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May 19, 2013

Wichita offers several great sites for dining al fresco

Take-out food seems made for the great outdoors, yet how often do we trudge back to our homes, cars or offices to eat it?

Take-out food seems made for the great outdoors, yet how often do we trudge back to our homes, cars or offices to eat it?

Resolved: This is the summer when eating out really means eating out.

Here are a half-dozen ideas for places to picnic in Wichita and twice that many for restaurants or other establishments to supply the food.

College Hill Park is one of those great neighborhood parks you can enjoy even if you don’t live in the neighborhood. Within easy walking distance of the park is Taco Tinga, 3425 E. Douglas, which Wichita Eagle restaurant reviewer Denise Neil last year praised for its delicious, inexpensive Mexican fare. (In fact, her only complaint was its lack of atmosphere – not a concern since you’re headed for the park.) Not much farther away, at 134 N. Hillside, is Sport Burger, long a favorite of burger aficionados and also a bargain.

On the east side, near 21st and Rock Road, the fountain and lake at Bradley Fair offer scenic spots at which to take a bit of sustenance (even if you have to improvise an actual seat). There are many good restaurants nearby, but why not build your own meal from The Fresh Market on the shopping center’s south end? It’s packed with fine cheeses, meats, breads, an antipasto bar and deli offering ready-to-eat foods. On the center’s north end, the deli at GreenAcres offers several tasty take-out options, many made for people with dietary concerns or restrictions.

Across town, Sedgwick County Park at 6501 W. 21st St. is a hive of activity both human and otherwise most days, with plenty of picnic tables where you can watch the action while eating. The burgers, fries and frozen custard at the flagship Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, 8621 W. 21st St., travel well – maybe one reason why the Wichita-based chain now has franchises in more than 20 states.

In the city’s center, Riverside Park offers a number of bucolic dining spots, from shaded picnic areas to a riverbank overlooking the Keeper of the Plains statue to the waterwall plaza by the downtown Hyatt.

The Delano neighborhood is nearby, and you could do worse than stopping there to pick up a humongous slice from Picasso’s Pizza, 621 W. Douglas. For ice cream, smoothies and specialties like chocolate-covered bananas, walk up to the window at Squeezer’s Palace, 828 W. 11th St. North in Riverside.

In Old Town, the Farm and Market plaza and Old Town Square are public spaces virtually surrounded by eating establishments. Public at the Brickyard, 129 N. Rock Island, is a newish gastropub producing interesting fare (though its beer can’t be consumed off premises).

Down south, O.J. Watson Park, 3022 S. McLean, is one of the city’s biggest, with pedal boats, a kiddie train, fishing and plenty of picnic tables. On your way, stop at Saigon Bistro, 3123 E. Pawnee, for one of the city’s best banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), an order of spring rolls and iced coffee. Or pick up a toasty sub at the venerable Grinder Man, 510 E. Pawnee.

Up north, the Nomar International Marketplace at 21st and Broadway has turned into a reliable venue for Mexican food trucks offering tacos, burritos, tortas, those tasty Mexican Cokes and a few tables at which to eat. On weekends, the variety of fare offered increases to include homemade tamales, grilled chicken and exotic flavors of ice cream.

Speaking of food trucks, they are a growing phenomenon in Wichita and are no longer limited to Mexican food.

The Flying Stove, probably the best known, attracts crowds seemingly wherever it parks, many eating where they stand; experienced food truck patrons sometimes bring their own folding chairs. Other operators like Mmm Sandwiches, Cake Face and B.S. Sandwich Press are gaining adherents as well. One of the best things about the food truck movement is that the operators seem to like and get along with each other, sometimes setting up in the same place to offer people a choice and create a kind of critical culinary mass. For instance, seven food trucks parked at the WaterWalk development on a recent Sunday, feeding hundreds of people who’d shown up for a mass yoga class along with less energetic but just as hungry folks. The hope is it will be a monthly event. Most of the food trucks have Facebook pages where they post their locales, schedules and menus.

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