Kansas City is famous for two things: its barbecue and craft beer. Sure, barbecue is a big deal in places like Austin and Nashville too, but in Missouri, it’s all about the tomato-molasses sauce that’s equal parts spicy, sweet, and tangy. Here you’ll find everything from burnt ends to brisket sandwiches paired with beer from one of the 23+ local breweries (some of which date back to the 1880s). When you’ve eaten more meat than you can handle, this guide also includes non-barbecue restaurants like pizzerias and ramen spots, as well as some great places to eat in neighboring Kansas City, Kansas - because yes, there are two.
THE BARBECUE SPOTS
Danny Edwards BBQ
With its red and white checkered tablecloths and jugs of iced tea, Danny’s is exactly what you picture when you think of a classic barbecue spot in Kansas City. Come here for the daily sandwich special (any meat and two sides for $10) or split the sample platter of ribs, burnt ends, and some of the best brisket in town. For a side, we’d recommend getting an order of the spicy beans.
If you’re looking for something a little nicer barbecue-wise - maybe a spot where you won’t find us wearing a plastic bib, covered in sauce - we’d suggest going to Q39. Get yourself an order of burnt ends, or a meat platter where you can try some spare ribs, brisket, and chipotle sausage. Afterward, head to nearby Julep for a cocktail or Harry’s for a craft beer on their patio.
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
We’re stretching the boundaries of Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO) by including a barbecue spot in Kansas City, Kansas City (KCK). But, since Joe’s is the gold standard of local barbecue, it’s well worth the five-minute ride from Midtown, across city lines, to KCK. When you pull up to this functioning gas station/restaurant and see the wait, you might consider going somewhere else. Don’t. Get in line and order the burnt ends, ribs, and the Z-Man sandwich (brisket, provolone, onion rings, and barbecue sauce on a kaiser roll). It might take close to an hour to get your food, but it’s worth it.
Slap’s, like Joe’s, is another KCK barbecue spot with long lines and counter service, but what really makes this barbecue spot stand out is its two sauces. Their spicy sauce is traditional barbecue with a kick, while the sweet one tastes like honey. Yes, we’ve seen people drinking the sauces here like they’re cocktails, but we prefer dipping hush puppies or fries in it instead. Get here when they open at 11 and order the Mike Johnson sandwich (brisket, jalapeno sausage, and white sauce on a pretzel bun) since Slap’s shuts its doors as soon as they run out of food.
Everything Else (A.K.A Non-Barbecue)
Pirate’s Bone Burgers
Come to Pirate’s Bone if you’re looking for a meat-free meal after eating enough barbecue for multiple lifetimes. This vegan diner is one-of-a-kind in a carnivorous city that can compete with the likes of Buenos Aires (or anywhere in Texas). We come here for the $5 meatless sliders that are just as awesome as the toppings they come with - including guacamole, queso, and aioli. After lunch, we highly suggest you order the chocolate brulee cake with the dairy-free horchata.
Baramee Thai Bistro
The Thai food at this casual Crossroads spot is so damn good that it’s easy to forget it was made on the Missouri/Kansas border. Come here for a dinner that includes thinly sliced beef with a homemade chili sauce and Thai chicken wings - and maybe throw in the Panang curry for good measure. After you finish it’s a quick walk to the nearby speakeasy, Swordfish Tom’s, for a cocktail. Look out for the lantern in the lobby - if it’s red, the bar is already full.
Il Lazzarone is the type of pizzeria where people fight over the crust, so for the sake of keeping the peace just order an extra pie right from the start. There are about 30 thin crust pizza options to choose from, with each striking the perfect balance between crispy and chewy. While we could easily spend a day sampling all 30 pies, if you only have time for one then order the margarita, which comes with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and sea salt. All the pizzas here have an optional balsamic glaze and honey drizzle, which you should absolutely take advantage of. Finish the night with some house-made ice cream at Betty Rae’s next door.
Le Fou Frog
Yes, Le Fou Frog is a restaurant surrounded by warehouses, but after a few glasses of wine in the dimly-lit dining room, you’ll start to forget you’re eating in the middle of an industrial park. Expect a French-inspired menu that covers everything from glazed foie gras and escargot to steak au poivre made with a Kansas City Strip. The portions here are big, so come and split a few dishes with someone you share (or hope to share) a pajama drawer with in the future.
Columbus Park Ramen Shop
Ramen Shop was Kansas City’s first dedicated ramen restaurant when it opened in 2015, and despite some recent competition, it remains the best in town. They have classic ramen like tonkotsu (pork broth seasoned with miso) and shoyu (chicken broth and dashi with soy sauce), as well as a great vegan miso mushroom option. Come here for the ramen but don’t skip on their regional beer list - and the $3 mystery special that surprises you with a randomly selected brew.
Where To Grab A Drink
Casual Animal Brewing Company
Kansas City’s brewery and distillery scene is booming, with most of it centered in the Crossroads neighborhood. Of all the breweries you can visit, our favorite is Casual Animal, which has a heavy animal theme. Before you shudder at the thought of animal print wallpaper and monkey-shaped chairs, the theme here stops at the animal logos on the beer labels (like Chaos Monkey Banana Cream Pie Ale). We’d recommend continuing your brewery crawl with Tom’s Town Distillery, Torn Label, Double Shift, and Taps On Main (a pour-your-own-beer bar).
If you’re looking for a drinks spot before dinner or a place with strong cocktails and good bar food, The Ship is where you want to go. They often have live music, and you’re sure to see retirees dancing with frozen cocktails in hand next to recent college grads taking Fireball shots. During Halloween, when haunted houses pop up in the surrounding warehouses, The Ship is a great place to recover after having the absolute sh*t scared out of you by a man holding a chainsaw.
Ride the Kansas City streetcar to the end of the line and you’ll find Union Station, one of the most stunning train stations in America. After craning your neck to stare at the 95-foot ceilings, head to the daily Happy Hour at Pierpont’s, inside the station. Order a drink and watch the bartender grab a Cognac nine shelves up, then somehow slide all the way back down the ladder without creating an expensive puddle. After Pierpont’s, go to the World War I memorial on the hill across the street for the best sunset views of Kansas City.
Green Lady Lounge
If Green Lady Lounge were in a larger city, it’d have a cover charge and bouncers judging the wrinkles in your shirt. Thankfully, this low-key jazz club is free to enter and always has good music playing - which is why you want to come here. Don’t expect much by way of food (they only have cheese, crackers, and hummus). Instead, this is the place you want to end up at for drinks and to wonder if you could pull off a pork pie hat (you can’t).