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[STL] A loaded question.

Where is the best dinner experience in St. Louis to be had?

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    although that place on S. Kingshighway and Arsenal is pretty good too.

    or Steak n Shake - ask for a Takhomasak.

    but White Castle has later hours.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hill food

      I was looking for a dinner that I might not (ostensibly) get elsewhere. Though the Eat-Rite diner seems novel, the other two aren't very special to St. Louis (though I have no clue what Takhomasak's capabilities are). I love White Castle (LOVE), but if those are the best dinner experiences in St. Louis, then I'm sad for the city.

    2. Ulterior, it's not a loaded question. But you did mean dinner, not diner, right?

      Maybe a little guidance in what you are looking for, but I'm sure you've already got a few places scoped out. Some places that might not hit the radar of your previous searches are Sidney Street and Erato in Edwardsville. I think you'll find the flavors and execution of their food to be on par with the food that you are used to eating during your travels.

      Good luck! And if you need more help, you can check out some area sources:




      4 Replies
      1. re: jpg

        I didn't misunderstand the amount of n's. In fact I was tempted to suggest locales by the airport. Perhaps a Po' Folks in Bridgeton.

        1. re: hill food

          I vow in 2009 I will not hit the 'post' tab will cranky. apologies.

          1. re: hill food

            No apologies! I posted my question without clarifications or conditions. But, I like your new year's resolution nonetheless. :)

        2. re: jpg

          jpg, thanks for the recommendations in Edwardsville. Anywhere closer to the city proper?

        3. STL has plenty of good dining. Perhaps some specificity would help, Are you looking for STL specialties? Any place that's great? Expensive OK? Etc.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Richard 16

            Richard 16. Yes, I suppose specificity would help, although I was hoping people would start offering up their favorites so that I could get a sense of the whole. But, I suppose the whole is rather large.

            No specialty, as far as ethnicity or style. I'm just looking for any place than an out of town visitor should eat at in St. Louis. Considering the prices I paid on my recent eating trip through the U.K. and France, I guarantee you, nothing's going to seem expensive. Sky's the limit. I doubt St. Louis could possibly out-charge Paris.

          2. As I'm very familiar with your blog, I hope I have an idea of what types of places you tend to look for and try.

            First and foremost, Niche is a place I think you should try. It serves interesting food in a nicely presented atmosphere. It isn't too formal, but of all the places in the city it will have the most unique flavor combinations and the most adventurous menu. Niche has a 5 course tasting menu each night and has some of the best desserts in the city. Both the chef, Gerard Craft and pastry chef, Mathew Rice, have been recognized by Food and Wine Magazine (Gerard was a rising chef in 2008 and two of Mathew's desserts have been featured)

            Second, Monarch in Maplewood (not far from downtown). This is a more formal dining experience (there are two dining rooms and a wine bar, the main dining room is formal while there is also a bistro dining room with a more casual atmosphere). Monarch acquired a new chef in October who had previously been the chef de cuisine at An American Place. By all accounts, the new Monarch menu is outstanding (I have to admit that I have not been since the new chef arrived. I have eaten at Monarch under the old chef and at An American Place though). The chef features local ingredients and demonstrated great ability to create flavorful, but interesting dishes. I have a meal scheduled here in a few weeks and I'm really looking forward to it.

            A St. Louis classis restaurant would be the already mentioned Sidney Street Cafe. It is well liked and I had a good experience there, but the menu leans heavily on steaks and isn't as creative or progressive as I prefer. The service here though is very good and the overall atmosphere and experience very pleasant.

            For simple straighforward french, try Franco in Soulard. It has been consistently good on all of my visits, but it is not terribly creative or unique, but a pleasant experience overall.

            The Italian places that are generally well received are Trattoria Marcella and Acero. I'm not a huge fan of Italian fine dining, but these are the places that are generally well liked, consistent and meet expectations.

            Another poster already mentioned Erato on Main in Edwardsville and I have to recommend it again even though you would prefer a place in the city (maybe some other trip). I think Erato and Niche are the top two places in St. Louis. Erato is a small restaurant attached to a wine bar in downtown Edwardsville. The food there is contemporary with a bit of a southern soul to it as the chef spent a good deal of time working in the south. Erato has some of the best seafood in the city and definitely some of the more unique and interesting flavor combinations and ingredients. It really is worth the drive to Edwardsville. Tuesday through Thursday a tasting menu (7 courses) with wine pairings is offered for $75 which is a steal in my opinion.

            There isn't anywhere in St. Louis rivaling the refinement and ambition of a place like Bluestem (a place I know you frequent often based on your blog). Niche and Monarch would come the closest in terms of food, service and ambiance.

            Good luck and I hope you're able to find someplace that you enjoy.

            9 Replies
            1. re: michaelstl

              michaelstl: Now THAT was helpful. Thanks very much for digesting this information for me (pun intended). With the exception of Franco, I am somewhat familiar with the restaurants you listed.

              I have a companion thread going that you might be able to help out on: (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/588970


              Thanks very much, u.e.

              1. re: ulterior epicure

                You're welcome. Unfortunately, St. Louis does not have a great depth of restaurants that are very good. There are good places, but only a few with a huge number of places that are mediocre. You're not going to find a Sportsman in St. Louis.

