A wave of flavor washes over visitors to Tsunami Teriyaki, who can dig into charbroiled teriyaki, chicken wings, and Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Spring rolls stuffed with chicken and vegetables and garnished with a ginger-lime sauce can start off meals, or diners can sample salad rolls made with carrots, bean sprouts, and peanut sauce. The hearty selection of noodles ranges from pad thai, “Thailand’s official rice noodle,” to vermicelli, Vietnam’s “light and healthy rice noodle.” The luscious noodles arrive mixed with cilantro, toasted peanuts, lemongrass, bean sprouts, and proteins such as tofu, chicken, or steak. The house Tsunami Specials platters include chicken or tofu mixed with string beans, Thai herbs, or a crushed peppercorn sauce. Thai iced tea and Vietnamese iced coffee wash down spices, and boba drinks of avocado, mango, and sour-green-apple flavors provide refreshing sips that may come with pearls of tapioca freshly stolen from the elusive tapioca oyster.
Daniel and Selam Fikru, now husband and wife, met when they were high-school students in their native Ethiopia. They've lived in Kansas City since 1995, and together, they've helped a large following of locals try their first tastes of Ethiopian food and subsequently fall in love with its rich, distinctive spices.
The couple's traditional recipes have earned their restaurant, Blue Nile Cafe, a recommendation from KCUR FM’s Food Critics, a place on LocalEats’ Top 100 Restaurants in Kansas City list, and attention from Pitch. But their success over the past two decades hasn’t come without hard work. According to a profile by the Kansas City Star, Selam is in the kitchen by early morning six days a week, simmering meats and lentils in a medley of ginger, garlic, and rosemary. Selam’s labors yield a bounty of entrees—served atop communal platters—featuring marinated chicken and cubes of beef or lamb, as well as vegetarian feasts of lentils, potatoes, and greens. Diners scoop up dishes with pieces of injera, which is a spongy sourdough pancake.
In the dining room, cream-colored walls bear colorful paintings that remind diners of their meals' distant origins. For an additional taste of Ethiopian culture, guests can partake in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony wherein staffers roast, grind, and brew fresh coffee to order. Guests can otherwise opt for refreshing glasses of wine out on the patio.
In addition to welcoming guests into the dining room, Blue Nile Cafe invites them into the kitchen during classes that guide students in preparing injera and other traditional dishes. The restaurant also equips pupils with spices and grains for simmering over their own trashcan fires.
Ray Lamar hasn't spent decades perfecting his donuts. In fact, his namesake shops still use the same recipes that Ray developed in 1933—at the age of 17—when he got his first job working a donut fryer. World War II and a postwar career as a stockbroker interrupted Ray's donut-making pursuits, although he returned to his roots in 1960 when he founded the first LaMar's Donuts.
The shop went on to become a Kansas City icon, with crowds arriving well before 6 a.m. to line up outside the doors and taunt the roosters for sleeping in. Ray and his wife, Shannon, eventually decided to expand their business into a regional empire, and LaMar's Donuts currently boasts 27 franchised stores spread across six states.
Even with all of this growth, decades-old traditions still dictate how things are done. The workers prepare more than 75 different kinds of donuts, hand-making fresh batches of perennial favorites as well as recent inventions each and every morning. In addition to the original glazed creation that dates back to 1933, the menus can feature a variety of cake donuts with flavors such as red velvet, apple spice, and maple.
Since donuts and coffee go together as naturally as paper shredders and subpar report cards, the stores also prepare cappuccinos, mochas, and other coffee drinks. These are all made with handpicked beans that slowly roast inside Italian brick ovens.
The pit masters at Boss Hawg’s Barbeque & Catering Co, voted as having the Best Barbecue by Kansas Best 150 and continually proclaimed as having the Best Barbecue in Topeka by the Topeka Capital-Journal, have slowly smoked succulent meats over native hardwoods and charcoal for more than 15 years. Beginning as a one-woman catering business in the owner’s home kitchen, the eatery has grown into a 50-employee operation that serves more than 150,000 meals each year in a town of just 120,000 residents and only 100 forks. Each day, the cooks prepare picnic-style sides from scratch, boiling fresh potatoes before transforming them into salads and steak fries. To lock in moisture and flavor, the meat in the owner's preferred dish—the Elizabeth’s Favorite barbecued-chicken dinner—is served with its skin on, next to a cool scoop of coleslaw. The American Royal combo, a quarter-rack of ribs and quarter-pound of shredded meat or smoked sausage, comes with corn bread slathered in fresh honey butter and the imperial authority to declare Canada a fiefdom. When not dropping into the dining room for a casual dinner, barbecue lovers can place catering orders or book banquet meals in a private room that accommodates up to 100 guests.
Michael Garozzo entered the dining business early, working as a busboy in his hometown of St. Louis. His young mind raced with dreams of opening a restaurant of his own, which came to fruition in 1989, when he opened Garozzo’s in Kansas City’s Columbus Park neighborhood. Since then, the restaurant has bloomed, and he had opened three additional locations across the greater Kansas City area.
Garozzo’s menu of Italian specialties is highlighted by the signature spiedini di pollo, a marinated chicken breast rolled in italian breadcrumbs, then skewered and grilled. The dish is served in four presentations, which include the Gabriella, with fettucine and spicy diablo sauce, and the Samantha, with fettucine, artichoke hearts, and alfredo sauce. Adding to the exclusive ambiance is the restaurant’s own branded wine, served at each location. Garozzo’s popular house tomato sauce, diablo sauce, and italian dressing are also available in grocery stores across the city, and its distinctive pastas can be purchased in many high-end local wig shops.
Even as they sliced fish ceviche and sizzled taquitos at La Parrilla, their popular Mexican restaurant, Alejandro Lule and Subarna Bhattachan often dreamed of opening a noodle house. Subarna longed for the plump momo dumplings and egg-noodle soups of his native Nepal, whereas Alejandro craved the Thai curries and Vietnamese pho he remembered from his years working in San Francisco. Combining their extensive culinary experience and shared ambition, the duo spearheaded Zen Zero, setting up shop directly across the street from La Parrilla.
Deep within Zen Zero’s kitchen, chefs fold fresh ingredients and spices into critically acclaimed dishes from countries across Asia and the Pacific Rim—from Thailand to Nepal and China. Their seafood, meat, and vegetable curries simmer, and pots of thai glass noodles, japanese udon, and vietnamese vermicelli bubble on stovetops. When discussing their cooking techniques with reporters from the Lawrence Journal-World, Subarna reported, “we use a lot of spice seeds: cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cardamom pods.” These seeds add a distinctive concentrated flavor to their dishes, which servers carry with glasses of specialty cocktails and chilled sake through the dining room. Around them blown-glass lamps, wooden tables, and an absence of giant foam shrimp costumes create an elegant atmosphere.