Dining With Denise Neil

A list of 10 hidden Wichita restaurants that are worth searching out

Check out two of Wichita’s best ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants

(FILE VIDEO) Wichita Eagle food writer Denise Neil takes a look at some Wichita restaurants with small properties and big reputations. What makes a good "hole in the wall"? Find out in the first episode of "Dining with Denise." (2016)
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(FILE VIDEO) Wichita Eagle food writer Denise Neil takes a look at some Wichita restaurants with small properties and big reputations. What makes a good "hole in the wall"? Find out in the first episode of "Dining with Denise." (2016)

One of the best ways to draw customers into a restaurant is to put it somewhere it can’t be missed — like on a major city thoroughfare with a bright sign and a big front window that offers passing motorists a peek at what’s happening inside.

But Wichita, like many cities, has a number of restaurants worth finding that aren’t so easy to see.

I often worry about restaurants that open in spots where people just can’t see them from the road and wonder if it has contributed to the downfall of some pretty good places in Wichita, including the former Lou’s Charcuteria — a great little restaurant with big charcuterie boards that you’d never see if you weren’t desperately looking for a parking space behind Intrust Bank Arena.

In that spirit, I decided to share my list of 10 “hidden” Wichita restaurants that aren’t easily visible from the street but are worth the effort to find.

10. The Kitchen, 725 E. Douglas: The little building that once was home to the Union Station baggage area has lots of charm, and when Tanya’s Soup Kitchen occupied it from 1997 to 2004, people would search it out. Back then, the restaurant was packed for lunch every day. But once Tanya was evicted and the building turned into a Cox Communications customer service center, it fell off the restaurant radar. In late 2016, local chef Natasha Gandhi-Rue got the lease on the building as part of the Union Station renovation and opened The Kitchen. But people were out of practice finding the restaurant — whose address is Douglas even though it actually sits at least a block south of Douglas on Mead. Gandhi-Rue has tried all sorts of tactics to direct traffic to her place, including rolling a chalkboard she sometimes puts on the corner, urging people to turn.

And it’s worth the turn. Gandhi-Rue’s little restaurant offers colorful salads, tempting sandwiches and an gooey take on Canadian poutine known as “Disco Fries.” Also, her strawberry cake, served occasionally and made by her construction company-owner husband Scott Rue, might be Wichita’s best dessert. Also notable: Gandhi-Rue’s cooking classes, which instruct would-be cooks on how to use Instant Pots, how to make a holiday beef Wellington supper and and how to better use your knives. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

9. Chiang Mai, 3141 S. Hillside: It’s all the way down on South Hillside. And once you get there, you have to peek to the very end of a non street-facing strip center to find it. But many fans of Thai food in Wichita have done just that, and they rave about the authentic dishes. The restaurant was first opened in 2002 by Laos native Tane Chanthivong, but it has different owners now. Still, it’s frequently full of diners searching out specialties like Pad Thai, Kra Tiem Prig, spicy chicken basil and more. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

8. Bella Vita Bistro, 120 N. West Street: People often ask me where to get a good Italian meal in Wichita. Of course, I always direct them to “Wich-Italian” favorites like DeFazio’s, Marchello’s and Angelo’s. But people are often surprised to learn that they frequently drive right past one of Wichita’s best Italian places. Bella Vita Bistro, which opened in 2010, is easy to miss in its spot on the end cap of a little strip mall on West, which is set back from the street. But inside, diners will find a romantic atmosphere, top-rate service and a menu full of homey pastas but also gourmet steak, seafood and chicken dishes.

The restaurant is owned by Lory Wooley, her daughter, Crystal, and Crystal’s dynamic chef husband Adrian Prud Homme De Lodder. Adrian makes magic in the kitchen and is known not only for his singing ability (on rare occasions, he’ll emerge from the back to serenade a guest celebrating a birthday) but also for his adventuresome kitchen spirit, which results in interesting specials made with unusual ingredients like morel mushrooms, when they’re in season. Bella Vita also offers a lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays for those who want to get a sampling of what it serves. Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 5 to 9 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays.

7. Zaytun, 2020 N. Woodlawn: Brittany Center has had businesses come and go over the years — mostly go of late. But one solid restaurant has been chugging away in the center’s back corner for nine years. Syed Abbas is the owner of Zaytun, whose food will be familiar to those who like Indian or Mediterranean fare. But Zaytun also specializes in Persian, Turkish and “Indo-Pak” cuisine, the latter of which is a combination of dishes native to India and Pakistan. Best of all, the restaurant has a daily lunch buffet served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays that features some of the most unusual, colorful, rich dishes you’ll find in Wichita. Think lamb, curry, kebabs and more. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

6. Lola’s Bistro, 2146 N. Collective Lane: One of Wichita’s newest fine-dining restaurants opened late last year in the Collective. (The what?) Exactly. The Collective is a sleek retail development 21st and K-96, but unless you drive into it and look around, you wouldn’t necessarily know that a fancy restaurant was hiding within. It’s owned by Michael Abay, whose cooking style has a Filipino influence, and his menu is a mix of Filipino fare (lumpia, chicken adobo and achara) and New-American dishes (scallops, lobster risotto, seared duck breast.) The interior is sleek and modern, the lighting is dim and the service is top-rate. Lola’s Bistro takes reservations, so make one for your next special occasion. Hours: 3:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.

