Kansas City's love of buffets spreads to new territory.

Philly Up 

Kansas City's love of buffets spreads to new territory.

Sometimes even a buffet has trouble making it in Kansas City's competitive restaurant scene. During its short life span, the pleasant Kanpai (218 West 85th Street) offered not only a lunch buffet but also two dining rooms -- one with traditional Chinese fare, the other a Japanese steak house with teppan-yaki grills.

Kanpai owner Mike Wang has revamped the space and opened Los Nopales. He serves traditional Mexican food during the dinner hours and a surprisingly hearty Mexican buffet at lunch. For $5.99 (beverages are extra), diners can stuff themselves from steam tables heaped with ground or shredded beef, chicken and pork, fried tacos, enchiladas and the ingredients to make soft or crunchy tacos and burritos. And like China One's homage to multicultural cuisine (see review), there are Mexican egg rolls, German chocolate cake and all-American Jell-O cubes.

Wang says business has been much better since he turned Kanpai into a Mexican restaurant, though "it's not a great location." To lure customers to the oddball shopping strip just east of Wornall, he's parked a big white truck with the name Los Nopales spray-painted on its side in the parking lot.

One kind of food seems to be a buffet in and of itself: cheese steaks. The combination of sliced beef, sautéed onions, melted cheese (and, occasionally, peppers) on a crusty Italian roll was reportedly "invented" -- or at least made famous -- by Pat Olivieri's Pat's King of Steaks on Philadelphia's south side.

But Mike Keohane, the tough-talking, Boston-born owner of the recently opened Original Boston Cheesesteak Company (415 Westport Road), disputes Philadelphia's claim to the dish. "It wasn't invented in Philly," he barks. "That sandwich was all over the East Coast long before they tried to take credit for it!"

Keohane, who will open a second location at 135th and Quivira in Overland Park this summer, is quick to add that Philadelphia natives now living in Kansas City have been flocking to his tidy little restaurant (the former home of the Nutty Girl) to try his sandwiches, which he makes with marinated steak, provolone cheese and caramelized onions flash-fried on the grill.

I took my mouthiest Philadelphia-bred friend, Jacquie, to sample Keohane's version of her hometown sandwich. She was mostly impressed, though she felt that "you should be able to smell onion and peppers when you walk through the door." And Jacquie confused the girl at the cash register by asking for a "pizza steak" -- a cheese steak with marinara sauce. She got it but had to explain what she wanted. "In Philly," she said, "they would have known what I meant."

When he heard this, Keohane displayed plenty of brotherly love. "If it's a cheese steak, we'll make it any way our customers want to eat it," he said, "no matter where they're from."

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