Dining With Denise Neil

In memoriam: Restaurants Wichita loved, then lost, in 2017

It’s easy, as you stuff your face with joy at your favorite restaurant, to silently assume that those fabulous nachos, that lemony hummus, that melty Philly cheese steak sandwich, will always be there.

Then, one day, without warning, it’s over. The restaurant you’ve grown to love closes, and you sink into a deep culinary depression.

It happens every year, and it happened in 2017. Many favorite restaurants – restaurants we never considered we’d lose – closed their doors for various reasons, leaving sad stomachs in their wake.

Here’s a list of the restaurants we lost this year that hurt the most – along with one reason to be hopeful about each closing.

1. Granite City, 2005-2017: For more than a decade, Wichita counted on this Minnesota-based chain restaurant to serve big portions, cold beer and a lavish Sunday brunch that included legendarily delicious cinnamon rolls. Then, late in the year came word that the chain – which had opened its east-side restaurant in 2005 and a west-side restaurant in 2006 – was having a dispute with its landlord. By early November, it was all over. The company announced it was closing four restaurants in its chain, and Wichita’s restaurants at NewMarket Square and at 21st and Webb were among them.

Silver lining: There are rumors that another business is interested in at least one of the two shuttered Granite City spaces, and considering how attractive the buildings were – with lots of wood touches, comfortable booths and attractive patios – it seems likely both could be revived at some point.

2. Cortez Mexican Restaurant, 1985-2017: Thirty-two years is a long time to run a restaurant, and when Enrique and Mary Cortez opened their Cortez Mexican restaurant in 1985, they were young parents starting a family and a business. Fast forward to early 2017, and the couple said they needed a break. Years of serving their burritos and tacos and Mexican buffet had taken a toll on them – and competing restaurants opening in more stylish parts of town had taken a toll on their business. They closed their longtime restaurant at 344 W. 29th St. North in February.

Silver lining: The couple hasn’t sold the building yet, and they’ve been opening Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 7:30 p.m., to keep their customers happy. They’ll likely continue to do so until the building sells.

3. Pei Wei, 2008-2017: When this chain restaurant opened at NewMarket Square in 2008, fans of Asian food were pumped. (Some even lined up to be the first customers through the doors.) The restaurant, a fast-casual sister concept to P.F. Chang’s, sold fresh-made stir-fry dishes and even expanded into sushi. But management posted a sign on the door in December announcing that it was closing, and Wichita never got an explanation.

Silver lining: Not much, except that sister restaurant P.F. Chang’s remains open at 1401 Waterfront.

4. East-side Molino’s, 2015-2017: Two years ago, Mario Quiroz and Mara Garza decided to expand their popular Mexican restaurant to the east side, and they remodeled a modern building at 37th and Rock Roads that had already been home to several restaurants. But the new Molino’s never could attract steady business, and the couple decided to let it go and focus on something new. (We should find out what that is in 2018.) Their last day on the east side was in early November.

Silver lining: The original Molino’s at 1064 N. Waco is still open and serving the piratas, street tacos and other inventive Mexican dishes that made the restaurant famous. And it sounds like the couple has something new cooking.

5. Charlie’s Pizza Taco, 2011-2017: It’s not too often that Wichita can say it has a restaurant that serves something truly unique. But Charlie’s Pizza Taco was that restaurant. Started in Pratt in 1965, Charlie’s Pizza Taco expanded into Wichita in 2011 and started serving its unique pizza/taco hybrid (plus bierocks!) at 602 N. Tyler. A food truck followed in 2014. But in early November, owner Dave Hoffman abruptly closed the store, saying it just hadn’t been drawing enough business.

Silver lining: None for Wichita, but Hoffman, who lives in Denver, said he plans to move both the restaurant and the truck (and the silver lining) there.

6. Byblos, 1989-2017: For years, one of Wichita’s most beloved Mediterranean restaurants – Byblos at 3088 W. 13th St. — was run by one of Wichita’s most beloved restaurant owners, Ilham Saad, who had opened the tiny restaurant with her late husband in 1989. But in September 2016, “Mrs. Saad,” as she was known by customers, closed the restaurant, saying she had accepted a generous offer from Rania Taha and husband Bashar Mahnweh to buy the place. The couple reopened Byblos, using the same name and the same recipes, but by May, they’d closed it to focus on their new restaurant, Petra: A Taste of Jordan at 535 N. Woodlawn. That restaurant burned down after an arson fire in November, and the couple say they have now put on hold their plans to turn Byblos into a fried chicken restaurant while they focus on reopening Petra.