5. Fireside Grille, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive: Many of Wichita’s fancy hotels have fine-dining restaurants hidden inside that are open to the public. But since the Wichita public rarely goes into local hotels, those restaurants are easy to forget about. One of my favorites is the Fireside Grill, which is tucked deep inside the Wichita Marriott that’s near Kellogg and Webb. It’s a tiny little dinner-only restaurant that’s decorated with fine finishes, designer booths and a large double-sided fireplace that allows a view of the more casual but just as lush hotel bar on the other side. The menu is full of upscale steak and seafood dishes and elegant appetizers. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s worth splurging on a night out.

Other hotel restaurants worth discovering include Siena Tuscan Steakhouse inside The Ambassador Hotel downtown, and the new Chisholm’s American Beef & Ale House inside the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Wichita Airport. Hours 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; closed Sundays.

Michelle Ruffin-Stein, general manager of the Wichita Marriott on Corporate Hills Drive, explains why she's opening the new Fireside Grille there. Carrie Rengers/The Wichita Eagle

4. Paleteria La Reyna, 2925 N. Arkansas: Diners in-the-know know that Wichita’s most authentic Mexican food is found on the city’s north side. But one of the best of those restaurants has been hiding among several houses at 29th and Arkansas for the past 21 years. Paleteria La Reyna is primarily a Mexican ice cream store, known for its extra-creamy and uniquely-flavored Mexican ice cream and its house-made ice cream bars on-a-stick, called paletas. But the restaurant, owned by Dagoberto Hernandez, also has a big menu of delicious Mexican food, including fried flour tacos, burritos, gorditas and enchiladas. Back in 2013, the restaurant was featured in an issue of Food Network Magazine that listed the best ice cream in every state. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Wednesdays.

3. Egg Crate Cafe, 8606 W. 13th: It can be a bit of a wait for a table at some of Wichita’s most popular breakfast restaurants like Doo-Dah Diner, HomeGrown and The Beacon. But Wichita has another reliable breakfast place tucked in the corner of Northwest Center at 13th and Tyler, out-of-sight from passing traffic. Egg Crate Cafe opened in 2007, but it was purchased two years ago by Berni and Karen Cunningham, who have made some upgrades to the interior and to the menu. Egg Crate Cafe serves breakfast items both standard (omelets, biscuits and gravy) and more unique (an occasional special called The Crate’s Stacker, which features hash brown-breaded sausage balls on top of scrambled eggs on top of gravy-covered French toast.) The lunch menu has burgers, sandwiches, chicken fried steak and even a K.C. Strip dinner for only $12.99. Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.

2. Caesar’s Table, 125 N. Market: One of Wichita’s most lavish buffet restaurants operates out of the bottom floor of an office building, and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d likely miss it. Caesar’s Table opened in 2014 on the mezzanine level of the building at 155 N. Market. Then, in 2015, it moved to an updated first-floor space at 125 N. Market. For those who like to feast, this is a place to seek out. For one price, diners can fill their plates full of entrees like fried chicken, coconut-crusted catfish, apple pork tenderloin, grilled asparagus, green beans, rice and big fluffy yeast rolls. There’s also a salad bar, a pasta bar and a counter filled with pies, cakes, brownies and other desserts. Caesar’s Table, which has a stylish and bright interior, also is open for Sunday brunches (plenty of parking downtown then) and frequently serves holiday buffets, too. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; closed Saturdays; 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

1. Saporro, 8065 E. Peachtree Lane: This is one of my favorite new restaurants in Wichita, so much so that I find myself dining there a couple of times a month. But it’s so invisible from Rock Road that I often worry others won’t find it. Sapporo is owned by Lee Li and her sushi chef husband, Leo Lin, and it’s in a strip center on the northeast corner of Kellogg and Rock. But the strip center faces a residential street, and Sapporo is at the far end. Although it doesn’t look like much from the outside, when you venture inside, you’re greeted by a modern dining room and the warm and playful Li, who makes all of her customers feel like friends. Plus, the sushi is top rate. My favorite thing there is the Sweat Heart roll, which is filled with spicy tuna, avocado and spicy mayo and rolled up in a strip of fresh tuna then artfully arranged to look like a heart.

Sapporo opened in the summer of 2017. Lin and Lee previously ran Sake, another popular restaurant that operated near 21st and Amidon from 2014 until 2016. Hours: 11 am. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays; noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays; Closed Sundays.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.