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Dec 9, 2008 05:00 AM

What are the specialties of St. Louis?

A first time visitor, I'll be spending a few days in St. Louis next week and am looking for suggestions.

What are the dishes that are the specialties of the city and where are the best places to get them?

I'll be staying in Clayton and will have a car.

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  1. St. Louis Pizza- The hometown chain is IMOs. The better examples of it are Ami's, Frank and Helens, Faracis, Ponticellos
    There are other Pizzas that are better though- Pi, La Pizza, Deweys to name a few.
    Toasted Raviolis- Tons of places on "The Hill"

    Ted Drewes Custard
    Crown Candy Kitchen- BLT and Chocolate Banana Malted (For LUNCH)

    Places on The Hill for St. Louis Italian such as Cunnettos although better Italian can be had at Trattoria Marcella and I hea rgood things about Brazzi's

    That ought to keep you a little busy.


    1. Brentk,
      Just saw this in another thread. i have not been here but you could kill two birds with one stone and it is in Clayton-

      <<Are you a fan of St. Louis-style pizza with the provel cheese? If so, my favorite place is Cafe Manhattan, on Hanley near Wydown, in Clayton just a bit west of Wash U. Good toasted ravioli there too.>>

      3 Replies
      1. re: FriendOfTheDevil

        Thanks for your ideas. A couple of questions:

        What exactly is St. Louis Pizza? Is it always made with provel (provolone?) cheese?

        Also, where is The Hill?

        1. re: brentk

          St. Louis style pizza has a crackery, thin, unleavened crust, provel cheese (a blend of provolone, swiss and cheddar), and a thick, fairly sweet, and heavily herbed sauce. With few exceptions natives love it and non-natives, well, don't. Other than the crust, sauce, and cheese it's not bad, but I'll eat it. Try it if you like, but there are (as FOTD notes) better places.

          Two items not yet mentioned are gooey butter cake and St. Paul sandwiches.

          Gooey butter cake, IMHO, is one of the most decadent and best things to come out of STL. Generally yellow cake on the bottom with sweet cream cheese on top and covered with powdered sugar. If you've wanted to be a type two diabetic, here ya go.

          St. Paul sandwiches are not from St. Paul. They're found at inexpensive (OK, cheap) Chinese restaurants. Essentially egg foo young patties between soft white bread with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles. Sounds weird, but it works. Well, for me...

          Have fun, and report back!

          1. re: brentk

            Provel, and Provolone are not the same thing. Provel is a processed cheese that is much gooer.
            yes, St. Louis style is always made with that. You CAN get Mozz at some places on request but true STL is Prrovel.
            the other places I mentioned to you do not use Provel.
            Most out of towners honestly, cannot stand it. I think it is something you grow up with and like and otherwise, not so much.

            The hill- is here- If this link does not work, just go to Google Maps and type St. Louis the Hill
            Here is a link describing it-



        2. brentk,

          I am a St. Louis native, and when I return to town for family events, often my first and last meals are for St. Louis-style pizzas. The descriptions so far are correct; properly done, a St. Louis pizza will be ultrathin with a crisp, crackery crust. Most of the toppings that are sliced flat, like pepperoni, mushroom, or onions and green peppers, are placed under the cheese, with hunks of sausage rising on top. Provel is a soft, very melty cheese. Finally, because the pizzas are so thin, they tend to be large in diameter, and are sliced into squares rather than the traditional wedges. If you are in Clayton, I highly recommend Cafe Manhattan -- a very casual soda-fountain themed place just south of the major business and civic center area on the west side of Hanley near Wydown, not far from the Highway 40 overpass. They offer a personal pizza and salad combo special good all day, also do toasted ravioli, are friendly, fast, and nonsmoking.

          If the weather isn't horrible, Ted Drewe's is well worth the trip for frozen custard. It is a rich, creamy vanilla soft-serve custard made into a myriad of sundaes or ultrathick "concretes" with syrups and mix-ins that can be turned upside-down without spilling. On Chippewa in the south city area on the old Highway 66.

