The thing I love most about St. Louis is it’s pride in locally owned businesses. More importantly, it’s pride in locally owned eateries. There’s a higher level of creative freedom in recipe making, meal preparation, and atmosphere at local restaurants. They wear their hearts on their plates in a way. These are the places you’ll visit over and over and can afford to because shopping local usually costs less. You’ll only pay around $9 - $12 per person. These are the spots you’d find out about if you had a good friend who just happened to be a foodie that lived in St. Louis. These aren’t your mother’s favorite restaurants. This list pushes local culinary limits with offerings that are delicious and a little daring.
BBQ: Sugar Fire Smokehouse
St. Louis is well known for BBQ. After all, there’s even St. Louis style BBQ ribs. SugarFire Smokehouse has 6 locations in Missouri to “make your dirty little food dreams come true”. The menu here is far from traditional with adventurous option such as a smoked portabella sandwich, cheddar jalapeño sausage, and pork belly hush puppies. Oh, and it doesn’t stop there. On any given day you’ll find specials whipped up in some BBQ genius’ mind like the Don Ho-gie where boneless baby back ribs were stuffed with pineapple, wrapped in bacon and smoked. Then, piled up high on a toasted hoagie with spinach, crispy onions, and Maui Owwie (hot pineapple) BBQ sauce.
Plates are messy and full of bold flavor. Smother any dish in one of their multiple house-made BBQ sauces just for the heck of it. They’re open daily from 11am until sold out. Honestly, I’ve never even had the chance to try the ribs because they’re always sold out. Don’t worry, with this menu you will be satisfied trying anything else including dessert. From baked goods to spiked shakes your sweet tooth won’t be left out here. They’ve gotten so good at desserts that they opened up a pie shop next door.
Contenders: Pappy's Smokehouse, Bogart's Smokehouse
Sandwich Shop: Fozzie’s Sandwich Emporium
When you come across this wacky little gourmet sandwich shop bearing the name of a muppet you won’t be sorry. With two locations in the St. Louis area you have a good chance of not missing out too. You’ll find classic sandwiches like a Reuben or cheesesteak but, please don’t stop there. The menu has an originals section where the “Black and Blue” lives. Grilled steak, spinach, blue cheese, and tiger sauce pile onto a garlic hoagie for $8.25. Then, there are the specials you’ll find pinned daily to a cork board near the ordering station. Here, sandwiches like the Sriracha Pop make an appearance. Sriracha marinated chicken bites are grilled with sriracha ranch spread topped with tomato, red onion, and jalapeño poppers on a garlic hoagie. Even though, I’m not a dedicated vegetarian there are times when I just don't need meat in a dish. Fozzie’s is very veggie friendly. The Boomtown Philly special had mushrooms instead of steak, caramelized onions, red pepper, and truffle aioli on a hoagie.The world is a better place when sandwiches like these are made!
Compliment your sandwich with house-made parmesan herb chips. Served in a small brown paper bag perfect for shaking to ensure parmesan is on every chip. If your belly can take in more, go for one of the milkshakes. The regular menu has a must-try The Chocolate Julep. Oreo cookies are mixed in with vanilla ice-cream, fudge, and fresh picked mint. Oh, yes! They have their own garden. Did I forget to mention that earlier? Don’t try to be good and order the kiddie size. You’ll want more. Trust the foodie in me.
Contenders: Snarfs, Blue’s City Deli
Pizza: Blackthorn Pub
You don’t forget a pizza like Blackthorn’s deep dish pizza served up at a dive bar tucked away in Tower Grove Park. $21 dollars gets you a 14 inch layered in savory, slightly smoky, spicier than normal pizza sauce, mozzarella, and your choice of a few toppings. Don't expect spinach or chicken or any slightly fancy pizza toppings. Do expect toppings to be folded into the crust. Do expect to almost choke on cheesy goodness. Definitely expect to wait a minimum of 45 minutes for your pie. And, it is so worth the wait. I max out at two of those thick slices. A box to go must weigh around 6 pounds. Ask for extra sauce on the side to dunk that doughy crust in like a breadstick. This coming from a girl who usually discards the crust.
