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St. Louis Specialties

  • j

I would like some input from all you chowhounds about the best places in St. Louis to get the best of these specialty dishes original to the region:

-- St. Louis Style Pizza (very thin crust, provelone cheese, cut into squares) If you don't like St. Louis Style then tell me you favorite pizza place
-- Toasted Raviolis (raviolis battered and deep fried)
-- St. Paul Sandwich (egg foo yong patty on white bread, some w/pickle slices)
-- St. Louis Salad (various versions of an Italian salad served around town - usually with artichoke hearts and the house dressing)

I have my top picks, but wondered what other chowhounds have to say.

Also, if you can think of any other Specialty dishes served in St. Louis, then throw those out too.

Some Specialty dishes that have no comparables are:
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Concrete
Amighetti's Special Sandwich


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  1. I am not a fan of the St. Louis style of pizza. My favorite pizza place is Racanelli's. Three locations, one in U City, One in Webster, and one in the Central West End.

    Toasted Raviolis? I liked Gian-Tony's and Zia's.

    No idea on the St. Paul sandwich.

    St. Louis salad? Favazza's or Cunetto's.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Phaedrus

      Thanks for your response.

      I like St. Louis Style Pizza, when I am in the mood for it. Imo's is OK, but Cecil Whittaker's makes a much better one. Can not stand any of the national chains attempts at it. Pizza Hut did the worst job of it out of them all.

      My favorite pizza place is Fortel's - the spices, the sauce, the toppings and the mozzarella cheese - all combine for great piece of pie. But, Racanelli's is next in line for me. Just to let you know Kirkwood is getting a Raccanelli's some time soon.

      Have you ever had the Toasted Ravs at A'mis in Rockhill? It is a little hole in the wall place, but great Toasted Ravs. The entrees we have had have been very good too. Pizza is ok. Real mom-n-pop kind of place.

      I like Cunetto's Toastd Ravs the best. In fact that is my favorite restuarant in St. Louis. I just love Liguini Alla Pavarotti - WOW what a dish! Just hate the long waits for a table.

      1. re: Joe Toenjes

        I forgot about Fortels, they are pretty good too. I remember having some at a church trivia contest. The folks in the table next to us ordered some and insisted that they share. Yum, and especially yum because people made us welcome.

        Looks like I need to go out to Rock Hill some time to check out A'mis.

        One of my friends could not live without eating something, anything from the Missouri Baking Co. That is the one must trips whenever she is in town.

        Interesting question, sounds like you hit a nerve.

        1. re: Phaedrus

          Oh yeah, the little amaretto macaroon cookies at Missouri Baking Company. Also the apple tarts with cheese...(the ones in the refrigerated case)

          1. re: toni
            Captain Asparagus

            If you're talking about pizza you shouldn't pass up Pizza-a-Go-Go. Made the old fashion way by an old Italian or Sicilian guy who tosses it in the air. I believe he's been doing it for 30 years or more. Only serves pizza and soda. Nothing else. Take your own salad and wine/beer. He also has a gorgeous girl who works there. His daughter? granddaughter? Someday I'll go without my wife and find out.
            If you're sick of Imo's Pizza-a-Go-Go deserves a visit.
            Another St. Louis place worth a mention is Carl's, on Manchester. Excellent burgers, crisp around the edges.

    2. I grew up in STL--I've been away for 17 years (in DC), but come home for regular visits and periodically pine for the place...

      Pizza--I so miss STL pizza. There's nothing like it anywhere else. I always liked the pies at Talayna's, though I've only been a few times since the move to Debaliviere and the atmosphere is nothing like the old place on Skinker (backlight stained glass windows of the 10 commandments on every wall, marble busts, and the straight-out-of-the-godfather "back room")--god I miss that place. The "caesar salad" at Talanya's isn't the STL salad and bears no resemblance to a caesar salad, but it has always been another down-home favorite nonetheless.

