A year ago, we put together a guide called “50 Wichita Restaurants You Should Try.” And trust me, it was nearly impossible to figure out which 50 restaurants to include. Wichita has at least four times that many fabulous places to dine.
This year, we’re getting a tad more specific. This time around, you’ll find a list of 50 dishes you should try. Scratch that - more like “50 Dishes you HAVE TO try.”
The list includes appetizers, desserts, drinks, main dishes and lots and lots of pizza. Many of these are my personal favorites, dishes I order again and again because I love them so much. I also consulted with readers of Dining With Denise to make sure I wasn’t missing any, and they had plenty of ideas, too.
Again this year, I tried to focus on dishes made at locally-owned restaurants, though I would have no trouble coming up with 50 dishes I love from chain restaurants, too.
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I suggest you put on your loose-fitting pants and get to work. If you keep at it, you’ll have them all tried by the time I get the next guide out.
Here are the first 10 on the list, which appeared in a special booklet in Sunday’s newspaper. I’ll post 10 more every day this week. And by all means, let me know what you think I missed. Just go to Dining with Denise on Facebook and leave a comment.
1. Albero Cafe, Italian nachos
This decadent appetizer features fried pasta chips piled high and drenched with an unbelievable homemade cheese sauce that’s rich, thick, creamy and addictive. On top is a mixture of shredded lettuce, sliced pepperoncini and tomatoes tossed in a tangy dressing called “Mediterranean tomato relish.” For $3 extra you can top the nachos with chicken or sliced Italian sausage. Go with the sausage. $7, 4811 E. Central, 316-260-9667
2. The Anchor, Haystack
Wichita’s most reliable spot for great bar grub makes a decadent dish that everyone loves. It’s called the Haystack, and it’s an open-faced burger that’s served on Texas toast then piled high with fries and drenched with queso. It’s as dramatic as it is caloric and comes in other versions, too, liked the Poutine Haystack, which instead of queso adds white cheese curds and poutine gravy, and the Burn Baby Burn, which has the burger on toasted jalapeno bread and adds chili and grilled jalapenos. $11, 1109 E. Douglas, 316-260-8989
3. Angelo’s, Truly Deluxe Pizza
You know a pizza is good when a restaurant goes out of business and its customers publicly pine for its pizza for the next nine years. In Angelo’s case, customers missed it so much that they donated $40,000 to a Kickstarter campaign to help the Fasciano family reopen the restaurant in 2016. Now, they can have Angelo’s famous pizzas whenever they want. This one, topped with homemade Italian sausage, spiced ground beef, pepperoni, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed green peppers and onions, is the best. One of Angelo’s secrets: They put the sausage on the pizza raw before it goes in the oven, so all that greasy goodness bakes right into the crust. $29.95 for a large, 5231 E. Central, 316-612-9058
4. The Artichoke, Famous No. 8
Every city has that one restaurant known for its killer sandwiches, and Wichita’s is The Artichoke, a tiny Irish bar in downtown Wichita. Its most famous is the Famous No. 8, made with turkey, bacon, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, Italian dressing, powdered Parmesan cheese and a layer of cream cheese all grilled on an onion hoagie. Tip: Get the broccoli salad on the side. $8.84, 811 N. Broadway, 316-263-9164
5. AVI Seabar & Chophouse, Grilled Caesar
You wouldn’t normally think of grilling your lettuce. So don’t. Let AVI do it then savor the smoky flavor of the salad, which is topped with ribbons of shaved parmesan and garlic croutons and topped with a tangy Caesar dressing. $7, inside the Broadview, 135 N. Waco, 316-262-3300
6. The Beacon’s Nantucket Island
This trusty downtown diner turns out some of Wichita’s best greasy breakfasts. But it’s also famous for one of its lunch dishes, available only in warm weather months. It’s called Nantucket Island (Nantucket for short) and it features the brilliant combination of walnut-spiked chicken salad, a serving of fresh fruit, some ruffled potato chips and a big hot yeast roll. $7.35, 909 E. Douglas, 316-263-3397
7. Bella Luna, Cream of Mushroom Soup
Sure, you’re thinking to yourself. I could just go to the store and grab a 99 cent can of cream of mushroom soup. But that’s just wrong. This favorite Wichita eatery has lots of wonderful Mediterranean entrees, sandwiches and salads on its menu, but everyone talks about this soup, which is rich and creamy and velvety and filled with mushroom flavor. $5.95, 2132 N. Rock Road, 316-634-0008, and 2441 N. Maize Road, 316-613-3320
8. Bella Vita Bistro, Pork Osso Buco
This under-discovered Italian restaurant, hidden in a strip mall on West Street, has a top-rate chef who puts out interesting dishes like this one, featuring a bone-in pork shank braised with mirepoix, fresh herbs and tomatoes and served with saffron risotto and vegetable of the day and topped with gremolata. The presentation is as dramatic as the flavor. $18.95, 120 N. West St., 316-941-4500
9. Cactus Cantina, Chili Con Queso
This longtime Mexican restaurant on Wichita’s south side has the best queso in town. It’s white cheese - Monterey jack to be specific - mixed with cilantro, jalapenos and tomatoes. It doesn’t get gloppy or filmy, not that it would have time before being gobbled up. $6.95, 2802 S. Hydraulic, 316-529-0238
10. Cafe Maurice, Kebbe Balls
One of Wichita’s best Mediterranean restaurants, Cafe Maurice does everything right. But a favorite is the kebbe balls, a specialty made by mixing ground beef with cracked wheat, onions and pine nuts and forming it into a football shape. Get them as a side dish or as part of a combo plate. Two for $4.95, 9747 E. 21st St. N., 316-425-5762