The 15 Best Restaurants in Lawrence, Home of the University of Kansas

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The go-to restaurants along Mass Street, the liveliest bars in town, and the ice cream, doughnuts, pizza, beer, and other essentials every KU student and Lawrence townie needs

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Lawrence, Kansas, home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, was founded in the 1850s by anti-slavery crusaders intent on making the territory a free state. Today, the town — lovingly known to locals as “LFK” for “Lawrence Fucking Kansas” — remains known for its free-spirited vibe and progressive small-town community. It has become synonymous with college basketball, as KU overtook the University of Kentucky for highest total wins in 2022, claiming the title of winningest team in men’s NCAA history. Meanwhile, Haskell is the only intertribal Native American university in the country, with more than 150 tribes represented in the student body. Not far from both campuses, you’ll find a bustling downtown neighborhood centered on Lawrence’s iconic Massachusetts Street, where students and locals go to eat, drink, shop, and celebrate basketball victories. With creative food-focused entrepreneurs and a vibrant restaurant scene, there’s no shortage of great places to eat and drink.

Erin Socha is a nontraditional student at the University of Kansas, where she studies journalism and mathematics. Before returning to school, she spent 20 years in the wine industry.

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Kansas may be landlocked, but that doesn’t stop restaurateur Laura Klein and her team from sourcing amazing seafood. The menu features globally inspired dishes such as unagi-style ruby trout, ahi tuna nachos, and a classic French preparation of PEI mussels with dry vermouth, leeks, and tarragon butter. Diners can choose between East and West Coast oysters and peruse a thoughtfully crafted wine list. On a beautiful day, hit up the patio overlooking lively Mass Street and take advantage of happy hour with a half order of fish-and-chips or $2 oysters.

Nothing is safe from green chile at Global Cafe. Chef Rafael Gonzalez, who was born in Spain and raised in Venezuela, and his wife, Kate, travel to New Mexico yearly to source up to 1,500 pounds of Hatch green chiles for the menu at their daytime cafe. The green chile margarita is delightfully spicy-sweet, and the borrachos, a New Mexican dish of corn tortillas filled with eggs and house-made chorizo, is smothered in green or red chile. Also popular are the arepas, a Venezuelan corn patty stuffed with a variety of fillings, and anything that involves Gonzalez’s 13-hour roast pork.

A closeup on a quesadilla, drizzled with white sauce, with a margarita on the counter beyond.
Breakfast quesadilla smothered in red and green chile.
Erin Socha

Step into this tiny basement bar and you might think you have found your way to the hippest cocktail joint in Brooklyn. The quality drinks can compete with anything found in bigger cities, served with a side of “Kansas nice.” JBUG’s inviting staff welcome newcomers with an explanation of their seasonal, wildly creative menu. The unparalleled selection of some of the most sought-after spirits on the planet, with a focus on fine rums and agave-based liquors, makes the bar a must-visit for spirits aficionados. Reservations are recommended.

A bar worker stands behind a row of glasses.
Manager Dante Colombo works on a new cocktail menu.
Colin MacMillan

To call Ladybird a local treasure is an understatement. Few places feel more quintessentially Lawrence than Meg Heriford’s cozy diner, known for its kitschy decor and fabulous pies. During the pandemic, Heriford closed her doors to patrons and ran a program to feed locals in need until vaccines made indoor dining safe again. Along with diner staples, you’ll find inventive takes on dishes like avocado toast, and the cooler months feature Bowl and Roll Fridays, starring the quirky combination of hearty chili and a cinnamon roll.

A slice of dark chocolate pie topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, posed with a fork.
Chocolate mousse pie at Ladybird Diner.
Erin Socha

Lee Meisel, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, learned the meat trade while growing up on his family’s farm and at butcher shops in North Dakota. Meisel relocated to Lawrence to study business at Haskell University, and in 2015, he and his partner, K, opened Leeway Franks, an unassuming spot that serves sausages, burgers, and patty melts. Frankfurters and bratwurst are made next door at the butcher shop, where you’ll find a variety of locally sourced meats. Away from the bustle of downtown, Leeway Franks is easy to miss, but supreme hot dogs and crispy tater tots make it worth the visit.

Husband-and-wife team Regan and chef Aaron Pillar opened Culinaria as a catering company in 2009, before transforming the business into a restaurant in 2017. Located in a historic building dating to the 1860s, Culinaria serves up tapas-style plates with an emphasis on eastern Mediterranean cuisines. Highlights include fattoush, mujaddara, crispy fried artichokes, an array of hummuses, and other vegetarian and vegan dishes. If you’re coming with a crowd or just a hearty appetite, opt for the meze platter for an excellent sampling of chef Pillar’s talents.

