Most people are unfamiliar with Vietnamese food. It’s not at the top of the list for many diners in Kansas City. It’s a hidden gem, and there is more of it than you might think in Kansas City.
Vietnamese food, until the last couple decades, wasn’t very popular in America. The history of conflict between the two countries in the mid-1900s made it difficult for this culinary tradition to find a place in the United States. But, as tensions cooled and each country moved on, Vietnamese restaurants in Kansas City began popping up and serving delicious food.
If you’re like most people in Kansas City, you are still unfamiliar with these restaurants and this type of food. Our guide to Vietnamese food in Kansas City will get you started.
What is Vietnamese Food?
Vietnamese cuisine includes a wide variety of spices, sauces and flavors. However, you can boil it down to two clear, distinct influences: fresh vegetables and seafood. Common Vietnamese recipes are typically based around fish and noodles or rice, with spices like soy sauce, coriander, cinnamon, chili, lime and basil.
Traditional Vietnamese food in Kansas City is similar to what you’ll find anywhere else. There is an emphasis on fresh ingredients and spicy, earthy flavors.
Vietnamese Food in Kansas City: Columbus Park
Columbus Park is a fascinating cultural melting pot on the north side of downtown Kansas City. It’s a small community, bordered to the south by the interstate, the north by the Missouri River and the east by the River Marker. Columbus Park is primarily made up of two groups of people: Italian and Vietnamese.
How did that happen? Well, the Italians were there first. The north end has been a historically Italian area of KC since the very early 1900s, and for a moment was even referred to as Little Italy. Later in the century, the Italians began to see some Vietnamese neighbors. While there was surely some conflict as the community began to change, there was also a lot of cooperation. Holy Rosary Catholic Church, whose steeple stands above the rest of the buildings in Columbus Park to this day, began employing a Vietnamese translator during mass and ordered Vietnamese Bibles to welcome the newcomers to the neighborhood.
Today, some of the best Vietnamese food in Kansas City can be found in Columbus Park.
- Vietnam Café: Vietnam Café is arguably KC’s best Vietnamese restaurant. It’s not uncommon to see a line spilling out the door of its 522 Campbell Street location during the lunch hour. The café is known for its Pho noodle soup, which packs a rich, spicy punch. You can grab a bowl for less than $8, and it’ll leave you satisfied.
- Nguyen Pho and Grill: We’re cheating a little bit, because this restaurant isn’t technically in Columbus Park. Nguyen Pho and Grill is four blocks west in the River Market neighborhood. It specializes in pho, as the name suggests. The service is fast and the atmosphere is casual.
Pho Kansas City
We’ve mentioned Pho a few times now, but what exactly is it? Pho is one of the most popular dishes served by Vietnamese restaurants in Kansas City. It is a soup made of beef or chicken broth, rice noodles, spices, herbs and vegetables. For a comparable, more popular dish, think of ramen.
Pho can be made in hundreds of different ways. The way the broth is prepared, the spices used and the type of meat all impact the flavor. Each pho restaurant in Kansas City is proud of its particular take on pho.
More Vietnamese Restaurants in Kansas City
There are many more Vietnamese Cafes and restaurants in KC aside from the ones listed above. Here are some of your options:
- Café Vie
- Bun Mee Phan
- iPho Tower
- Hien Vuong Restaurant
- Pho Café
- My Xuyen Vietnamese Café
- Mi Gia KC
- Old Wok
- Pho Vietnam
- Big Bowl Pho
Dishes to Order at Kansas City Vietnamese Restaurants
If you’ve never had Vietnamese food before, it’s probably the right choice to order pho. If you’re looking for something to try from the other classic Vietnamese dishes, here are a few great options:
- Banh mi: Most dishes at Vietnamese restaurants in Kansas City are some sort of soup. Change it up with banh mi, a sandwich made with a Vietnamese baguette and filled with veggies and meat.
- Vermicelli noodles: A lot of Vietnamese dishes are based on rice. Vermicelli noodles are a different base for pho and other soups. These noodles are long and thin. They are made from rice flour and have a distinct flavor.
- Bun Cha Hanoi: This is the dish that Anthony Bourdain showed President Obama in their famous episode of Parts Unknown. The restaurant where they ate together has permanently encased their table like a museum display. The dish is made with pork patties steeped in fish sauce, one of the most commonly used ingredients in Vietnamese food. This is served in a bowl on top of vermicelli noodles.
Grab a bowl of pho or bun cha Hanoi and experience this distinct, unique part of Kansas City culture.