A few weeks before Wichita State University professor Les Anderson died, he asked me to speak to his journalism class about restaurant writing.
He was excited about a project idea he had: He wanted his students to visit several ethnic restaurants in and around Wichita and write their impressions, testing out their abilities as restaurant reviewers. He hoped I could print some of their reviews in GO! or on Kansas.com.
Anderson collected the reviews, helped the students revise them, then e-mailed me file after file, photo after photo. The last e-mail he sent me, which I never had a chance to reply to, hopefully asked if I’d had a chance to look at his students’ work.
Les died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Nov. 12 at age 62. He won’t be able to see his project through, but I wanted to complete my part of it. I enjoyed his students’ reviews and thought they might give readers some ideas about new places where they can sample ethnic fare.
Following are excerpts from several of the reviews that Les’s students – whom he endlessly advocated for – submitted. You can see more by looking at the full story online at Kansas.com/entertainment.
2020 N. Woodlawn, Suite 300, 316-613-2474
Since his business took off in late 2009, Syed Abbas has been introducing Wichita to various Middle Eastern and South Asian flavors. Zaytun offers Desi (Pakistani/Indian), Persian, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine in its lunch buffet and evening dinner. The lunch buffet features various salads, yogurt, rice, stew and curry dishes. The buffet is perfect for sampling a little bit of everything. Though the buffet is the main highlight for lunchtime, diners also can order dishes a la carte.
Zaytun’s hummus had a thick and creamy texture, perfect for dipping crunchy pita bread spread with olive oil and Za’atar, a mixture of Middle Eastern spices. Kebabs are Zaytun’s specialty. The lamb kebabs were delicious – succulent and grilled, filling without being too heavy. The Turkish pilaf with tomatoes and ground beef, nuanced with special herbs, was a pleasing dish. The tomatoes weren’t overly cooked, which allowed their distinct tart taste to add to the spiced beef. The mutter paneer seemed to be the main Indo/Pak dish at the buffet this afternoon. The dish wasn’t as spicy as it is usually prepared, but the curry’s creaminess made up for it.
2138 N. Market, 316-269-1164
Garcia’s Tacos is a great place to get a quick bite to eat. It may seem like a hole in the wall, but the food goes above and beyond.
Owner and manager Jose Garcia does the cooking while two staff members work the floor. The service, though, is good. And the food is authentic. Hot, crispy corn tortilla chips and two types of salsa are served when customers sit down. The salsa is homemade and fantastic. I also tried the taco plate, with a steak taco and a chicken taco, crunchy lettuce and juicy tomatoes on top. My plate came with a side of Mexican rice and refried beans, which were hot and steamy when brought to the table. The menu, posted on the wall above the kitchen, had at least 10 items under $7 a plate.
535 N. Woodlawn, Suite 330, 316-686-1486
After opening in 2008, Petra Cafe has served as a restaurant and a hookah bar, providing plenty of choices in both, from its dozen hookah flavors to a full menu. Petra’s menu offers both Mediterranean and American dishes, from hummus platters and cheeseburgers to a customer favorite – the shawarma sandwich. Petra’s shawarma sandwich includes hummus, mayo, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and the choice of either beef or roast chicken. I’ve had my fair share of Middle Eastern cuisine, but I was amazed by how good it truly was. The sandwich was warm, fluffy and full of flavor, especially from the hummus. A full hookah menu includes more than a dozen flavors and mixes ranging in price from $10 to $12 with refills as low as $6.
Robert Morris III
4875 E. Pawnee, 316-683-2428
To Chau is a Vietnamese restaurant owned by Vanessa Pham that has been open since February 2005. Pham’s daughter, Alicea Pham, said the location was strategically selected to attract the lunch rush of Cessna Aircraft and Spirit Aero System employees. To Chau serves an excellent rice noodle soup offered with several choices of meat, such as brisket, meatballs, tendon and beef. To Chau’s atmosphere was calm and spacious, the food was great, and the service was friendly.
738 N. Waco, 316-440-5122
Pimiento is a little Mexican restaurant that opened this summer in an old Quiznos building at the southeast corner of Waco and Murdock. Pimiento owners Javier Chavez and Claudia Orozco have owned other Mexican restaurants in the past. They take pride in their experience, and it shows. When we visited, Chavez was front and center, making all of the platters, and Orozco helped ring customers up with a smile. Pimiento’s menu is small, but portions are plentiful. The burritos ($3.99 to $5.99) were filling, and the meat was full of flavor. The large burritos are Chipotle-sized — only cheaper. The cheese quesadilla ($2.99) was extremely cheesy and had great flavor, and the huge, soft tacos ($2.99) were stuffed full of meat, cheese, lettuce, rice, beans and sour cream.
