There are plenty of gastronomic adventures to be had in the Gateway City. But make no mistake about it: St. Louisans also know their comfort food. After all, how better to withstand a harsh Missouri winter than with a heaping bowl of spaghetti or a blue-plate special? Visitors should not leave town without trying foods that are quintessentially St. Louis: We’re talking toasted ravioli, thin-crust pizza topped with Provel cheese, barbecued pork steaks, and gooey butter cake.
Most Beautiful Restaurant
Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar is one seriously gorgeous restaurant, with creative touches—glassware suspended from violin strings, chandeliers fashioned from antlers—that elicit as many “wows” as the amazing beer list.
The world may know St. Louis as the hometown of Anheuser-Busch, but folks in the know favor The Schlafly Tap Room. Pair Schlafly’s excellent microbrews with homemade soft pretzels, a bratwurst sandwich, or the best fish-and-chips in town. If you’re visiting St. Louis during the winter, don’t miss the Coffee Stout.
In a town known as much for its barbecue as for its giant Arch, picking a favorite is tough. But when the (smoked-wood) chips are down, top honors go to Pappy’s Smokehouse. Owner Mike Emerson serves up the finest ’cue in the city. The line often snakes through the restaurant and out the door, but the wait is worth it—and made totally tolerable by the abundant samples that travel through the queue, often handed out by Emerson himself.
Best Small Plates
The term “small plates” is so common as to be almost meaningless, but Taste reclaims the phrase in a major way, thanks to its absolutely perfect culinary creations. The kitchen’s playful take on street tacos will leave you smiling from ear to ear, as will the cocktails prepared by expert mixologist Ted Kilgore.
Best Soul Food
A former backup singer for Ike Turner, Robbie Montgomery opened Sweetie Pie’s in Forest Park Southeast in 2003. Offerings change daily and include pork steaks, okra, mac and cheese, and an oxtail stew that would give any high-end joint a run for its money.
Best Coffee Shop
Tired of cookie-cutter coffee chains? Let The Mud House restore your faith in what a neighborhood coffee shop can truly be. Grab a seat, and spend the morning (or afternoon) sipping, snacking, and surfing at one of the hippest, friendliest places in town.
Best Place for a First Date
With its sultry lighting, abundant red roses, and decadent desserts, Baileys’ Chocolate Bar is the perfect first-date spot. Indulge in dark-chocolate martinis or nibble on a variety of truffles. Romance comes easy at this Lafayette Square gem.
Best Gourmet Experience
Mention Niche to any St. Louis foodie, and brace yourself for rapturous descriptions of what very well might be the best restaurant in town. Gerard Craft isn’t afraid to make dishes like pork cheeks with bacon ice cream—and Food & Wine didn’t hesitate to name him one of the Best New Chefs of 2008. In 2011, Farmhaus head chef Kevin Willmann garnered that same auspicious Food & Wine award, thanks to his playful, divine takes on Gulf Coast cooking—including a prawn-and-escolar preparation that is the best seafood dish in town.
Fistfights have probably started over St. Louis pizza—that’s how loyal St. Louisans are to their favorite pie. For perfectly crisp thin-crust pizza, try Pizza-A-Go-Go, a homey BYOB spot near the city’s south side, or sample the authentic Neapolitan pizza at The Good Pie. If you crave a thicker crust, stop by the legendary Black Thorn Pizza & Pub.
Get your burger with a side of nostalgia at Blueberry Hill, where owner Joe Edwards’s collection of Americana covers both levels of this Delmar Loop landmark. The burgers are perfectly seasoned (don’t miss the onion rings). The burgers at super-friendly Irish pub Seamus McDaniel’s rival those at Blueberry Hill, and in the summer you can enjoy your meal on Seamus’s huge patio.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon St. Louis.