                I had seen the other thread, but I'm not much of a brunch person so I have little experience. I would second the recommendation for Cafe Osage though. It isn't a true brunch, but it is a nice little place serving a higher quality breakfast that one would find at places like First Watch. The cafe looks into the attached nursery/farm and seeing the various plants and flowers makes the atmosphere very pleasant. Another nice breakfast place is Rooster in downtown. Again, not a real brunch place, but a really nice experience. It is modeled after European cafes and serves a variety of crepes and a few breakfast entrees. It's a nice space with good coffee and I've had good service on all of my visits.

                1. re: michaelstl

                  A good friend, who frequents St. Louis, told me about the Rooster. Its menu looks rather fun. I don't need fancy or fussy, just something good.

                  You know, it's too bad that we don't have anything like The Sportsman in our area. We have a lot of chefs treating food with a similar mindset: an emphasis on local and artisanal. And, I think many chefs here are talented enough to produce food at a level beyond what they currently serve. Unfortunately, we, in the Midwest, are limited by our location (the ocean is literally a five minute walk from the front door of The Sportsman) and, more significantly, handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality. But that's all for another time and place. I'll get off my soap box now.

                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                    No one has mentioned Iron Barley? I think it is so St. Louis. Yes, you can get just about anything on their menu at other places in KC and other cities. Just not done in the Iron Barley way at a place like Iron Barley.


                    1. re: zataar

                      What an eclectic menu! It offers everything from "Naked" dogs to zarzuela to schnitzel & spaetzle.

                    2. re: ulterior epicure

                      I agree completely with your assessment of the midwest dining state. I do hope progress can be made or that I can get out of the midwest and have better options. It is disappointing though that Kansas City seems to have a larger supply of innovative, interesting restaurants than St. Louis.

                      Back to your initial question, I do want to also recommend Pi, a pizza place in the Loop. It isn't a dining experience, but it is simply great pizza. Its specialty is deep dish pizza with a cornbread crust. It really is a great place and the pizza is nothing like "St. Louis Style" pizza.

                        1. re: michaelstl

                          michaelstl - This just proves that you are a mind-reader. I lived in Chicago for years and I never once understood the appeal of the flour-based deep-dish crusts. They were doughy and half-baked. Cornmeal is where it's all at.

                          Now, you said Pi's pies have a cornBREAD crust. That sounds dangerous.

                          1. re: ulterior epicure

                            Perhaps cornmeal is a better descriptor. It is a corn-based crust that just has a great texture and crispiness. The toppings are also fresh and topnotch.

                2. There's nothing wrong with the Midwest in general, restaurant-wise.. in fact, I'm living in D.C. now, and there are far fewer interesting/funky restaurants here (per capita, at the very least) than my former homes of Chicago (obviously) or Kansas City.

                  *The problem is St. Louis, specifically.* In fact, STL is more like a typical mid-sized Mid-Atlantic city in this regard than a Midwestern one - lots of traditional regional (and often yummy!) oddities like toasted (fried) ravioli, gooey butter cake, provelone pizza, etc., but not a lot of progression/innovation in new restaurant trends. C'mon, people.. stop reflexively, non-reflectively bashing the Midwest already.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: seethaki

                    As one who has lived in both Chicago (5 years) and D.C. (2 1/2 years), I disagree. When it comes to restaurants, D.C. is much more ethnically diverse than St. Louis or Kansas City (I'm assuming you're considering the metropolitan area).

                    And, I don't think anyone here has been "reflexively, non-reflectively bashing the Midwest."

                    1. re: ulterior epicure

                      ulterior - uh, maybe I'm confused, but I thought we were discussing cities' restaurants, not their ethnic diversity? Yes, D.C. is great for so-called "ethnic" restaurants (I've always hated that term - what's "ethnic" to one person is another's comfort food), but I was discussing innovative/progressive/'fusion' sorts of places, and, per capita, at least, I consider Chicago and K.C. to be way stronger in this area than D.C. Just my $.02. :D

                      And I'd say the following comment by you - "Unfortunately, we, in the Midwest, are limited by our location (the ocean is literally a five minute walk from the front door of The Sportsman) and, more significantly, handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality" - definitely qualifies as "reflexively, non-reflectively bashing the Midwest." I'm specifically curious about "handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality" - do you have any stats on this phenomenon (and a definition for "apathetic consumer mentality," while we're at it)? :D

                      1. re: seethaki

                        I understood your usage of "funky/interesting" to include diversity of ethnicity and innovation. I'm sorry if I misunderstood you on this point.

                        However, I do disagree that "ethnic" is beyond definition. By "ethnic cuisine," I mean the food of a culture other than one's own. When it comes to restaurants, I do think that D.C. is quantifiably more ethnically diverse and offers more "funky/interesting" choices than Kansas City. I never disputed that Chicago bests D.C. in this area.

                        As for progressive and innovative cuisine, I have to disagree with you as well. Name me a single restaurant in Kansas City that is doing food on the level of minibar, Komi, Michelle Richard Citronelle, Laboratorio de Galileo, or even Zaytinya. We just saw the opening of our first "serious" tapas bar, and it doesn't seem nearly as authentic or creative as Jaleo is.

