Gateway to Good Food: The Best Restaurants in St. Louis
Find great pizza, brunch, barbecue and more in this underrated, overly delicious city.
Photo By: Greg Rannells
Savor St. Louis
Brunch: Southwest Diner
BBQ: Salt + Smoke
Picking your favorite barbecue in St. Louis is like trying to pick a favorite child: It’s (nearly) impossible. Salt + Smoke is a relative newcomer to the scene, but it’s managed to distinguish itself from the rest by crafting a menu that has something for everyone. The team behind the restaurant come from the fine-dining side of the restaurant world, and they’ve used that to their advantage. Classic barbecue platters are available, but so are more innovative dishes like the brisket sandwich with burnt-end mayo and tobacco onions, or the fried housemade pickles with flax seed mayo. Salt + Smoke’s brisket may very well be the best in town, and the pro move is to ask for the fatty cut — or, even better, burnt ends if they have them.
Burger: Mac's Local Eats
Chris McKenzie has long been known in the St. Louis food community for his dedication to pushing people to eat locally, thanks to his meat shares and CSAs. When he announced he would be opening a burger joint inside a local bar, Tamm Avenue Grill, diners didn’t know what to expect — but the industry pros did. The result is quite likely the best burger in all of St. Louis. McKenzie’s burger has not only all the marks of the best diner burgers, like the thin patty being cooked until ultra-crispy, but also a certain je ne sais quoi that comes from dry-aging. That’s right, this is a dry-aged diner burger, made from the best cuts of the animal. Simply put, it’s the best diner burger ever made.
Icon: Mai Lee
Carb Heaven: Union Loafers
Hot Spot: Sardella
American Sweets: Pint Size Bakery
Contemporary Asian: Vista Ramen
Thai: Fork & Stix
Cocktail Bar: Planter's House
Ted Kilgore is St. Louis’ best-kept secret. He is unarguably the person who brought the craft cocktail movement to St. Louis over a decade ago, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. From the day that Planter’s House opened, it has been the city’s top cocktail bar, with a mix of classics and inventive creations. It even has a menu of its own “new classics,” drinks that have been so popular that there’s no reason for them to go away. It does have a full food menu, as well, to help soak up some of what you’re throwing down. Insider’s tip: The main bar area is great, but to truly experience Planter’s House, slip upstairs to the intimate, 1950s-style Bullock Room.
Seafood: Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.
Eating seafood in a landlocked Midwestern state isn’t always the smartest idea, but at Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., you’re in good hands. This is the sister restaurant to the James Beard Award-winning Sidney Street Cafe, after all. With fresh catches flown in daily, Peacemaker serves up a menu of coastal classics including lobster rolls, crab boils and New Orleans-style po’ boys. There’s no better place in town for oysters, both in quality and variety, and the fish crudo of the day will never let you down. Combine all that with housemade soft serve and boozy slushies and you’ve got the perfect spot to enjoy a casual night out — or lunch, if you’re feeling wild.
Late-Night Spot: Taste Bar
How lucky is St. Louis to have one of its best restaurants and cocktail bars also be the place to go for a late-night rendezvous? Taste feels like an old-school speakeasy, complete with Edison bulbs, marble counters and dark wood, but the food and drinks it’s serving up are anything but old-school. The cocktail menu, which changes seasonally, is eight pages long, housing everything from the classics to punch bowls to a section simply called “resurrection.” The food menu changes daily, offering somewhere around 15 small plates and snacks, two larger entrees and three desserts. The buttermilk biscuits with whipped lard, crispy sage and hot honey are not to be missed, nor is the seasonal bruschetta option. It’s a 1 a.m. home run.
Tasting Menu: Vicia
Taiwanese: Tai Ke
Straight Outta the Balkans: Balkan Treat Box
Did you know the largest Bosnian population outside of Europe is in St. Louis? Surprise! You could head to “Little Bosnia,” better known as Bevo Mill, or you could track down the Balkan Treat Box food truck. Owners Loryn and Edo Nalic combine their Balkan background with their experience working at some of St. Louis’ best restaurants to create unforgettable dishes. The flavor is unreal—almost all the dishes are cooked using the truck’s built-in wood-fired grill and oven. Pillowy somun bread is baked fresh; minced beef sausages called cevapi are grilled to order and served with a spicy red pepper relish. The real star, though, is the Turkish-inspired pide, a grilled flatbread stuffed with meat or cheese; it’s like the missing link between a pizza and a calzone.
