When you travel the 83,000 square miles of Kansas, you pass more than 7,350 restaurants, according to the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association.
How do you know which ones are good?
“We all have hometown appetites,” wrote Clementine Paddleford of Riley County, who introduced regional cooking to America in the early 20th century. “Every other person is a bundle of longing for the simplicities of good taste once enjoyed on the farm or in the hometown he or she left behind.”
Small-town restaurants are a matter of pride and can often make the difference in whether a community thrives. They are gathering spots, watering holes and boosters of local economies.
We pick our favorites most often based on loyalty, the historical experience, outstanding food and the chance of encountering local characters, said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, based near Inman.
I think one of the main draws is made-from-scratch food. It may be a a growing trend in the larger cities featuring farm-to-table cooking, but in the smaller towns it is not so much trendy but the only way those cooks know how to prepare food.
“I think one of the main draws is made-from-scratch food,” Penner said.
“It may be a growing trend in the larger cities featuring farm-to-table cooking, but in the smaller towns it is not so much trendy but the only way those cooks know how to prepare food.”
For instance, there are loyal fried chicken aficionados who periodically journey to Pittsburg to argue which restaurant has the best – Chicken Annie’s or Chicken Mary’s.
Others might swear it is at the Wheatland Cafe in Hudson or the Brookville Hotel in Abilene. Oven-fried, pan-fried or deep-fried, each is distinctive.
“There are some places you are not going for the food but the experience, just to say you have done it,” says Patsy Terell, longtime blogger and writer about cuisine in Kansas.
The Hays House in Council Grove still operates in the original building constructed by Seth Hays. The restaurant – the oldest in Kansas – opened in 1857.
Terell’s favorites include Beethoven’s #9 in Paola and the Renaissance Cafe in Assaria.
“They are running neck and neck,” Terell said.
“I would say go to Assaria for the food. For a lot of small towns, it is sometimes about the service. Small places can’t hire help. Assaria is not a big town, but I’ve never had a bad experience there.”
For a lot of small towns, it is sometimes about the service. Small places can’t hire help. Assaria is not a big town, but I’ve never had a bad experience there.
Some of the restaurants are what we experienced growing up, so we go out of loyalty.
For more than nine decades, the Cozy Inn in Salina has been slinging out hamburgers and grilled onions in the same shoe-box-size establishment with the six porcelain bar stools, counter and wood cupboards as it did in 1922.
So how do you discover good out-of-the-way restaurants?
“I find out through word of mouth,” Terell said. “I am always reading columns in newspapers where they talk about food. I am always on the road driving around exploring. I will stop in and check out any little place that looks interesting.
“If I go by a place that had both expensive cars and jalopies, I know it is good. If you have a cross-section of people, it is the food that is bringing people together.”
Penner’s favorites include the Kettle in Beloit and Marla’s Joy in Concordia.
“Those are places I could eat at every single day,” Penner said. “The Kettle has a biscuit and gravy pot pie.
“We have more awesome restaurants in Kansas every day.”
Others may choose a place because it has not only good food but good beer or alcoholic drinks as well.
Fly Boy Brewery and Eats in Sylvan Grove, Bourbon and Baker in Manhattan, Willow’s Restaurant and Bar in Seneca, Crooner’s Lounge in Fort Scott, and Gella’s Dining and Lb. Brewing Co. in Hays are good examples.
Following is a list of restaurants in Kansas that are worth a try for every Kansan. There are many great restaurants in Wichita and Sedgwick County, but for this list, we tried to find restaurants out in the state that – if you happen to be in the area – are worth trying.
Let us know which ones you would add to the list.
1. Puffy’s Steak and Ice House
Address: 215 Main St., Maple Hill
Known for: Steaks, monster onion rings and hamburgers
2. Martinelli’s Little Italy
Address: 158 S. Santa Fe Ave., Salina
Known for: Italian food, steaks and decadent desserts
3. Big Ed’s Steakhouse
Address:104 W. Bressler, Bird City
Web: Search for BigEd’s Steakhouse on Facebook
Known for: Big steaks that caused one Eagle reader to proclaim “it comes out looking like a roast that would feed a family of four.”
4. Poplar Pizza
Address: 202 S. Wabash, Howard; 127 W. Highway 54, Andover
Phone: 620-374-2525; 316-733-9996
Known for: New York-style pizza, buffalo wings, fried chicken and charbroiled steaks
5. Trail Days Cafe and Museum
Address: 803 W. Main St., Council Grove
Known for: Elk and bison dishes and German, Native American and Early American foods. The staff dresses in period clothing and the restaurant is located in a house built in 1861, the year Kansas became a state.
6. Keianna’s Dive
Address: 408 Main St., Allen
Web: Search for Keianna’s Dive on Facebook
Known for: Daily special, hamburgers and homemade pies. It is where the local cowboys gather for lunch; multiple horse trailers often line the wide street downtown.
7. Beethoven’s #9
Address: 110 W. Peoria St., Paola
Known for: Some of the best German food in the Midwest, including Jaeger Schnitzel, homemade spaetzle, sweet red cabbage, handcrafted sausages and warm apple dumplings.
8. Nelson’s Landing
Address: 107 Erpelding St., Leonardville
Known for: Specialty burgers, chicken fried steaks, salads and steaks. Owners Kim and Alan Nelson are the parents of Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
9. Anchor Inn Restaurant
Address: 128 S. Main St., Hutchinson
Known for: Mexican food buffet
10. Cy’s Hoof and Horn
Address: 425 N. Commercial Ave., Sedgwick
Known for: Steaks, chicken fried steak, fried chicken, burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Address: 219 N. Main St., Newton
Known for: German buffets on Friday and Saturday nights, Sunday buffet, and soup and salad bars each weekday.
