The Tempura Pork Sandwich At Kansas City Restaurant Kitty's Cafe Is Unlike Anything You've Ever Had

Who says the best food only comes with Michelin stars and James Beard Awards? Accolades like that carry plenty of weight and for good reason. They aren't the only measure of high-quality food rising above and beyond the norm, though. For every high-brow distinction in culinary fame, there are hundreds of other restaurants, cafes, and diners with shocking success rates in their corners of the world. That's the case with a little walk-up lunch counter called Kitty's Cafe, home to an unmatchable tempura pork sandwich.

Founded in 1951 on a nondescript stretch of road in Kansas City, Missouri, the tiny diner-style eatery has been dishing out its signature pork sandwich for many decades without making any changes. Created by the real Ms. Kitty, a Japanese immigrant named Kitty Kawakami, and her husband, Paul, the original tempura pork sandwich still reigns in all its deep-fried glory. What makes it so special comes down to both technique and ingredients, culminating in a sandwich like nothing you've ever had. 

The cafe makes the sandwich with three slices of pork. It does make for a mouthful, but not as much as you'd imagine. That's because each piece of pork is prepared in traditional Japanese tempura style, with hand-cut pieces, sliced into cutlets, pounded thin, battered, and deep fried. Those cutlets go inside a soft Kaiser bun like a tower crowned by shreds of lettuce, pickle chips, diced tomatoes, onions, and a dash of hot sauce. 

The Kitty's Cafe experience

There are a few things to know about dining at Kitty's Cafe and snagging one of those famous tenderloin pork sandwiches. First of all, don't even try calling, emailing, viewing online, or ordering ahead. That doesn't fly in this 1950s-style diner with only six stools fronting a small lunch counter. A few outdoor tables offer a bit more seating but those disappear quickly, too. Lines typically snake out the door, with wait times of up to half an hour just to order food. Customers mainly place their orders for takeout and payment is in cash only. 

Due to their success, the cafe's owners can set their terms. Their processes have worked for more than 70 years. The original Kitty moved to Kansas City after she and her husband fell victim to wartime internment in a Californian Japanese-American camp during World War II. Starting anew, the couple kept things simple, and so have decades of subsequent owners, all of Asian-American descent. That includes the current owner, Charley Soulivong, who believes in keeping the same crispy fried sandwich, handmade fresh every day.  

Look for the Kitty's sign on 31st Street near Martini Corner. You may need to park a block away and join the throngs of people lining up for the signature tempura pork sandwich, crinkle fries, or other favorites such as catfish, chicken sandwiches, and hamburgers. Hours are Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.