As a graduate of the University of Oxford, I do believe in the Oxford comma.
As a copywriter with experience at two in-house advertising agencies, I've worked in multiple mediums. I've been described as "fun, fast, and flexible" and "obsessed with the em dash." See some examples of television, social, out-of-home, email, and digital ads, as well as examples of long-form writing for digital publications such as The Infatuation and The Oxford Political Review.
The Kansas City Guide: The 12 Best Places To Eat And Drink In Kansas City
(Publication in The Infatuation slated for Summer 2021, after restaurants are safe to visit again)
The first thing you should know about Kansas City is that there are technically two - one in Missouri, one in Kansas - about 10 minutes apart. The one in Missouri - known as KCMO - is called the “Paris of the Plains” for its wide streets, European-style architecture, and more than 200 fountains that will look suspiciously like pools after brewery hopping (just don’t do it). The second thing you should know about Kansas City is that it’s famous for its barbecue and craft breweries - making it a great option for a long weekend getaway.
Getting around KCMO is especially easy with the free KC Streetcar, which shuttles people two miles through downtown. Most of the restaurants on this guide are within walking distance of the KC Streetcar stops so you can skip the Uber and put that money towards another piece of smoked brisket instead.
THE RIVER MARKET
Just north of downtown, River Market is quieter and has great Happy Hours. The neighborhood is centered around the City Market - a spot worth checking out for its farmers market, boutiques and variety of food stands - from Taste of Brazil to a Creole hot spot, Beignet. Once you’re done wandering, here are our favorite spots outside of the covered market.
LE FOU FROG
Yes, Le Fou Frog is in a bright orange building surrounded by warehouses, but after a few glasses of wine in the dimly-lit dining room, you’ll start to feel like you’re in Paris (or at least forget about the orange for a few minutes). The portions here are more Midwest than they are Parisian, so come hungry or plan to share. The French menu covered everything from glazed foie gras and escargot to steak au poivre made with a Kansas City Strip - plus 10+ daily seafood and meat specials that you’ll read about on the chalkboard delivered to your table. Split a few dishes and a bottle of wine with someone you share a pajama drawer with, or to come earlier and take advantage of the Happy Hour (Tuesday-Friday, 4:30-6:30pm) with wine and appetizers under $10.
COLUMBUS PARK RAMEN SHOP
The River Market can be a little busy on the weekends, which is why it’s a good idea to walk, scooter, or Uber over to the neighboring (and quieter) Columbus Park for noodles. Ramen Shop is a small space - it’s a converted garage with a functioning door and a narrow alley of seats outside - so get here right before opening at 5pm to avoid the 30-minute wait. They also have a fun regional beer list with a great deal: $3 for a mystery craft beer - and odds are you’ll end up with something delicious. The appetizers are cheap and easy to share and there are plenty of add-ons whether you go for the classic Tonkotsu ramen or the vegan Miso Mushroom.
IL LAZZARONE PIZZA
Il Lazzarone is the type of pizzeria where people fight over the crust, so for the sake of keeping the peace just order an extra pie right from the start. This minimalist brick-fired pizza spot is perfect for a group - it’s just big enough to always have a spare table and there are about 30 pie options all under $15. These thin-crust pizzas manage to be both crispy and chewy, and optional drizzles of balsamic glaze and honey (a great pairing with pepperoni) add a little something extra to mop up with that last piece of crust. You can also come for the $6 pizza Happy Hour every day from 10pm to close (1:30am daily, 12am on Sundays), just make sure you finish the night with some house-made ice cream at Betty Rae’s next door.
All you want is a quick drink before dinner? The Ship. Looking for quality bar food to start a night out? The Ship. Need some unbelievably-seasoned French fries to sober up? All aboard The Ship. There are live, local bands at this laid-back bar nearly every night and you’ll probably see a couple of retirees dancing with a frozen cocktail in their hands next to some recent college grads getting ready to play the next jazz set. Plus, during Halloween, when the legendary (and legitimately scary) haunted houses pop up in the surrounding warehouses, The Ship is a great place to have a few drinks after facing five stories of your nightmares.
The Crossroads Arts District is where you should be spending most of your time - it has the greatest number of restaurants, breweries, and cocktail bars. Ride the streetcar down, skip the frantic Google cross-referencing, and just go straight to one of the spots below.
Eating with a group of people can be a pain. You have the friend who ate two hours ago and just wants a drink, the friend stuck on the latest diet trend that involves talking to your food before eating it, and the friend who always goes to the bathroom when the bill comes. To skip the drama, head to Parlor. This three-story food hall is full of enough casual couches and tables that you’ll feel like you’re eating in an IKEA store. Your group can disperse to find sliders, ramen, and necessary chicken tenders at Mother Clucker! (try the hot honey), as well as an Old Fashioned on tap from one of the two bars. If you come on Monday, you can bring your food out to the enclosed patio for free karaoke.
THE GREEN LADY LOUNGE
If there were a jazz club like the Green Lady Lounge in a bigger city, it would have an astronomical cover charge and be packed with people explaining jazz. But here in the heart of the Crossroads, the music is consistently good and entrance is always free - just make sure to tip the musicians at the end of the night, you’ll want to. It’s open from 4pm-3am everyday and down the street from the popular (and consistently crowded) seasonal restaurant Novel, so come for a drink and some music while waiting for your table. On weekends, come right back and check out the more intimate Black Dolphin jazz club right next door.
The Thai food at this Crossroads spot is so flavorful that it’s easy to forget that your panang curry was made on the Missouri/Kansas border. Baramee works for lunch - the crying tiger beef with a homemade dipping sauce and the pad ka prao are real standouts - but, with its proximity to some of the best cocktail bars in the city, dinner is when you’ll usually find us here. After you finish up, it’s a quick walk to the speakeasy Swordfish Tom’s (when the lantern in the lobby is red, they’re full; green: good to go) or the popular basement bar Manifesto. All of this will definitely end with your friend who doesn’t like spice buying you a drink for not believing they’d find something to love at Baramee.
CASUAL ANIMAL BREWERY
Kansas City’s brewery and distillery scene has grown considerably over the past few years, and in a neighborhood with some of the best options, Casual Animal is a great place to start. They really lean into the animal theme - each beer is branded with animal logos (like the Chaos Monkey Banana Cream Pie Ale) - and hanging out here feels like drinking in your best friend’s garage, with all-you-can-eat peanuts and plenty of games. The space is small, but you can play as many rounds of shuffleboard as you want while you plan the rest of your crawl around the area to spots like Tom’s Town Distillery, Torn Label, Double Shift, and the pour-your-own beer bar Taps on Main.
In a city where smoked meats are king, this vegan diner is an unexpected hit. The meat-free burgers are all slider-sized (and under $5) so it’s a great place to split multiple dishes with someone skeptical about fake meat, especially with toppings like guacamole, queso, and aiolis. While fries are just ok, the chocolate brulee cake goes heavy on the extra dark chocolate and is not to be missed. The hours are restrictive (11am-7pm on weekdays and 11am-3pm on weekends), so come for lunch and wash down your vegan ground beef with their variety of Jarritos sodas or a dairy-free horchata.
Ride the streetcar to the end of the line and you’ll find Union Station, one of the most stunning train stations in America. After craning your neck staring at the 95-foot ceilings, head to the daily Happy Hour (3-6pm) at Pierpont’s. Grab a drink at the bar and watch the bartender climb ladders, grab a Cognac nine shelves up, then somehow slide all the way back down without creating a large expensive puddle beneath them. After Pierpont’s, make your way to the World War I memorial on the hill across the street for the best view of Kansas City (bonus points if you can time it with the sunset).
Every BBQ hub in America has its own calling cards - North Carolina’s thinner sauces tend to feature mustards and vinegar and Memphis/Texas put special emphasis on dry rubs and smoke. Each region can make a compelling case that their smoking technique is superior or that they have the most tender brisket, but there’s no doubt that Kansas City is the place for sauce. Here, you’ll find the thick, spicy-sweet sauce that comes to mind when you think of squeeze bottles with tons of variations of secret recipes across the city. A warning: BBQ is personal in Kansas City - fights over who has the best sauce could ruin Thanksgiving - but here are some of the best examples of how diverse KC BBQ really is.
DANNY EDWARDS BLVD BBQ
Right when you start to think you’re lost, pull off the highway and you’ll have made it to Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ. When you picture a barbecue spot, Danny’s dining room is what would come to mind - checkered tablecloths, huge jugs of iced tea, and squeeze bottles of sauce. The hours are a little strange (10:30am-3pm) but because they have table service, you won’t have to stand in an hour-long line. They have a daily sandwich special (any meat and two sides for $10) and a generous sampler platter with ribs, burnt ends, and some of the best brisket in town. There’s only one sauce option here, but the meats are so good you won’t mind. For the sides, try the spicy beans.
It’s a dangerous thing to take sides in the Great Kansas City BBQ Wars, but most locals would agree: for first-timers wanting upscale BBQ - cloth napkins, porcelain cups of sauce, cocktails not served out of cans - go to Q39. Their platters are the move to try a few meats, like spare ribs, brisket, and chipotle sausage - but don’t leave without trying the burnt ends. When you are capable of movement again, Q39 is close enough to walk for a nightcap at Julep, a beer at Harry’s, or games on the patio and more burnt ends at Char Bar.
KANSAS CITY JOE'S BAR-B-QUE
We’re stretching the boundaries of KCMO here, but Joe’s is the gold standard of Kansas City barbecue, and worth the five-minute Uber ride from Midtown into Kansas City, Kansas (KCK). When you pull up to this functioning gas station/restaurant and see the line, you might consider going somewhere else. Don’t. Your reward for waiting on the likely hour-long line will be burnt ends, ribs, and the other barbecue greatest hits. You can’t leave without the Z-Man sandwich though (brisket, provolone, onion rings, barbecue sauce on a kaiser roll), which is worth a flight on its own. Take your tray of meat to a table, squeeze a bottle of either original or spicy barbecue sauce to your heart’s content, and learn why both KCMO and KCK people are so crazy about Joe’s.
For those on a tour de barbecue with reliable transportation, Slap’s is more than worth a longer trek into KCK. Slap’s, like Joe’s, has long lines and counter service, but you’re pretty much guaranteed a table on the huge enclosed patio or the rooftop deck on nicer days. Like most other BBQ spots, the combo plate is the best way to go, but what makes Slap’s really stand out are their two very distinct sauces. Their spicy sauce is a traditional barbecue sauce with a kick, but the sweet one is more like honey. (We’ve seen people sipping it, get fries or hush puppies to dip instead.) The Mike Johnson sandwich - brisket, jalapeño sausage, and white sauce on a pretzel bun - is not to be missed. Slap’s closes when they sell out, so the earlier you get there, the better.
An excerpt from “50 States of Mind – What Americans could learn from a visit to all 50 states” published in The Oxford Political Review.
America is made up of 50 culturally unique states, each so nuanced and multilayered that no magic bullet could explain the vicissitudes of the 2016 election cycle. As pundits conjectured on the mood of America following Trump’s election, I decided to set off on a drive through all 50 states to talk to voters and elected officials of all political stripes. There are some things you can’t learn from books, scholarly articles, or the 24-hour news cycle – the diverse and multifaceted lives of the American people were one of them.
According to the 2016 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, geographic mobility is at a record low of 11.2 percent. This lack of dynamism in the US economy is partly responsible for the political homogeneity in our communities. As I prepared to leave Oxford, I realized that visiting these places wasn’t enough.
Going forward, all young Americans and I have an opportunity to look at where we take up space and what that means socially and politically for our country. Young people are tired of New York’s broken MTA and L.A.’s heavy traffic. Even in rising cities like Seattle, Austin, Nashville, and Denver, locals are seeing infrastructure groan under the weight of new transplants. College grads want to move to where it’s cheaper, but they’re afraid they won’t be able to advance their careers. This can change, and I’ve seen it done. I’ve found that young people who have moved to smaller places (from Casper, Wyoming to Wheeling, West Virginia) have started lucrative businesses to fill a niche and risen to leadership positions in the community.
The revitalization of towns has now made moving to small communities align with a young person’s best interest. The largest cities are not the places with the happiest citizens – National Geographic consistently ranks mid-sized towns above large cities in personal satisfaction. From my travels, this goes beyond finances; it has to do with the sense of purpose that comes from the ability to have an impact on the community. Young people can be involved in the innovation and development of hidden gems all across the country, from Appleton, Wisconsin to Oklahoma City, where rents are cheap and entrepreneurial risks are less costly.
When I pulled into Palestine, Arkansas, a town of 600, I did so because of a new restaurant advertised at the exit. The “Crazy Donkey” was packed with locals, but it also attracted many new tourists to the formerly traffic-less town such that the owners had optimistically opened a new furniture store as well. A former D.C. native crystallized this point for me in Indianapolis. Joanna Taft, who started the Harrison Center for the Arts, “a community- based, nonprofit arts organization that seeks to be a catalyst for renewal in the city of Indianapolis,” was cognizant of the fact that if she had stayed in a city saturated with talent, she would not have been able to accomplish half of what she had in Indianapolis. Young college-educated artists tend to look towards the coasts to make their mark, yet it’s much more possible to make a visible impact in smaller communities.
My trip across the country did not yield a political consensus on the most divisive issues of the day. However, I found a common hunger to be listened to and understood – a yearning for recognition that one’s political perspectives are as multi-dimensional as one’s lived experience. It was through honest conversation that I was able to cut through the political rhetoric, and connect with many on a more human level – where candor and vulnerability yields nuance and an empathetic understanding. The experience of putting myself into so many situations helped me reevaluate my own role in where I choose to live. It became apparent that finding a new home was not only a personal decision but a political one. Whether I was conscious of it or not, my choice of where to settle had implications on the community’s political makeup, the associations that are possible, and the types of relationships that can be had. In short, where we choose to live also reflects what kind of democracy we choose to live in. A dynamic, tolerant, and collaborative democracy is one where communities are formed not by fear of others but by good faith, where bonds are born from common humanity rather than political identity.