Tastes of Topeka: Where to Eat in Top City
Treat yourself to Topeka's best barbecue, baked goods and more.
So Much More Than Spuds
Potatoes may have inspired the name for Kansas’ capital city, but Topeka’s food offerings go far beyond spuds. With a major expressway running straight through the city, Topeka has long served as a hub for hungry travelers to fuel up on caffeine and comfort foods. Beloved Topeka fixtures serving burgers, barbecue and baked goods still beckon, but the city’s dining scene continues to burgeon, with fine-dining restaurants and artisanal food shops among the recent additions. Here are some stellar stops to include in any food tour of the Top City.
Pizza: La Rocca's Pizza
Pizza lovers, don’t sleep on the pies at La Rocca’s. Located on South Topeka Boulevard in the southern part of the city, this spot has been serving pizza since 2010. Sure, you can also order sandwiches, calzones, and pasta dishes, but pizza is what they do best (the garlic rolls are pretty great, too). Go all in with the Deluxe, which is loaded with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Come hungry… ‘cause if you buy two pizzas, you get 40 percent off the second one.
Dessert: Shana Cake
Satisfy your sweet tooth without settling for unnecessary additives at this charming spot billed as an allergy-friendly bakery. Located in Downtown Topeka, Shana Cake offers baked goods made with special diets in mind. Nothing on the menu contains artificial flavors, artificial colors, gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, corn, nuts, treenuts, GMOs, casein or preservatives. An array of desserts and breads are available, but the cupcakes are a definite standout. Stuffed with fresh fruit filling and festooned with buttercream frosting, they’re proof that simplicity can indeed be sweet.
Sandwiches: Café Holliday
A hidden gem in Topeka, Café Holliday has managed to remain fairly under the radar, even though it has been around for 22 years. Located across the street from the historic Holliday Park, this quaint restaurant serves sandwiches, soups, salads, and Mexican entrees. Each sandwich is named after a well-known author: Chaucer, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, etc. Opt for the Hemingway and you’ll get a heap of roast beef, along with cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickle, mayo and spicy mustard.
Mexican: El Centenario
Topeka is loaded with Mexican restaurants, and everyone has an opinion as to which is the best. If you only have time to squeeze in one, though, make it El Centenario. Located just south of Downtown, this casual spot serves many of the standards. The Enchiladas Suizas are filled with chicken and smothered in a green chili cheese sauce, and the tacos are simply prepared in the traditional style, with meat-of-choice, onions, cilantro and lime on two soft corn tortillas. Margarita lovers, keep an eye out for the 99-cent specials available on select nights.
French Cuisine: Chez Yasu
Don’t let Chez Yasu’s rustic exterior fool you. It may look like barbecue or down-home cooking awaits inside, but this restaurant has actually been serving French cuisine since 2002. Chez Yasu offers a variety of classic French favorites, including its ever-popular Boeuf Bourguignon. The kitchen sticks close to tradition with this dish, which features braised boneless beef short ribs, onions and mushrooms drenched in red wine sauce. A side of mashed potatoes completes the plate.
Grilled Cheese: Wheel Barrel
Wheel = cheese. Barrel = craft beer. Both feature prominently on the menu at this cozy restaurant in the North Topeka Arts District (NOTO). Chef Erin Fowler puts a grilled-cheese spin on some classic sandwiches, such as the Monte Cristo (made with brie and Swiss) and the Olga (a twist on a classic Reuben). She also creates grilled-cheese desserts, like the Not So Bittersweet Symphony. This dish starts with a hefty slice of brioche, which is slathered with creamy brie and chocolate hazelnut, then toasted. A dusting of powdered sugar amps up the richness. Dip the bread into the accompanying side of blackberry jelly to bring a tinge of brightness to the cheesy, chocolaty dessert.
Diner Food: Bluebird Diner
For a true taste of nostalgia in Topeka, nothing beats Bluebird Diner. Located in one of the last 1960s-era Valentine diner buildings still operating as a food spot, Bluebird channels that old-school feeling with its traditional diner fare — breakfast platters, burgers, meatloaf and chicken-fried steak. However, their most popular offering is the Sloppy Pie: corn chips smothered with homemade Sloppy Joe mixture and topped with shredded cheese, fresh onions and sour cream. Oh yeah, you can just get a Sloppy Joe, too — for the retro price of $2!
Bakery Cafe: Josey Baking Co.
Located in Topeka’s lovely Westboro neighborhood, Josey Baking Co. specializes in those pillowy European pastries known as kolaches. Satisfy your sweet craving with a cherry filling or go savory with sausage gravy — both are popular picks. The bakery also pulls in flavors from other food traditions, with kolaches inspired by Monte Cristo sandwiches and tacos among its eclectic selection. But wait, there’s more! Opt for the bierock and you’ll get a yeast dough pastry wrapped around a filling of seasoned beef, sausage and veggies (another Kansas staple by way of Europe). Plus, there are plenty of sweet treats — cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, pies and cakes, as well as cookies in craveworthy flavors like salted chocolate chip and butterscotch oatmeal.
Steak: North Star Steakhouse
Head to this long-standing establishment for a great steak — and a glimpse at the colorful side of Topeka’s history. Opened in the early 1940s by bootlegger William E. “Jug” Robinson, the steakhouse still features photos of him on the walls. Channel the spot’s decadent past with a delectable cut: The North Star Sirloin, Rib-eye, and Bacon-Wrapped Filet are all top options. Go all in with a side of the Fries and Gravy (that’s right, you can dunk these homemade fries into your own bowl of pan gravy).