                        As for your last point, I, of course, can't give you any hard numbers to back up my statement. However, I can demonstrate what I wrote in this regard: compare the menus of restaurants in D.C. to the menus in Kansas City. I refuse to believe that the only reason we aren't seeing as much diversity in the food being served in Kansas City (or the Midwest in general) as opposed to D.C. is due to supply issues. For example, the only dedicated seafood restaurants in Kansas City are chains: McCormick & Schmick's, Bonefish Grill, Long John Silvers, and Red Lobster. The simple reason we don't have a single Kinkead's or D.C. Coast to lean on is because people in the Midwest are not as likely or willing to eat things that swim as opposed to things that walk. That is, to me, is evidence of an "apathetic consumer mentality."

                        If there are any chefs out there reading this, feel free to jump in. I'm sure they COULD provide hard numbers.

                        D.C.'s restaurant scene is hampered by expense accounts and lobbyists. The Midwest restaurant scene is, as I said, "handcuffed by an apathetic consumer mentality." Each present their own limitations. But, I think the foodies in D.C. are still better off than those here on the back forty.

                        1. re: ulterior epicure

                          I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it as an apathy or disinterest, part of the lack of seafood or fish in general is an issue of trust. I've met folks in STL that won't eat fish unless they caught it themselves or it was from a trusted source and then usually catfish (prob. the last thing I'd trust unless it came out of my parent's pond or a small river - but sometimes it's what you want).

                          People in STL are willing to try unusual and non-regional things, but have been burned by crap-ass cooks selling punched skate (and often a bit off as well) as scallops and not feeling right afterwards. or proprietors have underestimated what customers will put up with and hence don't last.

                          just a few hours South in Little Rock the shrimp trucks come up from the Bayou (really just a few hours further) and are an institution for fresh, not frozen (and sooo good) and in this day when so much shellfish is harvested in US waters, airlifted to Asia for processing and shipped back, I think it really is about perception over reality no matter the location.

                          DC is indeed hampered by many things, the need to cater to a wide range of sometimes cultivated and sometimes parochial tastes and never knowing who is whom. but benefits from immigrants wanting to relocate to Capitol City and bringing their food with them. they'd probably do better in a cheaper and underserved market. there's a reason why one can find so much great VN food in the Midwest - church sponsored families relocated in the 70's after the fall of Saigon that have found their footings since and started their own places that embrace their heritage and don't dumb-down and pretend to be Chinese. I've also had good really mom 'n' pop Mexican along South Grand.

                          are we in DC better off? I dunno, the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun.

                          you can find great in STL, but 1. you have to know where. 2. lots of people aren't telling out of territoriality and, 3. sometimes the best can look like a complete dump in a crummy neighborhood or a suburban strip mall (see #1).

                          1. re: hill food

                            hill - nod, nod, nod. I agree with everything you said (that I have any personal knowledge of, that is).

                            I guess what I mainly miss about the Midwest is the sort of lighthearted, quirky, experimental attitude that so many *mid-priced* indie places in some of the mid-sized cities (K.C., for example) demonstrated. And Chicago was all about those sorts of places. I loved living in Evanston (the one north of Chicago) as a grad student and trying all the weird little none-too-expensive-but-thoughtfully-artistic (if you will) places in my neighborhood. That's what's mainly, missing, I think, in the Mid-Atlantic, generally speaking.. you can have a good meal if you're willing to shell out $200 (and don't mind some beefy senators sitting nearby, chomping on their cigars - *nod to ulterior_epicure* ), but if not, you'll have to settle for a greasy spoon (some of which are wonderful, don't get me wrong) or have Southeast Asian *again*. I also find it interesting how successful the mid-tier quick service places out of the Midwest - like Potbelly, Panera, etc. - are in this city. You'll actually see stuffed-shirt government appointees dining at Panera (with a sort of lofty air), which I find absolutely hilarious.

                          2. re: ulterior epicure

                            ulterior - read my posts again, paying special attention to my use of the phrase "per capita." ;)

                            And thanks for defining "consumer apathy" - I never would've guessed that it meant an unwillingness to eat seafood. ;)

                            Well, off to go inform my husband (who's a native of the Mid-Atlantic and will barely touch anything that isn't American comfort food) that he's a foodie merely by virtue of not being from the Midwest. He'll be thrilled!

                            1. re: seethaki

                              seethaki - I saw your "per capita" qualifier.

                              I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, then.

                              1. re: ulterior epicure

                                "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, then."

                                Sounds good. :)

                                Oh, and I think I missed your argument(s) for why Chicago was an inferior restaurant city to D.C. - was it because Chicago's in the Midwest?



                                1. re: seethaki

                                  It's not. I never made that argument. I'm more than willing to concede that Chicago is a superior dining destination to D.C.

                                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                                    Say, u e, while we're on the topic of the culinary sophistication of mid-sized Missouri cities vs. the Washington, D.C. metro area, how do you think Columbia, Missouri (home of the main campus of the University of Missouri) compares as a 'dining destination' to College Park, Maryland (home of the main campus of the University of Maryland)? As a short-term (thankfully) resident of College Park (actually, just outside College Park, but that wasn't much of an improvement, believe me), I didn't notice much in the way of gourmet tendencies on the part of the population (student or otherwise). I'm reluctant to assume this was because of 'consumer apathy,' as you defined it, since we're talking about the Mid-Atlantic, here.



                      2. re: seethaki

                        I'm confused. So there are more interesting/funky/innovative/progressive/fusion restaurants in the midwest? Is that right? I'd hate to think of fusion restaurants as the pinnacle of a dining culture or worse yet, the standard on which to measure a dining scene.

