Kansas City may be known by some as the “Barbecue Capital of the World”, particularly for its spice-rubbed, slow-smoked meats slathered in flavorful tomato-based sauce. Kansas City is also famous for beef, in the form of steaks – big, juicy cuts grilled to medium-rare perfection. Barbecue and steak houses are everywhere in Kansas City, and need no help from me to draw your attention to them. No, today I want to talk about my favorite non-barbecue/steak places in Kansas City. In this category, there are numerous restaurants to choose from at varying price points, and the following are some of my favorite places to go when I’m in town.
101 W. 22nd St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
Lidia’s is at the top of my list of Kansas City favorites, not only because it’s possibly the BEST among them, but also because I am a long-time devoted fan of Lidia Matticchio Bastianich as an entrepreneur, as a chef, and as, by all appearances, a wonderful human being. Lidia is a living example of the “American Dream”. She and her family first escaped Communism in Yugoslavia, relocating to Trieste, Italy, then eventually settling in New York. Lidia gives the credit for her family’s successful relocation to the United States to Catholic Relief Services. She has been quoted as saying, “Catholic Relief Services brought us here to New York; we had no one. They found a home for us. They found a job for my father. And ultimately we settled. And I am the perfect example that if you give somebody a chance, especially here in the United States, one can find the way.”(https://bijog.com/biography/lidia-bastianich) I first saw Lidia on her television show, “Lidia’s Italy” on PBS. I immediately loved her because something about her reminded me of my Grandma Naomi. Like my grandmother, Lidia always seemed to be smiling and laughing, in the kitchen, cooking with her grandchildren, and teaching traditional family recipes. Before video streaming was a thing, I waited all week for the chance to get my dose of grandmotherly love during her half hour shows on the weekends. I have one of her cookbooks, also called “Lidia’s Italy”, and would love to have more, if any of my friends or family happen to see this in time for Christmas…
On a Christmas visit a couple of years ago, my cousin gave me a gift much better than a cookbook. She treated me to the thrilling experience of dining at Lidia’s in Kansas City. Located near historic Union Station, the restaurant was everything I imagined it would be: full of ambiance, bustling with customers and wait staff who had knowledgeable wine and food recommendations, and of course unforgettably delectable food. I ordered the Pasta Trio, their signature dish according to the menu. This dish includes an unlimited daily pasta selection served tableside, though I found it impossible to entertain refills. My cousin said that my dinner looked like “Christmas on a plate” with pasta in colors of red, green and white. We ordered a bottle of wine with dinner, and in accordance with Missouri state law, we were able to take the unfinished bottle with us! It’s been nearly two years since that experience and I still vividly remember it. Maybe next time I’ll get to meet Lidia herself!
526 Harrison St.
Kansas City, MO 64106
I visited Garozzo’s on another trip during the winter holiday season as well. I remember it being described to me as a “mob Italian” restaurant and I wondered if the proprietor might be offended by that characterization, or, of greater concern to me was whether, if the characterization was accurate, that the term “mob” might not be respectful enough to please “the family”. I probably watch too many movies, but I do know enough to “never take sides with anyone against the family” (Michael Corleone, The Godfather). But I digress…
Michael Garozzo, the owner of Garozzo’s, started his professional life as a busboy in St. Louis. He was encouraged by his father and uncle, Salvatore and Alfie respectively, to open the first Garozzo’s in 1989. Since then, he has exercised his entrepreneurial skills by creating his own wine label, bottling his sauces and dressings, and selling his signature Garozzo’s Chicken Spiedini, freshly made, at the meat counters of many area grocery stores. Along the way, Mr. Garozzo opened a second restaurant in Overland Park and began a catering business.
When we arrived at the original location in Columbus Park, an historic Italian neighborhood, there was an imposing figure of a man outside the non-descript brick building who appeared to be there to keep an eye on things (the parked cars maybe?), but again, this may have been my imagination running wild. Inside, strings of Christmas lights were hung, we received a warm welcome and were seated quickly. As our meal progressed, our waiter at one point broke into song, an Italian ballad perhaps? I don’t know if this is the norm for the restaurant, but I have never been able to resist a good “serenata”. We ordered a stuffed artichoke for the table, which can be upgraded to “Alla Siciliano” which includes shrimp, prosciutto & melted provolone cheese. The Chicken Spiedini came highly recommended, so I ordered that. I didn’t know at the time that Garozzo created the dish, imitations of which are now served in other restaurants all over Kansas City. I don’t know how it is everywhere else, but Garozzo’s Spiedini was perfection on a stick.
As Garozzo’s has grown, so has its reputation for truly delicious Italian food. The restaurants have received numerous awards, the complete list of which may be viewed here: https://garozzos.com/awards/ In a city that has many excellent Italian restaurants to choose from, Garozzo’s is a standout.
With approximately 44 restaurants, mainly chains, in the 15 block area commonly known as The Plaza it’s difficult to choose a favorite, but I have experienced 3 of the restaurants there and enjoyed them all at different times for different reasons.
My favorite Plaza restaurant, of the ones I have tried, is Brio Tuscan Grille. Brio offers an escape from the bustle of the shopping crowd into a seemingly completely separate world of warm, intimate ambiance and good Italian food. I was at Brio for a wedding rehearsal dinner, a joyous occasion under any circumstances, but having it in their private banquet room made it extra special. Brio offers a customizable banquet menu for large groups, which makes hosting a special event there very easy. Their location, an easy walk across the river from most of the larger area hotels, is convenient for out of town guests. Although my experience there was with a larger group, Brio also has a romantic side, as evidenced by the fact that the happy couple whose wedding I attended the next day had gone on one of their earliest dates there, and, according to the bride, enjoyed a few hours of conversation that would alter the course of both of their lives.
My second favorite Plaza restaurant is the Classic Cup Sidewalk Café. My experience here was on a sunny September day when it was warm enough to sit outside on their patio behind the restaurant. My cousin and I enjoyed a couple of leisurely glasses of wine while catching up with each other’s lives and soaking up the last rays of summer sun.
Last on my list of top Plaza eateries is the American chain of all chains, The Cheesecake Factory. The Plaza’s version of The Cheesecake Factory is housed in a beautiful Spanish architecture building with an elaborate fountain out front. I am not a big fan of large restaurant chains, but I have to admit that when I ducked into this one on a cold, rainy afternoon, I was treated to the most delicious baked macaroni and cheese, complemented with a glass of pinot grigio, that I have ever enjoyed. Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest things.
If you have suggestions for Kansas City steak and barbecue alternatives, please let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe so you can receive notifications of any future posts via email.