Dine-in or delivery, dinner or dessert, Kansas City's Asian food scene boasts a variety of traditional and experimental offerings representative of our city's growing desire for knowledge of food cultures.
"People try these dishes in a very particular part of the world or country, and they want that flavor back home," says food-and-beverage writer Pete Dulin. "It's a craving for more variety too."
"I also think our culture has moved toward living for experiences," said food critic Bonjwing Lee. "We are getting more into the granular knowledge of where the food comes from."
Whether diners are looking for dishes that represent an entire country, such as China or Korea, or something more regionally specific, like Szechuan-style cooking, they'll find it in Kansas City.
Here are the Central Standard Food Critics' recommendations for the city's best Asian food.
Pete Dulin, food and beverage writer and author of KC Ale Trail:
- My Xuyen Vietnamese Cafe — bot chien; bun dac biet; salty lemonade. My Xuyen means "my country," and the owner is from South Vietnam. For the bot chien, chunks of rice flour bread are fried until crispy, with added flavor from the pickled chili sauce and rice vinegar. The salty lemonade is refreshing in hot weather.
- Sayachi — lunch bento box. Carlos and Sayaka Gushi Falcon, owners of the Mexican seafood restaurants Jarocho and Jarocho South, opened their third restaurant with a focus on Japanese dishes and premium sushi. The lunch bento box lets diners sample sushi from California, spicy tuna, spicy crab, salmon cucumber or four-piece nigiri, accompanied by three sides, such as a seaweed salad or miso soup.
- Bun Mee Phan — banh mi; banh tieu. This is my go-to for banh mi and banh tieu, a Vietnamese beignet with pâté, a full array of vegetables, seasoned meats or tofu. The banh mi I'm loving is the classic, caramelized pork belly, and the spicy lemongrass chicken.
- Waldo Thai Place — khao tod nam sod; laab moo kua lanna. Chef Pam Liberda prepares regional and family recipes as true to her native homeland as possible, often taking weeks and months to develop a dish before it rotates onto the menu. The khao tod nam sod — crispy seasoned rice salad with cured pork sausage — packs so much flavor and texture. Same goes for the laab moo kua lanna (northern style laab with ground pork, shredded pork skin, spices and vegetables).
- Pad Thai Restaurant — khua kling. Pad Thai Restaurant features several dishes from southern Thailand as well as the well-known classics. Khua kling is a dry meat curry made with pork and no sauce or coconut milk, just slow-burning spices that build warmth. It's only available for dinner.
- Mi Gia KC is a Vietnamese noodle house in Gladstone Plaza. I recommend the shrimp and sweet potato fritters, or one of their wide selection of soups (rice noodle, pho, wonton).
- Broken Rice — broken rice specialty dishes. True to its name, this Gladstone Plaza locale serves broken rice with meat options such as charbroiled pork chop or beef short rib. Hot pots are also available, as are stir fry and rice noodle dishes.
- Bob Wasabi Kitchen — fresh sushi. Chef Bob Shin's decades of experience as a sushi chef are reflected in his focus on high quality fresh sushi. This was one of the first area restaurants to serve poke and hamachi kama (a broiled yellowtail collar) before it became trendy, and the restaurant maintains a cozy family feel.
- Anousone at Strang Hall — khao poon; fried red curry drummies; crispy coconut rice. Anousone provides a fusion of fresh, flavor-forward Lao and Thai comfort food, and the khao poon there is true to the spirit of Lao cuisine. If you’re looking for something to share, the fried red curry chicken drumsticks (subtly spicy with several dipping sauces) or crispy coconut rice (a filling but healthy dish of fried shredded rice balls of red curry) are both packed with flavor.
- Spices Asian Restaurant— roasted duck; som tum papaya salad; mango sticky rice. The roasted duck is a house specialty, served with shiitake mushrooms and ginger sauce. For something healthier, try either the Thai or Lao style som tum papaya salad. And for dessert, the ultra-sweet mango sticky rice with purple rice or regular sticky rice is a coveted recipe.
Danielle Lehman, Open Belly Podcast:
- Hong Kong Star — roast duck. Hong Kong Star is an unassuming Cantonese-style Chinese restaurant. You’ll want to ask for the “Authentic Chinese” menu, and my favorite dish is the Roast Duck. The skin is crispy and it's served with an incredible duck sauce.
