Drawing more than 25,000 University of Kansas students, Lawrence offers an enormous array of independently owned restaurants. So it can be helpful to have a short list of tried and tested places that provides a brief sampling of all those great flavors. The only problem? You might need to spend a week here to even scratch the surface of this vibrant restaurant scene.
If the University of Kansas is Lawrence’s heart, then Massachusetts Street is its restaurant hub. There are dozens of choices, from upscale to strictly casual. Opened since 1989, Free State Brewing Company was Kansas’ first brewery in 100 years. Watch employees working at spotless stainless steel tanks through massive windows, while quaffing Ad Astra Pale Ale alongside and enormous serving of black bean quesadillas or Sonoma Shrimp Fettuccine.
A ‘Mass Street’ favorite serving Latin American food, La Parilla has operated since 1999. Oh sure, you’ll find guacamole and queso. But you’ll also find chorizo and bacon-stuffed dates, loads of burritos or quesadillas and house specialties such as Shrimp Chile Relleno. Enjoy a margarita too, while people watching from the small patio.
European favorites fill the menu at Genovese Italian Restaurant. Start your meal with skillet roasted mussels or a massive meat and cheese platter. Then build your own pizza or order a pasta tasting menu. Stone walls and warm colors create a cozy atmosphere.
There’s more European-inspired fare at 715 Mass, a bistro that opened in fall 2009. This is a great place for handmade pasta dishes or grilled options and specialty cocktails are a must. Generous happy hours occur from 3:30 to 5:30 or 10:30-12:30; and leisurely weekend brunch hours are 9 to 3.
Operating in a one-time bank building, Merchants Pub & Plate offers an enormous selection of draft craft beers. Dishes emphasize local harvest ingredients, with delicious ‘Mains’ such as Wild Mushroom Cassoulet and ‘Sammies’ that include Honey Chipotle Burgers.
Check out The Roost, known for homemade breakfasts and pastries – and long waits – the restaurant also serves lunch and cocktails. Breakfast items, available until 3 p.m., include made-to-order omelets and several ‘Bennys.’ Try the potato pancakes or French toast in spiked custard. Natural wood and big windows make this a cozy, comfortable place.
In a city full of college students pizza and burgers are a must. Limestone Pizza Kitchen & Bar has become another Mass Street favorite, with its massive stone-faced wood-fired oven. This classic Neopolitan-style pizza features fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farmers and producers whenever possible. Winter menu items also include homemade chicken noodle soup, roasted root vegetables or Croque Monsieur.
Black & Blue or Kobe are several popular burgers at another Mass Street restaurant, The Burger Stand at the Casbah. Not a fan? Check out the Catfish Po Boy or a ‘hawt dog.’ Vegetarian options and a massive beer selection also draw fans. Raw brick and wood plank floors, and exposed duct work, create a welcoming environment.
Popular Vermont Street restaurants include longtime favorite WheatFields Bakery Cafe. Pair a fresh scone with your Primavera Omelet or try some homemade soup with an Eggplant Prosciutto Panini. Bread is hand-crafted with unbleached, unbromated flour, natural starters and slow fermentation, before baking in a wood-fired brick oven.
Terrebonne Cafe Cajun & Creole Restaurant offers a bright color palette on Vermont Street, paired with Louisiana favorites written on a broad chalkboard. Fried okra for only a couple of bucks, and gumbo, get good reviews.