There are lots of ways to look at the restaurant scene in downtown Wichita – by location, genre, price, proprietor. But what's simpler than a sampler based on your ABCs?
A - FOR THE ANCHOR, at 1109 E. Douglas purveyor of craft beer and pub grub, and part of Schane Gross' burgeoning food empire (she recently opened the Chop Shop butcher next door and plans to launch the Fork & Fennel local foods eatery in College hill later this year).
B - FOR BREAKFAST, served up spectacularly at the DOO-DAH DINER, 206 E. Kellogg, in dishes like Banana Bread French Toast, Chicken 'n Waffles and "The Brutus" (a mountain of hash browns, caramelized onions, chicken fried steak, sausage gravy and two eggs any way).
C - FOR CELEBRITY CHEFHOOD personified by Jason-Paul Febres of TASTE & SEE, 255 N. Washington. Febres, who has appeared on several network food shows, dishes up some pretty food at his restaurant, too.
D - FOR DELANO. Is the neighborhood just west of the Arkansas river part of downtown? We'll let others debate that and just mention three spots that we'd swim to if necessary: THE MONARCH, 579 W. Douglas, a gastropub with patio overlooking the Delano clock tower; BIG B'S BEEF, 605 W. Douglas, where the sandwich sizes live up the name; and DELANO BARBECUE CO., 710 W. Douglas, a lunch-only spot guaranteed to deliver that BBQ fix.
E - FOR ESPRESSO. There's no shortage of high-voltage coffee downtown these days with ESPRESSO TO GO GO, 102 N. St. Francis, and MEAD'S CORNER, 430 E. Douglas, pouring it on just blocks from each other.
F - FOR FRIES. And the award goes to FIVE GUYS BURGERS, 1025 E. Douglas, where strategically displayed bags of spuds demonstrate the chain's dedication to doing this indispensable burger accompaniment the right way.
G - FOR GELATO AT CAFFE MODERNE, 300 N. Mead, where the artisan-crafted flavors range from plain-Jane vanilla to chocolate blood orange and Framboise lambic.
H - FOR HEROES, 117 N. Mosley. There's something heroic about the way this Old Town pioneer has endured, and much has to do with its accommodating atmosphere and reliable food, from the signature Sweet Pepper Bacon Cheeseburger to Sweet Pep- per Bacon Pizza and Sweet Pepper Bacon Cheesecake. See a pattern here?
I - FOR ICE CREAM, which you can still get over an old-fashioned counter at OLD MILL TASTY SHOP, 604 E. Douglas (after polishing off a smothered burrito and bowl of green chili, perhaps).
J - FOR JAZZ AT LARKSPUR, 904 E. Douglas, one of the many touches – wine list, service, food – that make one of old town's original fine dining restaurants still the place to go for many on special nights out.
K - FOR KINDA KOOKY, a fond description of COW AND SOW DELI, 612 E. Douglas, where the Reubens are great, the owner may hug you and the dining room is located next door.
L - FOR LOCALLY GROWN FOOD (like lettuce and leeks), which HARVEST KITCHEN is trying to incorporate into its menu whenever possible. Hotel restaurants don't typically get a lot of in-town business, but this upscale spot, located in the Hyatt Regency at 400 W. Waterman, is worth a visit.
M - FOR MY THO, 500 E. Central, one of the city's best Vietnamese noodle houses (and there are many good ones) just happens to be on the northern edge downtown. the menu is tiny and has everything you need.
N - FOR THE NANTUCKET, a combination of chicken salad, fruit and a roll at THE BEACON, 909. E Douglas, that's sadly only available certain times of year.
O - FOR OENO, 330 N. Mead, a wine bar with good appys, a regular schedule of paired wine-and-food gourmet tasting meals and dancing/live entertainment to work off all those calories.
P - FOR PIZZA AT JOE'S OLD TOWN, 222 N. Washington Ave., which imported the great formula from the east-side Mulligan's and instantly shot to the top of Old Town pie offerings.
Q - FOR QUESO AT SABOR, 309 N. Mead. The white cheese blend with corn and tricolor chips serves as a perfect introduction to the restaurant's Latin American-inspired cuisine.
R - FOR RIVER CITY BREWING CO., 150 N. Mosley, about 20 years ahead of its time in locating in Old Town and championing good beer (not to mention food). Still going strong after a remodel of its upstair music venue, The Loft.
S - FOR SLOPPY JOES AT THE PUMPHOUSE, 825 E. Second. Where else can you get a huge open-faced sloppy joe sandwich, sprinkled with cheddar cheese and served with a ton of potato chips? Nowhere – and only on Thursdays here.
T - FOR TORTILLAS AT PLAYA AZUL, 111 N. Washington, served up in all the ways you'd expect – chips, tacos, enchiladas, etc. Nothing revolutionary here – and nothing not to enjoy about margaritas, chips and salsa and a combo meal when the craving for Mexican hits.
U - FOR UNIQUE, as in the dim sum at TOM'S LOTUS GARDEN, 822 S. Broadway. Places like Pei Wei and P.F. Chang's may have dim sum (Chinese appetizers) on their menu, but only at Tom's do they wheel the stuff around the restaurant on carts, hidden inside little silver containers. available weekends only.
V - FOR VEGAN OFFERINGS, one of many healthy choices at the LOTUS LEAF, 251 N. Washington. Vegan food isn't all this stylish new cafe has, but it is well represented in dishes like the eggplant sub with tomato and basil pesto, the lotus crepe with veggies and ricotta in a gluten-free buckwheat crepe, and quinoa tabbouleh.
W - FOR WASABI, which you'll want to add to your soy dipping sauce concoction when dining in downtown's two sushi bars – HANA CAFE, 325 N. Mead, and WASABI, 912 E. Douglas. Don't ask us to choose; we enjoy hearing their fans debate.
X - FOR THE X FACTOR. PUBLIC AT THE BRICKYARD, 129 N. Rock Island, has it in spades. In addition to a cool (literally) sub- terranean setting, on many nights you can enjoy good beer and upscale pub food, then step next door the brickyard for music by local and touring bands under an open sky. Kinda groovy, huh?
Y - FOR FROZEN YOGURT AT YO-B, 301 N. Mead. hard to believe but this strip-mall staple was impossible to find downtown before Bel Ami owner Nabil Bacha opened his bright, appealing yogurt-and-burger spot in Old Town Square.
Z - FOR Z'S, AS IN A NAP, which is what you'll need if you sample just a fraction of what downtown has to offer.
Joe Stumpe is former food editor of The Wichita Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.