Restaurants in Wichita tend to pop up in one of three places.
They’re out east, adding to congestion on Rock Road or gobbling up prime real estate at Bradley Fair and the Plazzio.
They’re out west, joining the food fray at NewMarket Square and spots nearby.
Or they’re downtown, drawing after-work crowds, downtown dwellers and people looking for a bite before a show.
But there’s another part of town packed full of restaurants that, while not as glitzy or high profile, are just as delicious and worth discovering.
Those who live or regularly travel south of Kellogg know that area of town is full of hidden restaurant gems: diners that have been operating since the 1960s, ethnic food from Vietnam, Thailand and El Salvador, sub shops, throwback Chinese places and other best-kept secrets.
Recently, I asked Wichita diners to nominate their favorite south-of-Kellogg restaurants. Hundreds responded on Facebook and Twitter.
The most often mentioned restaurants were no surprise, but there were a few on the list I’ve never visited – and a couple I’d never even heard of.
Here’s a list of the top 10 restaurants readers identified, plus a collection of several more that got multiple mentions.
1. N&J Cafe, 5600 E. Lincoln: If my unscientific survey is correct, N&J Cafe is Wichita’s most popular south-side restaurant. The Mediterranean restaurant was opened in the late 1980s by Lebanese immigrant John Srour and his wife Mona Srour. He died in 2011, and Mona runs the popular restaurant today, serving hummus, tabouli, chicken shawarma, gyro, falafel and more. The restaurant has expanded several times over the years and also has a Lebanese grocery store attached. N&J fan Shannon Boone, who nominated the restaurant, said it has “amazing Middle Eastern food, great service, great selection of grocery items that are sometimes hard to find in stores, but needed to try to recreate at home.” First time visiting? Order the chicken hummus shawarma and grab a bag of N&J’s fresh made pita bread to go.
2. Meddys, 7906 E. Harry: This Mediterranean just opened in September, but it’s already earned many devoted fans. The star of its menu is the meat that’s shaved fresh from the spit within view of the dining room. Micah Regnier said that he loves that Meddys is locally owned and says its Mediterranean food is the best in Wichita. “I drive all the way from the west side just for the hummus and tomato soup,” he said. First time visiting? Try the kefta kabob wrap with a side of tomato soup.
3. Marchello’s, 3107 S. Seneca: In the vein of Angelo’s and DeFazio’s is Marchello’s, a family-run, Italian restaurant that’s been open since 1996 in a big strip center at 31st and South Seneca. It serves many of the homey Italian dishes Wichita loves, including bubbling lasagna baked in a metal pan, Italian salads topped with picked eggplant, and generous pours of Chianti. It also serves pizza on a top-rate homemade crust. Local Marchello’s devote Melodie Starr McDonald said the restaurant has “the best chicken fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna ever.” First time visiting? Get the lasagna or the chicken and smoked bacon pizza. And by all means, go through the salad bar and load up on the orange, homemade Italian dressing.
4. Chiang Mai, 3141 S. Hillside: Laos native Tane Chanthivong opened this authentic Thai restaurant in 2002. He started in a humble space, with just himself and his wife staffing the restaurant. Thirteen years later, the restaurant has enough devoted fans that it easily made this list. Uzma Fakhruddin says no other local Thai compares. “Chiang Mai Thai Restaurant is the best and most authentic Thai restaurant in this city. Hands down,” she said. First time visiting? Order the spring rolls and the pork Kra Tiem Prig Thai with medium spice.
5. Manna Wok, 4865 E. Harry: This tiny Korean restaurant can seat only 36 people at a time, but those are 36 happy people. And they’re surrounded by photos of other happy people because owner Yong Chon has decorated almost every inch of the walls with snapshots of customers dining in the restaurant. The restaurant is famous for its kim chi, bulgogi, bi bim bap and more. “All kinds of folks eat there and you never know who you will run into,” said local fan Jocy Denton. “It’s like a secret club.” First time visiting? Get the bi bim bap in the stone bowl.
6. Usuleteco Restaurant, 1714 E. Northern St.: Wichita can get a taste of El Salvador, particularly pupusas, at this family-owned restaurant, which is tucked away in an old strip mall. Pupusas are dense, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with meat and other fillings then cooked in a griddle until the outside is crisp and the inside is melty. First time visiting? Get the chile pupusa and fried plantains.
7. Wichita Pizza Co., 1520 S. Webb Road: Jeff and Lisa Hutton had owned the Dairy Queen at Harry and Webb for years and had watched pizza places go in and out of a space in a strip mall at the corner. When it came empty again, the couple decided to try their own pizza restaurant. It opened in the fall of 2010 and specializes in unique pizzas, including a taco pizza topped with Doritos crumbles and a Canadian bacon and sauerkraut pizza. Haneen Sherbi said she loves the taco pizza, the Mediterranean pizza and the Buffalo chicken pizza. “I can’t even choose my favorite because I love it all,” she said. First time visiting? Taco pizza. For sure.
8. Ming’s, 1625 S. Seneca: This throwback Chinese restaurant has a retro sign out front and a retro interior to match. The service is friendly and the food is good. And you get a free sugary doughnut before your meal. First time visiting: Get the steamed dumplings, sweet and sour chicken and beef with snow pea pods.
9. 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. First time visiting? Get the special.
10. Broadway Burgers & BBQ, 1659 S Broadway St. It’s only been there since 2010, but Broadway Burgers has earned many devoted burger fans, who say the prices are good, and so is the food. “The jalapeno burger with their house-made spicy mustard is my favorite,” said regular Jessie Smith. “The owner is friendly and remembers what we order time after time. A must try.” First time visiting? Try try the burger or the sliced brisket sandwich.
Other restaurants that earned multiple mentions:
El Mexico, 2544 S. Seneca
Grinder Man, 510 E. Pawnee
Felipe’s Jr., 9718 E. Harry
Krispy’s Fried Chicken & Seafood, 3009 S. Hillside
Buster’s Burger Joint, 1202 E. MacArthur Road
Hong Kong, 3028 S. Seneca
Southeast Carryout, 1520 S. Oliver
Po Boy’s, 5619 E. Lincoln
Bomber Burger, 4860 S. Clifton
Pho Special, 2409 E. Pawnee
Fat Ernie’s, 2806 S. Hydraulic
Country Breakfast Cafe, 2804 S. Seneca
Annex Lounge, 6305 E. Harry
Alejandro’s Mexican Food, 1212 S. Rock Road
Jalisco, 615 E. 47th St. South
Jimmie’s Diner, 1519 S. George Washington
Bagatelle, 6801 E. Harry