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Best Restaurants in St. Louis, MO
Originally settled by the French and then further populated by German and Italian immigrants, the culinary diversity that can be found in St. Louis’ neighborhoods is broad and flavorful. Known as the gateway to the West, St. Louis has been a way station for many travelers heading to regions unknown, but it’s the folks that have made their home here on the banks of the Muddy Mississippi that have given the city its international flair.
There are some food oddities particular to St. Louis, and they’re worth seeking out if you’re in the mood for some local flavor.
Toasted ravioli are fried delights, lightly breaded ravioli that are generally stuffed with lightly seasoned beef, although there are more and more veggie fillings popping up around town. The hot little numbers are usually served with a salty, thin tomato sauce alongside. There are a lot of places that serve t-ravs, as they’re affectionately termed, but seek out spots that make the ravioli in house.
St. Louis style pizza is thin and crisp, with a thin layer of slightly sweet sauce and a sprinkling of Provel cheese, also a St. Louis peculiarity. The cheese melts easily and has a slightly sticky consistency. On a properly baked St. Louis pizza, the cheese is cooked almost to the point of browning and melts down into whatever toppings the diner has chosen, creating a hot, gooey mingling that, to many locals, is pizza perfection.
Another local treat is the gooey butter cake, a super-sweet cake dusted with powdered sugar. Plain gooey butter cake has a slight vanilla flavor and a soft, yes, gooey texture, from a large amount of butter that’s added to the batter. In recent years, pastry chefs around town have begun playing with flavors and now you can find gooey cakes ranging from blueberry to peanut butter-chocolate to Irish Crème.
The St. Paul sandwich is egg foo young piled on white bread and topped with shredded lettuce and mayo. No kidding. You’ll find it in many St. Louis Chinese restaurants. And a wrap up of St. Louis food has to touch on barbecue. St. Louis doesn’t have a truly specific style (St. Louis style ribs is a butcher’s cut, not a cooking technique), but St. Louisans like their barbecue wet with a thick, sweet sauce. Worth seeking out is “snoots,” a pig’s snout that’s barbecued and served in thin slices.
Visitors to River City will find that each city neighborhood and the neighboring municipalities – Soulard, downtown, Lafayette Square, South Grand, the Central West End, University City, Maplewood, Cherokee Street, Clayton, etc. – each has its own flavor. You’ll find Cajun eats and cold beer in Soulard. International restaurants ranging from Ethiopian to Vietnamese to Japanese to Persian on South Grand near Tower Grove Park. For Euro-style bistros and outdoor cafés, head to the Central West end. If you have a hankering for a true taste of Latin America, Cherokee Street is the place to go. In an era of strip malls and bland chain restaurants, St. Louis stands out as a city with a population devoted to supporting its vibrant independent restaurant scene. At all price points, in a wide range of flavors and textures and atmospheres, St. Louis’ restaurants deliver great taste.
This small bakery in Edwardsvile, Ill., offers some of the St. Louis region’s best coffee and pastries. Husband-and-wife team Matt and Debbie work side by side, Matt roasting coffee and baking artisan breads and Debbie hand crafting European-style pastries. Get to this shop early because they sell out every day. If you’re a chocolate lover, give the chocolate croissant a try. And be sure to take home a loaf of bread – the selection often incorporates ingredients from the Edwardsville farmers’ market.
7266 Manchester Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63143
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Acero is bringing the Italian enoteca to St. Louis. Offering small plates of housemade pastas, polenta poured tableside and cured meats and cheeses, the food at Acero is made to go with wine. Order a number of small plates and antipasti to sample and choose a few wines to sip along side. Entrees are available for those in the mood for something larger, but here, lighter options steal the show. A must try is the egg ravioli, where thin pasta encases an egg yolk. Poached until just done, when you cut into the ravioli, rich egg yolk streams out and mingles with a light, savory spinach and three cheese sauce.
Larry Forgione opened a satellite location of his famous New York restaurant, An American Place, in downtown St. Louis to much acclaim. Focusing the menu on local products, Forgione and chef Josh Galliano change the menu frequently to reflect what’s available from regional farms, but the style of the dishes remains constant: pristine ingredients prepared in a simple way with unexpected twists. The setting is quite elegant, with soaring ceilings and cushy banquettes.
Annie Gunn’s is a consistent winner. If you’re looking for perfect steaks or seafood, this is the place to visit. The dark interior feels like a men’s club with lots of wood and a large stone fireplace. The wine list at Annie Gunn’s is one of the best in St. Louis and offers a huge range of choices, including a large selection of Missouri and Illinois wines, which are quite good and should be sampled when you’re in the area. One signature dish that’s not to be missed is their maple smoked shrimp, but it’s not on the menu, so be sure to ask for it. And make time to peruse the Smokehouse Market, adjacent to the restaurant.
