One of the things I love most about Lawrence is its support of small local businesses. High quality local restaurants thrive here. There are plenty that I still need to try – there are many qualified restaurants not included here for that reason – but for now I will share with you a list of my personal tried & true Lawrence local favorites. You will notice similarities throughout – great service, atmosphere, and food – but take note also in the fact that this list has a wide variety of cuisine types, which I believe represents the diversity Lawrence has to offer.
Free State is my personal favorite, and I’m not alone; it repeatedly wins multiple categories on Best of Lawrence. It was founded in 1989 as the state’s first legal brewery in over 100 years! Literally everything on the menu is good…no, outstanding. The locally brewed craft beer is top notch and never disappoints. I especially love trying their seasonal brews. With daily food specials and $1.75 select pints every Monday, Free State is always a great choice.
My Top Picks: Fish & Chips, Mushroom Gorgonzola Gnocchi, Stormchaser IPA
Pro Tips: If you take advantage of the great Monday beer special be aware it will be crowded. Go at least once during March for March Mustard Madness.
The Burger Stand is a Lawrence original and a local favorite, known for its gourmet burgers and fries. Whenever old college friends are back in town they almost always want to hit up Burger Stand.
Burger toppings include habanero-cactus jam, chipotle-cocoa ketchup, truffle butter, and more. There are several gourmet fries to choose from as well – truffle, duck fat, and Cajun to name a few. The restaurant also boasts a large selection of French fry dipping sauces to choose from. If you’re not feeling adventurous but still want to taste the excellence of Burger Stand, fear not – they also offer a classic burger and regular fries.
To maintain honesty and transparency, I will tell you there have been a few times when my burger has been under cooked. It does not always happen, but to be on the safe side I recommend ordering it slightly more well done than you actually want.
My Top Picks: Black & Blue Burger with blue cheese, granny smith apple chutney, and assorted greens; Truffle Fries with guajillo-chili dip
Pro Tip: Get all of the dipping sauces, and get two of the garlic aioli and guajillo-chili dip
Johnny’s is a local chain with two locations in Lawrence (north and west) and eight more around the Kansas City area. Even though I happen to live the closest to the west location, it is my top pick regardless; I have just had really excellent service here.
With great service, food, and beer selections, and TVs galore, it’s a great place to watch a game. It gets crowded during sporting events and is a fun place to watch – I have given hugs and high fives to plenty of strangers during March Madness – but is still family-friendly and never out of control. The menu has something for everyone: nachos, burgers, pizza, salads, sandwiches, and more.
My Top Picks: Espi-Nacos with beef, Simmons Wings
Pro Tip: When going to watch a game arrive about one hour early to get a good seat.
Three words: Free. Cheese. Dip. Yes, you read that right. Along with the classic complimentary chips and salsa, El Potro also gives each table a glorious little bowl of cheese dip. This place is always busy, but it is huge and can accommodate lots of people. I order something different every time and have never been disappointed.
My Top Picks: Queso Potro Especial (aka free cheese dip), Steak Fajita Quesadilla
Pro Tip: Serving sizes are huge. If you’re a cheese dip freak like me, order from the Ala Carte and Sides menu – you’ll have plenty.
The Mad Greek is a family-owned-and-operated local restaurant bringing old family recipes from Greece and Italy to Lawrence. Every time my family visited me when I was in college they would request that we go to “that Greek place” to eat. My favorite time to go is for the Sunday lunch buffet, which includes the most popular Greek and Italian menu items. You can also enjoy drinks and appetizers at a discount during happy hour every Monday-Thursday 4-6pm.
My Top Picks: Roasted Feta Cheese, Gyros Dinner, Falafel Dinner
Pro Tip: Take advantage of the 11am-2pm Sunday lunch buffet for $11.99 to sample and enjoy the restaurant’s best dishes.
Being the first place I ever dared to try sushi, when my best friend made me go there because it was his birthday, Yokohma holds a special place in my heart. I don’t come from a family of very adventurous eaters (no offense mom, I love your cooking!) so I didn’t experience Japanese cuisine until college. Once I tried it, Yokohama quickly became one of my top choices for places to eat out. The decor of the main dining area is very modern, but the restaurant also has a room with a low table and cushions where diners can get a more authentic experience.
My Top Picks: Jayhawk Roll and Hungry Roll
Pro Tip: Rumor has it the location on 23rd Street is never crowded and they sometimes give customers free appetizers. Disclaimer: I have never tried this myself…but should!
Aimee’s is a wonderful little cafe on Mass Street. It’s primarily a coffee shop, but I like to go there for the food. The coffee is good, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd. The food, however, is outstanding. The people who work there are also extremely friendly and customers are treated like family. Local artists’ work is displayed on the walls and changed out regularly, so there’s always something new to see. The atmosphere is cozy and relaxing with comfy couches and chairs mixed with the regular cafe tables.
My Top Picks: Biscuits & Gravy with Hash Browns, Club Sandwich
Pro Tip: Everything is made from scratch so you may wait 15-20 minutes for your food. If you don’t want to sit and wait call for carryout about 20 minutes before you want to pick it up and eat at the nearby park if it’s a nice day. (This was my go-to hangover cure when I lived within walking distance in college).
Terrebonne is a tiny hole-in-the-wall Cajun & Creole restaurant in downtown, Lawrence. A counter splits the restaurant in two sections: a small dining area with four tables, and the kitchen. From the deviled eggs and hush puppies, to the jambalaya and po’ boys, you can’t go wrong with this menu. They also make shakes with home made ice cream! Everything is cheap, but the quality of the food is far from it. Don’t be fooled by the fact that I only have one “top pick,” I am really stuck on this one. Everything here is amazing – I can narrow down the main dish easily enough, but as far as sides go you just have to go multiple times and try them all!
My Top Pick: Shrimp Po’ Boy
Pro Tip: Get a main dish, a side, and a dessert. Take advantage of the small patio seating area during nice weather.
Biemer’s is the kind of place you go on a Saturday afternoon when you can go home immediately afterwards and take a long nap. The food is out of this world and comes in huge portions, of course, and the beer is cheap. It’s perfect if you’re hungry and on a budget. I love that you can get a single rib – I like ribs but I’m not one to eat a slab, so having one or two to munch on the side is awesome.
My Top Picks: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Ribs, Cole Slaw
Pro Tip: Biemer’s is closed on Sundays
Although Limestone has been open since April 2014, it is the newest restaurant on this list. The Owner and Executive Chef was previously the Executive Chef at Free State (#1 on the list) so you know the food is good. Limestone supports local farmers and does everything it can to be green and protect the environment.
The restaurant has a fun yet laid back atmosphere, which includes a wood-fired oven that can be seen from the dining area. Even though it seems to have a minimalist menu the choices are all unique and sure to please. I try to order something new each time I go, once you find your favorite that can be a challenge. They also have a spicy-sweet red sauce on each table that is to die for. I highly recommend slathering it on your pie, or at least using it as a dipping sauce for the crust.
My Top Picks: Mushroom Pizza, Farmer Pizza
Pro Tip: Order something different every time. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you been to any of my top ten Lawrence restaurants? Do you have any faves not listed here? Tell me about it in the comments!