History and some of Wichita's best ethnic food make for a tasty mix on the city's north side. Many people don't realize it today, but the north side was Wichita's original restaurant row, with supper clubs such as Savute's, Ken's Club, Abe's Steakhouse and Doc's Steakhouse drawing diners to and around North Broadway.
With the recent news that Doc's is closing, only Savute's at 3303 N. Broadway — the city's oldest full-service restaurant — remains. Opened in 1945 and one of the first establishments in the city to serve pizza, Savute's hasn't changed its menu much through the years. Like the great old neon sign outside says, it's still a place for steaks and Italian food.
For a double dose of nostalgia, have a drink or light meal in its aviation-themed bar, the Stick 'n Rudder Club, with its airplane seats and all manner of flight paraphernalia plastering the walls. We can heartily recommend the Italian margarita and (strange as it sounds) hamburger and sauerkraut pizza.
Further south on Broadway is the city's first sit-down Mexican restaurant, Connie's, 2227 N. Broadway, featuring a traditional style of Mexican cooking that could come right off a family's stovetop. Connie's longevity and dishes like the fried tacos and sopapillas have won it legions of fans (including more than a few celebrities who happen through town and get themselves pointed there).
If your taste in Mexican is more adventurous, there is a lot to choose from, and much of it is within walking distance of Connie's. In the Nomar plaza at 21st and Broadway, several Mexican food trucks are generally parked and open for business just about whenever weather permits. The accommodations are pretty sparse — a folding table and plastic chairs, maybe an awning to keep off the sun — and the wait can be a bit long, as everything is made to order on tiny kitchens inside trailers. But the food is delicious and cheap, tacos and burritos filled with everything from chicken and beef to (if you like) tripe and beef tongue and garnished with plenty of fresh salsa, onion and cilantro. One of our favorites is a trailer called MegaTorta, which makes the overstuffed Mexican sandwiches known as tortas. We had one costing $9 that would have easily fed three or four people.
There are more trailers in the area, selling grilled chicken, fruit cups (try them with hot sauce!) and freshly squeezed fruit drinks.
On North Arkansas is another of our favorite Mexican restaurants, and not necessarily because of the entrees. Rather, we are drawn to Palateria la Reyna, 2925 N. Arkansas, for the exotic assortment of house-made ice cream and ices its carries in flavors such as papaya, pineapple and coconut. A line forms outside the door on warm nights.
To tell the truth, this list has only scratched the surface. North Wichita is the definitely ground zero for authentic Mexican in this town.
Depending on where you draw the line, north Wichita has quite a bit more great ethnic food as well. Along Broadway between 17th and Central, for instance, are three very good Vietnamese restaurants — Saigon Restaurant, 1103 N. Broadway, the city's first in that category; Little Saigon, 1015 N. Broadway, which has seemingly every Vietnamese specialty on its menu or special board; and Pho Hien, 1750 N. Broadway, which some believe serves up the city's best bowl of pho, as the classic Vietnamese soup is known.
Head east on 21st street, and you'll encounter more good eats with a foreign flair. There's the new Gyro House at 5218 E. 21st., and T.O.P.S. sandwiches, 2251 E. 21st, which specializes in Philly cheesesteaks (after all, it's a lot farther to Philadelphia from here than it is to Juarez, Mexico). In a strip center near the intersection of east 21st and Woodlawn is a compact collection of interesting restaurants, including Deshi Curry, 6249 E. 21st, for Indian food, Banh Thai for Thai fare, and the new Marrakech Cafe, 6257 E. 21st, for tasty Moroccan cuisine.
So if you find your taste buds pointing you in a slightly different direction some day, you probably want to head north.