Published January 12th, 2023 at 6:00 AM5 minute read
If last year’s experience is any indicator, Penny Mufuka will spend the majority of Kansas City Restaurant Week “tied to a wok.”
The chef/owner of Bamboo Penny’s in Leawood has set up an assembly line in the kitchen to quickly prepare diners’ choice of entrees.
The ginger duck on the dinner menu featuring ginger, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, scallions and baby bok choy.
She’s also eager to share her version of khanom chan, a traditional layered Thai dessert made with tapioca flour, rice flour and coconut milk. The dessert is reserved for “auspicious” ceremonies, and it will be available as part of the restaurant’s three-course lunch ($20) and dinner ($40).
Kansas City Restaurant Week (KCRW), which kicks off Friday and runs through Sunday, Jan. 22, is “hot, fast paced, like watching a waltz,” jokes Doug Mufuka, Penny’s husband, partner and a member of the staff who is ready to roll up his sleeves to make sure diners have a memorable experience. “I stay out of her way. I know my role.”
More than 200 restaurants have signed on to take part in the 14th annual KCRW featuring three-course meals at various price tiers: $20, $40, $50 and $55. In 2023, 27 of the restaurants are women-owned and 18 are minority owned.
“Every year, Kansas City Restaurant Week offers residents and visitors alike a unique opportunity to experience the culinary and cultural offerings of our city and its neighborhoods,” President and CEO of Visit KC Kathy Nelson said in a press release. “I encourage all to support our local restaurants, discover those hidden gems off the beaten path and give back to the local hospitality industry – a critical component to our local economy. No matter where you dine, you will discover an array of flavors and amazing deals.”
Kandi Kerns runs Trago Bar & Tapas with her 24-year-old daughter Alexandria Snavely and a dishwasher.
“My favorite thing to do is to cook and feed people. I love being able to do this and give something to charity,” says Kerns, owner of Trago Bar & Tapas in the Northland.
Ten percent of proceeds for every meal sold will benefit Cornerstones of Care – the 2023 featured charity – in addition to the Visit KC Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Education Foundation. More than $3.3 million has been raised by restaurants and diners for local causes since KCRW’s inception.
Trago (pronounced traw-go) is a Latin-inspired restaurant offering what Kerns describes as a “mosh pit” of flavors influenced by her eclectic family roots, including Guatemala, Spain, Cuba and Costa Rica. To ease diners into her flavor palette, she will start with a fan favorite – puffy tacos.
The scratch kitchen relies on recipes from Kerns’ late grandmother, Mimi, and features flavors and spices most diners would recognize, such as mole, but then adds unexpected items, like chayote, a pear-shaped squash that tastes like apple and cucumber with a crispness like jicama.
Mimi, who lived to be a centenarian, loved scotch. The bar “leans toward” bourbon, and Kerns is in plans for Fuego, a speakeasy in the West Bottoms she expects to open during the first quarter of the year.
Kerns says her current location in the Plaza at Shoal Creek has been a hindrance to building traffic, which is one of the other reasons she began participating in KCRW.
“I’m proud of my cooking but my marketing stinks,” Kerns says with a laugh. “I always say, ‘Please tell your friends about us.’”
Michelle Brown is the owner of The Chive Café & Market, a casual farm-to-table eatery that shares space with Transparent Brewing Company, the first microbrewery in Grandview owned by her son, Nolan Brown.
Instead of the typical bar food fare, Michelle says, “we take pride is serving quote-unquote gourmet food.”
She sources 75-95% of ingredients from local Kansas and Missouri farms that use sustainable agricultural practices, and her business is small enough that she must personally pick up her ingredients from eight different farmers.
KCRW diners can choose from a pot pie made with turkey from Farrar Family Farms in Adrian, Missouri, a squash ravioli or a vegan and gluten-free bibimbap bowl.
The lowest $20 price tag “comes from really working on efficiency, making something from every part of the product we possibly can.”
To make the economics work, Brown works to reduce food waste by freezing bushels of tomatoes when in season and she uses day-old cookies in crusts for her cheesecake. She also controls portion sizes.
“Our goal is plates that come back to the kitchen empty. We serve the right portion for healthy eating,” Brown says.
Chive Café & Market includes local artisan products, a dog-friendly patio with outdoor games, including corn hole and bocci. And watch for a few beer specials during KCRW.
“It’s good promotion for the business and people pay attention for new places during that time,” Brown says of her second year taking part in KCRW. “It makes sense to be a part of something that has so much energy in the city.”
At four decades-old, family owned Manny’s Mexican Restaurant, diners can gorge on Monterrey cheese dip, tacos or burritos, and mini pitchers of sangria or margarita cocktails.
“For restaurants, there is nothing better than the planned burst that helps everybody,” David Lopez says of the annual January event.
The frenzied week always reminds Lopez of his late father, Manny Lopez, who served as president of the restaurant association and helped to kick off the inaugural event.
“Restaurant Week means so much to me and my family,” he says. “We continue to honor him by trying to do as much as we can for the community.”
Lopez, who serves as the chair of the restaurant association, also sees KCRW as an individual and collective dress-rehearsal for the NFL Draft in April and the World Cup in 2026.
“What separates Kansas City from all the other metropolitan cities is we are hospitable, we are affordable, and we are accessible,” he says. “It’s going to be cool to show restaurants of the world who we are.”
The KCRW website offers links to help diners view menus and make reservations at various restaurants, but Lopez insists he’s still “old school” and prefers to take reservations by phone.
“Get on the horn and call,” he says, “and ask to speak to David Lopez.”
Jill Wendholt Silva is a James Beard award-winning food editor and freelance writer. You can follow Silva at @jillsilvafood.