204 W. Greenway St., Derby, 316-788-7333
Casa Martinez has been serving the Derby community for nearly 20 years. The restaurant does not attract much attention from the outside. However, upon entering the restaurant, customers are enveloped in a warm atmosphere and treated like one of the family.
The menu features traditional Mexican dishes, highlights of which include fajitas and street-style tacos.
We ate three delicious dishes: the chicken entomatoda, cheese quesadillas and grilled chicken tacos. All three dishes were cooked perfectly and contained fresh ingredients. The quesadillas were cooked to perfection, and the cheese blend used in them was creamy bliss. The chicken tacos had a nicely fried shell and a good blend of grilled chicken, onions and tomatoes and were topped with the same cheese blend as the other two dishes. All three were served with a side of plain but well-made rice.
The restaurant also has a sopapilla bar, where diners can choose a golden brown, sugar-coated pastry and finish it with a variety of toppings, ranging from honey to fruit sauces.
Habanero Mexican Grill
2308 S. Meridian, 316-945-0022
Habanero is another hidden treasure to add to the list of Wichita’s ethnic restaurants. It has a drive-through and casual dining room. The menu ranges from tasty appetizers to combination dinners. Prices range from $5 to $13, and a lunch menu includes smaller portions of the dinner favorites from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The enchiladas rancheros were a highlight, seasoned with spices and filled with shredded pork. Habanero also recently added beer and margaritas to its menu.
Los Mexican Burrito
3005 E. Pawnee, 316-618-0001
Los Mexican Burrito has been open for eight years and is owned by the Tomas Limon family. The family also owns another Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. The menu offers 21 combo meals with choices such as burritos, tacos, tostadas and rolled tacos.
It is truly authentic Mexican food. The family cooks to order and makes everything from scratch, including the tortillas, which are deep fried to golden perfection.
Piles of veggies, cheese and guacamole cover the top of the dishes. And guacamole doesn’t cost extra, unlike most restaurants in the area.
Felipe’s Jr. Mexican Restaurant
9718 E. Harry, 316-684-8931
If you’re craving some homemade Mexican food, Felipe’s Jr. Mexican Restaurant can satisfy your needs. Felipe’s Jr. is a family-owned business that has been serving Mexican cuisine for more than 40 years.
Owners Martin and Chela Martinez say traditional Mexican recipes and a comfortable family atmosphere have kept loyal customers coming back for years.
When it was time to order, we asked the waitress for suggestions. She recommended tapatias, which are enchiladas smothered in a green, creamy roasted poblano and cilantro green salsa and filled with chicken, ground beef, shrimp or ham. The restaurant also has a small bar area. Felipe’s Jr. is well-known for its “Flaming Cazuela,” a drink served in a clay cooking bowl that is a delicious, 50-oz. mix of vodka, rum, tequila, fruit juice and fresh fruit. The rind of one of the fruit peels is splashed with Bacardi 151 and lit for a dramatic presentation.
218 W. Main, Valley Center, 316-755-9966
Bravo’s Italiani in downtown Valley Center has been on Main Street for a little less than two years. The Italian restaurant has a full menu that is reasonably priced. I ordered the medium meat pizza for $8.99, and my friend chose penne pasta in marinara sauce with meatballs for $6.99. The amount of food served is amazing. It was more than we could even get close to finishing. Half the reason to go to Bravo’s would be for the staff. Our waiter was funny, professional and knowledgeable.
Oh Yeah! China Bistro
3101 N. Rock Road, Suite 150, 316-425-7700
The restaurant formerly known as Zen, which featured a strictly vegetarian menu, has added meat back to its menu and reopened with the new name: Oh Yeah! China Bistro. The setting is still Zen-like, with dim lighting, dark colors and a quiet atmosphere. We sampled the Oh Yeah! Fried rice, which was cooked perfectly and was full of vivid flavors.
We also liked the vegetable tempura, which was soft, warm and colorful, served with a unique mustard sauce for dipping. Finally, the egg roll and crab Rangoon also were excellent and were uniquely served snack-sized.
1607 N. Main, Newton, 316-283-7960
In an effort to find a restaurant that would offer a truly authentic, ethnic experience, I tried a Mexican restaurant tucked between an abandoned Pizza Hut and Jiffy Fast Lube in Newton. La Cabana, a popular Newton restaurant, originated in Hillsboro.
We visited on a busy Sunday afternoon, and there was a long wait. But the servers were friendly.
After taking the first bite of my chicken quesadilla, I decided the wait was well worth it. The dish deserved a blue ribbon.
La Cabana also offers a full drink menu with a variety of beer, margaritas and cocktails. However, the best part about the restaurant is its dessert menu, including traditional flan, sopapillas, fried ice cream and cheesecake. These tasty desserts can be enjoyed for only $2.75 each. To make it even better, customers have the choice of adding powdered sugar to their dessert of choice.