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August 27, 2014

Restaurant Gems in Wichita

By Ashley Abedini, Ambassadors Action Team Member

Suzy Finn - YPW Executive Director

I spend way too much time eating. Between my endless food discoveries searching for Wichita’s favorite pho, taste testing all the hummus this city has to offer, and trying all the ICT food trucks, I could pretty much never stop trying restaurants if I didn’t have to, you know, go to work and feed my Shih Tzu and whatnot.

Wichita has a surprising number of culinary greats to explore, many of which are off-the-path, hole-in-the-wall, or ma-and-pa places. I love simple, delicious, unpretentious food. Don’t get me wrong, I can totally relate to the lyrics of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (I can drop it down and pick it up… I think?). But I’m simple. I’m a culinary traditionalist. I more often than not respect food that isn’t trying to be something it’s not. If it is genuinely good food you shouldn’t have to light it on fire and put sparklers on it to make it appealing. That’s what I love about hidden restaurant gems.

Are you unsure what this type of restaurant looks like? Although no two places are the same, here are some general traits of most hidden restaurant gems:

– The more scary the neighborhood, the better (extra points if on the south side)

– The scarier it looks on the outside, the better the food on the inside

– The less rich white guys, the better

 

Here are some of my favorite hidden food gems in Wichita:

Garden Grill Cafe

So you might know I flirt with Veganism (truth be told my goal is to marry a Vegan named Rivers that I share a Smart Car with that we use to drive to rescue farm animals. But now is not the time for full disclosure so let’s proceed).

I was pretty shocked to have found a true Vegan restaurant in this city a few years ago, and a delicious one at that. There is nothing I have tried that I have not loved. My favorite dishes include the mac and “cheese” and the Four Season’s Pizza. Trust me, even if you aren’t interested in the Vegan diet (‘MERICA), you will still happily devour everything.

 

Zaytun

One thing some may not know about me: I am Iranian. Well, only half. Not full on “Shaws on Sunset.” Although there are a surprisingly good amount of Mediterranean restaurants in this city, for the longest time I could not find an Iranian restaurant, until Zaytun. Zaytun is tucked away at the corner of 21st and Woodlawn. This place is what culinary dreams are made of. This place serves a variety of legit Iranian/Paki food. They have a daily lunch buffet that will make your heart happy. They also have a strictly Paki brunch on Sunday (Once you go Paki you never go backy). My favorite menu items include the Joojeh Kabob, Chicken Tikka, and Rose Flavored Milk Pudding.

If you order off the menu, it is reasonably priced. The owner is extremely friendly, and likes getting to know all the customers that walk through the doors.

 

Chaing Mai

There are a ton of great Thai places in town, but Chaing Mai is my favorite hands down. They have simply great authentic, cheap, no-frills Thai food. Chaing Mai is located in the heart of Plainview, Wichita. The restaurant comes with bars on the windows (which as mentioned above, is a great sign). This place has a pretty large menu, with many Vegetarian options. My favorite menu items include the Padd Kee-Mao, and the Green Curry. They also have some of the best Egg Rolls in town.

Tip: Carefully consider before ordering “Thai hot.” This place does not mess around.

 

Pho Special

As you probably already know, there are a ton of Vietnamese restaurants in town. Which is PHO-king amazing! There is quite a debate among my friends about where the best Pho is in Wichita. There are definitely a lot of credible contenders. One place stands apart in my eyes: Pho Special. This restaurant is on 2400 E Pawnee. The flavorful broth in the Pho is incredible. Seriously. I want to bathe in that broth…and live in it…and raise my future children in it. Unlike other Pho out there, I don’t feel the need to add a ton of extra things to it (although a few shots of sriracha is required).

In addition to their Pho, their Spring Rolls are a must. Their warm peanut sauce is pretty unique and worth checking out!

 

Usuluteco

Usuluteco is a Salvadoran restaurant located at Hydraulic and Northern, just south of Pawnee. This place is a hidden treasure I discovered at a Dine Around for Young Professionals of Wichita. I have been back many times since. Usuluteco offers a wide range of Salvadoran dishes including Fried Plantains, Tamales, Pupusas, and some of the best refried beans around. Everything is very cheap.

It is seriously worth coming merely for the Pupusas. They are especially delicious dipped in the salsa and Curtido that are provided. Be careful ordering the Ghost Pepper Pupusas, unless you want to devastate your intestines for the next decade.

So these are some of my favorite “hole-in-the-walls.” What are some of yours?

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