Don’t let its location inside a gas station fool you – Papu’s Cafe serves up some of the best Middle Eastern food in Kansas City. Chef-owner Khalid Sirhandi bought the gas station on 75th Street in the Waldo neighborhood in 2000 and opened the restaurant in 2010. The menu is divided into appetizers (think falafel, dolma and baba ghanoush), salads (tabbouleh, gyro), sandwiches (chicken shawarma, veggie pita) and platters (gyro, falafel and shawarma on rice).
A student of cuisines the world over, Sirhandi makes all of the spice blends and herb mixtures in-house and takes great pride in his food’s freshness and flavor.
What’s your background in food? I come from a family that is very particular about certain flavor combinations and values good food. So growing up, I learned to recognize flavor profiles at a young age. My father taught my mother to cook, and they both passed those skills down to me. In college – where I actually studied art history – I often cooked for friends and classmates and was repeatedly told I needed to open my own restaurant.
Describe your style of cooking. I travel a lot to different regions and countries, and I love to learn about the best dishes and spice combinations in each. Even though Papu’s makes Middle Eastern food, I consider it fusion cuisine; many different things inspire the menu.
What makes Papu’s food special? The main thing we strive to achieve is the absolute best flavors possible. I’ve never tried to have the most authentic recipes, the hottest recipes or anything like that. I just want my customers to love the food they get here. We make all our own spice blends and herb mixtures, and we believe that freshness and healthy options are essential. We’re constantly refining our recipes and experimenting with flavor combinations – I would rather have a smaller menu with a few perfected dishes than a broad menu of decent food.
What has it been like to run a restaurant out of an operational gas station? It’s challenging to get your name out there through word of mouth alone and to get people to take you seriously in a location like this. However, that’s also one of my favorite parts: When people come back, I know it’s because our food is so good. I love to bring people joy in this way; my food is my art.
Papu's Cafe, 604 W. 75th St., Kansas City, Missouri, 816.822.8759, papus.cafe