To many, Kansas City will always be a cowtown. The city’s culinary scene was in large part defined by the Black pitmasters that established its barbecue traditions and the cattle ranchers that thronged the Kansas City Stockyards (the second-largest in the country after Chicago) to fill their smokers. Barbecue, burgers, and butchery are still a critical part of the restaurant scene. But chefs have been expanding the city’s palate for decades. Today, you’re as likely to stumble across a hand-pulled noodle shop or vegan lunch counter as a brisket sandwich.
The uniting feature of Kansas City’s dining scene isn’t a single ingredient or style of cuisine, but an inclusive Midwestern hospitality that infuses even the most stately dining rooms with a little warmth and whimsy. By all means dress for dinner if you like, but no one’s going to make a fuss if you forgo the white collar for something more casual (and less vulnerable to barbecue sauce stains). Whether you’re touring the high-end tasting rooms in downtown KCMO or the low-key carnicerias in KCK, every restaurant is working to ensure you feel right at home.
Liz Cook is a restaurant critic for The Pitch and writer of the experimental food newsletter Haterade.
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.