Take it to go or dine in. Inside make-shift chalkboard walls are covered in names and phrases from years ago. You can also play arcade games from years ago as you wait for your order. Cocktails are served up at the bar and you can catch live music periodically. I’m sure the owner hasn't decorated since the bar first opened in 1986. This spot can be easily passed over but after trying it once you won't be able to stop yourself from going back another time. They don't even have a website but Google and Yelp help with that.
Contenders: Pi Pizzeria
Burgers: Bailey’s Range
There are several powerhouse restaurateurs in St. Louis. One of which is Bailey’s Restaurants, a family of 7 amazing eateries in the St. Louis area. Bailey’s Range is their burgers and shakes joint where made from scratch patties and ice cream live downtown in a colorfully restored industrial building. The branding and decor for Bailey’s Range is straight out of a 1920’s soda fountain. Rooster, the contender for best brunch is another one of Bailey’s masterpieces.
100% Missouri beef, chicken, veggie, lamb, and even bison are permanent fixes on their menu. Each week two burgers battle to see which gets ordered the most. The winning burger stays on for another week. The losing burger gets kicked to the curb. Keep in mind though that these burger combinations would give any other burger joint a run for its money. The Philly, Texas Ranger is the reigning champ right now. Two thin pressed aged sirloin patties are smothered in grilled onions, poblanos, and jalapeños. Chipotle cream cheese and queso fresco somehow make it between two slices of Texas toast. Try the Loaded Fries as an appetizer. Fries, queso, bbq sauce, and pulled pork are tossed together then topped with jalapeños. Every fry is coated with this yummy mess. No dry fries at the bottom here. Why can’t all loaded fries or nachos be this way? By the way, there are also ice cream battles where flavors like Vanilla Lavender Rose and Peanut Butter & Jelly duke it out.
Contender: Five Star Burger
Asian: Guerilla Street Food
It’s usually a good sign if a food truck garners enough of a loyal following that they are able to open up a permanent location. That’s exactly what Guerrilla Street Food did. Filipino dishes are made from scratch daily with local, seasonal ingredients. The rotating menu features traditional dishes and original creations. I can’t imagine I would be able to eat an 800 Pound Gorilla anywhere else. The flavors, and well the dishes themselves, are so colorful. Bright green onions and orange red sriracha play atop sunny yellow sous vide 1 hour egg. Stark white rice gets spotted with dark sesame seeds. And, did I mention you’ll only spend about $7-12? The dish that won me over is the Iron Manok. Arguably, the best fried chicken in St. Louis. Seriously. And, so unexpected. The chicken is almost fall off the bone tender. It’s juicy. It has a smoky spice to it. It's fried in a light, crispy wonton like breading. There’s two sauces drizzled over it and a bed of tangy-sweet slaw underneath it. Notice I don’t have a fried chicken category listed. This is why.
The owner and chef usually takes orders in a Star Wars t-shirt with a bandana around his head. You may find a superhero movie playing while you wait like Captain America or discover you like French soul like Come Home by Ben L’oncle Soul. Behind the counter there are hidden Playstation 3 controllers. If it’s not too busy you can play as you wait for your order.
Contender: Seoul Taco, Lona's Lil Eats
Brunch: Southwest Diner
Southwest Diner may be on this list because the waiting area is a converted school bus deemed the Roadrunner with an onboard bar. The bus itself is a piece of art. The walls, the ceiling, and the doors are painted in blues, greens, reds, and oranges as if you walked right into a sunny New Mexico day. Eagles soar overhead in a blue sky as you sit arm to arm with the person next to you. Inside this always crowded little diner you’ll find pictures of horses, howling wolf trinkets, and potted cactus plants scattered everywhere. Don’t plan a brunch with a large party. It’s pretty close quarters in the seating area as well. Do plan to get there early because they close at 2pm each day.
Now that I think about it, Southwest Diner may be on the list because of their Bloody Mary’s. They’re spicy. The tomatoes are fresh and watery. There’s even a garnish of thick cut peppery bacon to add depth to the flavor. You can find burritos and enchiladas on this menu but you can get those just about anywhere. Look out on the menu for sopapilla, the pillowy New Mexican style “doughnut” thats served with honey. Get it as an appetizer or a side with your meal. Heck, if you're feeling like it, get it as a brunch dessert. The buttermilk cornmeal pancakes are all you want in a good pancake and more. They’re plate sized, literally. I would love to see the spatula that handles those. Never fear traditional pancake lovers, the texture is far from grainy. Another reason to get there early are the menu specials. Crispy, juicy duck confit makes an appearance inside and orange glazed donut as the Duckin’ Donut. Grits on Fire is cheesy grits, messy pulled pork, huevos the way you want, and queso fresco. See, why I said don't stop at the burritos?
