The meaty politics of Pirate’s Bone Burgers’ meatless menu
All food stories are political stories. The United States has a food system in which much of the labor—from the farm to the fryer—is performed by immigrants (69 percent of hired farmworkers were born in Mexico alone). At the same time, the U.S. agriculture industry is consolidating, our spending on imported foods is increasing, and the restaurant industry’s exposure to tariffs and trade disputes is growing.
Which is just to say: it’s impossible to keep politics off our plates.
Zaid Consuegra, the chef-owner of Pirate’s Bone Burgers, knows that better than most. Since opening the Crossroads vegan diner last September with his business partner, Lydia Palma, Consuegra has been the subject of numerous local and national news articles, most of which have focused on his immigration status. Consuegra was born in Mexico City and is currently protected from deportation due to his status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program—a program the Trump administration has attempted to end (the Supreme Court is reviewing the decision).
Consuegra’s story has justifiably taken center stage in the restaurant’s press coverage. But that coverage has also elided answers to a question at the forefront of most diners’ minds: how’s the food?
As a vegan answer to the greasy-spoon smashburger: pretty good.
The menu at Pirate’s Bone Burgers features four different burgers plus a “sriracha chix” sandwich. All of the sandwiches are $4.55, all of them are billed as “sliders,” and all of them are served on a tar-colored sesame-seed bun.
I went in skeptical about that bun, which publicity photos had rendered an unsettling Vantablack. I was equally skeptical about the source of its color—activated charcoal, a trendy, wellness-y ingredient used medically to treat people who have been poisoned.
But the charcoal doesn’t impart any off flavors, and in person, the color reads paler, like a beach-going pumpernickel. Plus, those black buns (hereafter, “bluns”) are undeniably good marketing for Pirate’s Bone, to the extent they evoke a sort of carbohydrate-based Jolly Roger.
They’re also regular-hamburger size. Calling them “sliders” doesn’t seem quite right, though the label may be intended more as a signaling device for hungry diners. The patties are thin, but not insubstantial. A single burger is a fine size for lunch with a side of fries. Still, heartier appetites can’t go wrong—or broke, at these prices—ordering two.
The “classic burger” is the only patty not made in-house. Consuegra tops a thinner cut of the popular Beyond Burger with vegan mayo, shredded lettuce, and pickles. It’s a good sandwich, and a safe bet for avowed carnivores. The Beyond patty has a traditionally “meaty” texture, with a familiar charcoal aroma built in like a scented candle.
But Consuegra’s house-made patties are the main draw. My favorite was the black bean burger, a firm, carrot-speckled patty with a seductive, slow-burn heat from soft-grilled jalapeños. Shredded lettuce, aioli, and a generous smear of avocado spread delivered a punch of fat and crunch straight to my fast-food-loving lizard brain. This burger, more than any other vegan dish I’ve had locally, is a Platonic reminder that going vegan doesn’t mean sacrificing the hedonic, endorphin-spamming pleasures of food.
The beet burger was thinner and lighter-tasting, with a spark of pickled cabbage that floated through the aioli. And the “sriracha chix” patty was promising but too small for the blun. Half of my sandwich was naked bread—a let-down after the few bites of excellent, subtly spiced filet.
The only real miss was the breakfast burger, which promised plant-based sausage, egg, and queso on the classic blun. The sausage patty needed more structure—the version I tried had the mushy, if not unpleasant, texture of refried beans. A little more crust (read: a little more time on the flattop) might have helped. Still, I have no
beef quarrel with the thick-sliced “tofu egg,” which had powerful McMuffin vibes.
Even an average meal here is still pleasant. The cheery restaurant is right on the streetcar line, in the corner slot on 20th and Main formerly home to Brioche Pastry Shop. Palma and Consuegra have made the space even more welcoming since they signed the lease. They put in a glassy, pool-blue diner counter, painted the walls a brilliant white, and built a waterfall of plants. A cartoon mural of beets and heart-shaped tomatoes juts out from the north wall; red-velvet theater seats tuck their knees to their chests by the window.
The counter seats are ideal for solo dining. Hop on a (adjustable) stool and hypnotize yourself watching horchata churn in a drink machine, plastic blade twirling like a music-box ballerina. Sip a Pirate’s Bone Coffee ($4.50)—lightly sweet, spiked with cinnamon—and listen to Consuegra chat to a customer next to you in Spanish. Clock the laugh of a slender woman in a “Got Consent?” tee as she tips potatoes into the fryer.
You’re going to want what comes out of that fryer. Pirate’s Bone Burgers offers boats of crisp shoestring fries, most of which are gussied up in some way—cheesed, guac’ed, gravied. All are $4.55. The guacamole on the “guac fries” was more of an avocado-dressed salad, with hunks of crunchy cucumber. I preferred the cheese fries, which were piled high with a cashew-cheese sauce and stippled with parsley. The cheese sauce isn’t going to fool gas-station-nacho lovers, but it’s delicious in its own right: creamy and nutty and salty and rich.
If you’re not feeling the fries, Pirate’s Bone also offers tostones ($4.50), thick rounds of smashed green plantains fried to a chewy crisp and served with a ramekin of the “house sauce” (a more piquant, pickle-y take on Thousand Island dressing; excellent).
The restaurant often has a couple off-menu items worth asking about, like a recent riff on poutine ($4.50). The “tofu cheese curds” on the fries didn’t do much for me—the small squares of tofu were neither firm nor flavorful enough to suggest their less-ethical ancestor—but the onion gravy was glossy and well-seasoned.
The community of vegetarian and vegan diners is growing in Kansas City, and a plant-based diner no longer seems like a bold proposition. Pirate’s Bone Burgers is filling a definite need. But the loss of a couple high-profile meatless restaurants over the past few years—the Westside’s Füd, Plaza’s Eden Alley—have levied some unfair expectations on a restaurant that’s been committed to a narrow, hyper-focused menu since it opened.
Palma and Consuegra have also had to grapple with the bizarre assumption that because their food is vegan, they’re able to accommodate any dietary restriction. Nearly every Pirate’s Bone social media post has a comment from some diner wanting to know why their menu isn’t gluten-free. Restaurant staff have thus far responded to these requests with the patience of Job: some items are gluten-free, they point out, but their small, open kitchen means cross-contamination is a risk for those with life-threatening allergies.
Still, they say they’re working on it. And that doggedly inclusive attitude seems to be paying off. Weekday lunches are often crowded, though a stool always seem to open up when you need it.
Consuegra’s story might have something to do with the traffic, too. On a recent visit, I eavesdropped as Consuegra chatted with a pair of women sitting next to me. He wanted to know how they’d heard about the restaurant.
“We read the article,” one of them said.
“Which one?” he asked, and laughed.
2000 Main St, (816) 605-1014
Monday–Friday 11 AM–7 PM
Saturday–Sunday 11 AM–3 PM
Fries and plantains: $4.55
Best bet: Sip a Pirate’s Bone Coffee while you wait for your meal—a black bean burger with cheese fries.