By Pete Dulin
Several new restaurants in Kansas City have recently opened that introduce authentic ramen, Vietnamese deli sandwiches and street food, Laotian dishes in Thai restaurants, and premium specialties in nigiri and sushi. Other established restaurants known for pho and dim sum remain local favorites. Combined, Kansas City’s Asian and Southeast Asian restaurants are a culinary tour of diverse tastes from banh tieu to pad khee mao.
Here are some of the best tastes of Asian cuisine in KC:
Bun Mee Phan
Photo via Facebook.com/bun.mee.phan
Jimmy Phan and Kaylee Nguyen’s restaurant is located a few minutes north of Downtown and North Kansas City in a quiet retail strip. Don’t let the understated appearance fool you. Bun Mee Phan is a terrific choice for fresh, healthy and flavor-filled Vietnamese dishes, including sandwiches, rice bowls and hybrid twists like Vietnamese-style tacos. Naturally, they sell bánh mì, the classic Vietnamese sandwich in a French baguette, and pho, but also prepare less common specialties. Bánh tiêu and chai waii are Vietnamese-style donuts—made in house—that are a more airy and less sweet snack food compared to American donuts. Try the green-colored pandan waffle or layered Jell-O in pandan, coconut and espresso flavors for a light dessert. Wash it down with sweet Vietnamese coffee or bubble tea.
Spices Asian Restaurant
Photo by Pete Dulin
Spices Asian Restaurant popped up in North Kansas City, less than five minutes from Downtown KC, as a pleasant surprise. Serving predominantly Thai dishes with a few Laotian selections, the flavors are authentic and the portions are generous. Highlights include appetizers like Thai basil chicken wings and housemade Thai sausage packed with herbs and chili, and served with sticky rice. The slow-roasted duck, available as a rice stir-fry, pad grapow with basil or soup, has remarkable depth of flavor. For dessert, save room for sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh sliced mango.
Columbus Park Ramen Shop
Photo by Pete Dulin
Chef couple Josh Eans and Abbey-Jo Eans opened this cozy ramen shop next door to Happy Gillis Café & Hangout, their neighborhood breakfast and lunch spot in the Columbus Park neighborhood. Open Thursday through Sunday evenings only, the shop fills up quickly because of its small size. Service is based on seat availability for the party and not on a first-come, first-serve basis. Not to fret. The wait is worthwhile. Once seated, the ramen choices boil down to tonkatsu with a rich pork broth and pork jowl, shoyu with chicken/dashi broth and roasted Amish chicken, kim chi-centric ramen and a mushroom-based version with mushroom-leek broth. Ask about daily ramen specials that may include fresh oysters and ramen chef Jonathan Ponzer’s inventive creations.
Nguyen Pho and Grill
Image via @nelvenzon
Conveniently located next to the KC Streetcar stop at 5th and Walnut in the River Market neighborhood, why not ease into this Vietnamese restaurant for a bowl of pho? Nguyen Pho and Grill has a dozen options to choose from as well as bánh mì sandwiches filled with lemongrass pork, steak, chicken or tofu. Familiar appetizers such as shrimp spring rolls and egg rolls are available, but consider trying the Vietnamese crepe or sweet potato with shrimp. Nguyen also prepares a wide variety of rice, noodle and curry dishes with numerous vegetarian options.
Chefs David Loo and Karen Ming consolidated their sushi restaurant in Leawood to this Downtown Kansas City spot. Pro tip: Pop into this urban grocery store for a quick, premium-quality sushi fix while on the go. It’s easy to access from the Kansas City Streetcar stops at 12th and 14th streets. Look for the Four Season Roll with four kinds of tobiko, or flying fish roe. And you can’t go wrong with the Spicy Tuna Roll.
Photo by Pete Dulin
Koko Thai is located a couple blocks south of the Power & Light District. Owner Steve Srivisay, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu’s culinary arts program, prepares classic Thai dishes and lesser-known entrees with flavors that are on point. Srivisay, born to a Laotian mother and Thai father, also fixes Laotian dishes such as Laos Egg Salad. Nam kao is a crispy rice salad that incorporates thin glass noodles, cured pork and herbs served with lettuce and eaten like a wrap. Chinese broccoli served with crisp pork belly in a light soy sauce with rice demonstrates how not all Thai food is melt-your-face spicy. In fact, the hallmark of Thai cuisine is balanced flavor. Koko Thai’s diverse offerings, such as red curry chicken and pineapple fried rice, highlight the interplay of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spice.
Open only for dinner, this Midtown shop is minutes away from Westport and the Country Club Plaza, as well as Downtown. Shio, meaning salt in Japanese, offers a limited menu of ramen that focuses on the quality of its broth and ingredients. Slurp away (it’s customary) on the eponymous Shoyu, pork belly ramen with shitaake and slow-cooked egg in a chicken-dashi broth. The Vegan Shoyu assembles roasted tomato, charred cabbage, shitaake and more. For a change of pace, try the stir-fried yakisoba noodles. Shio Ramen carries a limited selection of beer, sake and soft drinks.
A master sushi chef with 30 years of experience, Bob Shin acquired the nickname Bob Wasabi from a customer years ago. Shin decided to use the name for his first restaurant in KC’s lively 39th Street West neighborhood. Previously, Shin worked in other restaurants in New York, Sacramento, Maryland, Kansas City and Maui, Hawaii. Sushi lovers will find classic rolls on Bob Wasabi’s menu, but they should also consider the sashimi and nigiri options. Uncommon specialties such as geoduck, a giant clam also called mirugai, and sablefish are delicacies not to be overlooked. Poke, the fresh tuna-based Hawaiian dish, is prepared as an appetizer of sashimi dressed in a soy vinaigrette with vegetables or as a more filling rice bowl. If possible, dine at the sushi bar so you can say hello to jovial Bob Wasabi in person.
Kansas City’s best-known Chinese restaurant has several metro locations, including one in the River Market neighborhood across from Nguyen Pho and Grill. If you have time and interest, then visit the Country Club Plaza location on Saturday or Sunday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) for dim sum. Dim sum carts deliver delicacies from nine categories: Funn rolls, noodles, cold appetizers, chef vegetable plates, porridge and soft tofu, roasted duck or pork and sticky rice, deep or pan fried items, dessert and the steam cart. As a server navigates a cart loaded with shrimp and pork dumplings, barbecue pork, shrimp toast and other goodies around the dining room, guests select items from the rotation of carts and eat their fill. Of course, Bo Ling’s also serves classic dishes, ranging from General Tso’s chicken to spicy Mongolian beef to chicken and shrimp in a ginger sauce.