Various colorful dips, breads, and vegetables on a tray.
Meze platter at Culinaria.
Regan Pillar

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Nothing caps off a day in downtown Lawrence like a visit to Sylas and Maddy’s, a hometown ice cream shop since 1997. Flavors like Rock Choc Jayhawk (sweet cream ice cream with brownies and fudge) and Mahomes Magic (butter pecan, chocolate flakes, coconut, and graham crackers) infuse the sweet treat with a bit of KU pride. In addition to crafting original ice cream flavors, Sylas and Maddy’s makes fresh waffle cones from scratch daily.

Wheatfields has been a fixture of the Lawrence dining scene since 1995, and it continues to rack up national and regional accolades thanks to its wood-fired oven and slow-rising dough. Stop by the downtown cafe in the morning to enjoy breakfast burritos and egg croissants, or come for lunch to choose from sandwiches, empanadas, quiche, and more. While the bread remains the star of the show, don’t sleep on the pastries and sweets: tiramisu, cinnamon rolls, eclairs, and an array of cookies and cakes.

Rows of bread loaves on wire shelving with little labels.
Loaves on the shelves at Wheatfields.
Erin Socha

Chef TK and Emily Peterson have been serving up inventive farm-to-table cuisine at Merchants since 2014, with a focus on seasonality and local sourcing. The bar boasts 30 rotating taps offering craft beers, including several regional brews. Signature cocktails are creative too, such as the In a Pickle, a pickle- and pepper-infused take on the vodka martini. On the food side, menu highlights include Korean fried chicken, short rib gnocchi, and cheddar-chive biscuits and gravy. It’s worth noting that Merchants offers terrific options for vegetarians and gluten-free diets.

A cobb salad, divided into colorful rows of ingredients.
House cobb salad.
Doug Stremel

Kansas was one of the first states to pass Prohibition and one of the last to repeal it. In the 1980s, on-premises alcohol sales were still prohibited outside of private clubs, but Free State Brewing founder Chuck Magerl worked to change that. An early advocate of the local food movement, he envisioned local beer made with local wheat, enjoyed at your local restaurant. In 1989, Free State opened its doors and made Kansas history. Its popular beers are now available in stores throughout the region. The original location, a great place to catch a game of KU basketball, is still buzzing every night, serving up tasty pub fare and excellent craft beer to a devoted local following.

Every college town needs a cheap place that’s open late. Pizza Shuttle has been that place for KU, and has remained students’ go-to source for late-night munchies since 1984. For $9, a hungry customer can get a 10-inch specialty pie made with quality ingredients that aren’t on the menu at chain pizza restaurants. Pizza Shuttle is open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for delivery and in-person dining.

In a town full of great cocktails, the Bourgeois Pig has been a pioneer, crafting inventive drinks since 1993. With a distinctly European vibe, the Pig has an intimate indoor setting and a terrific patio for people watching. On weekends, it serves as a coffee shop starting at 10 a.m., brewing locally roasted beans from Repetition Coffee. As the day goes on, the cocktail menu offers inspired creations like the Swipe Right (Marfa grapefruit liqueur, ancho verde, lemon, Peychaud’s bitters) and riffs on classics like a spicy strawberry margarita made with strawberry-infused tequila, dry Curacao, and lime.

A row of cocktails on a bar.
House cocktails on the bar at the Bourgeois Pig.
Alycia Earhart

Lawrence has too many good townie bars for a single list, but Eighth Street Taproom is a legend. Locals would go to war with Missourians in the battle to claim authorship of the Horsefeather, a whiskey-ginger drink concocted at this dive off Mass Street in the 1990s. The bar offers free pool until 9 p.m., and on weekends the basement opens for bands, DJs, and dancing.

Bottles on a backbar beneath chalkboard menus.
Dive bar prices at Eighth Street.
Erin Socha

Limestone serves wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza made with top-quality ingredients and a flair for the creative. The classic margherita, topped with mozzarella and drizzled in basil oil, remains a perennial favorite, but none of the pies disappoint. The Moroccan boasts house-made chermoula lamb sausage, and the Spud is layered with thin slices of potato, creme fraiche, bacon, and rosemary. The rest of the menu gets just as much care as the pizza; the goat cheese croquettes, fire-roasted shishito peppers, and salted caramel budino are all worth checking out.

