The Five-Buck Lunch

Lots of options at the venerable Kitty’s Cafe

Updated: 2014-03-19T19:27:34Z

By STEVE PAUL

The Kansas City Star

If you’re heading for lunch (or breakfast) at Kitty’s Cafe, you really have to work at it to spend more than $5.

Only two menu items cost more than that — pennies more, I might add — and those happen to be two of my most favorite sandwiches around. But more on them later.

You can be quite happy with a double cheeseburger, juicy and simple ground-beef patties layered in a medium-soft bun with American cheese, lettuce and tomato, which rings up at $4.50. A regular cheeseburger is $2.80, leaving room in the $5 cap for fries ($1.90) or a can of soda (80 cents).

For $2, Kitty’s makes one of the more humble grilled cheese sandwiches. With its melted American cheddar on toasted white bread, it speaks the language of homestyle nostalgia. You could add an order of standard, crunchy tater tots ($1.90) plus soda (80 cents) and barely knock on the door of the $5 limit.

Kitty’s is a tiny midtown diner with a pinkish facade, a long history and a large following.

It was opened in the early 1950s by a Japanese-American, Paul Kawakami, who was confined to a U.S. internment camp out West during World War II and then flung off with a one-way bus ticket to Kansas City. He and his wife, the eponymous Kitty, retired and sold the place in the 1980s.

The owner now is Charley Soulivong, who has run it for 15 years.

There’s room for maybe as many as six counter-top eaters inside, and a couple of years ago Soulivong installed some picnic tables under cover in his side yard. But most people do takeout.

Now about those more expensive offerings: People have been writing favorably about Kitty’s pork loin sandwich for decades.

I probably had my first one only 10 years ago or so. The pounded tenderloin ($5.20) is fried in a secret batter and comes loaded on a bun with a hot-sauce option. It has what you want in a great sandwich: texture, complex layers of flavor, minimal sloppiness and a sense of unfussy comfort.

I’d say exactly the same about the fresh catfish sandwich ($5.60), whose delicate, flaky fried fish takes the texture experience to a slightly different, but still comforting place.

Steve Paul, senior writer and arts editor: 816-234-4762, paul@kcstar.com; on Twitter: @sbpaul; on Tumblr: alas-sbpaul.

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