Coffee: PT's at College Hill
Coffee aficionados in need of a caffeine fix need look no further than PT’s. Located across the street from Washburn University, the coffee roasting company has been a fixture in Topeka for more than 20 years. PT’s baristas can help you choose a coffee variety for your taste, and put a pretty milk foam design on your latte to boot.
Go to:: PT’s at College Hill
The aroma of spices almost overwhelms the senses when walking into this shop. Moburts has been the place to get spices, herbs, olive oils and vinegars since its early days as a stand at the Downtown Topeka Farmer’s Market. Owners Al and Mary Jo Struttman eventually settled into a downtown storefront, where they have expanded the business with a larger selection of spices, as well as a variety of cooking classes offered in the shop’s on-site demonstration kitchen. And first-time visitors, don’t be shy. Speak up if you’d like suggestions on how to use any of the spices in the shop — or even sample the olive oils and vinegars.
Tasting Menu: RowHouse
A meal at RowHouse may feel like dining at a friend’s home, albeit one who happens to be a professional chef. Set in a former home, this fine-dining restaurant offers an evening prix-fixe tasting menu that changes weekly. Local ingredients serve as a major inspiration for Chef-Owner Greg Fox, who plucks produce straight from RowHouse’s backyard garden to incorporate into the restaurant’s dishes. The five-course meal starts with an amuse-bouche, followed by a salad, soup, one of three entree selections (or a little of each) and dessert. For a taste of RowHouse’s cuisine without the time commitment of a five-course meal, head here for lunch (served on weekdays only). One standout is the Braised Beef Shortrib Sandwich with red cabbage slaw and green aioli on a toasted ciabatta bun.
Chocolates: Hazel Hill Chocolates
Chocolate-making is in Nick Xidis’ blood. He comes from a long line of confectioners, starting with his great-grandfather who got into the business when he came to the US from Greece. Xidis continues the family tradition at Hazel Hill, his shop in Downtown Topeka that turns out small batch confections made by hand. The tempting selection includes truffles, fudge, marshmallows and caramel apples. Xidis even roasts and grinds cacao beans to make single-origin chocolate bars.
BBQ: HHB BBQ
Kansans know good barbecue, and HHB BBQ in Downtown does it well. Pit master and owner Ed Moege fires up the outdoor smokers early in the morning to start making his Topeka-style ‘cue. His pulled pork nachos are a popular choice. Moege tops the tortilla chips with a mound of smoked pulled pork, then smothers the lot in silky cheese sauce. You get to put on the rest of the toppings yourself, so skip the salsa and go for the housemade barbecue sauce instead. Round out your order with a cold draft beer to balance all that cheesy, porky richness.
Pie: Bradley’s Corner Café
Satisfy practically any pie craving at Bradly’s Corner Café. Seriously, they serve 25 different kinds! A local favorite is the coconut, which comes topped with a crest of traditional meringue instead of whipped cream. But folks also love the cherry crumb, apple, peach, chocolate, butterscotch, lemon… the list goes on. And this spot isn’t just about sweets. They also offer diner-style breakfasts and lunches.
Popcorn: Cashmere Gourmet Popcorn
Cashmere Gourmet Popcorn started as a kernel of an idea in the home kitchen of Bill and Angie Anderson. That’s where they first started making popcorn to help with a fundraiser, but the treat proved to be so popular that that the Andersons eventually opened Cashmere Gourmet Popcorn in Downtown Topeka. Their caramel popcorn is lighter and crispier than the standard, meaning it melts on your tongue instead of sticking to it. In addition to traditional options like Caramel Crunch, the shop carries beyond-basic varieties in vibrant shades. Promise is a rainbow of fruity flavors reminiscent of that popular loopy cereal. Minty Chocolate gives those cookies sold by girls in green sashes a run for their money. And Blueberry Cheesecake is inspired by — you guessed it — blueberry cheesecake.
Fine Dining: The White Linen
Crisp bills may no longer be the order of business at this former bank, but Chef-Owner Adam VanDonge certainly keeps it fresh with his inventive French and American cuisine. Expect the unexpected at The White Linen, where VanDonge transforms seasonal ingredients into visually stunning dishes. His love for experimentation also shines through in his creative flavor combinations, such as a perfectly seared Kansas filet paired with a squid ink pizzella. The menu changes monthly and every meal starts off with a complimentary glass of champagne.
Donuts: Baker's Dozen
Topeka has gone a bit doughnut-crazy. Case in point: Until recently, there were three doughnut shops in a one-block radius. Baker’s Dozen, though, has consistently risen above the competition since 2005. This multi-locale operation cranks out almost 1,800 doughnuts a week to keep up with demand at its three shops, along with the nine local Kwik Shop convenience stores that stock its sweet rounds. Fan-favorites include the Blueberry Cake Donut and the Caramel Bacon Long John, but the most-popular option by far is the massive Caramel Nut Roll.
Burger: The Burger Stand
This joint has taken Topeka’s burger game to the next level with its gourmet options that far surpass a ketchup-slathered patty on a bun. Stepped-up picks include the Kobe, so named for its American Kobe beef patty that’s festooned with pickled red onions and finished with truffle butter and tomato-aioli sauce. Want a break from beef? Opt for the Barnyard Bash, which features chicken breast sheathed in Swiss cheese and topped with sliced avocado, Applewood-smoked bacon and spicy honey mustard BBQ sauce. Pair your pick with fries. Local favorites include truffle fries with parmesan cheese, sweet potato fries, and bourbon bacon cheddar cheese fries.