A closeup on a pizza topped with yellow and green shaved strands of zucchini.
Zucchini-topped pizza.
Limestone Pizza

Munchers Bakery has been providing students and townies with sugary treats since 1989. Specializing in doughnuts, cakes, and cookies, the shop is open 24/7 to satisfy midnight or early morning cravings. While everything is good, the cream cheese doughnuts are truly special: airy, sweet dough filled with a layer of tangy cream cheese and topped with vanilla or strawberry glaze.

Rows of doughnuts in a glass case.
Doughnuts at Munchers.
Erin Socha

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Kansas may be landlocked, but that doesn’t stop restaurateur Laura Klein and her team from sourcing amazing seafood. The menu features globally inspired dishes such as unagi-style ruby trout, ahi tuna nachos, and a classic French preparation of PEI mussels with dry vermouth, leeks, and tarragon butter. Diners can choose between East and West Coast oysters and peruse a thoughtfully crafted wine list. On a beautiful day, hit up the patio overlooking lively Mass Street and take advantage of happy hour with a half order of fish-and-chips or $2 oysters.

Nothing is safe from green chile at Global Cafe. Chef Rafael Gonzalez, who was born in Spain and raised in Venezuela, and his wife, Kate, travel to New Mexico yearly to source up to 1,500 pounds of Hatch green chiles for the menu at their daytime cafe. The green chile margarita is delightfully spicy-sweet, and the borrachos, a New Mexican dish of corn tortillas filled with eggs and house-made chorizo, is smothered in green or red chile. Also popular are the arepas, a Venezuelan corn patty stuffed with a variety of fillings, and anything that involves Gonzalez’s 13-hour roast pork.

A closeup on a quesadilla, drizzled with white sauce, with a margarita on the counter beyond.
Breakfast quesadilla smothered in red and green chile.
Erin Socha

Step into this tiny basement bar and you might think you have found your way to the hippest cocktail joint in Brooklyn. The quality drinks can compete with anything found in bigger cities, served with a side of “Kansas nice.” JBUG’s inviting staff welcome newcomers with an explanation of their seasonal, wildly creative menu. The unparalleled selection of some of the most sought-after spirits on the planet, with a focus on fine rums and agave-based liquors, makes the bar a must-visit for spirits aficionados. Reservations are recommended.

A bar worker stands behind a row of glasses.
Manager Dante Colombo works on a new cocktail menu.
Colin MacMillan

To call Ladybird a local treasure is an understatement. Few places feel more quintessentially Lawrence than Meg Heriford’s cozy diner, known for its kitschy decor and fabulous pies. During the pandemic, Heriford closed her doors to patrons and ran a program to feed locals in need until vaccines made indoor dining safe again. Along with diner staples, you’ll find inventive takes on dishes like avocado toast, and the cooler months feature Bowl and Roll Fridays, starring the quirky combination of hearty chili and a cinnamon roll.

A slice of dark chocolate pie topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, posed with a fork.
Chocolate mousse pie at Ladybird Diner.
Erin Socha

Lee Meisel, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, learned the meat trade while growing up on his family’s farm and at butcher shops in North Dakota. Meisel relocated to Lawrence to study business at Haskell University, and in 2015, he and his partner, K, opened Leeway Franks, an unassuming spot that serves sausages, burgers, and patty melts. Frankfurters and bratwurst are made next door at the butcher shop, where you’ll find a variety of locally sourced meats. Away from the bustle of downtown, Leeway Franks is easy to miss, but supreme hot dogs and crispy tater tots make it worth the visit.

Husband-and-wife team Regan and chef Aaron Pillar opened Culinaria as a catering company in 2009, before transforming the business into a restaurant in 2017. Located in a historic building dating to the 1860s, Culinaria serves up tapas-style plates with an emphasis on eastern Mediterranean cuisines. Highlights include fattoush, mujaddara, crispy fried artichokes, an array of hummuses, and other vegetarian and vegan dishes. If you’re coming with a crowd or just a hearty appetite, opt for the meze platter for an excellent sampling of chef Pillar’s talents.

Various colorful dips, breads, and vegetables on a tray.
Meze platter at Culinaria.
Regan Pillar

Nothing caps off a day in downtown Lawrence like a visit to Sylas and Maddy’s, a hometown ice cream shop since 1997. Flavors like Rock Choc Jayhawk (sweet cream ice cream with brownies and fudge) and Mahomes Magic (butter pecan, chocolate flakes, coconut, and graham crackers) infuse the sweet treat with a bit of KU pride. In addition to crafting original ice cream flavors, Sylas and Maddy’s makes fresh waffle cones from scratch daily.