                        Interesting. Well, that's a subjective term. Innovative, in what sense? Technique, style, flavors, dining options? Progressive. That's an intersubjective term dependent on what everyone else is doing. I guess that is pushing the envelope on what people will try and enjoy. Fusion. Fusion of what? And didn't that trend reach its apex with Jean Georges in the 90s?

                        I'm not dogging on the Midwest or the MidAtlantic or anywhere. I love the Midwest dining scene because it's a challenge to define yourself/restaurant (as opposed to working in New Orleans where you are somewhat confined to certain styles). The Midwest is a different dining scene than other cities. As individuals, we all come to the dining room table with different expectations and desires for dining experiences. We disagree, so what? There are definitely moments where you can point to a restaurant in another city and long for that cuisine to be in your Midwestern town. And there are moments where you can say that the Vietnamese (insert your preferred cuisine or restaurant type) food in New Orleans is more diverse or interesting or better than the Vietnamese in St. Louis. Do you see what I'm saying, the Midwest isn't bad. It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as larger cities.

                        As for the availability of ingredients, we live in a global society. Just because the ocean is three days' drive from the Midwest does not mean that the availability of seafood is low. Also, the thought that fish in the Midwest is inherently old (I know you didn't say this Wildchild, but it helps the argument!) is wrong. Fish are caught, brought in to the Honolulu fish market, and they arrive on my doorstep the following day. The same goes for fish caught and brought to the markets in New York, New Orleans, Seattle, etc. In a counter example, the majority of food sold at our local bar is seafood. But here's the kicker, it is previously frozen. So, there's a balance that happens due to a frozen product: wide availability at an accessible price point, thus providing for affordable consistency. Midwesterners will buy seafood, but maybe it's on their terms.

                        The quality of food in Midwest restaurants is amazing due to this global network of purveyors (not always a good trend due to the large amount of gas it takes to get a piece of fish to the Midwest, but it helps when you're landlocked) and the incredible offerings from local farmers, ranchers, and foragers. That combination makes the food in the Midwest interesting. That's my opinion, like it or not.

                          1. re: jpg

                            "Do you see what I'm saying, the Midwest isn't bad. It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as larger cities."

                            The Midwest isn't a city, it's a region. :) And it happens to contain the United States's third largest city - Chicago. :)

                            1. re: seethaki

                              seethaki - I won't presume to speak for jpg, but I assumed what jpg meant was, "...the Midwest isn't bad. It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as [other regions that have] larger cities."

                              1. re: ulterior epicure

                                I'm a latecomer to this thread, but I have to agree wholeheartedly with seethaki. Chicago, my hometown, had more variety at all pricepoints than most of the places I've lived in the US.

                                For example, Turkish is Turkish in Chicago, as is Israeli, Greek, Moroccan; in both SF and NY it's hidden as Mediterranean; Baltic, Roumanian, Croatian, and other Eastern European food is hidden as European instead of simply being called Baltic. I don't really understand why--is it to pull one over on an unsuspecting guest who wouldn't voluntarily want to eat at a place with Croatian food?

                                Most of the non-vegetarians I knew in Chicago loved fresh seafood, cooked in all sorts of ways (the only one that put me off were the live partially cooked shrimp wiggling on the plate). Plus real Mexican, which is nearly impossible to get mid-Atlantic. The tourist food may be heavier than from most cities, but the sheer variety--most good and affordable to both those on student budgets and expense accounts--is the main thing I continue to miss.

                                So now I have to cook more and am spending more time finding good local produce and meat. Mediocre and bland food within 20-30 miles of Princeton runs $80 on average for 2, before tax and tip, at predominantly BYO establishments. For better food, you can get it for $200, but it may not be worth even that.

                                It really irks me that people have this misconception that places like Dallas, Scottsdale, and Miami have better offerings than anywhere in the midwest, including Chicago.

                        1. Ulterior Epicure-
                          What you are asking isn't a loaded question, it's a highly subjective question. One that you may not find a satisfactory answer to. St Louis has an extensive range of dining experiences to offer. It depends on what your preference is and whether or not you can find it. I agree with Hill Food that you really have to know where to look. And unless you'll be traveling, or at least dining, with a St Louis native, you may not know where find them. I say St Louis native because there are so many choices and constant changes, that someone needs to have lived here a long while to be aware. St Louis does offer great diversity in foods, though you will need to be open minded. The best (in my opinion) Cantonese restaurant St Louis had to offer was at the end of a strip mall and seated no more than 30. It was overlooked by most people because of it's appearance. Sadly, it closed several years ago. If you don't need diversity, try local favorites. While the wealth of Italian restaurants in St Louis may not have much on the menu that isn't available in Kansas City, what they do offer, they do exceptionally well. And, yes you will find fewer options of foods that swam. I do not believe that to be a result of consumer food choice; more availability. We are in the Midwest, land dwelling animals are far more abundant. Fish & seafood have farther to travel and limited shelf life. This grossly affects what is offered and the final cost to the consumer. By the way, St Louis has several tapas style restaurants to offer. Two of note would be Modesto, a Spanish-style tapas bar on the Hill and Robust Wine Bar features a tapas-style menu. Robust was also named Best Restaurant in St Louis for 2008. Though most St Louisans would offer a different top choice.

