Kansas City has had terrific diners -- little, unfussy, Mom-and-Pop restaurants serving traditional American comfort food -- for as long as this town has had restaurants. There are listings for lunch counters, luncheonettes, cafes and buffets in some of the earliest city directories. And two of those diners, the legendary Sanderson's Lunch on Eighth Street and Nichol's Lunch on Southwest Trafficway, lasted through most of the 20th century.
Last week's Cafe review of the new Neighborhood Cafe in Lee's Summit celebrated it as both a survivor -- there were many other diners in this location before the new owners took over in January -- and a kind of museum of culinary history.
There are still restaurateurs opening new diners -- we wrote about one coming to 119th Street last week. But it's the classic diners that we love the most. And no, not the Canadian-based imposter selling pancakes and patty melts in the Power & Light District. When we talk about diners in Fat City, we're talking about the real thing.
Here are a list of our favorites, in a sort of historical order:
10. Cozy's Cafe. A real Mom runs this Mom-and-Pop diner at 6740 West 75th Street: Kozeta Kreka of Pogradec, Albania. She serves home-style American food. And homemade baklava.
9. Chubby's on Broadway. People either love or hate this restaurant at 3756 Broadway, but one thing is for sure: The food has improved significantly since the original owners, the LaBruzzo family, took back the location several years ago.
9. Cook's Shack Cafe. This building, at 8950 Wornall, was a burger joint in the 1960s, then the Kabob House. Now it's former firefighter Bill Crow's family-style diner.
8. Corner Cafe. There's actually a more genuine-looking diner -- Deb's Diner -- across the street from this iconic Riverside restaurant, but the Corner Cafe has better food, and that's what it's all about.
7. City Diner. Big pancakes. Great service. Bring cash.
6. Waid's. In a once-mighty local chain of casual-dining restaurants -- diners with pretensions -- there are only three Waid's left in the metro, and they serve traditional American comfort foods.
5. The Village Inn. This restaurant isn't really a diner, but it's the kind of restaurant that was lovingly known as a coffee shop -- as opposed to a "coffeehouse" which is all about coffee, not food -- in the 1960s.
4. Hayes Hamburgers & Chili. A Northland classic since 1955.
3. Rob's Cafe. There used to be many little diners on Highway 40, the old National Road. Rob's Cafe -- a newer incarnation of a long list of diners in this spot -- is one of the survivors.
2. Cascone's Grill. This beloved family-owned diner has moved several times around this neighborhood (most recently, directly across the street from its old location), but it's still the best place in town to get scrambled eggs with Italian sausage, Italian toast and a side of marinara sauce. Great pancakes, too.
1. The Town Topic. There are three diners of the same name in the metro, but the one at 2021 Broadway is the oldest and the only one that serves food 24 hours a day.