Italian roots run deep in Kansas City. The first known Italians who ventured to the Midwest were missionaries. Their travels brought them to the area as early as 1495. Later on, America became Italian immigrants’ primary destination. By 1890, many Italians found Kansas City and called it home.
Along with German, Irish and African American newcomers, these are the folks who populated early Kansas City. The Italian community became a vibrant hub of business and political power, but it was not without its downfalls, as mob violence also became an Italian feature of Kansas City history that cannot be ignored. The impact of the Italian community on this city, for better or worse, has been significant.
This, of course, translates to food. There are hundreds of Italian restaurants in Kansas City and the surrounding metro area. There are mom-and-pop shops that have been around for decades, as well as new Kansas City Italian restaurants. These spots offer all types of Italian classics for all types of hungry diners.
The Making of Italian Cuisine
Italian cuisine was intended to be made in the home. It is the epitome of comfort food — hearty, rich and filling. Since Italian cooking began back in the Roman Empire, it has had a heavy emphasis on grains, red meats and fish. These are the ingredients the land provided, and Italians’ ancient ancestors knew what to do with them.
Masterfully crafted entrees like pasta, pizza and lasagna were not commonplace in ancient Rome. Italian food has continued to involve, bringing in new ingredients, technologies and techniques over many years. The introduction of red meat, for instance, is a modern development in Italian cooking. Fish was the primary meat in centuries past.
Today, we’re all familiar with Italian cooking’s most famous creations. What you need to know is where to find Italian food in Kansas City.
Finding Kansas City Italian Restaurants
There are, without exaggeration, hundreds of Italian restaurants in Kansas City, Mo., and the surrounding metro area. We couldn’t possibly cover them all or tell you which one you’ll like the most. Despite that, we’re going to share a few Kansas City Italian restaurants here that are both historic and beloved by the community. You can grab lunch or dinner at any of these restaurants and have a great meal.
- Lidia’s: Founded in 1998, this Kansas City Italian restaurant is a classic and must-try.
- Jasper’s: A man named Leonardo Mirabile opened an Italian restaurant in Kansas City in 1954 with his son, Jasper. Back then, the restaurant was located near 75th Street and Wornall, and a three-course meal cost $0.79. Today, Jasper’s is serving up classic Italian dishes on 103rd
- Anthony’s on Grand: The current iteration on Anthony’s is run by the third generation of the founding family. Stop in for classic Kansas City Italian fare in a historic location.
- Bella Napoli: Restaurant, deli, grocery and coffee bar. Bella Napoli is a multi-purpose space that has been provided Kansas City with authentic Italian goods and meals since 2001.
- Osteria II Centro: This is a relaxed, comfortable Italian restaurant in KC that has been serving customers for more than 23 years. Osteria’s location in South Plaza makes it an even better night out.
The North End: Italian in Kansas City’s Columbus Park and the River Market
There are Italian restaurants and communities spread out all over the Kansas City metro, but the North End is a historically Italian district. The area today is split into two communities: the River Market and Columbus Park.
The River Market saw the darker side of Kansas City’s Italian history through a series of violent mob wars that involved drive-by shootings, car bombs and building explosions. The wreckage of the situation left the River Market nearly desolate for decades until its revitalization in the 2000s. Today, there are still old-school Italian restaurants in the River Market, but it has become a much more international scene with places for Brazilian, Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern and Mexican food right next to each other.
The historic Italian community who lived in the River Market at the time of the mob violence moved a couple miles east into Columbus Park, which is home to some of the oldest and best Italian restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are a few you can check out in these historic communities:
- Garozzo’s: Try the chicken spiedini, a marinated chicken breast, skewered and rolled in Italian bread crumbs before being grilled to perfection.
- Cascone’s Grill: Cascone’s is a family-run restaurant with a tradition that dates back to 1930. It’s located on 5th Street directly next to one of Kansas City’s streetcar stops. Come early — Cascone’s only serves breakfast and lunch.
- Carollo’s Grocery & Deli: Look no further for the best cold-cut sub in town. This grocery and deli is located on the northwest corner of the historic City Market. You can grab food to go or sit down and enjoy the meal.
The Italian Menu Items You Should Order
Each Italian restaurant in Kansas City will have its own specialty — the dish they create like no one else — but there are also classic Italian dishes that make a great meal from any menu.
- Pasta: Obviously.
- Pizza: There are many different ways to make it, and finding your favorite is a fun food adventure.
- Risotto: A creamy dish of rice mixed with vegetables and meat, with variations depending on the chef.
- Tiramisu: A layered coffee cake that is to die for.
Italian restaurants in KC will each have their own recipes for these classic, tasty dishes. Try them out at any of the restaurants listed here and you’re sure to enjoy a great meal.