      St. Paul's Sandwich--I can't say I ever discerned a real quality difference. It will be interesting to see what people come up with!

      Other specialties--brain sandwiches in South STL, Pratzel's bagels, and Hodge's chili come to mind. And, until I lived a little, I thought every town had a place like the Crown Candy Kitchen--I was wrong!

      Toasted Ravioli and STL Salad--I'll have to defer on these, though I always enjoyed both at Cunettos growing up. Last time I was in town with my significant other (a southern latino!) and we went to see a Cards game. He was going on and on about how nice and polite St. Louisians are at sporting events. About ten minutes later I asked him what he wanted to eat and he said he saw "something called Toasted Ravioli" on at the concession and wanted to check it out. I couldn't believe he hadn't ever had toasted ravioli on one of our trips to STL, and neither could the folks sitting in front of us, who were politely eavesdropping. They promptly offered the toasted ravioli that they were eating to my husband. They wouldn't take no for an answer. He still goes on about this!

      5 Replies
      1. re: butterfly

        Thanks for your input butterfly.

        My wife and I were in DC last August. I just love going to DC and hitting the museums.

        We had one great meal at Lebanese Taverna right across the street from the Zoo Metro stop. What a place. I was hoping for garlic-potatoe dip like the serve up at Saleem's here on The Loop. But, they still squelched by need for garlic with this garlicy chicken dish. I just loved the gallon sized dispenser of mouth wash in the lavatory.

        We liked the pizza at Pizza Paradiso - real simple and rustic. The place was packed. We ate at the counter and watched the cooks making the pizzas.

        I enjoyed Meskerem - Ethiopian food, much better than the Red Sea here in town. Not the best I have ever had but it was really good. My wife is not big on curry.

        We also went to El Tamarindo - I can't remember the nationality of the restaurant. It was not solely Mexican fare. It had a few differences, but the food was really good.

        Any places in DC you like?

        1. re: Joe Toenjes

          Sounds like you cut a pretty wide swath in DC! I also love Lebanese Taverna (and also compare it in my mind to memories of Saleems...is their slogan still "Where garlic is king"?).

          Just ate at Pizzeria Paradiso yesterday--we get take out and eat it in Dupont Circle--very nice.

          DC has the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia, so we are very blessed in that area. There are dozens and dozens of Ethiopian places. My current favorite is Dukem on U Street--and I'm addicted to Ethiopian coffee, it is the absolute best.

          El Tamarindo is Salvadoran--another huge immigrant population here in DC. We live in a Salvadorean neighborhood and eat pupusas (the cheese filled fat tortilla-like items that you find at pupuserias) at least once a week.

          Other staples in my part of the city are Jamaican/West Indian roti shops, middle eastern kebab joints, and Peruvian chicken (pollo a la brasa).

          What I pine for most from St. Louis is Volpi's salami, a cannoli from the Missouri bakery, Pratzels bagels, Ted Drewes, and White Castle hamburgers....

          If you come to DC again, be sure to check out the DC board first, it's very busy with lots of opininated and erudite regulars.

          1. re: butterfly

            butterfly - I'm also in DC

            Dukem's raw spicy beef. yes.

            STL's Saleem's is gone? (obviously I don't get back often) god their curry-ish catfish, mmm.

            trivia question: know why Talaynya's windows on Skinker were bricked over?

            1. re: hill food

              since someone revived this thread, I was gladly mistaken, Saleem's IS still around, and Talayna's windows were bricked over because some insane and overprivileged kids that lived in one of those huge houses across Skinker spent a long summer in the attic with a rifle and a stash of booze, methodically shooting out the glass in the late 70's. (only after hours, no customers or employees were ever in danger).

              1. re: hill food

                Wow! I've lived in St. Louis all my life and never heard that one. I just remember the incredibly dusty plastic plants hanging all over the place. We used to play "count the spiders" as the little suckers webbed their way from the faux plants down to the tables...it never stopped us from going there, though. Pasta con broccoli and a combination salad with house, please.

