For some, St. Louis is only known as "the gateway to the west" — a flyover city. Sure, it's no New York or LA as far as major tourist destinations are considered, but St. Louis can certainly hold its own. In fact, its food scene is something to be acknowledged and investigated.
I've been living in St. Louis for over three years as a student at Saint Louis University and have been eating my way through the city since move-in day. That's why it was so challenging to narrow down the ridiculously extended list of cannot-miss dishes to 25.
So I sought after backup by calling my friends, family, and locals to recommend their St. Louis faves as well. The response was overwhelming, and frankly I'm not surprised. The city is filled with classically St. Louis staples as well as fresh, innovative plates that all residents have very passionate opinions about.
Here, in no particular order, are 25 dishes to add to your food bucket lists and dream boards, and just enough inspiration to plan your next weekend getaway to St. Louis.
1. Gooey Butter Cake from Russells on Macklind
Butter, meet sugar. This dessert is sweet, rich, and (you guessed it) gooey.
2. Cheese Pizza from IMO's Pizza
To outsiders, it's glorified cheese and crackers, but to locals it's pizza. The pie is crispy and surprisingly flavorful, and features 100% Provel cheese — a white processed cheese that is 100% St. Louis.
3. Toasted Rav from Anthonino's Taverna
As if ravioli couldn't have gotten any better. Deep frying the ravioli not only makes them more addicting, but also turns them into a finger food because forks and knives just get in the way.
4. Burnt Ends from Pappy's Smokehouse
The spot is Man vs. Food approved and I think that pretty much says it all. Frankly, any sort of meat here is ridiculously good so don't feel confined to burnt ends. For sides, I go for the sweet potato fries and the green beans (hey, you need some green on your plate).
#SpoonTip: Get there 15 minutes or so before it opens to avoid the long line and to make sure they don't run out of your order.
5. Hot Salami from Gioias Deli
The brick and wood used to build the deli in 1918 was recycled from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair — maybe that is why the hot salami is referred to as "St. Louis' sandwich." That, and maybe because the beef and pork combo is the ultimate salute to an Italian-style sub.
6. Meet Me in St. Louie from Sauce on the Side
This restaurant is a somewhat new addition to the St. Louis food scene but has already opened three locations throughout the city. Maybe it's because some locals are quickly realizing that calzones can be superior to pizza.
7. Big Apple from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
If someone's been serving something up for over 80 years, they must be doing something right. The flavor you select is really up to you because the menu is exhaustively long and there are too many to choose from. Hey, why not just get two?
8. Slinger from Courtesy Diner
The diners' owner claims that half of the customers this signature dish is sold to is college students — go figure. A classic slinger includes two eggs, hash browns, a hamburger patty, and chili. I dare you to get more Midwestern than that.
9. Blueberry Chip from World's Fair Doughnuts
Aside from these donuts being some of the greatest the city has to offer, the shop itself is like stepping into a time machine. A husband and wife team crank out the day's load while cheerfully checking out their loyal customers on an old fashioned cash register. The duo only accept cash, but I think you'll be able to scrounge up the mere 60 odd cents it costs.
10. Fried Chicken from Southern
With all of the fried chicken places popping up over the last couple of years throughout the city, you might be a little skeptical of this choice but the chicken served here is solid, even daydream worthy. The heat levels vary from original to cluckin hot and they do not take those levels lightly, even the mild is "hotter than you think."
11. BLT from Crown Candy Kitchen
I think the picture featured above speaks for itself, that bacon load is ridiculous. Check out this retro soda fountain atmosphere and wash down the monster with one of their signature malts.
12. Rootbeer Float from Fitz's
Fitz's has been serving authentic root beer since 1993. Their vintage bottles of craft soda can be found in grocery stores across the St. Louis area but the mammoth sized floats are served up at their restaurant in the Delmar Loop.
13. Pretzel from Gus' Pretzels
Open since 1920, the company is on its third generation of Gus' (yes, that means Gus III). Over the years, pretzel sticks have been more widely preferred by customers than the classic German twist, but customized twists can be ordered as well.
14. Triple Cheese & Onion Rings from Carl's Drive In
There's nothing fancy about this place, and that's exactly how we want our drive-ins to be. Nothing to distract from the ultimate American classics: a cheeseburger and onion rings. Whatever you do, don't forget your ice cold root beer
15. The Benton Park from Blues City Deli
Basically everyone has their favorite when it comes to this spot and they're all different because every sandwich on the menu is perfection. This one is named after the neighborhood the deli resides in. Don't be discouraged by long lines, they move fast. Check out the free live music on Thursdays and Saturdays to get the full party experience.
16. Darkness Croissant from La Patisserie Chouquette
Layer upon layer of chocolaty goodness, this pastry can barely be held with one hand. Be sure to have it warmed up and be sure to snatch one before they run out for the day.
17. Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream from Ice's Plain & Fancy
You can expect some lines at this shop, but don't stress because you will definitely be entertained while you wait. Your ice cream is made right in front of you using liquid nitrogen. When the cloud of nitro disappears, you're left with a creamy, smooth, and dense treat. The shop has staple flavors year-round but really capitalize on the flavors offered in season.
18. Pasta Bowl from Porano Pasta
Chef Gerard Craft is St. Louis' first ever James Beard Award Winner for Best Chef: Midwest — so essentially he is a rock star by culinary standards. Naturally, his first fast-casual dining restaurant turned out to be nothing less than brilliant.
Build your own pasta bowl within seconds using fresh and local ingredients while enjoying the aesthetically pleasing set up. Whatever you do, do not forget the risotto balls.
19. Rare Roast Beef from Union Loafers
The sandwiches are simple but unforgettable. The part that pushes them from out of the ordinary aside from the high-quality ingredients is their bread — the most crucial part the of the sandwich in my book. Their's is baked in-house daily and sold by the loaf as well.
20. Guac Arepas from Público
This dish is everything. The restaurant may not quite be a St. Louis veteran yet, but it should definitely be on your radar. The guacamole may or may not have caused me to shed a few tears.
21. Big Thai Wrap from Lona's Lil Eats
Take everything you love about Thai food and throw it into a wrap. Now stuff it in your mouth.
22. Flying Pig from Guerrilla Street Food
Guerrilla has taken Filipino food to a whole new level over the years, both with their popular truck and their new brick and mortar spot on South Grand. The flavors are powerful and the cuisine is fresh (to death).
23. Mississippi Nights Club from The Gramophone
Self proclaimed "sandwichkingz," the Gramophone is the casual dive bar + excellent grub bar you always wanted. The sandwiches are funky, creative, and worth a try. What makes the Mississippi Nights Club so special? A layer of smashed St. Louis produced Billy Goat Kicker chips — basically a time travel back to cafeteria table days except 100% better than lunch meat on Wonder Bread.
24. Jonathan's Fiery Scramble from Southwest Diner
Southwest Diner: where brunch dreams come true. The fiery scramble isn't necessarily too hot to handle, but if heat frightens you check out the cornmeal pancakes. Or split the pancakes with your brunch partner. Either way, order the pancakes too.
25. Coconut Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream from Clementine's Naughty and Nice Creamery
I'm not even vegan, but this is some of the richest ice cream I have ever laid a tongue on. If you're 21 and feeling fun and flirty, check out their "naughty" flavors which all contain a wee bit of alcohol with every lick.
As far as St. Louis goes, this is just the tip of the iceberg for foods and restaurants. This list features longtime staples as well as very welcome newcomers, all of which are totally St. Louis proud. Come check out this list for yourself or discover some new dishes that should have made the cut. Either way, stay hungry my friends.