chewology restaurant in westport has brick lined walls, neon sign, green booths, and an open kitchen

Regardless of what you’ve been told, Kansas City offers culinary excellence beyond barbecue.

In fact, our city is home to a remarkable culinary scene that has caught the attention of the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

The James Beard Awards are renowned accolades within the culinary industry.

Winning or being nominated for a James Beard Award is a major recognition of a chef or restaurant’s culinary excellence.

As Kansas City locals, we love celebrating the best of the heartland.

In this post, we provide a guide to the past five years of Kansas City’s James Beard winners, semifinalists, and nominees.

Several of these restaurants are also on the list of the top ten restaurants in Kansas City.

After deciding which ones you want to try, you’ll want to make a reservation – these local favorites book up quickly!

2024 James Beard Semifinalists from Kansas City

This year, the James Beard Foundation validated what us Kansas Citians already know: we have exceptional chefs, cuisines, and culinary scene here in the heartland.

In January 2024, it was announced that six local chefs were nominated for the James Beard awards.

Don’t sleep on Kansas City!

Below are this year’s semifinalists.

Emerging Chef: Jeff Workman, The Campground

Neighborhood: West Bottoms

We love The Campground and their woodsy aesthetic.

Rooted in the influence of locally sourced, hunted, fished, and foraged ingredients, The Campground creates a haven where good drinks, comfortable conversations, and homemade eats converge.

Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program: Affäre

Neighborhood: Crossroads Arts District

Affäre presents a remarkable blend of traditional German cuisine and contemporary culinary artistry.

The family-owned restaurant was founded in 2012, spearheaded by the owner’s passion for all-natural, farm-fresh, seasonal foods and game meats.

In addition to exceptional dishes, their wine list is worth a visit.

The husband-wife team of Chef and Sommelier collaborate to bring sustainably farmed wines from all around the world that pair with their farm-to-table dishes.

Best Chef Midwest: Katie Liu-Sung, Chewology

Neighborhood: Westport

Chewology offers a genuine taste of Taiwanese cuisine.

Upon entering Chewology, guests are welcomed into a cozy and inviting atmosphere, where the trendy decor hints at the owner’s Taiwanese roots blended with a touch of 1980s nostalgia

The menu is a focus on Taiwanese street food, ideal for sharing with the table.

The dumplings in particular, handcrafted by Chef Liu-Sung and inspired by the food from her childhood, draw in regulars – they are made with a mix of traditional techniques and innovation. 

chewology westport has brick walls, neon sign, green booth, and open kitchen

Best Chef Midwest: Johnny Leach, The Town Company

Neighborhood: Downtown
New American

The Town Company is more than just a restaurant; it’s an experience that celebrates the fusion of traditional and modern culinary arts.

Chef Johnny Leach – nominated by the James Beard Foundation once before – is known for his creative approach.

The Town Company restaurant kansas city
The Town Company

Leach presents a menu that’s as dynamic as it is delicious, with offerings that change with the seasons to highlight the freshest local ingredients.

The unique blend of familiar flavors and innovative twists, meticulous technique, and heartfelt hospitality make The Town Company an unforgettable destination in Kansas City’s culinary scene.

The Town Company kansas city restaurant
The Town Company

Best Chef Midwest: Romain Monnoyeur, Westport Café

Neighborhood: Westport

Westport Café offers a delightful blend of modern French cuisine and craft specialty cocktails, creating dishes with simple, fresh ingredients.

The quaint interior is reminiscent of a French bistro with exposed brick, checkered floors, rustic tables, velvet curtains, ambient lighting, and oversized mirrors. 

westport cafe in kansas city is a french restaurant with cozy and date night vibes
Westport Cafe

Kansas City’s James Beard Award Winner 2023

Yoli Tortilleria

Winner 2023, Outstanding Bakery
Semifinalist 2022, Outstanding Baker, Marissa Gencarelli

Neighborhood: Westside
Pricing: $
Cuisine: Sonoran/Mexican

Every James Beard-recognized establishment has its own unique flavor and story, and that is especially true with Yoli Tortilleria.

