St. Louis locals have known for decades that the region is a gem of a dining destination, but foodies in cities around the United States now are catching on, too. The Chicago Tribune recently dedicated a full feature to St. Louis’s deserving food scene, spotlighting several chefs, bar masters and restaurants that are creating innovative dining experiences.
As Michael Fricker, St. Louis transplant and executive sous-chef at the new Cinder House restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, told Tribune writer Elaine Glusac, “I’ve worked in 13 cities in the past 13 years, and I could stay here the rest of my life.” Fricker cites the city’s variety of restaurants, the availability of local produce and camaraderie among chefs as just a few of the reasons he loves his new culinary home.
The Tribune digs past St. Louis’ Budweiser roots to spotlight the city’s growing craft beer scene and calls out a number of local food-rich neighborhoods including the Central West End, Maplewood, Kirkwood and The Hill. It highlights staples like the Schlafly Tap Room as well as newer, trendier spots like Vicia and Yellowbelly.
While the Tribune article covers some good ground, it still only begins to scratch the surface because the St. Louis food scene is so vast and is constantly growing.
For example, St. Louis’ rich immigrant population makes it a true melting pot of authentic international cuisine. The Tribune only touches on this with a mention of Bosnian food truck Balkan Treat Box. Exploring further, one might visit Lona’s Lil Eats in the Fox Park neighborhood, founded by recent James Beard Foundation nominee Lona Luo. Luo fuses the flavors of her native China with elements of Northern Thai dishes to create her own unique fare, including giant rice paper wraps and stir fry platters made with freshly-chopped ingredients and homemade signature seasonings and sauces. Naturally, these dishes end up on numerous local “best-of” lists.
Qui Tran, son of Mai Lee Vietnamese restaurant founder Lee Tran, used what he learned in his mother’s kitchen to co-found popular noodle and ramen shop Nudo House in Creve Coeur along with his business partner Mary-Anne Velasco. They are now expanding to a second location in the hip Delmar Loop. Also in the Loop is Al-Tarboush Deli, where Sleiman Bathani treats guests to what’s frequently hailed as the best Middle Eastern classics in St. Louis, including falafel and baba ghanoush.
Beyond the well-covered neighborhoods listed in the Tribune, there are some great restaurants to be found in lesser-explored pockets of the St. Louis metro area. In Ferguson, Cathy Jenkins of Cathy’s Kitchen Restaurant & Diner created an expansive menu inspired by her travels around the country, as well as her own take on soul food dishes like shrimp and grits and Heavenly Fried Cabbage. Further west on a 6.5-acre farm in historic Cottleville, Stone Soup Cottage offers monthly six-course tasting menus crafted by chef Carl McConnell with ingredients grown on site. Across the Mississippi River in Belleville, Ill., David Sandusky offers smokehouse delicacies at Beast Craft BBQ (two words: candied bacon).
Other locally-lauded chefs deserving of the national spotlight include Katie Collier of Katie’s Pizza and Pasta Osteria. Collier has elevated modern Italian fare with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients in hand crafted pasta dishes like her Black Spaghetti, made with squid ink and topped with prawns, clams, scallops, salmon roe and chili flake. Collier was named Sauce Magazine’s Chef of the Year in 2018 for the second consecutive year. Another is former Café Osage chef David Kirkland, who recently opened contemporary breakfast and lunch café Turn in the stylish .ZACK building in the Grand Center Arts District. Kirkland serves his fresh, seasonal fare surrounded by walls of framed classic records.
St. Louis invites the Tribune back for another taste, but locals already know what to do: dig in.