                          1. Wow! This thread is giving me a headache!
                            I'll just toss my two cents in here...I'm afraid that trying economic times have impacted my 'nice restaurant' experiences of late, but a WONDERFUL birthday visit to Niche makes me able to recommend it heartily. Innovative, tasty, a busy, friendly atmosphere...all good. And pricey.
                            For what I would call a real Midwestern kinda meal, I would absolutely recommend Iron Barley. Deep on the Southside, they serve the kind of food I make at home, only (sigh), tastier. Like Grandma made...if Grandma was one heck of a cook. There is a kind of a rural Missouri vibe to the menu...a German/Southern/lots of bacon/cooked in a cast-iron skillet kind of place. It is not, um, 'upscale'. Wear jeans, drink some Schlafly beer, and I'll warn you, they allow smoking on the bar side of the restaurant. (Considering the amount of smoke coming from the kitchen every time they cook the salmon, you may not notice it anyway). I don't mind, really, (go ahead, fellow hounds, chastise me for that one), although I don't sit in the bar if the kids are with me.
                            I don't know if the food qualifies as 'innovative', but I have always loved Sidney Street Cafe. The food is always very good, the menu is very meat-heavy, cream-heavy, lots-of-stuff-with-cheese heavy. The servers are insanely pleasant and helpful, and I like the dark, cozy room. It is usually my first pick for a sort of mid-pricey celebration dinner.
                            Today I would favor any place with a fireplace...and valet parking. (I got stuck in the snow TWICE on my way out for coffee this morning).

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: tonifi

                              At last, another Iron Barley recommendation. I do wish St. Louis would get rid of the smoke!

                              1. re: tonifi

                                tonifi- Thank you for a helpful post. Niche and Sidney Street both have been getting a lot of traction here.

                                So, St. Louis has yet to pass a smoking ban in restaurants?

                                1. re: ulterior epicure

                                  Unfortunately, no. However, Niche is non-smoking so you won't have to worry about it there.

                                  I really hope a smoking ban is passed soon though.

                                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                                    "So, St. Louis has yet to pass a smoking ban in restaurants?"

                                    Ha! Fairfax Co. (in NoVA) hasn't passed a smoking ban in restaurants, either. Probably has something to do with the importance of tobacco to VA's economy.

                                    "It's just different and doesn't have the same offerings as [other regions that have] larger cities."

                                    Like the Pacific Northwest? If you remove San Francisco from that equation, you're not left with much in terms of large urban centers. :)

                                      1. re: ulterior epicure

                                        or to be fair, Vancouver.

                                        OP: maybe your pseud gets people defensive for a place that is still pissed that it was eclipsed by Chicago in 1909 (not actively, just part of the psyche and don't get me started on relatives that apologize for things on visits that I still love). Coming in with a name like that people will cross off 80% of most their lists, even though I believe you don't intend that.

                                        it's not a town big on eating out it, generally goes to what it knows and tends towards neighborhood places. Hence there may be some great place that is open for 3 months (and craps out 'cause it's amateur and inconsistent or just a vanity project that was ill-thought out) so future consumer dollars are taken somewhere that is known. Or it's a place that survives for 30 years despite its relative faults.

                                        I think this has become what it has as your question is a bit vague and (let's be honest) there's a bit of sensitivity about what the City has to offer. It has nothing to be ashamed about, but I think feels somewhat defensive about it.

                                        just do a search on this board - either a place was so flash in the pan it was never noticed or it's been around awhile and will be next year.

                                      2. re: seethaki

                                        A 9 nations fan.:) To those of us out this way, SF & Vancouver bookend the PNW.
                                        Amazing diversity. The area in between though, makes the Midwest seem like an ethnic hotbed. And Portland, like KC, seems to have a more interesting food scene than
                                        Seattle/St. L. Maybe the expense account idea holds some merit. Folks spending their own money want different choices?

                                  2. I grew up in St. Louis, and after living in California for three decades and traveling extensively, I still love my visits that often center on eating at various local restaurants. I agree with the recommendations for Niche and Sidney Street Cafe. But I am still a little confused about what you are seeking: the "best" is totally subjective, and sometimes leads you to the faux Continental Casa de Cuisine places that Calvin Trillin satires in his essays. That said, Tony's has been regarded as the top dress-up, formal service, some tableside prep restaurant in the city for over five decades and three locations. It is located downtown on Broadway in the ground level of an office building caddy-corner to the new stadium, ownership is hands-on and gracious, and the Italian-influenced food is excellent. If you don't want to invest the time or dress for a dinner, they share a kitchen with the neighboring Anthony's Bar, for simpler but still fine food.

                                    St. Louis is perhaps best known for Italian food, and The Hill in the south part of the city is the classic neighborhood. But admittedly, much of the food there is simple, basic redsauced heavy-cheesed pasta dishes distinguished more for massive portions than delicious or delicate preparation. There are exceptions. Kemoll's is a higher-level experience and has been perhaps the top Italian restaurant for decades, and they are in the process of relocating to the 40th floor of a downtown highrise with a killer view. Trattoria Marcella is very well-regarded. Cafe Napoli, with a location in Clayton and a new branch out west in Chesterfield, breaks the mold with smaller portions and lighter sauces. On The Hill, check out Volpi's as an authentic deli producing housemade meats, and Amighetti's serves the classic Italian sandwich.

