Often overshadowed by Kansas City’s legendary reputation for ribs,—you can thank Calvin Trillin’s ’70s era love letter for that—the growing dining scene in St. Louis often times gets the shaft. That’s too bad, because “the Gateway City” now flaunts a slew of impressive restaurants helmed by the likes of James Beard Award-winning and nominated chefs Gerard Craft, Kevin Nashan, and Kevin Willmann.
While regional favorites such as toasted ravioli, barbecue pork steak, and gooey butter cake will forever be part of St. Louis’s culinary legacy, there are now other dishes to get excited about here—from miso-peach corn soup, to buffalo crawfish sandwiches, to sweet potato-bacon nachos. Like other urban epicenters, St. Louis kitchens are embracing myriad Midwestern ingredients to reimagine classics, and the results are impressive.
When the chefs dreaming up these creations are out of their own kitchens, however, they just want to stuff a greasy cheeseburger, homemade tamale, or bowl of crunchy Thai noodles into their mouths. We asked 6 chefs (and a modern-day butcher) where they like to hang out in their hometown. Here’s where you’ll find them unwinding after hours.
Chef/Owner at Niche, Taste, Brasserie by Niche, and Pastaria
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Fork & Stix (549 Rosedale Avenue; 314-863-5572, forknstix.com)
Craft says: “I think it’s the best Thai food in the city. It’s the kind of place I like to eat when I’m not in the kitchen and on a date with my wife, Suzie: the food is comforting with a depth of flavor. My favorite is their khao soi, the northern Thai noodle soup with curry paste and coconut milk. It’s served with shallots, pickled mustard greens, crispy yellow noodles, and roasted chile paste.” (Photo: Yelp/Richa T.)
Chef/Owner at Southern
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Cedar Hill Dar-E-Kreme (7070 State Highway BB, Cedar Hill, 636-285-3288)
Lewis says: “It’s a family-owned joint where I order a double-jumbo cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate malt. The burgers are smashed on a griddle—perfectly caramelized, crispy, and seasoned with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. There is nothing flashy about this place, but it will transport you to a time when things were a little simpler.” (Photo: Facebook/Cedar Hill Dar-E-Kreme)
Chef/Owner at Farmhaus
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Mi Tierra Mexican Store (3121 Collinsville Road, East St. Louis, 618-271-8168)
Willmann says: “It’s a seven- or eight-table place in the back of a grocery store with a tiny kitchen putting out some of the best Mexican food in St. Louis. There is one table with a window that I love because it looks out over some wetlands that are packed with wild turkeys. My chef bud, Kevin Nashan, turned me on to the tamales, but everything’s freakishly better than anywhere else. There is a beloved grandmother who seems to be in charge and she always lifts my spirits.” (Photos: Christian Gooden, Yelp/Mike H.)
Chef/Owner at Randolfi’s, Público, and Half & Half
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Protzel’s Deli (7608 Wydown Boulevard; 314-721-4445, protzelsdeli.com)
Randolph says: “There are quite a few Jewish delis in St. Louis, but Protzel’s is the best. It’s a step back in time, a real old-school, family-run place that opened in the fifties. You can still get penny candy here. I get the large half-corned beef and half-tongue with spicy mustard on rye.” (Photo: Yelp/Wendy T.)
Owner/Head Butcher at Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions
Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Tamale Man (Schlalfly Farmers Market, 7260 Southwest Avenue, Maplewood)
Bolyard says: “It’s a small family-run business. They are super nice folks and the dog Walter is the sweetest. Their tamales are spot-on every time. I usually get one each of the chicken, pork, and veggie, along with a green sauce and one of their aguas frescas.” (Photo: Facebook/The Tamale Man)
Executive Chef at Death in the Afternoon and Blood & Sand
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Truc Lam (3737 Gravois Avenue, 314-776-1299)
Rosenfeld says: “It’s small and out of the way, but if the quality wasn’t there I wouldn’t waste my time. Here I would order the bun bo hue with a banh mi starter.” (Photo: Yelp/Tuan L.)
Chef/Owner at Sidney Street Café and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Joy Luck Buffet (8030 Manchester Road, 314-645-9982)
Nashan says: “Don’t miss the hot pot, and keep the beers coming to cool down their delicious Sichuan food. It’s the real deal.” (Photo: Yelp/Dieter K.)