Red Onion Cafe

When a restaurant has been in operation for longer than the length of time that I’ve lived in Joplin (which is now almost two decades), that says something.


In such a fickle industry, owning a successful restaurant since 1995 says, “We’ve figured out the magic formula! We’ve listened to you, our people, and we honor you by serving you the quality food that you want.”


Thanks, Red Onion Cafe, for making me feel appreciated as a citizen.


I appreciate you right back.


The casual, urban atmosphere at Red Onion makes it adaptable for any kind of dining experience, from a date night to a business lunch, a girlfriend getaway to a family meal (regarding that – a quick thank you to all of the Red Onion servers who patiently waited on my fidgety, sometimes boisterous, toddlers over the years).


Recently, I left my family at home and joined my friends for a rare girlfriend getaway dinner at Red Onion. Without the distractions of familial responsibilities, I was able to really see the restaurant for the gem that it is.


red onion front


First of all, Red Onion is located in a quaint historic brick building in the heart of downtown Joplin at 4th and Virginia Streets, just a block off of the iconic Route 66. Inside, the restaurant is open and airy, and offers a laid-back, neighborly feeling. If you’re a local, you will no doubt run into at least one person that you know here.


Once my friends and I were seated, we ordered our drinks and an appetizer. In addition to soft drinks, Red Onion serves fantastic raspberry tea and peach tea, as well as a selection of beer and wine.


For our appetizer, we ordered the Bruschetta Misto. Red Onion’s version includes grilled foccacia served with fresh, chopped tomatoes with garlic and basil, herbed cream cheese, and a marinated olive salad.


red onion misto

Bruschetta Misto


One of the most popular appetizers here is the Smoked Chicken Dip, a creamy, smoky, spicy creation that’s served with tortilla chips. This dip is known all around town. I’ve even been with my friend when she picked up an order of this dip, transferred it to a crystal serving platter, and brought it with her to serve at a holiday party. This dip is a perennial crowd-pleaser.


For our dinner entrees, Donna and I both ordered the Chicken Tuscany, which was made with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and wild mushrooms, and topped with a rich parmesan cream sauce. It was served with wild rice and butter fondue broccoli.


red onion tuscany

Chicken Tuscany


The tangy taste of the tomatoes and artichokes contrasted the smooth, rich flavor of the cream sauce, making my mouth very happy.


Erin ordered one of the daily specials, which was a tender steak (Red Onion’s steaks are cut daily in the kitchen) served with equally tender brussel sprouts, which Erin was excited to order since this often-underappreciated vegetable doesn’t regularly appear on menus.


red onion steak

The steak special of the day


Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered the Black Bean Veggie Burger (minus the cheese).


red onion bbb1

Black Bean Veggie Burger


Check out the pickle-tomato-and-onion smiley face on her bread. It’s a happy veggie burger!


Because I’ve eaten at Red Onion so many times over the years, I’ll tell you about a few more of my favorite items here. For lunch, I typically order the ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, made with crunchy grapes, celery, and walnuts, and served on buttery grilled whole-grain bread.


I am in love with this rich, nutty bread. I’ve considered asking the management at Red Onion who their bread supplier is so that I can buy some to bring home. But then I realized that if I had the bread in my house, I would probably eat an entire loaf in one day so it’s probably best that I don’t know where I can buy it. Yes, these are my food-obsessed thoughts. You’ll understand once you’ve tasted this bread. Believe me.


Sometimes, I’ll order the salad version of this sandwich. It’s called the Chicken Walnut Salad and it also comes with a piece of that addictive toasted bread. I order the homemade sweet vinaigrette to top my salad.


One of the most popular dishes at Red Onion is David’s Fried Chicken Salad, which consists of mixed greens topped with coconut-breaded chicken, tomatoes, avocados, chopped egg, and cheese, and is served with a honey-mustard dressing.


Desserts are not to be forgotten at Red Onion. I’ve eaten enough desserts here through the years that I believe I have the right to claim myself as an expert.


You see, the Red Onion’s dessert selection has supported me through three pregnancies. During my second pregnancy, I ate a slice of the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake about once a week. I noticed that it’s now listed as a best seller on Red Onion’s menu, and I think I maybe I had something to do with that.


red onion cake

Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake


Red Onion’s wide selection of high-quality menu items, coupled with its relaxed, welcoming dining room, makes it one the restaurants where I always know I’ll have a great experience.


Even with fidgety toddlers in tow.


Red Onion Cafe is located at 203 E. 4th St.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit

Joplin Dines Out

A tour of the best local eateries

Grilled sea bass from Crabby’s,

the grand Tour of Mythos,

BBQ from Big R’s,

and Karma’s Bio Diesel.

Hackett’s award-winning, succulent wings,

These are a few of my favorite things.


You won’t see them near the exits of I-44, where nationally-recognized chain restaurants dominate the landscape.


But drive a couple minutes in from the interstate, and you’ll find them – the local restaurants that are raising the bar on culinary standards in southwest Missouri with creative menus and quality ingredients.


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Starting off the day right
Don’t be fooled by the simple interior of the Bruncheonette; here, the focus is on the food. This downtown restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch items daily; one of my favorite items is the Benny Harper, a variation of traditional Eggs Benedict that tastes like a BLT thanks to the addition of sliced avocado and smoky bacon.