Cheap Eats: Carl's Drive In
Since 1959, Carl’s Drive-In has been the spot for a quick burger, fries and a tall, cold glass of root beer, and the best part is that prices haven’t changed much since then! Seriously, where else can you get a triple cheeseburger for under $6? Granted, Carl’s is home to the thinnest, crispiest patties in the world, but it’s still quite the deal. Add to that a basket of onion rings for $1.75 and a 24-ounce mug of root beer for another $1.75 and you’ve got yourself a meal that will keep you full for a day. If your time in St. Louis is limited, just swing by for a single patty and small root beer (made in-house), then head on to your real lunch. You’ll have room.
Parisian Pastries: La Patisserie Chouquette
Foodie Haven: Sidney Street Cafe
Looking to impress a visiting foodie? Sidney Street Cafe, winner of 2017's Best Chef: Midwest James Beard Award, is the place you need to lock down a table at. Chef-Owner Kevin Nashan and his team have been pushing the boundaries of contemporary American cuisine for over a decade. The less adventurous can opt for a classic like the filet bearnaise stuffed with lobster or the steak encrusted in wasabi, but whereâs the fun in that? Start with the lightly grilled Gulf Coast shrimp served with tomato salad, sliced grapes, pickled onion and white gazpacho, follow it with the rabbit porchetta with mustard jus and then finish with the deconstructed carrot cake. If youâve never had cheesecake puree with carrot-passionfruit sorbet, you havenât really lived.
Rock-Star Chef: Matthew Daughaday
Watching Matthew Daughaday run dinner service at his hit restaurant, Reeds American Table, is not unlike seeing the way Thomas Keller runs The French Laundry: There's no yelling or berating, just a calm, Zen-like focus on getting the food out perfectly. Like Daughaday himself, there's no pretense in the food at Reeds. He built the restaurant to be a place for everyone; the menu ranges from burgers and beer to high-end entrees and wines. Weekend brunches give way to his more gluttonous side, with dishes like his chicken and biscuit with habanero honey and maple black walnut grits., The restaurant becomes better with every new dish Daughaday adds to the menu. He's destined to become one of the greats of the St. Louis restaurant scene.
Modern Latin American: Público
Before you even open the door to Público, you’ll know what the restaurant is about: wood-fired cooking. Almost the only cooking apparatus in the entire restaurant is the nearly 8-by-8-foot hearth in the kitchen, which houses a plancha, grill, smoker and more. With the hearth and a deep understanding of Latin American flavors, Chef Mike Randolph and his team have built one of St. Louis’ most exciting and delicious restaurants. There are a few menu staples — like the smoked whitefish tacos with jalapeno cream cheese and crispy onions, which haven’t left the menu since day one — but seasonal fare shows up as it becomes available. The best part is that this place has just started hitting its stride.
For 99 years, the staff at Gioia’s has been slinging sandwiches in St. Louis’ historic Italian neighborhood, The Hill. They’re known for their signature hot salami, a terrine-like mix of pork shoulder and head, but their sandwich menu goes much deeper. Most options stick to the Italian genre, with things like coppa, meatballs and various salumi, but chicken, turkey and roast beef make appearances too. Order like a pro and go off the not-so-secret menu. You’ll be thanking us when you’re scarfing down your Hill Topper or Porknado 2.0. Most importantly, you can get any sandwich on garlic cheese bread — which you obviously should do.
Meat and Three: Grace
Rock-Star Pastry Chef: Sarah Osborn
No day is the same for Sarah Osborn, executive pastry chef of the Niche Food Group. Some mornings you’ll find her creating breakfast pastries for brunch at Pastaria, while others she may be knee-deep in Willy Wonka-esque gelato creations for Porano. Then, of course, she’s working up award-worthy desserts at Sardella, making dishes like warm peaches over almond cake with zabaglione and cinnamon crumble. If it’s a dessert, Osborn can do it — and she can do it better than almost anyone else (though she would never, ever say that). If you have a sweet tooth, you can’t come to St. Louis and not eat her food, unless you enjoy being miserable.