From the earliest meals shared in what would become Kansas City, like bison cooked over a buffalo chip fire, the region has a stellar history of culinary delights. From the country clubs, Putsches 210, restaurants at the K to drive-ins like Winstead’s and Sidney’s, Kansas City has always been a center of eating. No matter how inclusive the list, there is no way to include all of the locations of iconic local favorites, which number in the thousands.
One of the oldest restaurants in the area is the Savoy, inside the Savoy Hotel, which opened in 1903. If one were a Catholic politician, a centuries-old requirement of the church to eat fish on Friday meant it was the only place to be.
Italian Gardens also graced downtown Kansas City, and it was renowned for the lasagna and other Italian fair. The downtown area also sported clubs like the Kansas City Club and the River Club, with each having its own membership.
On the Plaza there were two Putsches restaurants, Putsches Cafeteria (below which would later become the site of Houston’s) and Putsches 210, taken from its address, and catering to two widely different patrons. 210 was anything but casual.
The 1930s brought two of the great restaurants to Kansas City, Fred Harvey and his Harvey girls at Union Station (there’s a modern version today), and Joe Gilbert who opened and ran the Four Winds Restaurant at the old Municipal Airport.
From the airport, Gilbert-Robinson formed one of the most successful nationwide restaurant franchises, with Houlihan’s, named after a local men’s haberdashery on the Plaza, whose location it took over, and Sam Wison’s Meat Market.
Not to be outdone, the Kansas City stockyards owned the Golden Ox, which also branched out to other cities and locations. The Hadad Group, which filed for bankruptcy in 2020, owned both Plaza III and Winstead’s.
On the south side of town, there were the clubs. Mission Hills had its restaurant where the present-day Carriage Club is, with its golf course in Kansas. Kansas City Country Club was just west of Mission Hills golf course. Both had the cooking and wait staff to deliver a masterful eating experience, and as Johnson County expanded, so too the Country Clubs including Milbern, Brook Ridge, and others.
The 1950s and 1960 saw the expansion of fast food, with Allen’s Drive-In. Allen’s had multiple locations on both sides of the state line, and one of my favorites was next to the bowling alley on the south side of Ward Parkway Shopping Center. Sidney’s had a place on the Plaza where Country Club Bank has its headquarters today.
Other local eateries include Kansas City’s very own Arthur Bryants, which opened around 1906. There are two Cascone’s Italian Restaurants: one on North Oak Trafficway and another in Overland Park. The original was founded in 1932. There is Dixon’s Chili, and restaurants like Fritz’s Railroad Café that also bottled their own soda pop. Of course, few can forget, “Hi, may I help you?” Gates Bar-B-Q, founded in 1946.
Kansas City has Jack Stack Bar-B-Q, and then there was the House of Toy on the Plaza. There is Jaspers Restaurant which used to be on Wornall Road around 75th, but now is on 103rd between Wornall and State Line. Its table-side mozzarella cheese is classic–especially when made by owner Jasper Mirabile, below.
There is Jess and Jim’s in the old town of Martin City, now part of Kansas City. There was the Peppercorn Duck Club, and Stephenson’s Apple Orchard on Old 40 Hwy. Then there was Jimmy and Mary’s Steak house, along with Waid’s, where I spent much of my childhood.
Many can remember the Wishbone Restaurant, and one of my lesser-known favorites, the Acapulco originally just south of the old ASB Bridge, then on North Oak. The owner of that restaurant was kind enough to translate much of my research on the Mexican Economy delivered through the Mexican Consulate.
We have watched restaurants open and disappear over the last 100 years. The average life of a restaurant is short.
The original location of Stroud’s Pan-Fried Chicken closed when Kansas City decided to replace the bridge at 85th and Troost. It moved up north.
Most closings are due to economic conditions, but occasionally, a restaurant’s demise occurs as a result of other events. The Berliner Bear in Waldo was started in 1962 by Joel and Nettie Womac. Over time, their son Bill Womac took the reins, and quality, a hard thing to maintain, deteriorated. The death knell of the restaurant, however, occurred when the dining room of the facility was rented out to a group of neo-Nazis in 2005. Although the restaurant remained open until 2007, the publicity ended up being the nail in the coffin.
I can never remember all the restaurants that have graced Kansas City, from the days when Lewis and Clark stopped in for a “bite” over a campfire, but there have been many.
As someone who has advised others against becoming restauranteurs, due to low margins, high labor, long hours, and no relief, I have to salute those who have made the journey and pleased my palate.
Anything I can do to help you stay in business is a selfish act of kindness from me.
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–Bob White is a Kansas City-area resident and history writer for Metro Voice. Search his name on our homepage search bar for more or read his other stories HERE.