          A fun place to visit for a beer and burger is Blueberry Hill on Delmar in the Loop area just east of Clayton and north of Washington University. The place is filled with rock'n'roll memorabilia, especially that of the native Chuck Berry.

          The Hill is the historic Italian neighborhood in the south city. Most restaurants there are famous for simple redsauce pasta dishes with huge portions for fairly reasonable prices, quantity over quality. Trattoria Marcella may be a bit of an exception, with many ranking it the best in that area, with others choosing Dominic's, which is expensive. Amighetti's is known for a classic Italian sandwich, and Volpi's for housemade sausages and cured prosciutto.

          For upscale, Tony's has been regarded as the top dress-up, expensive, formal tableside prep restaurant in St. Louis for decades, located downtown near the stadium. Two top newer places are in the Soulard area just south of downtown, Niche and Sidney Street Cafe. Harvest is closer to Clayton and is hosting a special from Dec. 16-18 (I think) with greatly reduced prices due to the highway closure. In Clayton, I have posted before about the extraordinary value being offered at The Crossing, with a four-course price-fixe menu with choices for $25. The Central West End, about midway between Clayton and downtown, is a revived area with a lot of coices, as is Washington on the north side of downtown. For BBQ, the best place in town is the newcomer Pappy's, near St. Louis U.

          There are some places in St. Louis known for good food (e.g. the burger or roast beef sandwich at O'Connell's) that I will not patronize because of the smoking. If you are sensitive, be sure to call and ask about the smoking policies before going. Enjoy, ask for more specific recs, and be sure to report back.

          12 Replies
          1. re: nosh

            Nice job Nosh!
            Yeah, what he said==========>


            1. re: nosh

              We ate at Rigazzi's on the Hill when we visited the Lou recently. The St. Louis pizza was outstanding. Everything else was forgettable. I have fallen in love with the deli counter at Straub's, a small supermarket chain mostly in the wealthier suburbs.

              1. re: bobovespa

                Most people that get out at least, think Rigazzis is terrible these days. Please don't hold that up as a good "St. Louis " place.


                1. re: bobovespa

                  I agree. Rigazzis has really gone down hill. Not that they were ever great.

                2. re: nosh

                  Great post, nosh!

                  Now I'm also going to be in St Louis for a few weeks starting January. Any suggestions on good Chinese (not the Americanized General's chicken type) or Japanese restaurants? I'll be working in Chesterfield area and will have a car too.

                  1. re: dietwater

                    Thank you. I love eating in St. Louis, but I'll have to admit that red-sauce Italian, big portion comfort and bar food, and upscale American or continental are the area's strengths, with Chinese and other far eastern as well as Mexican among the weaknesses. You should also be aware that Chesterfield is fairly far out west by St. Louis standards, though with Highway 40 now being closed for remodeling further in, I believe that you'll have an easy straight shot into town as far as Clayton, though not all the way downtown. There is a stretch of Olive, just east of the Inner Belt (170) where there are a lot of Chinese restaurants. The favorite these days seems to be Lulu's, especially for dim sum; a couple of years back a lot of the Chowhound talk was about Wei Hong. A longstanding classic on Brentwood just south of Clayton is Yen Ching. I have read some good things about a place called King Doh, which may or may not have something to do with Homer Simpson, and some others further west in a thread about Chinese restaurants that was quite lively about a month ago on the Eat at Joe's forum on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website -- click on and then Entertainment and then Dining or Restaurants and scroll down.

                    Out in Chesterfield, the big favorite restaurant over the years is probably Annie Gunn's, a steakhouse with a fairly informal decor with surprisingly high quality steaks and expensive prices. It is also known for a lively, cougar-inhabited bar scene. A branch of the upscale Italian Cafe Napoli 2, which actually is not big-portion red-sauce but more regional and authentic, just opened up and was reviewed in the Post this week.

                    Good luck, have fun, and report back.

                    1. re: nosh

                      Nosh: I've found really really good Mexican - forget anything like Gallardo, in fact don't even think of it as Mexican - just off (far) South Grand around Bates. just across from the Polish dry good market. IIRC.

                      1. re: hill food

                        First, what Mexican have you discovered that you like? What do you order there?