- KC Pinoy — sisig. The word “sisig” means to “to snack on something sour.” It’s made of small pieces of pork cheek, pig ear, liver, calamansi (a Filipino citrus), onion, peppers and vinegar. Chrissy Nucum, the chef and owner of KC Pinoy, makes a modified version with pork shoulder, and it’s crunchy, fatty, sour, salty, spicy — the perfect dish.
- Lotus Hot Pot & Grill — build your own hot pot. While this restaurant has grilled meats on the menu, the hot pot makes for a fun communal experience. Start by picking one or two broths to heat in a large bowl at the table, then choose a few meats, add some veggies and top it with a sauce you make yourself. This can be a bit overwhelming, but just have fun with it — and if you’re not sure what to do, the servers are helpful and friendly, so just ask.
- Sichuan Dynasty — vine pepper spice with chicken. On a recent visit to Sichuan Dynasty, we asked the server to recommend one of her favorite traditional Sichuan dishes, and she pointed to the vine pepper spice with chicken on the specials board. The chicken is served in a hot broth with Sichuan peppercorns, onion, ginger, potato, lotus root and pickled Sichuan green chilis. I'm recommending it with the warning that your mouth will likely become numb from the peppercorns.
- BBQ House inside 888 International Market — twice cooked pork. Inside the large grocery store, you’ll find two counters serving prepared food. Twice Cooked Pork is a stir fry dish with braised pork belly, bamboo, Napa cabbage, scallion and carrots, tossed in a sauce made of sweet soy bean paste, chili paste, chili oil and soy sauce. It’s a salty, spicy, savory casual comfort food dish.
- Waldo Thai Place — kow kha moo. This is a standout new item from Chef Pam Liberda. Kow kha moo is pork hock simmered for more than three hours and served with pickled mustard greens, Chinese broccoli, hard-boiled egg and jasmine rice, it’s a warm and cozy dish packed with flavor to wrap up winter.
- Shagan’s Chicken & Paranthas — thali plate. This little family owned Northern Indian restaurant serves what’s called a “Thali” plate: a large platter with bowls or compartments for small portions of multiple dishes. The restaurant opened just over a year ago, and the menu is all home-style dishes passed down through many generations.
- Tous Les Jours — sweet rice donut. Tous Les Jours is a French-Korean bakery chain with an outpost in Overland Park. I’ve tried many of the pastries, but my favorite is the Sweet Rice Donut. It’s filled with red bean paste and has an outer layer made with sticky rice flour so it’s chewy and dense, not at all like an American donut.
- All Dae Cafe — hoddeok. Owner Tim Whittaker was adopted from Korea at a young age and inspired by his roots to bring Korean sweets to Kansas City. His brand new pop-up in the Lenexa Public Market has two pastries on the menu: hoddeok, a Korean pancake; and kkwabaegi, Korean twisted donuts. The Korean Pancake is filled with cinnamon, brown sugar and Nutella, and soon he’ll be adding a savory option filled with vegetables and glass noodles.
Bonjwing Lee, The Ulterior Epicure:
- Vietnam Café — banh xeo. I especially like the banh xeo, a crispy “sizzling” rice pancake, made yellow with turmeric. It is stuffed with shrimp, pork, onion and bean sprouts, all of it wrapped with lettuce.
- Columbus Park Ramen Shop’s menu is full of flavorful broths and noodles such as the tonkotsu, a traditional ramen with a rich, porky broth. There are also more creative takes on Asian flavors, like the spicy kimchi bowl and the spicy dan dan noodles, which is traditionally more of a Szechuan dish.
- Blue Koi Noodles & Dumplings — ants on a tree. This dish has sautéed minced pork with mung bean vermicelli, a noodle popular in Taiwan. I also love their dumplings and scallion biscuit, which range for authentic to more creative options.
- Hawaiian Bros Island Grill, like much of Hawaiian food, is heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine. One example is spam musubi, a slice of grilled spam on a block of rice wrapped in nori. Hawaiian cuisine is certainly unique, but is it also Asian food? That’s at least worth a discussion.
- Chewology — for all things East Asian
- Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop — rainbow peanut noodles
- Sang Sang Asian Express — grilled shrimp with vermicelli