Chicago-born Arturo Cabral wants his bistro to be more like one of his hometowns hip Mexican restaurants than the traditional south-of-the-border venues up and down Southwest Boulevard. (No Mexican flags, no sombreros, he says.) Setting El Patrón apart are parrilladas — stainless-steel tabletop grills heaped with pork, chicken, steak, roasted chili peppers and cheese. Be careful with starters before ordering these communal dishes; its easy to overindulge on the turnover-sized empanadas — light, flaky pastries filled with beef — or thick wedges of a steak-stuffed quesadilla. The kitchen also creates its own version of the classic Cuban sandwich, made with pork, ham, Swiss cheese and turkey. Grilled steaks are topped with peppery pieces of fresh cactus — carne asada con nopales. For dessert, theres fried ice cream or, even better, tres leches cake. — Charles Ferruzza
The Cheesecake Factory is as famous for its long wait for a table (sometimes two hours on weekends) as for its huge portions of food. The two-story restaurant is done in high camp style: The deécor is one part French bistro, one part Egyptian temple. The menu is a polyglot of dishes (Chinese, Mexican, Thai), as well as oversized servings of such mainstays as hamburgers, meatloaf and salads. And of course, theres plenty of rich cheesecake. — Charles Ferruzza
This suburban link in the popular California-based chain isnt a factory in any traditional sense (the cheesecakes are shipped in, frozen), but the servers are so well-trained and the 200 menu items so efficiently prepared — and the tables turn over so quickly — that there is an assembly-line sensibility to the place. The deécor and the menu deal in pure fantasy: oversized portions of visually stunning food that usually tastes very good. The 33 varieties of cheesecake are as decadent as they look, though most customers — having overindulged on fried macaroni and cheese or steak Diane — opt to take the desserts home. — Charles Ferruzza
Unlike the flagship Bristol in Leawood, which has the same spirit of the original Bristol Bar & Grill that dominated the Country Club Plaza from 1980 to 1995, the downtown satellite is sleek and modern. The menu, which changes often, is similar to the Kansas venue: mesquite-grilled fresh seafood and steaks, comforting soups, sexy starters and those slightly sugary drop biscuits that Bristol devotees devour with gusto. Its one of the Power & Light Districts most consistently solid restaurants.
The slightly more sophisticated and expensive cousin of the suburban Bravo restaurants (theyre owned by the same Ohio-based company) is also the noisiest dining room on the Country Club Plaza. The biggest differences between the two restaurant concepts are that Brio offers brunch (on both Saturdays and Sundays) and that there are a couple of signature Brio dishes (such as crab cakes and carpaccio) on its menu. The deécor is theatrical, the service entertaining and the portions, as they say in Rome, molto grande. — Charles Ferruzza