                                    Perhaps you have to grow up eating it to love it, but my first and last stop in St. Louis is for pizza -- ultrathin crust, crispy, toppings mostly under the cheese, cut into squares rather than wedges, and most important, topped with provel cheese, a melty provolone-cheddar processed specialty. Imo's is the local chain, but my favorite is in Clayton on Hanley, at Cafe Manhattan. You start with an Italian salad also featuring the cheese, then try an order of toasted ravioli -- battered, deepfried beef ravioli that are then dipped in the tomato sauce. Then the pizza -- it will be huge in circumference, but since it is so thin you can eat a lot. I love the stuff -- you may not, but it is worth a try.

                                    Yes, my biggest criticism of St. Louis restaurants is the smoke. You need to be very careful -- even places ostensibly nonsmoking may have bars where the smoke pervades the whole place. O'Connell's is often mentioned as having the best burger in town and an even better roast beef sandwich, but I can't step inside the place. The splashiest new opening last year was Herbie's, a reincarnation of Balaban's in the Central West End, but despite an expensive filtration system it has suffered criticism for the smoke, as well as high prices. If you are sensitive to smoke, be sure to ask specific questions when making reservations or plans.

                                    Finally, don't miss Ted Drewe's. Frozen custard, made into an ultrathick mix known as a "concrete" that can be held upside-down. A St. Louis institution.

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: nosh

                                      that was prob. more helpful for the OP.

                                      in a roundabout way I guess I was warning (him?) that what is good is often discounted by locals as not good enough for "company" - I get that all the time on visits home. it's a mighty tight rope to tread when close relatives (I thought we were close) say things like "I guess we're just fly-over country" umm, I flew TO here.

                                      take me to Amighetti's or pizza at the bocce place across the street, let's wander Euclid for nibbles and wine or a takeout of gizzards and gravy from London + Son's up on Grand and Page - sure!

                                      but I do need to try Niche and go back to Sidney next time.

                                      1. re: hill food

                                        hill food - Who or what is "OP?" Sorry, I'm not internet lingo-savvy.

                                        I realize that my initial inquiry was vague, and I realize that I deserved all of the trouble I've gotten from posters here. I've been around these food boards long enough to have seen more than my share of "Coming to [City], Where Should I Eat?" It's galling, I know - usually because they're looking for one specific type of eating experience without specifying it.

                                        But, here, I simply wanted to find out what people on this board consider to be their favorite eating experiences - top end to bottom. The type of answer that nosh, michaelstl, and a few others have given is exactly what I was looking for. Your throw-ins for diners were also helpful. I'm sure I won't make it to all of the places that have been suggested (I'm simply not in St. Louis often enough), but at least I have a nice list of places that I can look forward to trying.

                                        No doubt, my inquiry was poorly constructed and made. I tried to ease people's tension of these things with the title of this thread, which may have only exacerbated the problem.

                                        1. re: ulterior epicure

                                          sorry I broke my own New Year's vow.

                                          OP does mean Original Poster as pointed out below by Lemons.

                                          does Lemmon's on Gravois still do great chicken?

                                          this medium is so susceptible to misunderstanding, I usu. try to be sure that others know to always take me with a grain of salt (and if nothing else refer to my profile).

                                          STL is a strange place - it's not completely North or South, it's neither East or West (bit more East I'd say) and while a center of regional migration in the post WWII years, still never comfortable in its own skin. God love it. (and as a native I can say: just a bit psycho, but in a largely friendly way) Tennessee Williams was just building on an existing cottage industry. Ike Turner? we knew he was bad news waaay before Tina's movie came out.

                                          1. re: hill food

                                            Lemmon's is not the same Lemmon's you may remember. They were bought by the guys who own The Black Thorn...it's more a bar now than a restaurant. Great chicken wings and pizza...but SMOKEY! Pool tables in the basement and shuffle board in the bar. They do lots of trivia night and have bands.

                                      2. re: nosh

                                        nosh - Excellent. Thank you for that comprehensive post. To be sure, I am not looking for any one specific type of eating experience, but I wanted to simply see what people thought were their favorite restaurants in the city.

                                        I didn't grow up eating it, but I *love* ultra-thin crust pizza. Thanks or those suggestions, I'll add them to my list.

                                        1. re: ulterior epicure

                                          ulterior epicure -- glad to be of some usefulness. I think St. Louis is a great eating city, particularly for its size. There is a midwestern friendliness and hospitality, but also an ethos of hard work, value, and a striving for and appreciation of quality. Do you know where you'll be staying? St. Louis is pretty easily navigable, though the construction going on along Highway 40, the major east-west thoroughfare, has complicated things. The two main business/dining/entertainment areas are downtown, on the west bank of the Mississippi, where there is the Arch, the Old Courthouse, and the ballpark and brewery, and further west past Forest Park and Washington University in Clayton, where the county courthouse, civic center, and business district is located. Clayton is about twenty minutes west of the riverfront on surface streets, a bit less on the freeway. Cafe Manhattan is on Hanley at Wydown in Clayton, and is a very casual place serving burgers, sandwiches, excellent shakes, and my favorite St. Louis pizza, salad, and toasted ravioli. They have a takeout/delivery sister a halfblock across the street, and another small place that originally was related, Uptown Cafe, also makes similar pizza across from the courthouse. I'm pretty sure that Cafe Manhattan has a mozzarella cheese option along with the St. Louis provel, so you could do a half-and-half and decide which you prefer. Frank & Helen's, on Olive in University City near Olivette, has been around forever and definitely has a mozzarella option and makes good pizza, but they still permit smoking so I don't like eating in there. Imo's is the local big chain now celebrating their 45th anniversary, and they do a good job, have an extensive website, and I think they have a delivery option. They have almost a dozen locations in the downtown city area alone, though not all are eat-in, and I did not see a mozzarella option on their online menu. Note and beware, some of the new upstart pizza places, like Pi in the Loop and The Good Pie near St. Louis U. are eschewing the St. Louis style and going for the neopolitan classic pizza you can get anywhere.