      2. I'm going to second the vote for Ami's in Rock Hill. A long time ago it was part of the Talayna's chain, then it became Talyami's, now I guess it's just Ami's. The menu, the food, and the staff haven't changed a bit. I love their St. Louis style pizza. Imo's is the classic, but I find their sauce a little sweet, Ami's does the greasiest version of a St. Louis pizza, which I gotta say I really like. Several of their menu items are addictive. The first time I had the seafood pasta w/curry I thought it was odd, now I crave it. If you go, you have to try the combination salad with house, the dressing is very grainy & mustardy & the next day, I swear, you can smell it oozing out of your pores. We used to drive up from school at Rolla (100 miles) on a Friday night to get a combination salad w/extra house dressing. And Helen is a wonderful waitress, you never have to ASK for more iced tea. I grew up going to the much-mourned Talayna'a on Skinker, (which was FILTHY but fun...), but I find Ami's to be my favorite of the many spin-offs of Talayna's over the years. Its not fancy, though, just a little place in a strip mall.
        I've gone off toasted raviolis, (too many in my teenage years, I think), but most places on the Hill are going to make a decent version, or buy your own to make at home (Maria & Sons, a local brand you can find in just about any supermarket).
        Rich & Charlie's would be the place for the salad you're describing, it seems like I see it more now at wedding receptions and reunions than at restaurants (you can buy Rich & Charlie's dressing at the supermarket, too, and the salad recipe is on the botttle).
        St. Paul sandwiches are kind of weird. I keep hearing they are a St. Louis specialty, and I see them on menues at Chinese take-outs, but I don't know anyone who has ever eaten one.

        3 Replies
        1. re: toni

          I ate lots of St. Paul sandwiches as a child growing up in STL. I like them, it's kind of like a Chinese American version of Spanish tortilla (except with bean sprouts).

          And you're right--I think Rich and Charlies may be responsible for the "St. Louis Salad." I'll have to ask my mom more about its origins and report back.

          1. re: butterfly

            I actually think it was Ron and.... Shirley's? Is that what the place was called? Anyway, i think that's who's responsible for the "St. Louis salad" -- thick ropes of provel, the sweet house dressing. There was one in St. Louis Centre and also in Union Station and of course an original on or near the Hill -- but I can't remember exactly where.

            Union Station
            1699 Racine Ave, Mount Union, IA 52644

            1. re: butterfly

              Yes Rich & Charlies is responsible for creating the craze for their salad.
              I know this because my family started and owns all the Rich & Charlies

          2. Fratelli’s in St. Charles has excellent St. Louis pizza with home made crust. They have a wonderful version of another St. Louis Salad with provel cheese and a creamy Italian dressing that they make. They have toasted ravioli as well.
            Gooey butter cake is also a St. Louis specialty. They have a good one at MacArthur’s Bakery.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Martha/Mo.


              Yes, gooey butter cake. Gosh I should have thought of that one. I have to package them up and take them to my aunt in Denver whenever I go out there.

              Mallo's Bakery in Belleville, IL makes a good gooey butter cake. But, you are right McArthur's rocks!

            2. For a great pizza in what can only be called interesting surroundings Rossino's on Sarah. Ask for Charlie but don't go there if you are in a hurry.

              Mai Lee on Delmar for the best St. Paul sandwich.

              And, though not mentioned, Banh Me So on South Grand for the best egg rolls and Vietnamese sandwiches.

              3 Replies
              1. re: M&M

                Rossino's!!! One of my favorite places anywhere. I haven't lived in StL for over 30 years, but always go back to my old high school haunt from the 50's (then known as Parente's). This is classic StL pizza, the first pizza parlor in StL. It's an institution. Name and decor have varied over the years, but pizza stays near the same - thin crust, variety of cheeses sans the stringy mozzarella and their unique tomato sauce. Yum. I've also had other good Italian food here - recommend the eggplant parmesan appetizer.

