Even chefs need to eat. When local culinarians aren’t preparing food in their own restaurant kitchens around Kansas City, these are the dining spots and dishes they can’t resist.
Rob Magee, Q39
Whatever dish Rob Magee is in the mood for, he’s got a go-to restaurant for it. Ask the Q39 chef-owner about his favorite pizza place and he’ll tell you about Martin City Brewing Company, where he’s partial to the carne pie, topped with five kinds of meat. For Mexican food, he visits any of the taquerias off of Rainbow Boulevard in KCK—“I love just picking a different one every time,” he says.
Sushi? “There’s only one place in the city: I only go to Jun’s,” Magee says. “I think Jun’s is the best. Everybody knows you when you go in. If you’ve been in there twice, three times, they remember you, say hello, remember your name, and on top of that, their sushi, bar none, is excellent.”
If you’re getting the sense that Magee is well-versed in KC restaurants, you’re right. He eats out three to four times a week, making a point to never repeat the same meal back-to-back.
“I think from a chef’s point of view, or at least from my point of view, I take something away from every restaurant,” Magee says. “Sometimes it can be as easy as the way they operate.”
Vaughn Good, Fox & Pearl
Since opening Fox & Pearl in its permanent Westside location last summer, chef-owner Vaughn Good admits he and partner Kristine Hull don’t make it out much.
“There are a lot of places in the Kansas City area Kristine and I haven’t been able to try yet,” Good explains. “But on Sundays, I love to take our two daughters and walk from the house down the hill to one of my favorite neighborhood places, Los Alamos, for pozole. We live and work in the Westside, and this neighborhood staple is run by an awesome family.” Good also can’t get enough of their green chili pork.
Craig Howard’s Howard’s Grocery, Cafe & Catering is also a frequent stop for the family. “Craig’s burger with house-made cheese is delicious,” Good says. “His food shines with locally sourced and fresh ingredients.”
Rachel Rinas, Karbón
“Kansas City is full of excellent places to eat and I try, as much as I can, to visit new ones,” says Rachel Rinas, the mastermind behind Karbón, serving Middle Eastern and Yucatan fare inside Parlor dining hall.
Among her most loved eateries are Tacos El Gallo on Southwest Boulevard—“I am always craving a good chile relleno, and their salsa macha is to die for!”—and Queen Sweets & Bakery, where she sings the praises of the blended mint lemonade.
Hankerings also play a big part in what Rinas seeks out.
“The Filet Veracruz at Jarocho in KCK and the Thai fried chicken from Waldo Thai are my two go-to craving busters,” she says. “They both have every flavor note I could want. Savory, sour, spicy all in one bite. And they both come with excellent rice, which is by far my favorite side dish.”
Michael Smith, Farina and Extra Virgin
Michael Smith’s own food empire is firmly rooted in the Crossroads with restaurants Extra Virgin and Farina. But in his downtime, Smith heads to Waldo with wife Nancy, who serves as the general manager and wine director of their restaurants.
“Nancy and I like Waldo Thai because of the food—Thai food is a favorite of ours—and cocktails, which are solid, and the owners and staff,” Smith says. “Great people. It is a relatively new restaurant—new restaurants always need a little love!”
One of the couple’s go-to items is the Khao Tod Nam Sod, a crispy rice salad with pork and dried chili eaten in lettuce cups.
“The rice is chewy and crispy and the cured pork sausage in it is perfect,” he says. “The salad is tangy, spicy and salty—all the things that Thai food needs to be delicious and in harmony.”
Nicolette Felling, Summit Grill Restaurant Group
Nicolette Felling knows a thing or two about desserts—she serves as executive pastry chef for Summit Grill Restaurant Group, which includes three Summit Grill locations, Pearl Tavern and Third Street Social, among other concepts.
For her personal sweet fix, she turns to Andre’s.
“My favorite is the dark chocolate meringue bombe,” Felling shares. The treat features a chocolate almond cake, chocolate mousse and a rich chocolate ganache.
On the more savory side of the flavor spectrum, Felling is a fan of the perfectly cooked steak au poivre at Le Fou Frog, anything on the brunch menu at Room 39 and the pan con tomate at La Bodega—“it’s so simple but delicious,” she says of the dish.
Guroux Khalifah, Distrikt Biskuit House
Eating at restaurants around Kansas City is about much more than convenience for The Distrikt Biskuit House’s Guroux Khalifah. “I make time to try good food, because it can inspire me or spark something in me to create something new on my menu,” he explains, so he makes a point to dine out three or four times per month.
A lifelong lover of pizza, Khalifah favors Grandview-based Providence Pizza.
“I’m really big on a really good cheese pizza—I’m a classic guy,” he says. When he ventures out, Khalifah is also a fan of Providence’s barbecue chicken pizza as well as the Sicilian- and Detroit-style pies.
Lulu’s is another spot at the top of his list, where he orders trusty items such as the Thai chicken wings and pineapple cashew rice, adding, “I go back little by little to try everything on the menu.”
Linda Duerr, The Restaurant at 1900
The Restaurant at 1900 executive chef Linda Duerr tries to make it to new restaurants to experience what they offer but also dines out for the pure pleasure of it during the rare periods she isn’t working in her own kitchen at mealtimes.
Duerr has recently enjoyed The Antler Room (particularly the grilled octopus) and the coconut crab soup at Blue Sushi Saki Grill, along with the fare from a few French bistros, including Aixois, Café Provence, and PotPie, where the steamed mussels are one of her preferred local dishes.
But, the chef adds, “I tend to have my most thoughtful dining experiences when I’m out of town on vacation. I think that’s because freedom of the mind (and time) is when I can be most receptive to new ideas and experiences.”
Despite her love for her adopted home, Duerr still counts dishes from her native Rhode Island as her favorites.
“When I go back to visit family, I can’t get enough steamer clams, oyster stew, Stonington scallops, fried whole clams, cherrystones on the half shell, and hot lobster rolls,” she says.
Cody Hogan, Lidia’s
Even after more than 25 years in the culinary world, Lidia’s executive chef Cody Hogan (and IN Kansas City’s IN the Kitchen columnist) still enjoys cooking at home, his top place to eat when he’s not in the restaurant’s kitchen.
When he does decide to venture out, “I’m pretty open to anything—but generally not Italian,” Hogan says with a laugh.
“It’s a cuisine that’s so different from Italian—different flavors and ingredients I normally don’t use,” he explains.
Beyond the boundaries of Waldo, Hogan enjoys The Antler Room for a refined dining experience and Andre’s for a quick lunch or breakfast. And like a good Italian chef, he gets plenty of carbs: “I love the pastries at Ibis Bakery,” Hogan says, “and, of course, the breads.”
Pam Liberda, Waldo Thai
Where does the woman behind the restaurant local chefs can’t stop raving about go to on her day off? Waldo Thai chef Pam Liberda makes a point to visit Overland Park Chinese spot ABC Cafe and The Corner Mexican Food in Grandview.
“The food is similar to ours, not in that they have the same flavors, but they put their heart and soul into the food and cook with love,” she explains, adding, “Some of the dishes I love so much because I cannot cook them myself.”
She finds herself craving the menudo—beef belly soup in a guagillo pepper sauce—and beef tongue tacos from Corner Mexican, while at ABC, she opts for the salt and pepper flounder, served whole with a crispy head and fried bones.
“That dish is very similar to the way I grew up eating fish,” Liberda says. “They fry everything s o crispy.”
Often enjoyed on Mondays, the one day a week Waldo Thai is closed, dining at the restaurants is a break for her and her family. “Otherwise they have to eat my food every day,” she says, laughing.