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Buck Tui BBQ is KC’s newest entry into its culinary landscape of smoke and fire. The restaurant is eager to make a good first impression. 

The staff, prepping for the day’s open, dart about with gusto as they brace for the onslaught of rabid customers. And I use the word “rabid” deliberately here. Not long after ingesting a few bites of Chef Ted Liberda’s inventive menu, even the hardest to impress will find themselves frothing at the mouth like a cast member in Night of the Living Dead.

The Liberda name, of course, has a storied history in Kansas City. Ted’s mother, Ann, emigrated to the U.S. in 1975 after meeting her husband, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, during the Vietnam War. She introduced the area to traditional Thai cuisine in 1991, methodically building an empire of Thai Place restaurants across the region. 

While Ann’s influence remains strong, her son Ted, co-owner and executive chef at Buck Tui BBQ, and his wife Pam, co-owner and executive chef at Waldo Thai, have emerged as an entrepreneurial force all their own. 

The power couple met at Thai Place on 87th Street, where Pam was a server, and Ted was working as a busboy and learning the family trade. Their relationship, like many enduring recipes, developed with a slow, steady boil. Pam, who had left behind a nursing career in Thailand, paired a deep passion for cooking with a strong work ethic. Ted, who had been admiring his future wife from afar, weighed his approach and eventually delivered a unique pitch: “I told her, ‘You’re a great cook. Let’s open a restaurant together.’ We started the Blue Springs location [of Thai Place] not long after, and the rest is history,” he says and laughs. 

Buck Tui BBQ has been a long time coming. The concept started as a kernel in Ted’s mind, where it remained for years, patiently waiting for the right moment to burst forth. “Buck Tui,” which roughly translates as “Fat Boy,” is a Thai term of endearment and Ted’s nickname since childhood. In fact, the restaurant’s logo—a smiling, chubby young boy— is based on a photo of Ted as a baby, sitting in a kitchen pot. 

“When we found the photo long ago, we said, ‘one day you should put this up in one of the restaurants,’” Pam says. 

The concept was initially tested during pop-up collaborations with local chefs before the Liberdas took Buck Tui to the Farmer’s Market in Old Overland Park. The opportunity was a godsend, allowing Ted to not only hone his dishes but also build the Buck Tui BBQ brand, mainly through the power of their Instagram account. 

But in 2021, life threw the Liberdas one more curveball as the original brick and mortar location for Buck Tui had to be scrapped due to construction and insurance roadblocks. The frustration turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as not long after, the former Plowboys BBQ space—just down the street from the Farmer’s Market—became available. Already equipped with a full barbecue pit, it was a perfect match. 

Entering Kansas City’s already saturated barbecue market is certainly not for the timid. But by utilizing his dual influences (Ted is half-Thai, half-American), Chef Liberda has conjured a mesmerizing blend of flavor and presentation. It just might change the barbecue game in KC.

“We use the same cooking techniques: open flame and long cooks. The same cuts: brisket, pork butt, chicken and ribs. It's marinated and seasoned Thai style but cooked Kansas City style. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance,” he says.

As someone who grew up straddling two disparate culinary cultures, Ted Liberda has certainly put what he’s learned over the years to good use. The food I sampled at Buck Tui can only be described as otherworldly.

The brisket egg rolls—a crispy, buttery blend of brined brisket, warm cream cheese and chopped scallions—might as well be labeled a controlled substance. They are that addictive. The delectable appetizer, which matches Eastern and Western traditions, is the perfect example of what Buck Tui BBQ is all about.

Sure, you’ve had the Z-Man, but don’t sleep on Buck Tui’s X-Man. This sandwich standout packs hearty portions of brisket, pulled pork and Thai sausage, all topped with papaya slaw, Buck Tui BBQ sauce, and creamy Tiger Cry sauce. This X-Man wields so much flavor, Dr. Xavier himself might try and recruit it.  

The brisket curry features thin slices of brined brisket delicately wrapped around a generous portion of long beans and vermicelli noodles. All this goodness sits within a stew of roasted small potatoes, Thai chili, and coconut curry. For those new to traditional Thai flavors, this is the perfect foray.

Looking for more traditional fare? Worry not, as Buck Tui more than handles the barbecue basics. While all their Thai barbecue platters are winners, it’s the brisket that is truly transcendent. Customers are treated to a half pound of heaven in the form of hefty slabs of beef. The dish is served with jasmine rice (salted with chicken stock), Buck Tui BBQ sauce (a sweet, tangy treat) and its soon to be famous Tiger Cry Sauce (a spicy blend that will make you cry from joy). Not to hyperbolize, but this might just be the best brisket in the city. 

Of course, it’s not just about the food at Buck Tui. Every great meal deserves an equally compelling cocktail. For this, the restaurant has turned to renown “Potions Master,” per her Instagram profile, Mari Matsumoto. When you visit, be sure to sample the guavarita: a sharable combination of tequila, lime, agave, dry curacao and guava puree. Just a few sips, and you’re guaranteed to leave happy.

Because at the end of the day, creating a joyful experience is what restaurants like Buck Tui are all about. Pam Liberda sums it up: “Our goal is for you to walk out and say to each other, ‘damn that was a really good meal.’”

Visit Thailand and you’re sure to hear a common phrase: ‘kin khao reu yang?’ The phrase, exchanged with family and friends, roughly translates as ‘have you eaten yet?’ Well, if you’re reading this and the answer is ‘no,’ head over to Buck Tui BBQ as quickly as you can.  

Buck Tui BBQ is now open for dine-in, carryout and curbside service.