Atlas is a traditional bistro, meaning that it’s a neighborhood place that serves simple food at a price point that allows you to enjoy dining there often. The food at Atlas is carefully prepared with a French accent. Located on a shady street in the Central West End, Atlas is a place that doesn’t shout about itself – it’s a small space where locals gather to savor perfectly balanced sauces on pristine meats and seafood served with creative-yet-traditional accompaniments.
Chocolate lovers need look no further than Bailey’s Chocolate Bar to get their fix. This über romantic spot was designed to look like the inside of a candy box. Offering “desserts, cheeses and aphrodisiacs,” the Chocolate Bar draws romantic couples and groups of friends looking for a luxe night out. They do offer light savory dishes like flatbreads and salads, but the confections and the concoctions are the star at this Lafayette Square favorite.
For those of you looking for entertainment to accompany your meal, head to BB’s for a truly St. Louis experience. Located close to downtown, BB’s has, for years, attracted the country’s most talented blues musicians. Situated in a mid-1800s building, BB’s expanded in 2007, adding a second tier of seating that allows patrons an unobstructed view of the acts. And oh yeah, the food – dig in to Cajun favorites like gumbo and red beans and rice and the American staples … burgers, pizza and, of course, soups.
Located in Benton Park, Blues City Deli serves fantastic sandwiches that celebrate the flavor of the cities located along the Mighty Mississippi, also known as the Blues Highway. Choose from a traditional New Orleans muffuletta to a Memphis-style pulled pork to sandwiches piled high with Italian-style cured meats from St. Louis to a Chicago-style dog. The owner, Vince, is usually manning the cash register. Step up, order what you want, and while you wait, take in the Blues memorabilia lining the walls. And if you’re a vegetarian, there’s something for you here, too – their Panino Fresco is an addictive layering of fresh mozzarella and provelone cheeses with salty, crunchy olive salad.
If you’re looking to mingle with locals at all hours of the day or night, grab a barstool at City Diner on South Grand. This diner is a perennial favorite that dishes up classic comfort food like meatloaf, country fried steak and pot roast. But there’s something for everyone on this menu. Not only do they serve a range of Tex-Mex favorites like huevos rancheros, burritos and quesadillas, there is a range of soul-soothing vegetarian options on the menu. The food draws customers and the atmosphere is bright and bustling, but it’s the people watching that entertains you. Sip your coffee and enjoy.
Tucked in the back of an authentic Latino market on the city’s South Side, La Tropicana has been offering St. Louisans authentic south-of-the-border flavor for over 30 years. The atmosphere is very casual, and a family member will likely take your order. Everything – including the horchata – is made in house according to recipes passed down through the generations. In addition to Mexican staples like chiles rellenos and tamales (the best in the city), La Tropicana serves Cuban dishes, all behind the rows of dried spices and tortillas.
LuLu Seafood Restaurant
St. Louis, MO 63132
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St. Louis has a small-yet-bustling Chinatown on Olive Street, where shops offer exotic goods and restaurants dish up delicious eats. A favorite is LuLu Seafood Restaurant, which is a bi-level eatery specializing in Hong Kong style cuisine. While the weekday fare is noteworthy, it’s their weekend dim sum that is extraordinary. Servers roll steaming carts through the restaurant, handing out plate after steaming plate of Chinese delicacies. Save room for dessert, because dim sum sweets are surprising to the Western palate and, once tried, addictive treats.
Located on The Hill, Modesto is a stand out restaurant offering authentic Spanish hot and cold tapas in a vibrant setting. The open kitchen allows diners to see the chefs at work as they anticipate the next small plate to arrive at their table. The menu is updated seasonally, and utilizes the freshest produce as well as authentic Spanish cheeses and preserved meats. Wash it all down with Spanish wine, sangria or a perfectly shaken cocktail from their ever-popular bar.
Niche has filled a niche in St. Louis dining by offering a truly contemporary take on American food. Located in a small, modern space in Benton Park, Niche sources its ingredients from local purveyors and prepares dishes with creativity and attention to detail. Named chef of the year in 2007 by Sauce Magazine, Gerard Craft works with pastry chef Matthew Rice to constantly update and tweak the menu of small, medium and large plates. Items range from the familiar – chicken liver pate with fleur de sel – to the divine – butternut squash semifreddo with caramel popcorn and salt. Be sure to make a reservation!