Inspired by founder Marissa Gencarelli’s upbringing in Sonora, Mexico, Yoli more than just a bakery. It’s a celebration of cultural tradition, an ode to age-old Mexican recipes, and a commitment to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients.

Their tortillas, the shining star of the bakery, are nothing short of an artisanal masterpiece.

Embodying the true essence of the Mexican culinary tradition, each tortilla is carefully crafted from heirloom corn varieties sourced directly from small-scale Mexican farmers.

The corn is then processed through a millennia-old method called nixtamalization, imbuing the tortillas with a depth of flavor that’s as rich as its cultural heritage.

Yoli tortillas are used in several restaurants around Kansas City. They can be purchased at local grocers as well as from Yoli’s retail shop in Westside where they also sell a small assortment of salsas and sauces – sometimes tamales as well.

Previous James Beard Award Semifinalists

Waldo Thai, Pam Liberda

Semifinalist 2023, Best Chef Midwest

Neighborhood: Waldo
Pricing: $$ – $$$
Cuisine: Northern Thai

Waldo Thai, owned by Chef Pam Liberda, originally from Lampang in Northern Thailand has brought to Kansas City her homeland’s authentic culinary traditions with a unique emphasis on the Lanna culinary tradition.

Lanna cuisine, originating from the ancient Lanna Kingdom in Northern Thailand, is a reflection of the region’s agricultural heritage.

It showcases fresh, local ingredients and bold flavors, with a delightful balance of spicy, sour, sweet, and salty.

dark dining room at waldo thai restaurant
Waldo Thai

Waldo Thai has a cozy, intimate atmosphere and the menu is created with locally sourced ingredients as well as herbs grown in their own garden.

The menu at Waldo Thai features classic Thai dishes such as Pad Thai and Khao Soi, but also offers unique items like Son-In-Law Eggs and Mango Sticky Rice Tacos.

The menu varies seasonally, and they offer a unique, always changing small plates menu each Wednesday.

Waldo Thai’s recognition as a James Beard semifinalist is evidence of Liberda’s passion and talent.

More than just the owner, Liberda is the heart and soul of Waldo Thai, her personal touch apparent in every dish that leaves the kitchen.

entryway at waldo thai restaurant with thai artwork
Waldo Thai

The Town Company, Johnny Leach

Semifinalist 2023, Outstanding Chef

Neighborhood: Downtown
Pricing: $$$ – $$$$
Cuisine: New American

The Town Company, a culinary gem in Kansas City, has made its mark under the guidance of Johnny Leach.

Known for his innovative approach to cooking, he has brought a dash of modern flair to traditional cuisine at The Town Company.

Johnny Leach’s culinary journey is marked by a deep respect for local ingredients, a commitment to technique, and a passion to innovate.

His menu at The Town Company mirrors these principles, combining familiar tastes with unique twists that create an unforgettable dining experience.

Whether it’s a perfectly cooked steak or a creatively presented dessert, each dish at The Town Company reflects Leach’s dedication to the craft of cooking.

The Town Company james beard restaurant kansas city
The Town Company

The Antler Room, Nicholas Goellner

Semifinalist 2023, Best Chef Midwest
Semifinalist 2019, Best Chef

Neighborhood: Midtown
Pricing: $$$ – $$$$
Cuisine: Mediterranean

The Antler Room, nestled in the heart of Kansas City, is an embodiment of culinary excellence under the helm of Nicholas Goellner, whose culinary philosophy marries innovation with tradition, resulting in a menu that both surprises and comforts.

With an unwavering commitment to quality, Goellner sources local ingredients, allowing the natural flavors to take center stage on the plate.

His dishes, a symphony of textures, colors, and aromas, are designed to engage all your senses, promising an unforgettable dining experience.

The dining experience involves creative Mediterranean cuisine presented in elevated small plates to share.

Goellner’s nomination for the Best Chef Midwest award is a testament to his culinary aptitude and his commitment to pushing the boundaries of gastronomy.

Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room, Michael Corvino

Semifinalist 2023, Best Chef Midwest
Nominee 2020, Best Chef
Nominee 2019, Best Chef

Neighborhood: Crossroads Arts District
Pricing: $$$ – $$$$
Cuisine: New American

Corvino is a culinary star with dual experiences: a supper club where sharing is the norm, and a tasting room for a more intimate, curated dining encounter.

The upscale, elegant New American fare is paired with live jazz music and dimmed lights to create an intimate ambiance.

Their main space, the Supper Club, offers a wide variety of shareable plates based on seasonality. 

For a more unique date night, consider their Tasting Room, which offers 10 courses for $150, a small, intimate dining experience complete with an open kitchen, and access to Chef Michael Corvino.

Over roughly two and a half hours, you’ll embark on a culinary journey that masterfully displays Chef Michael’s relentless pursuit of innovation and simplicity, all grounded in a deep respect for ingredients and techniques.

The sommelier will provide thoughtfully selected wine pairings that seamlessly complement the menu. You’ll experience not only top-notch hospitality but also the region’s premier showcase of contemporary American fare.

Fox and Pearl, Vaughn Good

Semifinalist 2020, Best Chef

Neighborhood: West Side
Pricing: $$$ – $$$$
Cuisine: New American

A relative newcomer to the scene that quickly turned heads with its rustic yet refined approach to Midwestern fare, focusing on wood-fired cooking and whole-animal butchery.

Fox and Pearl is a country-chic eatery located in a 1907 historic drugstore with a lovely outdoor terrace.

Chef Vaughn Good combines a live fire hearth, smoker, and preservation techniques to create irresistible flavors.

Collaborating with local farmers, he crafts seasonal menus blending French culinary expertise with regional comfort foods.

Chef Good combines his formal training with Southern and Midwestern cooking at Fox and Pearl.

In this unique blend, he creates soulful dishes that embrace his roots and the comfort of his grandmother’s table, presenting them in a comforting and informal manner.

The Monarch Bar

Semifinalist 2019, Outstanding Bar Program

Neighborhood: Country Club Plaza
Pricing: $$

This high-end, well-appointed cocktail bar elevates the bar scene with its exquisite design, exceptional service, and a meticulously curated beverage program.

Attention to detail is the hallmark of The Monarch Bar, from the custom-designed interiors that exude elegance and sophistication, to the innovative cocktail menu featuring both classics and contemporary creations.

In 2019, The Monarch Bar was recognized as a semifinalist for the Outstanding Bar Program, a testament to its emphasis on quality and exceptional customer experience.

Whether you are a seasoned cocktail enthusiast or a curious novice, The Monarch Bar offers a unique ambiance and a variety of flavors that enthrall your palate and leave a lasting impression.

They offer small plates along with their inventive, comprehensive cocktail menu that features seasonal drinks inspired by global flavors that follow the migratory path of the monarch butterfly.

Bluestem, Colby Garrelts

Semifinalist 2019, Outstanding Chef

Bluestem is no longer around, but Garrelts opened a new concept, Rye.

Embracing the flavors and culinary traditions of the Midwest, Rye serves up a menu that is both comforting and innovative. With a focus on farm-to-table dining, Rye ensures that every dish showcases the freshness and quality of locally sourced ingredients.

Despite its modern edge, Rye harbors a nostalgic charm, with its cozy interiors and hearty meals harking back to good ol’ family dinners.

Whether you’re hankering for a taste of home or eager to embark on a gastronomic journey, Rye promises a memorable dining experience.

An option for trying out Rye is during Kansas City Restaurant Week, an annual event where local restaurants have set menus to choose from at an affordable price point.

Rye Country Club Plaza

Exceptional Culinary Experiences in Kansas City

Dining at these establishments isn’t just about the food; it’s about the journey through Kansas City’s evolving culinary identity.

The James Beard recognition these restaurants and chefs have received over the past five years is a chapter in our city’s gastronomic story, one that’s rich with flavor, fervor, and finesse.