                1. re: Cil D

                  Oh, yeah, Rossino's. How could I forget?

                  My mom always went on about how it was the first place that had pizza in STL (god, I just can't fathom a time when there wasn't pizza).

                  I actually did a report about the place when I was in high school. It is thought to be the first place west of the Mississippi to have pizza--yet more proof that St. Louis is critical to the country's "Westward Expansion". It was started by a Sicilian guy in the early 40s and was originally called Melrose Pizzeria. It changed hands, but the pizza stayed the same. I think all "St. Louis Pizza" emanated from this place.

                  Is is still as good as ever? Does anyone know what kind of ovens they use?

                  1. re: butterfly

                    An exGF used to take me to Rossino's - in the basement. Unfortunately it is gone now.

                    I love the Egg Foo Yong at Mai Lee (moved from Delmar and I170 to Hanley & 40) but I never thought to get a St Paul Sandwich. Such nice folks there :-)

                    St Paul Cafe
                    717 Washington St, Saint Paul, KS 66771

                    6505 Nieman Rd, Shawnee, KS 66203

                1. I haven't lived in St. Louis for 11 years, but go back at least a few times a year to visit family. Whenever I go, I try to visit newer restaurants (current favorite is Nippon Tei). But I also rotate through my favorite St. Louis standbys for the St. Louis specialties that can't be found elsewhere:

                  For St. Louis salad: Rich and Charlies (I like the one on the corner of Old Woods Mill and Clayton). It's what I think of as the perfect St. Louis salad. (I'm less enthusiastic about the pasta in general, though I do like the pasta con broccoli and the pasta pomodoro. I order both with extra garlic, but the as-is versions are tasty enough. My big complaint about the pasta is that it is always overcooked, but the sauces make up for it. )

                  Note: The Pasta House Company comes from the same roots as Rich and Charlie's, but the salad is not nearly as good. Pasta House quality declined as they opened additional restaurants throughout the 1980s, in my opinion.

                  For frozen custard: definitely Ted Drewes. I've tried other places but always head back to Ted Drewes, and gravitate toward the simple custard + hot fudge. Not to be missed after a Cardinals game, as the scene is festive and lines somehow always move fast enough to keep it reasonable.

                  For pizza: I'm sure there's better St. Louis style pizza, but I always head back to Imo's. I actually think it's gone downhill in the last 5 years in that the quality is inconsistent. Imo's is franchised, so you can't necessarily be assured that all Imo's have the same quality. I frequent the one on Olive St. Rd, just west of Fee Fee, and am generally pretty pleased by it.

                  I have fond memories of the pizza at Mama's, which is now closed. It was not St. Louis style, but good. I think it was also the genesis of the Talanya's pizza. If my memory is any good, originally it was Mama Talayna's, and then Mike Talayna split off and opened his own set of pizzerias. I liked Mama's better than Talayna's.

                  Toasted Ravioli: not Imos. I don't really have a favorite here, but do think the Imo's version is sub-par.

                  Pastry: the chocolate stolen at Pratzels. This is hands-down my favorite pastry anywhere in St. Louis, and I've never seen it anywhere else. It's a German stolen, with almond paste and chocolate chips folded in, covered in chocolate frosting.

                  Other: I can't skip Steak'n'Shake or White Castle, but don't view these as St. Louis-specific since they can be found many other places. Neither exists in Boston though, so I do associate it with a trip home.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Hinman Guy

                    LOL I used to show up an hour early for work so I could eat there. It was so great. Hot wings, thin crust pizza and toasted ravioli

                  2. Frozen Custard: Best in St Louis isn't in St Louis, its across the river in Illinois, at Bobby's in Maryville.

                    St. Louis Salad: St Louis salad is a slaw made of cauliflower, brocolli & onion. The mixed green salad with provolone cheese and panchetta is a traditional Italian salad and is available from many places, but a little place in Belleville, IL named Mungo's had a great one. They closed a few years ago, but have since reopened in Fairview Heights, IL.