                                          I'll throw in another rec for burgers and beer at Blueberry Hill, a great place in the Loop on Delmar, just north of Washington University and Clayton. It is filled with old rock'n'roll memorabilia, particularly from our native son Chuck Berry, and sometimes has live music. My favorite burger in town used to be at The Fatted Calf in Clayton, a wonderful flame-grilled burger topped with a scoop of soft cheese, but they recently changed ownership and I've read disturbing warnings about smaller patties and imprecise cooking times.

                                          As I mentioned on a concurrent thread, my favorite new restaurant in town is also far and away the best BBQ I've had in St. Louis. Pappy's is located at 3106 Olive, where it returns from Lindell, near St. Louis U. Excellent smoked babyback ribs, tender but with a bite, and I also really like their pulled pork (specify you want it untrimmed, with the bark). Besides the usual cole slaw and potato salad they do some slim sweet potato fries dusted with cinnamon, and I liked the steak fries ordered welldone. Extremely hardworking and eager to please owners and staff -- go for lunch or very early for dinner; when they run out of meat they close, sometimes early.

                                          For an incredible, amazing fine dining bargain, The Crossing in Clayton started offering a four-course menu with several options for each dish for just $25 in honor of their 10th anniversary last spring, and continued the offer through the year. I loved it and sampled it twice. Still remember a crispy large crabcake served with microgreens over a spicy sauce, a wonderful spicy bisque that was a bit too hot for the person who ordered it but was perfect for me, a tender and succulent shortribs (better than a small ribeye), and some refreshing desserts. A great experience, and I believe that two sister restaurants, Liluma in the Central West End and Acero, an Italian offshoot, are offering similar deals.

                                          1. re: nosh

                                            nosh - I'll have my car, so it doesn't much matter where I'll be staying.

                                            The name "The Fatted Calf" is catchy, in a gluttonous way.

                                            If I'm not mistaken, I thought Pi was more of deep dish than Neapolitan. We have decent Neapolitan-style pizza in Kansas City, though I wouldn't mind checking out what St. Louis has to offer either.

                                            Sidney Street Cafe has been getting a lot of recommendations. I need to check out there menu.

                                            1. re: ulterior epicure

                                              The name "Fatted Calf" is also used by a San Francisco Bay Area purveyor of meats and cheeses that sells a lot at area farmers markets. I have inquired with the St. Louis hamburger shopowners (who informed me that their business was originated by the family that owns and runs Tony's and Anthony's, and later sold) and yes, they were aware of the west coast use of the name (and I suspect received some sort of licensing).

                                              1. re: ulterior epicure

                                                Pi is defintely most known for its deep dish pizzas. Pi does serve a thin crust pizza which may or may not be neopolitan style- I've never tried the thin crust as the deep dish so good.

                                                Sidney Street is a solid place, but the menu never changes and to me features too many standard ingredients and preparations to warrant more than one visit. I like to frequent places that can always provide something new and interesting to try without sacrficing flavor. Sidney Street comes through on service and quality, but it fails in terms of creativity and being thought-provoking.

                                              2. re: nosh

                                                One of the best things about Clayton is not a restaurant but a store named "Extra Virgin, an Olive Ovation". They always have a couple of *dozen* oils out for tasting as well as some great vinegars and other stuff.

                                                To make this thread-relevant: it's a couple of doors down from a relatively new restaurant named "Araka". I have not eaten there yet but it has a beautiful interior and it's so close to the store you may want at least to look inside. There's a wide variety of opinions on the food; some CHers may want to comment and you may want to do a CH search.


                                                (Local magazine web page for Araka)

                                                1. re: Richard 16

                                                  Richard 16 - "Extra Virgin, an Olive Ovation" sounds pretty good. I'll have to try to find it on one of my trips.

                                                  I just took a look at Araka's dinner menu (http://www.saucemagazine.com/website....). True to its billing, it seems to focus on the southern half of Europe.

                                                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                                                    I know people have differing thoughts on Araka, but I have to say that while Araka is a nice looking restaurant, the food there is so mediocre and marginal that I can never recommend it to anyone who is serious about food. Araka is a good place to social and have something to eat, but if one wants to eat well, Araka will definitely not fit the bill.

                                                    Another poster recommended Tony's and while I can see the appeal to some people, an experienced diner would likely find Tony's to be a disapointment. Tony's is the most formal, most over the top restaurant in terms of service in St. Louis, but the food and atmosphere is more of a time warp to 20-30 years ago.

                                                    St. Louis has only a few great restaurants and many average restaurants. The two that stand head and shoulders above all others are Niche and Erato in Edwardsville. Following closely are Monarch and Sidney Street.

