Though St. Louis is often characterized as a large city that feels like a small town, residents of the Lou have long had an inordinate preoccupation with food and drink. Through sheer audacity and Midwestern grit, the STL culinary community has kept pace with Goliath competitors, with some especially strong openings in recent years. The city has never doubted it could, should, and would rival culinary powerhouses like LA, Portland, and Chicago.
In a restaurant scene that’s not only impressive but expansive, diners spread the love, never reserving enthusiasm exclusively for James Beard winners and Michelin stars. A hawker-style stall planted in the middle of a pan-Asian superstore — serving melamine bowls brimming with lip-numbing mapo tofu — earns the same fervor and local pride as the baby back pork ribs tended by a beloved local pitmaster. An Italian deli on the Hill, famous for serving the same pig’s head salami sandwiches since opening 100 years ago, is not just a beloved institution but an enduringly popular one. Outside a Korean window-service restaurant, long lines are standard as it serves up snow crabs smothered in gochujang butter from a tiny kitchen in the back of a pinball bar. Just a few miles away, another line forms around an avant-garde ice cream shop that sustainably sources ingredients. And then there’s the happy little red Japanese fire truck that zips around the city, where preorders are required to score a coveted konbini-style strawberry and cream sando on downy milk bread. If something delicious exists anywhere in the 314, St. Louisans with voracious appetites will come.
St. Louis isn’t a flyover city. It’s a get-on-a-plane-and-fly-there-right-now city. Just look for the beautiful, midcentury monument by Eero Saarinen and you’ll know you’re in the right place. You can’t miss it.
After almost two decades as a chef and chef educator, Holly Fann hung up her apron to write full time about food and dining.Read More