Silver lining: Not much of any in this story. At least the Byblos sign is still up, so fans can drive by and remember better days.

7. Adrian’s Cafe, 2004-2017: George Matta’s reliable Adrian’s Cafe, which he opened at 2121 N. Rock Road in 2004 and named for his son, had been one of Wichita’s favorite Mediterranean restaurant for 13 years. But in June, Matta decided to close the restaurant for an interesting reason. A renowned classical guitarist and vocalist, Matta said he wanted to move back to his native Lebanon and pursue a career in music. He’s pretty good, too.

Silver lining: Beside the fact that Wichita may be able to one day claim an international Arabic music star? A new restaurant has already taken over the Adrian’s space. It’s a Korean place called GangNam Kitchen, and it opened in October.

8. WOW Cheesesteaks, 2016-2017: It only last for about a year, but in that amount of time, nice-guy owner Tyler Sanders was able to earn several devoted fans of his Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, which many said were the most authentic Wichita had seen in years. But his location, an old Sonic building at 803 N. West St., just wasn’t busy enough, and Sanders reluctantly closed the doors in June.

Silver lining: Sanders said when he closed that he might reopen in a better location someday.

9. Charlie's Famous Burgers, 1981-2017: It’s always sad when a restaurant closes after more than three decades. And many burger fans were sad when Charlie’s, which Charlie Howard had opened in 1981, closed at 3200 W. 13th St. in January. The tiny 30-seat restaurant had endured a fire, ownership changes and menu changes, but it remained one of Wichita’s favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants until its end.

Silver lining: Though we miss Charlie’s, Wichita has no shortage of other favorite hole-in-the-wall burgers.

10. Bishop’s Family Dining, 2004-2017: Construction on Kellogg killed this longtime family-owned, cafeteria-style restaurant at 4200 W. Kellogg. So said owner Luu Le, when he closed the place down in June. Bishop’s had developed several loyal customers over the years, and Le had become known for his annual Saturday-before-Thanksgiving dinners, where he would close Bishop’s down for three hours and invite Wichita’s homeless population to come eat for free. Around 300 people would be bused from downtown to his restaurant for the dinners.

Silver lining: Le said in June that he planned to expand his work with homeless outreach once he closed the restaurant. And Kellogg is now six months closer to being done.

Other restaurants we lost in 2017

Monterrey Mexican Grill, 5905 W. Kellogg

Downtown Cafe/ Mediterranean Style, 209 E. William

Quizno’s, 240 S. West St.

Casa Del Charro, 2227 N. Arkansas

Ninza Sushi Bar, 8428 W. 13th St.

Sugar Sisters Bakery, 917 W. Douglas

Joes Oldtown Bar & Grill, 222 N. Washington

Ernie Biggs, 550 N. Rock Road

Douglas Street Tacos, 701 E. Douglas

Las Trojas, 2330 N. Maize Road

Carlos O' Kelly's, 7703 E. Douglas

Sugar Rush Donut and Bakery, 3835 S. Seneca

Gianni Bacci’s, 301 N. Washington

A Taste of Times Square, 217 E. Douglas 

Planet Sub, 3526 N. Rock Road

Freebirds World Burrito, 410 N. Hillside and 2530 N. Greenwich Road

TGI Fridays, NewMarket Square

Marchello’s, 8404 W. 13th

Riverside Cafe, 2539 W. Pawnee

Boba Zone, 2243 N. Tyler

Petra: A Taste of Jordan, 6140 E. 21st St.

Johnny B’s, 240 N Main St., Haysville

Mead’s Corner at Cafe 402, inside downtown YMCA

Kababs, 756 N. Tyler Road

Rita's Italian Ice, 2929 N. Rock Road and 1021 E. Douglas

Alberto’s Pizzeria Buffet, 3801 S. Seneca

Cinnamon’s Deli, 21st and Webb

Blue River Mexican Grill, 2431 N. Greenwich

Pie Five, Maple and Ridge and 29th and Maple

Subway, 530 S. West Street