Forget the tie and fancy dress when going out to eat in south Wichita. The dining in this part of the city is fast, fun and affordable. To be honest, a few of our favorites in this area qualify for the “hole-in-the-wall” category, but that just makes for a more colorful experience.
For whatever reason, burgers are a specialty of south Wichita. At least three places specializing in them belong on any list of the top burgers in the city. Jack's Coffee Shop, 6154 S. Hydraulic, has been cranking out great burgers – and only burgers – for decades. The burgers are pressed flat during cooking so the edges get crispy and hang over the edges of the bun. Get one with a big plate of fried onions on the side.
Bomber Burger, 4860 S. Clifton, has a few more offerings on the menu, but stick with the massive burgers and a side of the hand-cut fries, and don't be surprised if the owner throws in a little good-natured abuse for free. The Annex Lounge, 6305 E. Harry, serves up a concoction called the Inside-Out Burger that's kind of a like a burger inside a grilled cheese – that's called a win-win proposition. Also noted: Buster's, 1202 E. MacArthur; Calvin's Hamburger Heaven, 1929 S. Seneca.
Like a cell, Lalo's Mexican restaurant seems to have split and duplicated itself. Originally located at the corner of Harry and Seneca, Lalo's became somewhat legendary for the huge portions of tasty, inexpensive food it delivered through its take-out window late at night. It's now moved to bigger quarters at 2501 S. Seneca, but another restaurant, Tacos Mexican, has taken its place with what appears to be the identical menu. Try the beefy Kansas burrito.
There are only a handful of seats in Taqueria Mi Lindo Michoacan, located at Hydraulic and Wassall, but if you have to eat on the stoop outside, you'll be glad you did. It's only open on Saturday and Sunday, which seems cruel considering how tasty the tacos are. The owner fills the tacos by picking pork off the carcass of an entire pig that's been roasted and which is displayed for your admiration.
Also noted: Mexican Burrito, 3005 E. Pawnee; El Papa Gallo, 901 E. Harry.
Saigon Bistro, 3123 E. Pawnee, does all the traditional Vietnamese dishes right: pho (noodle soup), banh mi (sandwich), spring rolls and iced coffee. Plus there are more elaborate dishes well worth exploring.
Manna Wok, 4865 E. Harry, is a tiny place that's a favorite of many Korean food lovers thanks its version of dishes such as bi bim rice, bulgogi and kimchi. Also noted: Ah So, 855 S. Oliver.
Fat Ernies, 2806 S. Hydraulic, seems to have been packed since the day it opened in 2001. Owner Ernie Fincher had already spent more than a decade perfecting his diner food in Kingman, and when he moved to the big city, the big city was more than ready for his chicken-fried steaks, pork chops, pancakes and other diner staples.
There are also all-you-can-eat specials every day; if you polish off more than one plate of this place's chicken fettuccine Alfredo (the Tuesday special), I take off my napkin to you.
Also noted: Brint's Diner, 4834 E. Lincoln; Country Cafe, 2804 S. Seneca; Jimmie's Diner, 1519 S. George Washington.
A number of south-side bars dish up good food, seemingly as a loss leader considering how cheaply it's priced. Try the pizza at Magoos, 2304 S. Oliver, the plate lunches at Seneca St. Bar & Grill, 3837 S. Seneca; and the burgers at Snoops, 2301 E. Mount Vernon.
There are two local sub shops in south Wichita that have been around since long before a couple of national sub chains became ubiquitous – Moe's, 2815 S. Hydraulic, and Grinder Man, 510 E. Pawnee. For old-school Italian-American food, especially baked and stuffed pasta dishes, try Marchello's, 3107 S. Seneca.
In a town full of Mediterranean food, N&J Cafe and Bakery at 5600 E. Lincoln might be the biggest place devoted exclusively to authentic versions of that region's food. And across the street from N&J is PO Boy, 5619 E. Lincoln, which specializes in a uniquely tasty item called the pizza roll, at a price even a poor boy can afford.
Joe Stumpe is the former food of The Wichita Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.