Kansas City has been a barbecue town since the early 1900s when Henry Perry arrived from Memphis and started smoking meat in a trolley barn near 18th and Vine. The BBQ in KC is characterized by three things: The wide variety of meats (even fish) that are used; the dry spice rub used before it gets smoked; and the tomato-based sauce it’s bathed in. As a result, it’s arguably some of the best in the country. But it’s a little harder if you’re a vegetarian, like me, living in Kansas City.
As a pescatarian for the past 10 years, I’ve often shied away from eating at BBQ restaurants. However, you can’t live in this city and avoid them, especially if you host out-of-town guests.
Luckily, many BBQ joints have figured out that some of their guests don’t prefer a giant rack of ribs on their plate. A few have gone a step further and provide some great BBQ-themed cocktails as well. Without further ado, here are my picks for the best vegetarian BBQ in Kansas City!
Update: This post was published in January 2021 and updated in March 2022 to reflect closures.
Call ahead to see what health and safety measures are in place. Take-out is an option at most places, too.
I’ve been hearing about Q39 for quite a while, but didn’t really see a reason to visit. Then, last weekend, I just had a craving for BBQ sauce, looked up their menu and saw a couple of good options. We went to the South location, 11051 Antioch Road in Overland Park, Kan.
They also have a second (original) location in Westport on the Missouri side of the state line, 1000 W 39th St, Kansas City, Mo.
I love any restaurant that has vegetarian appetizers. It’s not that hard y’all! The buffalo cauliflower florets were spicy and satisfying.
The white bean burger with provolone, onion straws and BBQ sauce (vinegary, smoky, spicy) really hit the spot.
Generally, BBQ places in Kansas City aren’t overly fancy. Many of them don’t even have a liquor license, or just serve wine and beer. I was delighted when we were handed a cocktail menu.
I picked the Smoke and Stormy, which was a very wise choice. Comprised of Stolen Smoked rum, orange bitters, lime juice, simple syrup, and topped with ginger beer, I will be recreating this one at home!
Related post: Have a sweet tooth? Check out these KC restaurants and shops for tasty desserts and treats.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
When I first moved to Kansas City, 17 years ago, I remember telling friends back home that my favorite BBQ place was in a gas station. People thought that was weird until I took them to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.
While they do have three locations, the original is my favorite. When I stopped eating meat and would visit, ordering coleslaw and fries, they used to yell “VEGETARIAN” to the kitchen.
And then, one day, I visited and saw the Portobello Z-Man on the menu. Modeled after Joe’s most famous Z-Man sandwich, the vegetarian version features sliced smoked portobello mushrooms, provolone, onion rings, and BBQ sauce.
Their french fries are also a not-to-miss menu item. BUT, I just learned that their fry seasoning has meat by-product in it. Also, while you may wait up to an hour to place your order and sit down to eat, you can now order a beer in line. Find Joe’s KC at:
- Original (gas station): 3002 W. 47th Ave., Kansas City, Kan.
- Leawood: 11723 Roe Ave., Leawood, Kan.
- Olathe: 11950 S. Strang Line Road, Olathe, Kan.
Char Bar has been on my list of favorite local spots since it opened in 2014. In addition to having some great vegetarian options, they also have an incredible beer selection and an outdoor patio with lawn games.
Since it’s a big place, I have never had to wait on a table.
The Southern Smoke: Milagro reposado, mezcal, lime, pineapple, cinnamon, and fresno oil. I found it remarkably light and refreshing.
This is one of my favorite versions of BBQ – jackfruit! If you haven’t had it before, it’s worth a try.
Char Bar does an excellent sandwich called the Jackknife which includes smoked jackfruit, melted provolone, sliced avocado, and fried jalapeños. It is super spicy and so delicious.
Visit Char Bar at 4050 Pennsylvania Ave., suite 150, Kansas City, Mo.
About the Author
Jenn Beard is the founder of Cocktails Away — a collection of adventures in pursuit of a great drink, a quality spirit, a unique ingredient, and the places they come from. Check out her blog for mouthwatering recipes and insider tips on DIY bartending and cocktail culture or travel to bars around the world at @cocktailsaway.