Kitty’s Cafe - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Kitty’s Cafe

Savor the famous tempura-fried pork tenderloin sandwich at this long-standing Kansas City food counter. 

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Blink while driving along East 31st Street in Kansas City, and you might miss it. Kitty’s Cafe, a tiny lunch counter, isn’t easy to spot right away, but once you know about it, you’ll want to keep coming back. 

Kitty’s owners keep things simple—and downright secretive. There’s no website, no listed phone number, and no advertising. What longtime Kansas Citians and some savvy travelers do know is that for over 70 years, Kitty’s has consistently served some of the best food in town.

Burgers, chicken, catfish, and the cafe’s signature pork tenderloin sandwiches come wrapped in white-and-red checked paper, a nod to the diner’s 1950s roots. Crinkle fries, cooked crispy golden-brown are cradled in a paper wedge.

Inside, there’s just about enough room to walk in place your order, and step to the side as you wait. Depending on the crowd—it’s about a 20-minute wait during the lunch rush—people wait in their cars, or in a small outdoor seating area next door.

Kitty’s is named after its founder, Kitty Kawakami, a Japanese immigrant who moved to Kansas City from California and, with her husband, Paul, opened the cafe in 1951. In 1986, they sold it to another family, and after a fire, that family sold it in 1999 to Charlie Soulivong. 

Since taking it over, the Soulivong family has operated the restaurant with one mission: Don’t change what works. The most-popular order is Kitty’s original tempura-style pork tenderloin sandwich, which eats more like a fried fish and reflects the cafe’s Japanese-American heritage. 

Every day, members of the Soulivong family hand-cut and pound the pork into thin cutlets. After deep frying them, they’re stacked, three-high, and topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato and onion, pickle chips, and hot sauce on a soft Kaiser roll. A pork tenderloin sandwich and fries runs about $13.

Know Before You Go

Kitty’s Cafe is a cash-only food counter with limited counter-style interior seating. Six covered tables are available next-door to the restaurant. Lines form for the breakfast and lunch rush, so if you’re looking to avoid crowds, try mid-morning or just before closing. A few pull-up street parking spots are available and free, but they fill up fast during busy hours. Park on Charlotte Street and walk a block east. No website or phone number is available. No advance orders. Kitty’s is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Sunday.

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