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Jun 18, 2008 09:44 AM

Non-mall dinner KC

Coming to KC in two weeks for 3 days. Planning to hit some bbq joints the middle day while the teens are at an all day concert.

We should get in after a long drive from Chicago in time for dinner. Are staying at the Westin downtown, by Union Station. So where's a good, casual but nice, non chain place to eat? I know there's a big mall there but want to avoid that kind of thing if possible. Will have 3 regular eaters and a pescatarian....thoughts??

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  1. I did a Google Maps on Union Station, and here's few of my findings for restaurants that might fit the bill.

    Some of these restaurants can be a little spendy, but nothing that will blow you out of the water, especially if you’re coming from Chicago. I’ve omitted the seriously fancy-schmancy places and hamburger joints. Tried to focus on sit-down restaurants that are comfortable and clean, reasonably friendly to teens and older children.

    Lidia’s. An Italian restaurant affiliated with the TV chef and cookbook writer Lidia Bastianich. Northern Italian specialties. An excellent brunch.

    The City Taven. Steaks and fish entrees. Oysters on the half-shell. If you can get dinner during their happy, an extra score.

    La Bodega. This is a tapas place, so you can spend a little or a lot, depending on how many plates and what kind. It is a fun atmosphere, and a great way to introduce kids to some new foods. Some great fish and vegetarian options.

    Shiraz. A Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant with excellent veggie options. Has a cute courtyard if the weather is nice.

    Pizza Bella. Smallish wood-fired pizzas with an eclectic list of toppings. Great little wine list. Garage doors roll up when the weather’s nice giving you indoor/outdoor dining.

    El Pueblito. My favorite Mexican restaurant in KC, just down SW Blvd. A whole chain of Mex. restaurants on this strip, but I think this is the best. I remember a pretty good range of seafood options. Stop next door for paletas, Mexican fresh-fruit popsicles.

    That's at least a start.

    11 Replies
    1. re: heatherkay

      La Bodega is fantastic, great atmosphere, great food, and tres leches cake is awesome. If you are from out of town, you should track down Andres, chocolates and pasteries.

      1. re: heatherkay

        1924 Main
        Philips Chophouse

        1. re: heatherkay

          Run, don't walk, to Pizza Bella! I don't know what I was thinking not trying this restaurant sooner, but it just jumped to the top of my fav places in KC. The pizza is probably the best I've had. Interesting combinations (I had prosciutoo and arugula, friend had eggplant and goat cheese) as well as being able to build your own more traditional pizza. The crust is amazing and the pizza is served with a drizzle of a very nice olive oil around the outside of the dish for dipping. They have a row of tables outside and tonight was the perfect early summer night to enjoy the warm breeze. Terrific!

          1. re: pollymerase

            Pizza Bella is a cute place, but several notches below--actually not even in the same playing field--with places like Spacca Napoli or Coalfire, just as a frame of Chicago reference. Just based on one visit, of course, so take that for what it's worth.

            1. re: Aaron Deacon

              As a Chicago boy living in Kansas City, I think Pizza Bella is on the same par as Spacca Napoli and is way above Coalfire. Coalfire is so hit or miss, but more times a miss, bland cheese, over salted sause and some of the take out pizzas has been cold soggy messes.

              1. re: Irishbeer4me

                Wow, I guess I ought to try Pizza Bella again. I'm really surprised to hear that they can put out that high quality of product. When I went to Pizza Bella, the mozzarella was disappointing, both sauce and crust were too sweet, and the whole plate was swimming in olive oil! And the potato gorgonzola was much for of the American topping overkill school (which many people favor, of course) than the Neapolitan minimalist school.

                I've had one mediocre pie at Spacca Napoli, but everything else has been perfect. I've been to Coalfire 5 or 6 times and found it above my one Pizza Bella experience every time. I've never had it for take out, and would guess it would not be nearly as good as in the restaurant.

                1. re: Aaron Deacon

                  The chef @ pizzabella was the a sous chef at bluestem and a sous chef a pachamama's before that. He knows what he's doing. He also does nightly specials like whole roasted fish and duck confit and he does all of it in the pizza oven....amazing food.

                  1. re: KCMOChef

                    Are you talking about Rob Dalzell, or is there another Chef de Cuisine in the kitchen to whom you're referring? I love that the guy is devoted to KC, devoted to downtown, that he's pursuing cool concepts, and has a flair (and capital) for design. I'm glad people here seem to really love his food, but it just doesn't do it for me.

                    I've eaten at 1924 Main, Chefburger, Pizza Bella, and Souperman, and I've been underwhelmed by each meal. The sprouts at Pizza Bella were pretty decent, and so were the fried green beans at Chef Burger, but overall the % of dishes at those restaurants that I'd order again is about 10%.

                    I'm not criticizing the dude's training, dedication, or intent. I don't think his food is nearly as good as it's cracked up to be. There is a real Sysco-quality in all the restaurants, at least in the execution. I know he uses some local stuff too. And it's possible his kitchens perform some alchemy by which fresh, local produce turns into Sysco-generated prepared food flavor to my taste buds. I dunno.

