Restaurant News & Reviews

Small-town Kansas restaurants worth the trip

Ad Astra in Strong City
Ad Astra in Strong City The Wichita Eagle

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.

Marci Penner

“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.

Patsy Terell

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


Phone: 785-256-4329

Known for: Steaks, monster onion rings and hamburgers

2. Martinelli’s Little Italy

Address: 158 S. Santa Fe Ave., Salina


Phone: 785-826-9190

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

Phone: 785-734-2475

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


Phone: 620-767-7986

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

Phone: 620-528-3355

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


Phone: 913-294-3000

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


Phone: 785-293-5661

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


Phone: 620-669-0311

Known for: Mexican food buffet

10. Cy’s Hoof and Horn

Address: 425 N. Commercial Ave., Sedgwick


Phone: 316-772-5329

Known for: Steaks, chicken fried steak, fried chicken, burgers, sandwiches and salads.

11. Breadbasket

Address: 219 N. Main St., Newton


Phone: 316-283-3811

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

Phone: 620-712-2994

Known for: Creative farm-to-table dishes

13. Wheatland Cafe

Address: 112 Main St., Hudson

Web: Search for Wheatland Cafe on Facebook

Phone: 620-458-4761

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


Phone: 620-534-2500

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

Phone: 785-890-3430

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

Phone: 620-231-9510

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


Phone: 620-231-9460

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

Phone: 620-248-3215

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


Phone: 785-621-2739

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


Phone: 785-822-6750

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

Phone: 785-746-8830

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

Phone: 620-243-6000

Known for: Ribs and steaks. Eagle dining columnist Denise Neil put together a video of eating at Zenda. Watch it at

23. Genova Italian Restaurant

Address: 1021 Washington Road, Newton

Web: Search for Genova on Facebook

Phone: 316-587-8099

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


Phone: 785-843-4555

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


Phone: 785-825-2699

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

Phone: 620-479-8202

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

Phone: 785-234-4511

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


Phone: 620-767-5911

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

Phone: 785-825-1649

Known for: Traditional Mexican food and vegetarian menu.

30. Hibachi Hut

Address: 429 Poyntz Ave., Manhattan


Phone: 785-320-5757

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


Phone: 785-263-2244

Known for: Family-style fried chicken dinners. A tradition for generations of Kansans.

32. Luciano’s

Address: 216 W. Main St., Mulvane


Phone: 316-777-0045

Known for: Fine Italian dining

33. Roy’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q

Address: 1018 Nickerson Blvd., Hutchinson


Phone: 620-663-7421

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

Phone: 620-273-8440

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


Phone: 620-465-3612

Known for: Cinnamon rolls, fried chicken and pies.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner