Thursday, July 19, 2007

Save the Mango Room and Other Independent Restaurants!

In a further irony of downtown redevelopment, one of Kansas City's underappreciated gems is threatening to close its doors. The Mango Room is a locally-owned, minority-owned, woman-owned restaurant located in the street-level space of the Town Pavilion. I've eaten there a few times, and the food is truly excellent. Oxtails. Jerk spices. Yum.

Unfortunately, the downtown construction, which will soon (oops - make that "someday", since the out-of-town developers are failing to live up to their commitments, and postponing the openings) bring us a gaggle of share-holder owned chain restaurants like Famous Dave's Suburban Minneapolis Barbecue and Planet What City Am I In, is choking off access to the restaurant with heavy equipment and porta-potties. The constricting world of corporate mediocrity is killing off another one of the points of authenticity and distinction in our city.

I've developed a bit of a reputation at the office for being a weirdo when it come to local food. When others drive through Wendy's, I'll swing by Kitty's on 31st Street for a burger that is so much better that my coworkers oggle it at the lunch table. When others drop by Taco Bell, I head over to Pancho's on Main, for absolutely incredible tacos, tortas, burritos and tamales, with the amazing salsas that you ladle yourself rather than squeeze from a plastic packet. Don't even get me started on Pizza Hut . . .

Kansas City is blessed by great restaurants, but you need to think about it. We get to vote on what kind of city we are every day that we spend money in our town. When you go to McDonald's or PF Chang's or the Olive Garden, you are voting for homogeneity over individuality. When you go to Town Topic or Princess Garden or Marco Polo's, you are voting for a more varied and interesting city. On top of that, you get better food, usually made with fresher, local ingredients, at a better price.

(If you really want to make a difference with the votes you carry around in your wallet, spend your money in the places featured at The Viable Third.)

To me, this is an quality of life issue. I feel like Kansas City is a better place to live because of places like Lill's on 17th Street, (recently labeled Kansas City's Cozy Spot by Kansas City Daily Photo), but a new Chili's doesn't have that same impact.

This is not just another burst of mid-town superiority, either. There are good, family-owned restaurants serving great meals in Lee's Summit, the Northland, and even - gasp! - Johnson County. (Wyandotte County is packed with them.) Some of them can be found in strip malls, and others are off the main drag a few blocks.

I challenge each of you - starting now and continuing through the month of August, to seek out Kansas City restaurants whenever you eat out. Find a Winstead's instead of a Burger King. Blow a bucket of money at Plaza III instead of at Morton's. Come back and comment on your experiences and recommendations (and disappointments, too). If commenters participate, I'll bump this to the top of the page for the duration. If you are a fellow blogger, post something on your site about your favorite local places, and encourage your readers to share their thoughts on your blog. Let's see if we can save the Mango Room and the other gems that make Kansas City different from Indianapolis or Milwaukee or Akron.

(Update: While I was typing this post, I got an email from a great local lawyer, reporting "Last night my husband and I stopped by Scottie’s on 39th, the old Macaluso’s, and had a great meal. We both had salmon, two different ways, and it was terrific. I had the Szechuan style, and it was one of the best and most creative dishes I’ve had in a while. There were a lot of other interesting dishes on the menu, as well. The prices were really decent, too, for an upscale kind of place. It’s worth stopping by." Thanks for kicking this off, T!)

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Anonymous mainstream said...

At Pancho's (on Main St. by Armour Rd.) try the green avocado/tomatillo salsa, it's the best, but it's been running on the really hot side lately. Their burritos are huge, and their breakfast burritos beat the heck out of anything around.

Los Tules (on broadway near 17th street) has THE BEST asada tacos in town, bar none. Also try the chili relleno.

7/19/2007 8:04 AM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

I got to double up on the local EYE-talian eateries on Tuesday. We welcomed a new member to our group by taking her to lunch at Lidia's in the freight-house district. I had the Pollo al Limone e Olive and it was delicious.

For dinner, the gf and I stopped by Marco Polo's Italian Deli next to Jasper's on 103rd St. I had the Venetian Italian steak sandwich with some potato salad. Very tasty!

7/19/2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger The DLC said...

While we're on mexican delicasies, the fish tacos at the Cancun in Westport are quite tasty: doubled-up corn tortillas and lightly breaded fish, topped with a crunchy handful of vinegary shredded cabbage. Good stuff.

7/19/2007 9:49 AM  
Anonymous brent said...

Great post Dan. For the life of me I've never figured out why people gravitate toward chains. I live in Midtown, so do a lot of dining at Tower Tavern (great Pizza), Sol Cantina, or The Drop (awesome Bruchetta, great beer menu).

There are also two new places, a Chinese place at the corner of 34th and Troost (really tasty, nice people) and Esquisite Cuisine - -an upscale sandwich place that just opened at 34th & Troost (actually on 34th, 1 building west of Troost).

In the crossroads, I have favorites like Mildreds (best BLTs in town), 1924 Main, and Souperman.

As for the Viable 3rd, check out M&M Deli (31st and Woodland) - excellent sandwiches...

For coffee/breakfast, I never miss an opportunity to go to the Filling Station or You Say Tomato. MMmmm.

There are more...but those are off the top of my head.

7/19/2007 10:06 AM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

I implore all of you to not let the Mango Room close - it is the most unique and delicious restaurant we have here in the city. Carribean Soul Food is how it was first described to me - but it's just freakin good. The fried chicken is all I ever get as an entree (now that I'm veg don't know what I'll do - does just eating the skin count as meat? ewww . . .) but the fried green bean bundles and the flat bread and macaroni and cheese (ooooh, the mac and cheese . . .) and they have the best martini's and how can you go wrong with the light reggae music and the amazing pictures on the wall. Even the bathrooms make me smile - with the wall of grass that tickles my fingers as I wait for the potty . . . don't let it close! Go there now and then go there again tomorrow - sit out on the patio and have a Bob Marleytini and watch the bastards with their jackhammers and tell them to hurry up . . . this is not the kind of restaurant to let fade away. The Pitch voted it the Best New Restaurant in 2005 - don't let it become the Best Closed Restaurant of 2007. If you do - if you dont get your hungry ass down there soon - you will miss out on the best damn sweet potato corn bread you will ever have (sorry Peachtree - they got you there - but go there, too!) . . . and ask for Laura - she will rock your world.

7/19/2007 10:17 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...


7/19/2007 11:47 AM  
Blogger Midwest Dipsomaniac said...

Great post Dan. We support local joints whenever possible (which is almost always possible). For unbeatable, authentic Mexican, I love El Pueblito on the Boulevard (Menudo, torta's--stuff you can't get at Ponak's). The Mango Room IS excellent too. Oh, and don't forget the Vietnam Cafe in Columbus Park. So many foods, so little time.

7/19/2007 11:47 AM  
Blogger Waldo Oiseau said...

Great post, and we've all got to do our part!

I'll plan on posting more pics of some of my favorite locally-owned joints. I've been meaning to stop in at Souperman!

7/19/2007 12:54 PM  
Anonymous David said...

A few local food blogs of note...


KC Lunch Spots:

Cooking in KC:

I'm sure there are more.

7/19/2007 1:09 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Dan I accept your challenge to eat at good restaurants. A little self-sacrifice never hurt anyone, right? I've posted a few of my local favorites here.

7/19/2007 1:29 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

I'm totally with you on the Mango Room and finding out-of-the-way places to eat in KC (and everywhere else for that matter). Let's hope it stays since the P & L District definitely needs the character of this cool place, and others like it.

7/19/2007 2:09 PM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

I know this is really lazy, Dan, but could you please keep a running list somewhere on your blog of these great restaurants and their cuisine.

(For those of us from dreaded Johnson County who venture forth with no idea of what's going on in the fair world of fine cuisine in the city)

please, please,
your grateful reader

7/19/2007 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think the Mango Room is suffering fron construction. Wait till lightrail is built. It'll be even worse. Check this link out:

7/19/2007 9:06 PM  
Blogger Spyder said...

In Raytown: Fiesta Azteca, the owner is liable to wait on you himself. And if you are really daring just tell them to make you something. The hubby has done that many times and was very pleased.

7/19/2007 11:19 PM  
Anonymous anonymous 4:46 said...

seriously while in kansas city why not eat at:

oklahoma joe's
joe joe's (now at the westport flea market - seriously, the best two cheap eats restaurants in kc at one place, how much better could it get)
sharp's (sentimental reasons, +pancakes)
the places you haven't been on southwest boulevard (because anywhere you have been sucks. and stop ordering chimichangas.)
mango room (because oxtail is still cheap in kansas city!!!!!!!!)
and town topic. because you don't like food if you don't like it.

etc. etc.

there are higher class and lower class places but i wouldn't want to spoil them with the likes of politico bloggerites.

7/20/2007 2:37 AM  
Anonymous mmm, burrito said...

anyone tried Midtown Burrito on Linwood and Gillham? I saw that and was wondering how it was...

7/20/2007 8:58 AM  
Anonymous aimee said...

I hope everyone has checked out - of which the Mango Room is a member.


7/20/2007 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Brent said...

I've been to Midtown Burrito. Pretty tasty if you ask me...although eat it there, the to-go styrofoam isn't the best idea...but there it's tasty.

7/20/2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please take the time to give business to the Westside. There are mini stores, restaurants, delis and bars that you can enjoy. Sylvia's Deli on 17th and Washington is a recommended spot if you want something good and quick.

7/20/2007 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mainstream, I just wanted to tell you that the "green avocado/tomatillo salsa" is the true Mexican salsa. Enjoy it, as it is a true taste of Mexico!

7/20/2007 10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grinders, D'Bronx and Tarantino's for fantastic pizza downtown. No more Greasy Hut for me!

7/21/2007 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your observation about the Cordish project choking off access to the Mango Room is incorrect. It is instead construction for the 12th street streetscaping/beautification project that is causing the problems. But hey, if you want the downtown area to be a desolate mass of concrete, keep complaining.

7/22/2007 5:35 PM  
Blogger Stephen Bough said...

I was with you until you included Johnson County.

For pizza, check out Waldo Pizza. I have force fed Dan's support the local guy logic so much that sometimes my kids ask for corporate pizza. Despite my love for them, they only get that nasty corporate pizza from the babysitter.

How about Accurso's on Main (South of the Plaza) and Twenty/20 in the Crossroads? Both are from great KC legacies of family owned places and both provide great catering. Cascone’s in the River Market is perfect for Italian Sausage and eggs over easy. Sick of franchise places - come to Brookside. Besides a Goodcents, we are franchise free!!

7/22/2007 5:55 PM  
Blogger ::Andrew:: said...

has anyone been to Po's Dumplings on 39th?

7/23/2007 10:26 AM  
Blogger frog pajamas said...

whoa go to Kitty's for a burger??? what about the pork tenderloin? that is the greatest sandwich i think i've ever had. my boyfriend and the owner are on a first name basis since he eats there so much. all i have to say is, pork tenderloin with cheese onions, mayo and extra hot sauce!!!

7/23/2007 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Patricia S. said...

This local website has a restaurant directory that's pretty helpful:

While there are some nasty chains, you can do an advanced search by "Locally Owned" to find your favorites in town.

7/25/2007 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The MANGO ROOM rocks and the owner, Thelma, is awesome! Stop in and have one of their Mango Martini's (the best in town) with my favorite appertizer - chicken flatbread. Yummmmmmm...

8/06/2007 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went past the Mango Room today, and it's no longer there! What happened?!?

7/11/2008 7:33 PM  

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