But I rarely order regular menu items here because the daily specials are simply irresistible. Take the “Foitomatic for the People,” a French toast stuffed with local foie gras, and topped with champagne-poached apple compote, spicy pickled raisins, and Hawaiian black lava salt.


Casual eateries with gourmet fare
With its whimsical decor and ever-changing local artwork on the walls, Club 609 wowed me with its big-city feel. This downtown restaurant is a solid choice for lunch with an extensive menu, and after work, it transforms into “the” bar in Joplin for Happy Hour and beyond. Classy bar bites include Sushi Sticks and Parmesan Portobello, and Happy Hour lasts until 10pm on some weeknights, making this a great place to relax with friends for an evening.

Standouts here are the Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich with creamy béchamel sauce, the Thai Asian Chicken Salad with spicy peanut sauce, and the inventive Tuna Bruschetta.


In south Joplin, Club 1201’s three personalities target different groups of diners. Meet here during the week for an impressive business lunch and try the Apricot Turkey Sandwich, with avocados, pecans, raisins, and apricot mayo. On the weekends, catch up with friends in the small and cozy part of the restaurant (called Uncorked) over Banana Rumaki or Bruschetta Steak Sliders (topped with prosciutto, herbed cheese, and a balsamic reduction). Linger over the Bloody Mary bar on Sundays while enjoying a leisurely brunch.

Not your typical burgers and dogs
With its bohemian decor, wide selection of local and craft beers, and eclectic menu including vegan and vegetarian items, InstantKarma Gourmet Hot Dogs is the hippest dog joint around.


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Instant Karma


I love the Bio Diesel, a hot dog (beef or vegetarian) topped with creamy, tangy blue cheese slaw and spicy Sriracha sauce, and my daughter likes the Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as the bun.


More burger options await at Eagle Drive-In, Instant Karma’s sister restaurant which is housed in a vintage drive-in in south Joplin. The Eagle’s version of a traditional burger comes topped with a quail egg, which sounds unusual but is truly delicious. Other burgers here are made from lamb, bison, and elk.

Vegetarians, don’t despair! Try the Black Bean or Falafel Burgers. And everyone should order a basket of fries to dip in specialty sauces like the garlic aioli or the wasabi mayo.


BBQ and wings that sing
People have been making special trips to Joplin for decades just to eat the tender, hickory-smoked meats at Big R’s BBQ. Top off your barbecue meal with a slice of one of Mrs. R’s out-of-this world pies, like Strawberry-Lemonade or Caramel Macchiato (vanilla coffee cream with ripples of caramel).


Hackett’s Hot Wings, made Memphis-style, are recognized as some of the best in the region. Choose from five dry rubs and eight sauces, or mix and match to create your own flavor (you can also buy bottled sauce to take home).


Dining with class
In addition to the more casual eateries, Joplin also has some wonderful fine-dining establishments that shouldn’t be missed.


With its dark, polished wood and art deco interior, I feel like I’m going to run into Al Capone in the dining room at Wilder’sSteakhouse. The atmosphere here implores you to order a Gin Rickey to sip on while you wait for your steak to be cooked to perfection – I love the Filet du Pont, a tender medallion topped with sweet caramelized onions, earthy mushrooms and sharp Gruyere.


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Eagle Drive-In


Joplin also has an incredible seafood restaurant: Crabby’s. Concrete floors and crimson walls create a chic, urban vibe. Start your meal with the zesty crab cakes, then try the honey-lavender dressing on a crisp house salad, followed by the popular Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which is served on a bed of savory garlic mashed potatoes, and topped with sesame asparagus, wild mushrooms, and a mirin butter sauce.

Upscale meets international at Mythos Euro Greek Kuzina. With an elegant dining area that pays homage to its Greek roots, Mythos offers a taste of both Mediterranean and American fare.


Still in the mood for Greek? Order the Tour of Mythos, an appetizer designed for two: sliced gyro meat with tangy tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, spanikopita, olives, and more. Want something closer to home? Try the walnut-crusted chicken or one of the incredibly tender hand-cut steaks. Leave some room for the Deconstructed Tiramisu, which offers all the creamy, coffee flavor of the traditional dessert without the usual soggy texture.


More international flavors
There are several excellent Thai restaurants in Joplin. Try the Thai Basil Chicken at Kinnaree, the Magic Mango Fried Rice atMagic Noodle, and the Pumpkin Curry at Thai Time.


For sushi, I like to visit the friendly and talented Han the Sushi Man. He is well-known in Joplin for fantastic, fresh sushi and an ever-changing menu to keep things interesting. Try his popular Preston Lacy Roll (named after the Joplin-born actor and daredevil), which is a spicy tuna roll topped with salmon and seafood sauce.


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If you’re searching for authentic Mexican food, look no further than Lalo’s Taqueria. Small and unassuming, this restaurant serves a variety of tacos (including tripe and tongue), tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tostadas (the spicy chorizo is my favorite), and fresh guacamole. Come on the weekend to try a bowl of menudo, a traditional Mexican soup.



One more observation about the Joplin dining scene: Not only are inventive restaurateurs choosing to introduce this city to their unique cuisine, but they are encouraging others to do so, as well.


And this supportive restaurant community continues to grow – solidifying Joplin’s position as one of Missouri’s top destinations for gourmands.


Click to find Joplin’s best restaurants!



To read more about my adventures in the area, visit