                    Also, Gooey Butter Coffee Cake is a mistake. The real recipe is called Deep Butter Cake, and can hardly be found anymore. But you can still get it at Kruta's Bakery in Collinsville, IL.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: septane

                      YAY for Kruta's! I thought Kruta's was MY family's big secret! Great to hear a mention of it on the boards. Kruta's is the best bakery around, hands down!

                      1. re: septane

                        Gooey butter and deep butter are two different coffee cakes. Some of the best used to be from Lake Forest Bakery on Clayton, which I understand since moving away, has been reincarnated into a candy store a few doors down. Still offer deep butter, paradise cake (which is I think another St. Louis speciality), and others, but not as good as old days.

                        Jack salmon sandwiches at Ed's White Front were also a favorite. Too bad Ed's White Front is not around any more.

                        Best pizza was at old Talayna's on Skinker and this basement-like restaurant near SLU. Can't recall the name. But very good and popular.

                        Toasted ravs at Charlie Gittos were really good.

                        I've lived in a lot of places, and St. Louis definitely has the best food. Seems the average restaurant (and bakery or grocery store for that matter) in St. Louis is much better than those in Boston, DC, Chicago. But maybe that's nostalgia talking. Oh how I miss St. Louis pizza, toasted ravs, deep butter cake, Miss Hullings cakes, Culpepper's wings, and even Schnucks' salsiccia!

                        1. re: baconmakesitbetter

                          The restaurant you are trying to think of in the basement was Rossino's (it was on Sarah). With all due respect, I would suggest you spend a week in San Francisco tasting food in the average restaurant. The bar is set incredibly high there, in part because of the availability of incredibly good and fresh ingredients. Nonetheless, there's much to be said for St. Louis restaurants.

                          1. re: baconmakesitbetter

                            "Seems the average restaurant (and bakery or grocery store for that matter) in St. Louis is much better than those in Boston, DC, Chicago. But maybe that's nostalgia talking." Wow, that's gotta be nostalgia talkin', or some amazing drugs. St. Louis has gotten better in the last few years, but it's got miles to go to catch up to the majors [though we do have some gems, hardly any of which have been mentioned in this thread].

                            1. re: Wayno

                              does anyone have a recipe for Talaynas salad dressing?

                              1. re: shelley7

                                Did you ever find out how to make Talaynas salad dressing? I'd like to know as well. It's the best on the planet.

                            2. re: baconmakesitbetter

                              i used to work at the ORIGINAL culpeppers--miss st louis food but not the weather! I go home every year to see family and I used to go straight to Frank and Helens on Olive but since it changed hands a few times not so good. I tried Meglios on St Charles Rock Road and crave it--California doesn't have a thing on St Louis as far as food in general goes but I didn't move here to eat!

                              PS does anyone have a recipe for Talaynas salad dressing? Been craving it!

                          2. I have to point out that St. Louis style pizza is topped with provel cheese, not provelone. Provel is a processed cheese made from provelone, chedder, and swiss. It's about as St. Louis as toasted ravioli or Ted Drew's. My favorite use is on P'sghetti's cheese garlic bread (South Lindbergh).


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: CJSchmidt

                              CJ: I suspect there may be some velveeta in there as well.

                              I still like it.

                            2. My favorite pizza place is
                              LAGANINI, LAGANINI, LAGANINI ...RFT '09 BEST THIN CRUST PIZZA IN St. Louis.
                              2009 editorial choice.
                              The piza should present the following characteristics: soft, well-cooked, fragrant. It should be enclosed in a high, soft edge of crust, with a micro-thin patina of crunch. It is not uncommon to find at least one flame-blackened blister on the "cornizione" (the rim).
                              Originaly Neapolitans eat their pizza "a libretto" meaning folded like a book, or with a knife and fork.
                              Either way, you are sure to enjoy the delicious flavors of Laganini Pizza.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ammy

                                ammy: while I'm sure Laganini is good, cut and paste does not equate a valid recommendation, no matter how often repeated across the threads. at least tailor it to a specific question or you're just going to sound like a novice PR hack
                                - ex-PR hack here

                              2. the best st paul sanwich is on Natural bride at the fork in the road going towards the airport

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: builderinc

                                  name? do you mean where you almost have to get on I-70 going West?

