginning. The Westside bakery has been known to offer variations on slipper styles, such as flavors with heirloom tomato and basil, candied jalapeno, roasted garlic and garlic chives and tons more. Just be sure to arrive early: they sell out quickly.

Fabulous Fried Chicken

Highly touted in more ways than one, Stroud’s is best known for its pan-fried chicken, which has been a KC favorite since World War II. Now, with four locations all across the metro, a James Beard Award for Excellence in the “Home Style” category and a Zagat award for Best Restaurant, Stroud’s is something of a Kansas City legend. The down-home style and flavors are reminiscent of family cookouts and food your grandmother used to make. Don’t be fooled though—the chicken is anything but dated. Best bet: Order the 3 Pieces meal, which comes with one breast and two assorted pieces, plus salad or soup and choice of side.

Local Suppliers, Fresh Fixin’s

Sustainable ingredients from local producers have become a prominent fixture in the Kansas City dining scene. One of the best ways to tell if a restaurant specializes in this realm is season dishes and regularly rotating menus that list where ingredients originated. One of the most popular spots in town is The Farmhouse in the River Market, known for its organic comfort food and incredible brunch menu. Both The Westside Local and Blue Bird Bistro in the Westside neighborhood serve up farm-to-table fare. Justus Drugstore in Smithville, Mo., offers James Beard Award-nominated dining with strictly regional ingredients while Café Gratitude puts a vegan spin on sustainable flavors.

KC’s Own Cut

The Kansas City strip steak has a long, tenured history in what was once one of the Cowtown capitals of the country. The cut of meat is known for being especially tender and can be found on just about every KC restaurant menu where steaks are served. For old-school style, check out The Majestic Restaurant, Plaza III Steakhouse, Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse, Pierpont’s at Union Station or Anton’s, just to name a few. Other places in town don’t necessarily tout steakhouse menus but still serve up sizzling KC strips, such as old French/new American-style spot Charisse, classy establishment JJ’s Restaurant and just-plain-good The Rieger.

Attached at the Drumstick


Image via @micahdhorner
 

Founded in 1933, The Peanut features five locations and an unusual (yet decidedly delicious) game day food: full chicken wings the drumstick still attached. The wings at Kansas City’s oldest bar and grill are a hometown staple amongst a solid, no-frills menu perfect for a watch party, regardless of the sport. The expert opinion is that the number of wings you normally eat should be halved when dining at this legendary establishment—they’re much larger than you think. Fries come with an order of three wings, but it doesn’t hurt to upgrade with chili cheese on top for a little extra. You can’t get the chili by itself, so this is an add-on worth utilizing.

Innovative Italian

Garozzo’s Ristorante may be one of the most emblematic representations of Kansas City’s strong Italian history, population and culture. Part can be attributed to the classy, low-key ambiance, especially at the original location in Columbus Park, a historic Italian neighborhood just east of The City Market. The other can be chalked up to the authentic menu, which features Chicken Spiedini, an original dish that’s marinated, rolled in bread crumbs, skewered, grilled and served atop pasta. It’s a creation so unique and savory—yet grounded in classic Italian cooking—that guests have been ordering it and its several variations since 1989, when the restaurant first opened its doors.

Gas Station Gourmet

Named for a former radio DJ with the same nickname, the Z-Man Sandwich at uber-popular Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que is a staple item of Kansas City barbecue. The sandwich is made up of three layers of mouth-watering goodness, including sliced smoked brisket, smoked provolone cheese and two fried onion rings, all sauced and served between a split Kaiser roll. Joe’s and the Z-Man are so popular that patrons line up outside the gas-station-turned-smokehouse for up to hours at a time, all for a taste of KC goodness. Word to the wise: Arrive early or in off hours to avoid lines. Or, call ahead with your order to save yourself the long wait.

Sweet Tooth Satisfaction

Kansas City touts more than just incredible barbecue, home style dishes and farm-to-table food. Russell Stover, one of the most recognizable candy companies in the country, calls KC home. The third largest chocolate manufacturer in the U.S. still makes its candies in batch process rather than in bulk, leading to more than 25 million hand-dipped pieces hitting stores each year. 

Chocolatier Christopher Elbow crafts some of the finest, most decadent cocoa sweets in the U.S. Take it from Food & Wine Magazine, which named his No. 6 Dark Rocks Chocolate Bar the best in the country. Swing by the shop in the Crossroads Arts District or check out many of the other local retailers in the city to find his handmade confections.

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