We eat out a lot. It’s a great way to learn more about our new home state. If possible, I try to avoid corporate chains since we’ve already had a chance to sample their dishes back in California or somewhere along I-70. I’m not knocking chains since their entrees are basically the same and you can expect to get the same tasty meal in Kansas or California. It’s like the Starbucks appeal – you could expect your carmel macchiato to have the same amount of espresso shots, carmel syrup and milk temperature whether you’re in San Francisco, Chicago or London.
Funny, when I asked for food recomendations back in Nov, people bitched about Topeka’s lack of chains, especially Chipotle. There’s one in Lawrence. Yeah, it’s a decent spot for fresh American-Mexcian burritos. It’s also kinda sad that folks would point to McDonald’s chain as an example of a “good” Kansas restaurant. So much for asking the locals for local food recomendations.
Last night, I had kifta kabobs at Aladdin’s Cafe in Lawrence. I was impressed that it did a nice pace of business on New Year’s Day when other spots have closed up for the holiday. It was a pleasure to dig into this ground beef delight. Mark and I brainstormed ideas on how to replicate the rice – butter, saffron, curry, something? This dish reminded me of my first taste of koufta sandwiches in Paris. Just around the corner from our flat in the 3rd arrondisment, a Lebanese food stand kept serving food past 1 AM. It was the perfect antidote to jet lag. I ended up boxing Mark’s dish, the kifta meal, simply because I loved the sauce – savory blend of butter-like herbs and broth.
During my DC quarter, I always had a craving for koufta and now I think I found a new place in Kansas to cure my new craving for kifta. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t give up meat for the New Year.
I got Kansas City bbq recomendation from my boss. We found Gates in Leawood. I know it’s a chain, but it’s a local chain. So, it’s bbq I couldn’t get in California. We split the mix plate of beef, ham and ribs. We almost finished it. I’m always comparing bbq to my favorite Bay Area institution, Everett and Jones. I was disappointed by the dry and bland bbq at Merle’s in Evanston. Gates was a pleasant surprise. I loved how the meat fell off the rib bones. The sauce had a nice sweet kick and heavy on the tomato paste. Gates bbq tastes sweeter than Everett and Jones but it still has a nice hearty and smoky character.
It’s tough to screw up food at an American Irish pub. Most of my experiences have been yummy ones. Frances O’Dooley’s Irish Pub & Grille in Topeka delivered on my expectations. It’s a cozy spot, with Celtic sayings inscribed around the dining room. A black and tan went with most of the entrees on the menu. I had a heavy Shepherd’s Pie. The mashed potatoes and ground beef was the perfect comfort food on a cold winter night.
On our first visit to Kansas City, we were treated to a mild and sunny day. We took advantage of the good weather by doing lunch on Baja 600’s patio. It’s in the Plaza. Baja 600 had some nice tiki torches to ward off the occasional chilly breeze. Margarita’s on the Rocks always bring me back to Ixtapa. This shrimp burrito is certainly not authentic Mexican cuisine, but it’s a nice fusion of American Southwestern and Mexican sensibilities.
After I found out about my promotion, we headed down to the 5th Street Cellar Bistro in downtown Topeka. It’s on 5th Street. It’s swanky and intimate and it sports an extensive wine list. Compared to Topeka’s prices, it’s a bit expensive….but probably on par with Bay Area offerings. I had the Veal Marsala with garlic mashed potatoes. Most entrees came with a starter salad. The veal was quite tender and the Marsala sauce was a sweet compliment.
And finally, La Parilla in Lawrence. I did lunch at this South American restuarant with co-workers at the News Center on my second day at work. It’s still my first food love in Lawrence. Pozole is supposed to be a regional specialty in Zihua and I was kinda bummed about missing it on our honeymoon. I got a second chance at La Parilla with this Pork Pozole. It’s such a rich and filling dish and I couldn’t finish it. The meat tasted succulent and each bite made my mouth water for more despite my stomach’s protests.
Moral of the story – restuarant chains are fine for taking care of your hunger, but local and indepndent restaurants are even better for satsifying the Bon Vivant in all of us.