The Heart in the Heartland (Kansas City)

As someone who loves to travel and encounters a great number of out-of-state visitors in my own city, it is funny to take note of the questions some people ask about Kansas City and the pre-conceived notions that fuel them. Is it Kansas? Is it Missouri? Are there cows in town? The answers are yes, yes, and no, but my neighbors do have a rooster named Bill. Kansas City is so hard for me to define because it is ever-changing and growing, with new scenes constantly emerging and bustling, and a refreshing diversity of people and lifestyles. Certain neighborhoods and parts of town emerge as cultural hotspots, offering some of the best food and entertainment I have had, even in comparison to my global travels. This is part of what embodies Kansas City for me; the harmony of a lively city with many creative and cultural offerings against the backdrop of a friendly Midwestern town.

Of course, the first thing that people want to know is which barbecue to eat, for which I have no easy answer. I know people who swear by each of them, and as a vegetarian, I’m always appreciative of the places that keep my kind in mind. My dad’s an Arthur Bryant’s guy, my coworkers are diehard Gates fans, my husband prefers Joe’s Kansas City, and I have heard nothing but good things about LC’s Bar-B-Q. So good luck, I hope you have a cozy place to take a nap afterward.

There are way too many other good restaurants to list and daydream about, and I would not mind taking on that task, but I’ll keep it concise for the sake of avoiding hungry rambling. My go-to for Thai Food is Baramee Thai in the Crossroads, which is the part of town where I work and to which I am admittedly partial. While you’re there you might as well stop by Town Topic if you want a classic diner experience that will knock your socks right off, concluded with the best slice of lemon meringue pie I’ve ever had. Go to the River Market area if you want delicious, authentic Vietnamese food, or go to Columbus Park for authentic Italian. If you want Caribbean and Ethiopian food with great live music, Mesob is a must. Kansas City knows how to do comfort food, so go to Kitty’s Cafe for a killer tenderloin sandwich, or Lutfi’s for a catfish meal that will make you cry. If you are looking for a good vegan spot, there are new options popping up all the time. I have been loving The Fix, Happy Apple Café, the Spot, and Mud Pie Bakery. 

If your quest is for adult beverages, we have got a lot to offer. Everyone knows about Boulevard, but some other tasty micro-breweries have popped up on the scene. There are whole blogs dedicated just to the local craft brewing scene in KC, but a few of the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed are Cinder Block, Strange Days, Torn Label, and Brewery Imperial. There are also plenty of nice cocktail and wine spots, especially in the Crossroads and downtown. Tom’s Town and the Rieger are two good spots worth checking out that distill their own liquor and have excellent cocktails. Say you’re in the mood for wine, you can shimmy on down the street to Tannin Wine Bar or go sit on the patio of La Bodega and enjoy a pitcher of sangria and some tapas. 

 If you’re looking to take part in experiencing Kansas City’s long and rich history of Jazz, go straight to the jazz district itself at 18th and Vine. This area offers a multitude of essential museums and galleries. Hit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum, then end your night at The Blue Room, which offers live jazz entertainment as well as exhibiting artifacts from Kansas City’s own history. 

There is more to Kansas City than just food and drink, although one could take a trip here for that purpose alone and never have enough time to experience everything. There are outstanding art museums and galleries. The Nelson-Atkins museum, offers a world class selection of art on a beautiful campus. Ogle a Monet, then hit the atrium for a glass of chardonnay while you decide which exhibits to revisit before you depart. The Kansas City Museum in the Northeast is not always open but has a beautiful building worth checking out surrounded by gorgeous parks and monuments. There are a multitude of sculptures and monuments around the city. The World War I monument is certainly worth a visit, and right around the corner is the Scout in Penn Valley Park, which offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. We certainly gained the name ‘City of Fountains’ for a reason. A walk around the Plaza will give you a good sampling of the lovely fountains our city is famous for, although I do suggest you take your shopping to one of our numerous local shops. 

Kansas City is the land of makers. There are more shops offering handmade goods than I could possibly list, but there are certainly a few that I frequent often. Opal & Gold is one of my favorite stops for handmade jewelry and gifts. Made Mobb is worth checking out if you are looking for Kansas City centric streetwear. For records you can check out Records with Merritt for well-catered new releases from across the world. Mills is also a popular spot for more widespread releases with a good used section, though I always go to Revolution Records if I’m looking for good pre owned vinyl. If you are on the hunt for high-quality, handmade artist prints, shirts, and gifts, Oddities Prints is the place to go. While you’re there you might as well explore any number of the cute shops offering handmade goods on the block. Maybe you’re feeling spontaneous and want to get a permanent souvenir; make some time to go to Old Souls Tattoo Parlour so you’ll never forget how much fun you had here. 

I tend to ramble about the things I love about Kansas City. In fact, I am constantly discovering new things to love about the place. I’ve been all over the country and the world but I am always glad to be home in Kansas City. It is comfortable and welcoming; it feels like an old friend and a new friend at the same time. In many ways true to its roots but also ever-evolving and growing, likely to surprise you with just how much this little city in the Heartland has to offer.

- Ellen G.

@ellensaintm

Ellen is originally from Joplin, Missouri but has been living in Kansas City for the last seven years. When not hanging out with her husband and three dogs, you can find her making dope art at Old Souls Tattoo Parlour & Gallery on Main Street. She specializes in American traditional tattooing with a twist, and each of the artists at the shop work in their own unique styles. Check them out @oldsoulstattooparlour

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