                                                    Clearly my recommendations are only based on my experiences and other people may have had great experiences in other places, but I feel that I've eaten at enough places in St. Louis and other cities and read enough about other restaurants across the world to consider myself to make rational, well considered recommendations.

                                                    1. re: michaelstl

                                                      I have not eaten at Araka, but family members have. Their comments are that the place is indeed beautiful, some of the food tasty (the flatbreads; the simpler the better), and it might be preferable at lunch. As for Tony's, my parents went there from the time it was a checkered tablecloth, spaghetti and meatball joint over fifty years ago, so part of the experience for me over the years was always being recognized by name and receiving personal greetings from Vince and the oldtime servers. Monarch is an up-and-comer, just acquiring the former chef from An American Place. And maybe there is hope -- my phone call there, admittedly to a woman saying it was her first night on the job, reveals that they are going to be completely nonsmoking starting tomorrow.

                                                      1. re: nosh

                                                        nosh - re: The American Place new nonsmoking policy. Good news!

                                                        1. re: ulterior epicure

                                                          I think he was saying that Monarch is adopting that policy. Their chef was previously at American Place.

                                                          1. re: alan

                                                            alan - Thanks. You're right. Sorry, I was posting in haste.

                                          2. I am way staying out of this fight, but OP refers to "original poster", poster referring to the person, not a piece fo cardboard on the wall, as I once had to tell my mother.

                                            1. Ulterior- I'd love to hear where you decided to go and what your impressions were. I'm curious to hear how an experienced diner views the "best" of St. Louis. After recommending Niche, I couldn't stop thinking about the place and ended up making reservations for this weekend.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: michaelstl

                                                michaelstl - To be sure, I shall report back. Enjoy Niche!!

                                                  1. re: ulterior epicure

                                                    Joe Bonwich is the longtime restaurant reviewer for the Post-Dispatch, accessible at www.stltoday.com and the "eat at joe's" forum. the former reviewer is joe pollack, who has a blog with his wife: http://stlouiseats.typepad.com/st_lou...
                                                    and reviewed niche favorably this week.

                                                    1. re: ulterior epicure

                                                      Niche was a great experience. My fiancee and I both agreed as we were walking down the street after leaving the restaurant that it was the best overall meal we'd had at Niche.

                                                      There were four of us who all elected to have the five course tasting menu. We also all added an additional course, the pappardelle with pork that was Gerard's featured recipe in Food and Wine in the rising chefs issue (I'm not the best with detailed course descriptions as I refuse to take notes as I want to be sure to enjoy my company as much as the food. Hopefully my descriptions do the meal justice).

                                                      The first course was a seared scallop sliced very thin. The scallop was topped with croutons of pork cracklings, some shreds of candied Meyer lemon peel and a few bits of the lemon flesh, and surrounded in popcorn consomme that featured a delicious corn flavor. I tilted my dish in every angle to get the last few drops.

                                                      The second course was gnudi. It was a naked three cheese ravioli. It was simple and delicious. It would also work well as an amuse bouche.

                                                      The third course was a standout. It was pork 2 ways: pork belly with bacon ice cream. The pork belly was perfectly fatty and the ice cream had plentiful bacon flavor. The differing temperatures also provided an interesting bite.

                                                      For the fourth course, we had the pappardelle with pork and slices of granny smith apple. The pasta noodles has perfect txture and the overall dish was very hearty and satisfying. The apples also provided a sharp contrast that gave the dish greater depth.

                                                      We then had a meyer lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser. It was both very tart, but with a nice element of sweetness. It certainly did a great job of cleansing the palate.

                                                      The main entree was a duck 2 ways. First seared duck breast over mushrooms with a persimmon puree. The second duck preparation was a duck potpie with mshrooms and carrot. The pot pie was very hearty and rusitc. A great winter dish. The seared duck breast had a great crispy skin and paired well with the puree.

                                                      Dessert was a trio of chocolate: a chocolate cookie with a mint sorbet fillin (think a chewy mint oreo), a rich, rich chocolate ice cream, and white chocolate mousse. I really Mathew's desserts and the trio did not disappoint. We also go to sample the malted milk chocolate cookes (featured in the current Food and Wine). These were served with mint marshmallows and the cookes and marshmallows were a perfect petit fours.

                                                      The service was efficient and attentive all night. We were also lucky to be able to talk to Gerard and Mathew at the end of the meal for a little while and this really capped the evening. We discussed the menu for the evening and got to hear of some of the new ideas they are working on. Talking with the chefs really personalized the night and made the evening even more memorable. I can't say enough how much fun we had and how much we enjoyed all aspects of our meal.

                                                      So, ulterior epicure, I'll once again heartily recommend Niche as the place for the best dinner in St. Louis. I spoke with Gerard about extended tasting menus and he stated that they'd be happy to arrange a larger tasting menu than the nightly 5 course menu (preferrably if reserved in advance) if you had ideas of doing such a menu should you choose to visit Niche. If you go, I hope you have the same kind of experience I did.

                                                      1. re: michaelstl

                                                        Thanks michaelstl for the report. I'll definitely report back.

                                                        nosh - thanks for the link.

                                                  2. Thank you to everyone who gave me great input. As promised, I'm reporting back on the dinner I had. You can read more about that meal here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/595263