They haven’t officially announced their openings, but according to social media, two long-awaited Wichita restaurants both seem to have started serving customers since last week.
So what’s the story?
Both Red Bird — Sebastian Gordon’s new sandwich restaurant at 6550 E. Central in Normandie Center — and Itzcali Tapas and Tequila — the high-end restaurant that Navid and Veronica Haeri have been working on for more than two years on East Central — have been experimenting with “soft openings” over the last week. For those who aren’t familiar with the term “soft opening,” it essentially means that the restaurant is kind of, sort of open, but not to the public at large. The owners use soft openings to practice with friends, family and smaller groups of invited guests before they throw the doors open to the general public.
Now, though, both owners say they’re ready to start feeding the masses — but both with some caveats. Here’s what you need to know before trying out both restaurants:
Gordon has been working on his sandwich restaurant for a year, and he’s been letting his staff practice for about a week. He quietly opened the doors to friends and family then started taking walk-ins.
Though he’d still like to hire a few more staff members, he says he’s ready now to welcome the public. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, though the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
The attractive new restaurant sits next door to Jack Fukuda’s Yokohama Ramen Izakaya in Normandie Center, Central and Woodlawn, and serves upscale sandwiches, salads and soups along with craft beer flowing from 10 taps, wine and craft cocktails.
I stopped in last week and ordered the Cuban, the sandwich Gordon has long said he is most passionate about. It was made with ham, pork loin, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese and Kan-Grow Hydro Farm owner Jimmy Vo’s pickles and served on house-made Cuban bread. It should please anyone who — like me — has traveled to Florida, tried a Cuban and wished Wichita had a good one, too.
While there, I saw several other piled-high sandwiches emerge from the open kitchen, and on my next visit, I hope to try Gordon’s version of the patty melt — a sandwich called the Raven, which features two smashed Wagyu beef patties, caramelized onion aioli, Swiss cheese, grilled onions and bacon served on Bagatelle bakery’s marble rye. See the food and cocktail menus below.
Gordon, who has managed a number of restaurants around Wichita, had long dreamed of opening his own place, and he chose the name for his restaurant as an ode to his mother, Jeanne. She died in 2016 but would always tell her son that seeing a red male cardinal guaranteed a lucky day.
Gordon’s Red Bird is not related to Dr. Redbird’s Medicinal Inn, a famous Wichita sandwich restaurant that had a devoted following from the early 1970s through the mid 1980s.
Itzcali Tapas & Tequila
Navid and Veronica Haeri took their time bringing their restaurant at 2819 E. Central to life. They first announced plans for it in July 2021 and only recently finished it.
They’re taking the same slow approach to opening the restaurant. Though for more than a week, the restaurant has been serving friends, family, VIPs and customers who book reservations, the Haeris were reluctant until now to announce that they were open as they’re trying to perfect operations before being flooded with business. Over the past week, they’ve been transparently sharing with customers on Facebook the aspects of their business they feel they still need to improve.
But, Navid Haeri said this week, they’re finally almost ready to open the doors to a wider audience. They’ll accept walk-in customers from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday this week. People can try dinner at the restaurant from 4 to 7 p.m. those same days, but they’ll need to RSVP at tables.toasttab.com/.../9daa8cdd-283e.../findTime
Haeri hired chef Jorge Morales to lead the kitchen after parting ways with Kevin Derks, who now is cooking for Vora Restaurant European. (Derks actually replaced Morales at Vora.) The Itzcali menu — which Navid Haeri said he’d share soon — includes a variety of tacos, shareable tapas and other dishes. And Itzcali is serving a large selection of tequila from the bar along with lots of colorful craft cocktails
The interior of the restaurant is unlike anything else in Wichita and is outfitted in jewel tones and whimsical, brightly colored furniture. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a large v-shaped bar that Navid Haeri — an artist — designed to look like the open mouth of a jaguar.
A dramatic ruby-red chandelier hangs over the bar, and posted in the center of the backbar is a portrait of Victoria Haeri’s grandfather, Manuel Arellano, who died young.
The restaurant’s design has lots of other interesting touches, including several elevated upholstered booths, antique chandeliers, and lighting that can be changed at the whim of the owners. The restaurant also has a large, retractable garage door facing Central that opens onto a patio.
A large back area of the restaurant, which Haeri will operate as a lounge, will be ready soon, he said. It will accommodate overflow from the main dining room, and it has its own back patio for smoking.
For more information, www.facebook.com/itzcalitapasandtequila