ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Best Family Entertainment
Evel Knievel Museum at Historic Harley-Davidson
The folks behind this tribute museum to Evel Knievel chased their dream just as fast and hard as the legendary daredevil himself. The museum, connected to Historic Harley-Davidson, showcases Knievel’s bikes; “Big Red,” his Mack truck-trailer; and his flashy helmets and clothing. A virtual-reality experience lets you soar over a row of cars, while exhibits detail the icon’s life. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday; admission is charged.
Best Local Historical Site
Historic Ritchie House and the Cox Communications Heritage Education Center
The brick-and-stone house built by anti-slavery settlers John and Mary Ritchie in the mid-1850s stands as a testament to the men and women who turned their homes into “stations” on the Underground Railroad and assisted freedom seekers escaping slavery. Listed on the state and federal registers of historic places, the Ritchie House is open by appointment for tours and hands-on, interactive learning experiences. Also on the grounds is the Hale Ritchie home, built by the elder Ritchies’ son in the late 1880s.
Best Place for Live Entertainment
Uncle Bo’s Blues Bar
Why sit at home singing the blues when you can hear expert players perform live at Uncle Bo’s? Inside the Downtown Topeka Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, the must-be-21 blues bar sets the stage for a range of acts, from the R&B fusion and heart-grabbing lyrics of The Delgado Brothers Band to singer-guitarist Frank Ace to the horns and harmonies of Ghost Town Blues. Uncle Bo’s also is a keeper of Topeka’s past: Its floor is made of old cobblestone from the city’s streets, and the stained glass, bar and some of the woodwork were salvaged from the old governor’s mansion.
FOOD & DRINK
Best Asian Restaurant
The restaurant and sushi bar will transport you across the Pacific to sample the culinary traditions of Japan. Start with an appetizer — perhaps the steamed dumplings or egg rolls. For lunch, choose the Hibachi Chicken or Sukiyaki Sirloin Steak, with Tempura Fried Banana for dessert. For dinner, try the Hibachi Swordfish or Twin Lobster Tails, and as far as a side selection goes, don’t bypass the salad with ginger dressing. Even then, it’s the freshly prepared sushi that’s the mesmerizer at Kyoto. Huge portions help attract diners, too.
Best Catering Company
Simply Sarah’s Catering
For more than a decade, Sarah Zeller has been creating unique, delicious foods that make any event even more special. Hors d’oeuvres and breakfast, lunch and dinner options are offered, but it’s the sweet treats that tantalize. Cookies, muffins, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, cream puffs, pies, cheesecakes, tarts and truffles are on the catering list, as are layer cake flavors that will seduce your senses: Death by Chocolate, Coconut Raspberry, Key Lime, White Chocolate Strawberry. Join the celebrities whose tastebuds have been delighted by Zeller’s desserts — country singer Martina McBride, lawyer/TV personality Starr Jones, baseball slugger George Brett and Super Bowl kicker Lawrence Tynes.
Best Place for Lunch or Breakfast
Juli’s Coffee and Bistro
This dynamic downtown coffeeshop and bistro presents a long list of drip, espresso and gourmet coffee drinks and a menu laden with flavorful sandwiches, wraps and salads. Think Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad; the Big Katuna, with tuna on a ciabatta roll; or the Cristo Kicker panini, with ham, turkey, Swiss cheese and strawberry jam on Italian bread dusted with powdered sugar and cayenne pepper. In the morning, favorites are biscuits and gravy, eggs and sausage, and Horse Food, oatmeal with Granny Smith apples, blueberries, cinnamon, honey, brown sugar and milk.
Best Coffee/Tea Shop
Co-founders and native Topekans Adam Ross and Tosha Webster-Ross’ mission was clear when they opened this specialty coffee roaster earlier this year: Give consumers what they want — an exceptional coffee that’s affordable and convenient. Caffiend succeeds with its unique single-origin coffees and flavorful blends made from beans roasted in-house daily. Bakery treats round out the menu. Wondering about the coffee shop’s name? It’s simple: Cafe + fiend = Caffiend.
Best Mexican Restaurant
Tacos El Sol
The E. 6th Street restaurant has been plating authentic sweat-inducing Mexican cuisine — tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas — for nearly 20 years. Everything, including the tongue-tingling salsa, is prepared daily. In addition to south-of-the-border fare, Tacos El Sol serves traditional American foods — burgers, fries, chicken tenders, milk shakes and other favorites. Dine in, or carry out.
North Star Steakhouse
If you like your ribeye and sirloins juicy, your fries hand-cut and your gravy creamy, this family-oriented, roadhouse-era steakhouse in North Topeka is sure to satisfy. In business since the late 1930s, North Star’s menu also lists chicken, fish and salads. After your meal, hang out in the lounge with a cold beer or cocktail. Check the restaurant’s Facebook page for news about murder mystery nights and other special events, and remember to bring in your ID on your birthday for a discount on your meal. Tip: If you’re a foursome or more, call ahead for reservations.
Best Large Employer
Chocolate lovers — and city leaders — rejoiced three years ago when the New Jersey-based candy-making company opened a $270 million plant south of Topeka. In 2015, Mars sweetened its place in the capital city when it announced plans for a $100 million expansion, and then added even more sugar earlier this year when the company revealed a $55 million capital investment that would further expand the plant and purchase equipment so it could produce Twix candy bars. Employing more than 300 full-time employees, the Topeka Mars plant also makes miniature Snickers and plain, peanut and caramel M&Ms.
For the past six years, this grassroots volunteer organization has been quietly giving back to the community. It began with handing out cold bottles of water to people on a hot Sunday and has grown to serving hot meals to the hungry, distributing bags of hygiene items, providing well-fitting bras to women and prom dresses to high school girls, and beautifying Topeka. The organization is named for the silverback gorilla, which tends to the needs of the elderly, young and ill in its animal community.
A large concrete bison sculpture stands guard at the east end of Cushinberry Park, a wedge-shaped public space that separates S.E. 15th and S.E. 17th streets. The park also features a barbecue grill, picnic tables, water fountain, a merry-go-round and swings. The park is named for the late Grant Cushinberry, a Topeka philanthropist who breathed life into the Community Thanksgiving Dinner and God’s Little Half Acre, a garden and donations clearinghouse. Nearby are the Landon and Shunga trails and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
Best Comic, Fantasy or Video Game Shop
Looking for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or maybe Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens”? How about the latest “Planet of the Apes” or Disney movie? Maybe your gaming fingers are itching to play “Angry Birds” or “Assassin’s Creed.” The aisles and shelves at Vintage Stock, Topeka’s entertainment super store, are packed with new and used movies, video games, music, collectible cards, toys and comic books. The store also buys stock, from the classics to the contemporary.
Best Auto Repair Shop
For nearly 50 years, this family-owned automotive service shop has delivered accurate repairs, quick lube and oil changes and a wide selection of leading-brand tires and wheels. Its technicians — certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence — will get you back on the road in no time. Fill your tank up at Darrell’s 24-hour gas station, and if you’re ever in an accident or stranded in a nonworking vehicle, its 24-hour towing service will come to the rescue.
Best Place to Get a Haircut
Seasoned stylist Cindy Jeffrey purchased the barbershop on the first floor of the Bank of America building in November and has guided a seamless transition from a downtown staple catering mostly to men to a spiffy shop specializing in shampooing, cutting, styling and coloring of all hair types and ages, male and female. Set up an appointment and walk out a short time later with a fresh look that will make you want to conquer the world.