12. Red Tractor
Address: 106 S. Main St., Greensburg
Web: Search for Red Tractor on Facebook
Known for: Creative farm-to-table dishes
13. Wheatland Cafe
Address: 112 Main St., Hudson
Web: Search for Wheatland Cafe on Facebook
Known for: Fried chicken buffet and sides that are reminiscent of old-fashioned church potluck dinners. Open only on Sundays.
14. Reece’s Cafe
Address: 202 N. Pioneer St., Alden
Known for: Specialty dinners, breakfasts and buffets: fried catfish dinners on Friday nights, prime rib on Saturday nights, and Sunday all-you-can-eat buffets.
15. Crazy R’s Bar and Grill
Address: 202 N. Pioneer St., Goodland
Web: Search for Crazy R’s Bar and Grill on Facebook
Known for: Rajin’ Cajun Burger (Cajun spice on the 8-ounce hamburger and fries) and Papa’s Chicken Fried Bacon (hand-battered bacon that is deep-fat-fried and served with white gravy). Finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine.
16. Chicken Mary’s
Address: 1133 E. 600th Ave., Pittsburg
Web: Search for Chicken Mary’s on Facebook
Known for: Fried chicken and side dishes such as German potato salad, spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, and onion rings.
17. Chicken Annie’s
Address: , 1143 E. 600th Ave., Pittsburg
Known for: Fried chicken and side dishes such as onion rings, German potato salad, German cole slaw and spaghetti.
18. Buster’s Saloon
Address: 104 W. Main St., Sun City
Web: Search for Buster’s Saloon on Facebook
Known for: Handmade burgers, fresh-cut fries and specials such as smoked pork loin, barbecued smoked ribs and beef brisket. Known for its fish bowl-sized steins of beer.
19. Gella’s Dining and Lb. Brewing Co.
Address: 117 E. 11th St., Hays
Known for: Eggplant Parmesan, beef stroganoff and chicken pad thai. Named Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year in 2013 at the 27th annual Great American Beer Festival.
20. Renaissance Cafe
Address: 210 N. Center Ave., Assaria
Known for: Italian food and steaks.
21. Guy & Mae’s Tavern
Address: 119 W. William St., Williamsburg
Web: Search for Guy and Mae’s Tavern on Facebook
Known for: Barbecued ribs wrapped in newspaper and aluminum foil. Named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas cuisine by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
22. Lumber Yard Steakhouse
Address: 311 N. Main, Zenda
Web: Search for Lumber Yard Steakhouse on Facebook
Known for: Ribs and steaks. Eagle dining columnist Denise Neil put together a video of eating at Zenda. Watch it at kansas.com/entertainment/restaurants/article34859886.html
23. Genova Italian Restaurant
Address: 1021 Washington Road, Newton
Web: Search for Genova on Facebook
Known for: Hot out-of-the-oven bread to dip in olive oil and spices; salads, shrimp tortellini al modo mio, tortellini ala panna and chicken alfredo.
24. Free State Brewing Company
Address: 636 Massachusetts St., Lawrence
Known for: Hand-crafted beers. Food includes fried pork dumplings, Jamaican jerk chicken and cheddar ale soup.
25. Cozy Inn
Address: 108 N. 7th St., Salina
Known for: Slider burgers. Former Kansans order batches and have them shipped across the nation.
26. Josie’s Ristorante
Address: 400 Main St., Scammon
Web: Search for Josie’s Ristorante on Facebook
Known for: Italian food using family recipes. A finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas cuisine by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
27. Bobo’s Drive-In
Address: 2300 SW 10th Ave., Topeka
Web: Google Bobo’s Drive-In
Known for: Cheeseburgers, handmade onion rings, french fries, Coney Islands, chocolate malts and apple pie. Open since 1948, it has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” by the Food Network.
28. Hays House
Address: 112 W. Main St., Council Grove
Known for: Steaks, chicken fried steak, brisket, glazed pork chops and Beulah’s ham. Seth Hays, Council Grove’s founder, was Daniel Boone’s great-grandson. He opened the Hays House in 1857.
29. Gutierrez Mexican Restaurant
Address: 640 Westport Blvd., Salina
Web: Search for Gutierrez Mexican Restaurant on Facebook
Known for: Traditional Mexican food and vegetarian menu.
30. Hibachi Hut
Address: 429 Poyntz Ave., Manhattan
Known for: Tiger wings, Cajun nachos, pork belly, jambalaya, pecan-crusted red fish and chicken fried steak. A tradition with Kansas State University students and alumni since 1959.
31. Brookville Hotel
Address: 105 E. Lafayette Ave., Abilene
Known for: Family-style fried chicken dinners. A tradition for generations of Kansans.
Address: 216 W. Main St., Mulvane
Known for: Fine Italian dining
33. Roy’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q
Address: 1018 Nickerson Blvd., Hutchinson
Known for: Ribs, beef brisket, pork, turkey, ham, mild Polish sausage and hot links.
34. Ad Astra Food and Drink
Address: 318 Cottonwood St., Strong City
Web: Search Facebook for Ad Astra Food and Drink
Known for: Smoked duck mac and cheese, fish and chips, fried chicken, smoked trout, burgers and fish sliders.
35. Carriage Crossing
Address: 10002 S. Yoder Road, Yoder
Known for: Cinnamon rolls, fried chicken and pies.