                    My wife's fish at 1924 resembled nothing so much as a giant Mrs Paul's fish stick. I get the retro trend toward processed comfort foods writ gourmet, but I don't think that was the intent here. Souperman is a great concept--the soups and sandwiches have that combination of oversalt and oversweet that I've come to expect from fast food restaurants. A Neapolitan pizza margherita ought to have big melted discs of quality fresh mozzarella--not the case at Pizza Bella. And there's no good excuse (at least for me--if it please everyone else, by all means do it!) for drowning your pizza crust in a pool of oil.

                    And, you know, reading the Pitch article a few weeks ago, it's not a huge surprise, because he's talking about having 20 ChefBurgers, or whatever. Good for him. But that attitude comes through in the food. It comes through in the decor and marketing materials too, at least in his latest 3 offerings, which is considerably slicker than your typical chef-driven local opening.

                    Again, this is all fine. KC does great with chains, and I don't mean that simply as a slam. Houlihan's is a pretty solid chain. Bristol, I've never been, but it certainly has a stellar reputation here.

                    Chain food can be good, sure...that's not the argument. I do find it's often not to my taste, for much of the same reason I don't tend to care for Dalzell's spots. And other operational observations support the fact they take shortcuts that often lead to lower food quality (and higher margins) in corporate restaurants.

                    That's cool. If he expands these concepts, I can certainly see the opportunity for success. I sure like Pizza Bella way, way, way better than Pizza Hut. And given how much people love this guy (and how glad I am he supports the KC restaurant scene), I'll certainly keep trying his restaurants. But I've been pretty underwhelmed to date.

                    1. re: Aaron Deacon

                      I'm am not slamming your opinion in fact I agree totally. I have had less then steller meals at all his locations. 1924’s food does seem cheap. But look at the prices he’s charging. You would have no choice. I am the chef of a private club in South Kansas City and I have wanted to open my own place more than once but every time I crunched the numbers you would have to charge the same prices as the American to sell top of the line ingredients and make it. And I am not exaggerating at all!! I think all the places in town that try to give the customer a “value” by try to sell the same food as the “big dogs” at a discounted price will always lose. There is a reason why the expensive restaurants and clubs in KC survive. They know what they are doing.
                      Souperman was horrible. I did like chef burger.
                      I am just saying to give pizza bella another shot. I think it’s gotten better since the new chef has taken over. The Chef is the guy with the beard and tattoos. I sat at the “pizza bar” one evening and spoke at great lengths with him. Forgot his name though.

                      1. re: KCMOChef

                        Cool, and thanks, I appreciate your insight. Sorry if I came off as defensive...that rant has been building for a long time. I'll definitely give Pizza Bella another shot.

                        I totally believe what you say about ingredient cost here. When I moved from Chicago, everyone was like "Oh, wow, KC must be so much cheaper." Well, in some ways, yes, but with as much as I like to eat, both in and out, it seems a lot more expensive. Good wine and good cheese is a lot pricier, and the quality is not as high, even at the consumer level. I could get 10 tortillas hot from the oven down the street for a quarter. I assume that must be true for restaurant buyers as well.

                        And the cheap restaurant eats are just harder to find here, esp. at the same quality. Thai Place is a nice enough restaurant, but I don't expect $12 plates at a Thai restaurant. Or maybe Thai Orchid in Mission is a better example, where dishes area a few bucks more than strip mall Thai joints in Chicago with infinitely better food. So yeah, 1924 would probably need to charge more to be better, but it's frustrating because in other places, at that price, they could be better than they are.

                        Again, not saying I expected KC food to be as good as Chicago, at all, and the food scene here is just fine...just that I didn't expect it to be more expensive.

                        I know part of, surely, is food costs are just rising so quickly now, but it was something I noticed even when I still lived up north and was just visiting.

                        1. re: KCMOChef

                          I agree with every word you said about crunching the numbers! I've done the same thing. I'm the chef at a catering company and believe me, it is a challenge to use the highest quality ingredients and charge what our clients will pay.

          2. Michael Smith's is close to where you'll be and is fantastic. check it out at

            1. Just FYI, Michael Smith's, 1924 Main, Bluestem, Philips Chophouse, Piropos are more what I would consider very nice places and definitely spendy for dinner. For example, Piropos is a regular proposal/anniversary stop. Azul is a little nightclubby. And neither Bluestem nor Piropos are really near Crown Center.

              All of these are excellent restaurants, however, and I know that Bluestem has a very reasonable lounge menu. I don't think you'd get a bad meal at any of them. But you might want to hit the internet and check out the menus before you decide.

              1. La Bodega is great, especially if you can get a table on the sidewalk.

                Bluebird Bistro at 17th & Summit is a nice little spot for dinner.

                1. Go South on Main to 32nd Street (a little under ten blocks I believe) and on the left side of the road you'll see Gates BBQ. Their ribs are the best in town. Before you order though, go to the side counter where they have the sauces laid out and try their three sauces. Some people find their original sauce a little spicy/tangy/hot. If you're on of those people just order whatever you get dry and add the mild sauce yourself.

                  For a little fancier bbq and if you want a sit-down place you can go to Fiorella Jackstack BBQ which is located in the Freighthouse District off of 22nd street (it's a little tricky to find so you might want to get directions from the hotel). They have decent burnt ends and their sides are very good- especially the cheesy bake.

                  Next door is Lidia's which has the best Sunday brunch in town. Pricey at $22 per person but worth it for a last hoorah. Avoid for dinner though which is also pricey but not as fullfilling or as rich as the brunch.