                        Second, even if you find some passable Mexican, it is certainly not a St. Louis specialty. Someplace, somewhere in the Southwest may fry up a toasted ravioli in a chipotle sauce, but I'd still be better off ordering the al pastor.

                        1. re: nosh

                          definitely NOT an STL specialty, but you brought up Mex. I have noticed mom and pop Latino places more and more in the last 8 years - kinda the way SE Asian started showing up in the mid 80's.

                          hopefully the place is still around, and I'm no expert on Mexican other than being able to tell if it's all house-made (ok, maybe not the tortilla) but the best I've had outside of similar places in AZ or CA.

                          noticed lengua and menudo on the hand-written board. closest to a NoCal taqueria, great carne asada. but it's been a coupla years since I've been back. hope they haven't changed a thing. right down to the cheap furniture.

                          1. re: nosh

                            Besides the places on Cherokee, there are some places over by the airport. My favorite, aside from those on Cherokee, is a homey kind of place in a old fast food place-maybe a taco bell on Woodson Road. Taqueria la Pasadita I think is the name. There are some others. The number of taquerias that serve tacos al pastor W/wo pineapple are increasing almost exponentially especially in the small towns. (that would be a whole other post) I like to order tacos and try to get a Coke in a bottle and hope it is made with real sugar. Most of the little places we go to serve these small double tortillas filled with cilantro, onions, slices of lime and the filling of your choice. (maybe barbacoa. chorizo, suadero, carne asada) While you can often find the "el"clones of El Maguey, look a little farther and you will find something more to your liking.

                            1. re: wekick

                              since someone revived this thread - La Tejana on North Lindbergh just South of the airport does awesome things to al Pastor, asade and Carnitas for their tacos

                      2. re: dietwater

                        My favorite Japanese in the St. Louis area was Yoshi's in Chesterfield - they're undergoing renovation and are supposed to reopen Monday evening, 12-15 (This Monday.) renamed MomoYamas. Yoshi is moving back to Japan, but he supposedly will be there for a few months for transition. His partner, Annie, will remain.

                        There are several sushi bars in the area; Fuji down Clayton Rd. and Sapporo further down. Of the two Supporo is better. For a more complete list go to


                        Edit: Sapporo: Down Clayton Rd., left on Manchester.

                        It's a little old but the basics are the same.

                    2. Did I miss any mention of St Louis style ribs? I kind of thought that was the preferred style for most competition these days...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Clarkafella

                        clarkafella, as you probably know 'st.louis-style' can refer to the way pork spare ribs are cut and trimmed, not how they're smoked, or seasoned. That cut is popular in the competitions, but the kind of flavoring and so forth of st.louis bbq generally isn't as popular across the country as Memphis, KC, Texas, or Carolina. They generally favor sweetness from molasses or brown sugar and ketchup/tomato derivatives and put sauce on rather than keep it separate from the smoked meat.

                        1. re: moto

                          yeah the term references the cut - why? dunno, but still the regional method is very mid-Mississippi Valley (MPH, LR) in that one smokes and then open grills with sauce on (in my admittedly extremely narrow view).

                          sauce later? fine. I'll enjoy it that way, but I won't cook it like that. the sauce ought to caramelize over the fire. of course a pulled sandwich is a whole 'nother ballgame.

                          I'll simmer my own, but in a pinch, Maull's anyone?

                      2. As others have said, the pizza is THE thing to try. But just go to IMO's. It's the standard-bearer, whether it was first, best or whatnot. It's the place to experience it most authentically.

                        Also worth checking out: Fitz's Rootbeer in University City:
                        The food is better than it should be, and it's an institution. If you spend the afternoon in U City, Saleem's ("Where garlic is king") is awesome and kind of over the top at the same time. I eat there every time I'm in town.

                        If you're feeling really adventurous, go to Roper's Ribs ( ) -- or better, across the state line to East St. Louis and get a tripe sandwich. I can't remember the name of the place, but it's near N. 3rd St. and Highway 15, and there's always a line after 6 or so. Greasy, crispy and must be eaten with lots of hot sauce. Awesome.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: dmd_kc

                          East St. Louis is our secret. Remember that.