Located in one of St. Louis’ ethnic food districts, Pho Grand shines as a favorite spot to indulge in the flavor of Vietnam. Run by a husband and wife duo, the service at Pho Grand is famouly fast and the prices low. Pick up the huge menu and order by number if you can’t pronounce the name of the dish – ask your server for recommendations if you’re not sure what to try. Don’t miss dishes include the fresh spring rolls, served with a sweet, sour dipping sauce, and the Shaking Beef, where peppered chunks of tender beef are stir fried with green onion, white onion slivers and garlic.
Red the Bar-B-Que Man
6185 Bermuda Dr.
St Louis, MO 63135
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A few cautions for your trip to Red the Bar-B-Que Man: there is no indoor seating and very little outdoor seating. Be prepared to take your meal home with you. This is not a vegetarian friendly joint. Red’s is all about meat and only offers two sides – potato salad and beans, and the beans contain bacon. Red’s is only open three days a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But if you’re looking for lip-smacking, true St. Louis style barbeque, Red’s is one of the best in town. Huge commercial smokers handle 3,000 pounds of meat each operating day and you can choose turkey legs, beef brisket, ribs (pork or beef), rib tips, whole chickens, sausage, hot dogs or pork steaks, a cut of pork particular to the St. Louis area, dry (no sauce or sauce on the side) or wet (drenched in the tangy sweet concoction).
Wake up sleepy head and get downtown to Rooster for eye-opening coffee, crepes and sandwiches stuffed with the best local meats and veggies. When lunch time rolls around, salads are added to the mix (Rooster doesn’t offer dinner). This small space is cozy on a cool morning but also offers outdoor dining on warm, sunny days. Flavors here run the gamut from the Rooster Slinger (boasting andouille sausage, breakfast potatoes, fried eggs and sausage gravy over thick-cut toast) to a roasted sirloin crepe with caramelized onions and blue cheese to a brie crepe with sweet apples and spicy chutney.
St. Louis is a beer town. This isn’t a surprise to visitors – come on, this is the home of Anheuser-Busch! – but our fair city also boasts some outstanding regional brewers. Schlafly Beer flows freely at The Tap Room, a brew pub located on the edge of downtown. Offering beer-friendly fare, The Tap Room is a local favorite, drawing people for its food, its bar scene and also the local bands that frequent this wood-paneled space. Must tries on the menu include the Tap Room Fries served with green peppercorn and spicy ketchup sauces, beer-battered fish and fries featuring Icelandic cod coated in a crispy Hefeweizen batter and the sticky toffee pudding, a dense, warm spice cake topped with thick cream and whisky-caramel sauce.
Single taper candles grace each table at this romantic restaurant. Located in Benton Park, Sidney Street doesn’t skimp on flavor and each dish is complex, rich and intriguing. Diners are given a small chalkboard with the day’s menu and servers verbally describe every menu item in detail – a tradition that hasn’t changed in the many years Sidney Street has been open. The cuisine here trends toward the traditional with flavorful twists. In lobster turnovers, lobster, spinach and an herbed cream cheese sauce are baked in phyllo and topped with roasted tomato-brandy sauce. In steak au poivre, a filet is topped with crushed black and green peppercorns and then finished with a mustard-cognac sauce.
St. Louis is known for wonderful Italian food and Trattoria Marcella stands out as a jewel among the many, many Italian restaurants around town. The vibe is upscale casual and diners are encouraged to dine family style, sharing at the table with their family and friends. Pastas and sauces are, of course, made in house. The preparation of dishes is refreshingly straightforward and light – look for whole stuffed artichokes; whole wheat pasta with fresh tomatoes, roasted vegetables and goat cheese; mozzarella, sun dried tomato and prosciutto ravioli; and veal scallopini stuffed with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes and served with a wild mushroom-roasted garlic-lemon sauce.
Wasabi Sushi Bar
1228 Washington Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63103
16 S. Central Ave.
Clayton, MO 63105
St. Louis may be in the middle of the country, but sushi is front and center as a favorite way to enjoy seafood. Wasabi stands out among the pack of sushi joints for its creative approach to rolls, the freshness of its fish and also the wide range of non-sushi Japanese food that’s available. Try the Shogun Roll, where lobster salad is deep fried and rolled with tobiko, asparagus, cucumber and avocado and served with a sweet wasabi-soy broth. If you’re more of a purist, there is a laundry list of nigiri available ranging from tamago to hokkigai. Round out your sushi nosh with some jelly fish salad, tempura, udon noodles or yaki soba. Wasabi also offers puffer fish, but it’s by reservation only …
Catherine Neville is Editor of the St. Louis-based Sauce Magazine.