                                  1. re: builderinc

                                    It's the thread that will never die! So, if you don't know the name of the place, at least tell us which fork on the road towards the airport (headed west, I assume) on Natural Bridge and, maybe, what side of the street it's on. There's a spot on NB where the road splits between westbound and eastbound. Is that the place?

                                    1. re: alan

                                      Oh, jeez...I haven't thought of jack salmon in years! My first job was at Dohack's...and there was a shack outside where I think you could walk up and get it and sit on a dirty, greasy picnic bench and enjoy the humidity and heat of a St. Louis summer...but those things never stopped anyone from coming...as well as the restaurant where it could be ordered. I was sad to see Dohack's close, at least that location.

                                      I'd been trying to think of the name of Culpepper's for years, thank you! When I was 21, I worked at the dogtown bar Schmiezing's, lived in a cool apartment on West Pine, drove a brand new Berlinetta and frequented the CWE. Livin the dream, that was. Worked briefly at The Flamingo Cafe which was part of the Pasta House Company. There was also a decent steak house on Euclid and another restaurant down the street that had big wooden booths outside. After we got off work we'd sometimes go to Irv's, but I'm not sure where it was. (I was usually drunk by then.) Irv's had a hash brown, egg, chili and onion dish called a Nightmare that was only made better by a dash of tabasco.

                                      OK, sorry to take this thread out of it's adventure and into my little trip down memory lane. Carry on, because yes, it probably will never end.

                                      Oh, one more thing I find really interesting. I live in Phoenix and recently we got a taste of some items on the new menu where I work. The salad was definitely Rich and Charlie's. I flipped out because I loved that salad so much when I lived in St. Louis and dreamed about it the whole time I lived here. I'm going on and on and on about it and everyone else is just looking at me like I've gone mental. So I took some home and sat down to the table with it to try to be objective about it. And it wasn't all that great. It had been prepared by the Bidwill's chef to their specifications, to exactly replicate the R & C salad. So I don't know if maybe we grew up on it and were all so enamored of that amazing sesame seed, crusty bread they served and the pasta con broccoli or my favorite, the manicotti that had both red and white sauce and just the atmosphere that made it a salad I wanted to share with all of my fellow Phoenicians or if it really is that great and our chef just didn't get it right.

                                      3010 W Clay St, Saint Charles, MO 63301

                                      The Pasta House
                                      2539 S Brentwood Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63144

                                      1. re: dexi39

                                        Could that be Bidwill as in "owned the St. Louis Football Cardinals/owns the AZ Cardinals"? Just askin'.

                                        1. re: lemons

                                          Don't be surprised if you don't get an answer. That user hasn't posted to Chowhound in over three years... :)

                                          1. re: nsxtasy

                                            Thanks for checking on that.Friend was in PHX for conference over the weekend; shoulda had her look. Surely verifiable on line anyway. Could't resist, seeing the name and the family's history in St. Louis.

                                            1. re: lemons

                                              yet, not much love lost when the B's left.

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                Apparently Michael B, Billy's kid and current prez of the AZ Cards, bought an existing resto, Tom's Tavern, when owner wanted to retire. Seems to remain under that name.

                                                And in St. Louis-related news, there are apparently Sam Fox restaurants in the PHX area. Not our Sam Fox, though, but it gave me a start.

                                    2. re: builderinc

                                      alan is right, 11+years and still going.

                                      but I think builderinc may qualify as a 'best typo' candidate

                                      "is on Natural bride at the fork"

                                      look what you done to me.