Dining With Denise Neil

Wichitans name their favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants

Technically, calling a restaurant a “hole in the wall” is not a compliment.

Or is it?

A hole in the wall, in American vernacular, is a small, obscure, fairly dingy bar or restaurant. But usually, what holes in the wall lack in curb appeal they make up for in little-known menu excellence.

Recently, I asked Dining with Denise readers to tell me which Wichita hole-in-the-wall restaurants were worth visiting. More than 300 people replied, describing a long list of local burger joints, taco stands and Asian places.

I jotted them all down, then tallied how many times each was mentioned, taking the liberty to disqualify nominees I decided were too nice to be considered holes in the wall. (N&J Cafe? Saigon? Passage to India? All exotic, but not exactly dingy or tiny.)

Here’s a list of the holes in the wall that readers named most often.

▪ Bomber Burger, 4860 S. Clifton: Indeed, Bomber Burger is nothing much to look at from the outside. It’s a tiny red-and-white building sitting alone on a dusty lot, and it’s been in owner Chris Rickard’s family for 31 years. For the past 18, he’s been in charge, and the diminutive burger joint has become known for its three-quarter-pound burgers and its politically incorrect owner, who lovingly insults not only his customers but his competitors as frequently as possible.

Rickard, who serves his super-fat burgers on paper plates as customers watch from the stools lining the counter, said his secret is taking pride in his work. He buys quality meat that “keeps these guys coming back like a rat on crack.”

His posted menu, which promises “award winning food, bad service” lists burgers, double burgers, double burgers with bacon and more. Rickard also serves hand-cut fries and beer on tap.

Is he insulted to have been named a favorite hole-in-the-wall?

He scoffs, eying his close quarters.

“Look around.”

Bomber Burger is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It’s closed Sundays and Mondays.

▪ Thai House, 969 N. West St.: This little to-go restaurant opened in 1977, and it’s owned by Vim Oeur, who will quickly tell you that movie star Harrison Ford is a regular customer. Need proof? Just look to the north wall, which has two framed photos of Hans Solo himself mugging in the restaurant.

Thai House is known for making authentic Thai dishes, most of which are served to-go. The tiny restaurant, which sits in a nondescript strip mall, also has room for about 12 people to sit and eat inside.

Oeur, who you can see cooking in a giant wok as you walk in, can make your food spicy or not, and he’s famous for his Pad Thai. Ford, he reports, likes the sweet basil dish.

“The food is amazing,” said Jamie Gorges, one of the readers who nominated Thai House. “And the family that runs it are so nice.”

Thai House is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It’s closed Sundays and Mondays.

▪ Sport Burger, 134 N. Hillside: Signs of a definite hole-in-the-wall: Rules-laden signs everywhere. The possibility that it’ll run out of food before closing time. Long lines. Inexplicably low prices. Wichita burger favorite Sport Burger has all of these.

Sport Burger, which is set up in an old pre-fab Valentine diner near Douglas and Hillside, serves burgers that are $1.49 apiece and have been smashed flat and cooked until the edges are crispy. Drive-through customers wait in long lines, which often stretch onto a neighboring street.

And as for those signs? Just remember: “Limit 12 regular cheeseburgers per car” and never, ever try to pay with credit, debit or “bills larger than $20.”

Sport Burger is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Unless they run out of food early.

▪ Buster's Burger Joint, 1202 E. MacArthur Road: This favorite hole-in-the-wall simply is what it is, and what that is is posted right on the building. “Greasy burgers and fresh-cut fries.” Sodas are stacked on metal shelves inside, and diners cram in next to sports memorabilia and trophies to enjoy burgers and fries whose runoff completely saturates the paper it sits on.

The menu board lists burgers, fries, tots and “cans of pop,” and customers can also get chicken strips, chicken fried steak and hot dogs.

“Want a good greasy burger and really good fries? said reader Paul Shimanek. “Go to Buster's Burger on MacArthur.”

Buster’s is open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

▪ Manna Wok, 4865 E. Harry: Another sign of a hole-in-the-wall: The owner is always there and pretty much runs things herself. This is true of Kye Chon, who owns the tiny Manna Wok, a south-side Korean restaurant big enough to hold only about 40 people.

The restaurant is known for its steaming bi bim bap, its friendly owner, and the thousand of customer photos that are taped onto the walls.

Manna Wok is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, closed Sundays.

▪ Broadway Burgers & BBQ, 1659 S. Broadway: It’s not fancy, and it’s only 6 years old. But burger fans love this inexpensive south Broadway gem, whose menu is surprisingly diverse for a hole in the wall. In addition to greasy burgers, it also offers barbecue sandwiches, hotlinks, chicken fried steak, fried okra, breaded mushrooms, fried pickles, chili cheese fries and milkshakes.

Broadway Burgers & BBQ’s hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. It’s closed Sundays.

▪ Southeast Carryout, 1520 S. Oliver: Several burger fans also named this tiny burger joint, whose straightforward menu lists inexpensive burgers, chili burgers, hot dogs, corn dogs and tenderloin sandwiches. It gets high marks from fans for friendly service, and many readers told me they grew up going to the restaurant and it appeals to their sense of nostalgia as well as their hunger for a greasy burger.

Southeast Carryout is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays.

▪ Fried Rice, 2419 S. Glendale: Newcomers to this tiny to-go restaurant need to know the rules before entering: Bring cash, and be prepared to order. If you can play by those rules, you’ll get to enjoy the daily special: chicken fried rice, two egg rolls and a can of soda for $4. “It’s so good and so cheap,” said Jennie King. “Last time I went, their specials were ‘the special’ and ‘the special special.’”

Fried Rice is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

▪ Ty’s Diner, 928 W. Second St.: Ty’s is one of the oldest restaurants still operating in Wichita, and it specializes in burgers and fries. Fans know that stepping into this restaurant means they’ll smell like burgers, fries and grease until they bathe and wash their clothes, and most are just fine with that. Ty’s is known for its dim lighting, no-frills interior and fresh burgers with toasted buns.

It’s open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

▪ Jack’s Coffee Shop, 6154 S. Hydraulic: This burger joint might be Wichita’s ultimate hole in the wall. Visitors admit it’s nothing much to look at, either on the outside or the inside, but the burgers are so big, they’re oval-shaped, not circle-shaped. And the grilled onions are the best. Fans of Jack’s are charmed by its utter lack of ambiance, which they say gives it the best ambiance of all.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Other legit holes in the wall

Readers also named these Wichita restaurants:

Ah-So, 855 S. Oliver

My Tho, 500 E. Central

Po’ Boy Pizza, 5619 E. Lincoln

Taqueria El Fogon, 1555 S. Bluffview Drive

Taco Fajita, 1004 S. Meridian

Cafe Asia, 6546 E. Central

Wichita Fish Company, 1601 W. Douglas

Annex Lounge, 6305 E. Harry

Charlie’s Famous Burgers, 3200 W. 13th St.

Lalo’s Express, 2051 S. Seneca

Oasis Lounge, 4121 W. Maple

Los Pinos, 1225 W. Douglas

Sweet Willy’s BBQ, 4628 S. Seneca

Calvin’s Hamburger Haven, 1929 S. Seneca

Egg Roll King, 1321 W. Douglas

Taco J’s, 233 N. Main, Haysville

Big Larry’s Burgers, 328 S. Meridian, Valley Center

CJ’s Pancake House, 1525 E. First St., Newton

Watch the first episode of ‘Dining with Denise’

We’ve just launched a new web series to go along with the Dining with Denise blog and Facebook page, and the first episode is about hole-in-the-wall restaurants. To see it, go to Kansas.com/dining.