Wheatfields has been a fixture of the Lawrence dining scene since 1995, and it continues to rack up national and regional accolades thanks to its wood-fired oven and slow-rising dough. Stop by the downtown cafe in the morning to enjoy breakfast burritos and egg croissants, or come for lunch to choose from sandwiches, empanadas, quiche, and more. While the bread remains the star of the show, don’t sleep on the pastries and sweets: tiramisu, cinnamon rolls, eclairs, and an array of cookies and cakes.

Rows of bread loaves on wire shelving with little labels.
Loaves on the shelves at Wheatfields.
Erin Socha

Chef TK and Emily Peterson have been serving up inventive farm-to-table cuisine at Merchants since 2014, with a focus on seasonality and local sourcing. The bar boasts 30 rotating taps offering craft beers, including several regional brews. Signature cocktails are creative too, such as the In a Pickle, a pickle- and pepper-infused take on the vodka martini. On the food side, menu highlights include Korean fried chicken, short rib gnocchi, and cheddar-chive biscuits and gravy. It’s worth noting that Merchants offers terrific options for vegetarians and gluten-free diets.

A cobb salad, divided into colorful rows of ingredients.
House cobb salad.
Doug Stremel

Kansas was one of the first states to pass Prohibition and one of the last to repeal it. In the 1980s, on-premises alcohol sales were still prohibited outside of private clubs, but Free State Brewing founder Chuck Magerl worked to change that. An early advocate of the local food movement, he envisioned local beer made with local wheat, enjoyed at your local restaurant. In 1989, Free State opened its doors and made Kansas history. Its popular beers are now available in stores throughout the region. The original location, a great place to catch a game of KU basketball, is still buzzing every night, serving up tasty pub fare and excellent craft beer to a devoted local following.

Every college town needs a cheap place that’s open late. Pizza Shuttle has been that place for KU, and has remained students’ go-to source for late-night munchies since 1984. For $9, a hungry customer can get a 10-inch specialty pie made with quality ingredients that aren’t on the menu at chain pizza restaurants. Pizza Shuttle is open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for delivery and in-person dining.

In a town full of great cocktails, the Bourgeois Pig has been a pioneer, crafting inventive drinks since 1993. With a distinctly European vibe, the Pig has an intimate indoor setting and a terrific patio for people watching. On weekends, it serves as a coffee shop starting at 10 a.m., brewing locally roasted beans from Repetition Coffee. As the day goes on, the cocktail menu offers inspired creations like the Swipe Right (Marfa grapefruit liqueur, ancho verde, lemon, Peychaud’s bitters) and riffs on classics like a spicy strawberry margarita made with strawberry-infused tequila, dry Curacao, and lime.

A row of cocktails on a bar.
House cocktails on the bar at the Bourgeois Pig.
Alycia Earhart

Lawrence has too many good townie bars for a single list, but Eighth Street Taproom is a legend. Locals would go to war with Missourians in the battle to claim authorship of the Horsefeather, a whiskey-ginger drink concocted at this dive off Mass Street in the 1990s. The bar offers free pool until 9 p.m., and on weekends the basement opens for bands, DJs, and dancing.

Bottles on a backbar beneath chalkboard menus.
Dive bar prices at Eighth Street.
Erin Socha

Limestone serves wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza made with top-quality ingredients and a flair for the creative. The classic margherita, topped with mozzarella and drizzled in basil oil, remains a perennial favorite, but none of the pies disappoint. The Moroccan boasts house-made chermoula lamb sausage, and the Spud is layered with thin slices of potato, creme fraiche, bacon, and rosemary. The rest of the menu gets just as much care as the pizza; the goat cheese croquettes, fire-roasted shishito peppers, and salted caramel budino are all worth checking out.

A closeup on a pizza topped with yellow and green shaved strands of zucchini.
Zucchini-topped pizza.
Limestone Pizza

Munchers Bakery has been providing students and townies with sugary treats since 1989. Specializing in doughnuts, cakes, and cookies, the shop is open 24/7 to satisfy midnight or early morning cravings. While everything is good, the cream cheese doughnuts are truly special: airy, sweet dough filled with a layer of tangy cream cheese and topped with vanilla or strawberry glaze.

Rows of doughnuts in a glass case.
Doughnuts at Munchers.
Erin Socha

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