Contender: Rooster, Melt
Fresh Roast Coffee: Park Avenue Coffee
St. Louis can make anyone fall in love with coffee. As a tea lover from childhood, I owe my newly founded appreciation of those aromatic beans to the many local roasters in St. Louis. Take a morning drive to or from downtown St. Louis and a toasty morning blend wafts right through the car causing belly grumbles. That would be Ronnoco Coffee right off the highway. However, Park Avenue Coffee is the roast I boast about the most. And, I must not be the only one. They opened their third location in 2015 and fourth in 2016.
I unfailingly order the Turtle Mocha. Espresso, chocolate, and caramel are mixed with steamed milk then topped with whipped cream. Get it hot or iced. The consistency in flavor across different baristas is incomparable at Park Ave. You’ll also find the best gooey butter cake here. What is gooey butter cake you might ask? It’s a dense yellow cake base thats filled with butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Forget about coffee cakes. Park Ave has over 76 different flavors. Mom’s Traditional is still my favorite and a must try for first timers. Bags of roasted blends and flavors are available for purchase. You can even leave with a 9x9 pan of gooey butter cake if you so chose. I bet you’ll chose to.
Contenders: Kaldi’s Coffee, Ronnoco Coffee
Ice Cream: Ices Plain & Fancy
One doesn't go to Ices Plain & Fancy just for ice cream. One goes to Ice Plain & Fancy for an ice cream experience unlike any other. You've seen packaging that brags about slow churned ice cream. Well, not here. Ice cream is flash churned using liquid nitrogen. Local ingredients are used to create concoctions that are dairy, non-dairy, and even boozy.
The line for this sweet show is usually out the door and for good reason. You feel like a kid again walking up to this bright pink and blue storefront that's somehow tucked into a red brick building. Watching ingredients disappear into a cloud of nitro to emerge as silky smooth scoops is Willy Wonka whimsical. Of course, they wouldn't be on this list if there weren't amazing specials. Egg Nog made with Spirits of St. Louis Cognac is a must try during the holidays. Yes! You heard me right. This ice cream is a must try during the winter. Even your dog will love this place. The Sticky Charlie is a flavor just for dogs, unless you're feeling very adventurous. Sweet potato, yogurt, peanut butter, and anchovies mix to create this pup cup. And, for extra points (not like they needed it) 50% of the proceeds from Sticky Charlie sales go to Stray Rescue of St. Louis.
Contenders: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
Donuts: Strange Donuts
Nothing strange here. Just donut deviants disguised as pastry chefs cooking up collaborations with other local restaurants to create some of the holiest concoctions. Take for example, when they paired up with Guerrilla Street Food to make Purple Yam Donut Fries topped with cheese curds, gravy, and duck confit. They also worked with Seoul Taco to create a jalapeño honey fritter with bulgogi and eggs on top called the Seoul Done. When they aren't partnering with local restaurants they’re still turning out ‘strangers’ like the Twice Baked Potadone with cheddar cheese, bacon, potato filing with a sour cream and chives glaze. They take care of your sweet tooth too with old school favorites like jelly-filled and glazed. And, new school creations like a chocolate done dusted with graham crackers and a flaming marshmallow called Campfire.
Strange Donuts has garnered a pretty loyal following since starting out in 2013. Their Instagram is updated constantly with bold graphics and vibrant photos of their creations. They pop up at a variety of local events such as Loufest and Mardi Gras. Even St. Patrick’s Day this year had its own donut, The Paddy’s Problems was a chocolate filled chocolate done with a scoop of mint ice cream plopped in the middle and creme de menthe. If you needed another reason to indulge in these donuts, Strange Cares is a donut-driven nonprofit founded by the owners of Strange Donuts which empowers kids. You can eat donuts and feel good about it because you know proceeds go to helping kids.
Contender: Vincent van Doughnut