The Best Food and Drink in Missouri for 2019
December 20, 2018
The Show Me State shows off its culinary prowess
The Best Food and Drink in Missouri
Missouri might be the most American state in the union. It’s centrally located and draws on all surrounding food cultures. Want barbecue? It’s there. Italian? Meet me in St. Louis. And we’re honoring it all in our second-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
The Show Me State is often derided as one of the flyover states, but there’s so much to explore. Anchored by two metropolises at either end of I-70, the state also features homey dives and friendly neighborhood restaurants. From the patchwork suburbs of the Gateway to the West to the one of the great barbecue pilgrimages to Kansas City, the state's dining scene has been growing leaps and bounds in recent years.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Missouri gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Pizza Studio (St. Louis Lambert International Airport)
Customize yourself an artisan pizza with high-quality ingredients while waiting for your flight at Pizza Studio. You can go with any of their pre-made pizzas such as their Big Cheese Margarita or Backyard BBQ Chicken, and if you’re more daring, go “wild style” and have it with a firecracker crust and diced jalapeños. When customizing a pizza, you get your pick of four crusts (including gluten-free), seven sauces, four cheeses, and all kinds of vegetables and meats before finishing it off with garlic olive oil and basil or cilantro. Pizza Studio also offers custom salads for the more health-conscious flyer.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Charley’s Buffet (Lincoln)
Melissa T H./Yelp
Self-described as being “in the middle of nowhere,” this oasis is legendary in the area for its bounty of fresh-cooked homemade specialties. Steak, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, baked ham, macaroni and cheese are all standouts, as is their wide variety of fresh-baked bread and homemade pies. If you choose to make the trek, know a couple things: They’re cash-only, only open Fridays and Saturdays until 8 p.m., and lines tend to stretch out the door.
Best Bar: Taste (St. Louis)
Christy A. / Yelp
Head mixologist Kyle Mathis and chef Gerard Craft are all about providing a mix of creative and classic cocktails with seasonal new American small plates at Taste by Niche. The cocktail menu includes 35 classics and 15 originals served in the intimate, steampunk-style speakeasy. “For me, it’s all about the foundations of bartending," says Mathis, who has been in charge of mixology here since 2013. "We honor the classics at Taste by Niche, but also offer a menu that intrigues guests to try new spirits and cocktails.” The signature cocktail, Port of Spain (an Angostura bitters-heavy drink made with rye whiskey, Allspice Dram, grenadine, egg white, and lemon), is a must-try. The bar food includes bacon-fat-fried cornbread, fried cheese curds, and a number of small and large plates.
Best Beer: Abraxas, Perennial Artisan Ales (St. Louis)
It’s not often that a beer is branded as “challenging,” but Perennial’s imperial stout Abraxas leans into that description. With mind-bending ingredients like ancho chile peppers, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks, this brew really makes you think. And we think it’s a winner.
Best Brunch: Cielo (St. Louis)
Located on the eighth floor of the St. Louis Four Seasons, with a big outdoor terrace and great views of the Arch, Cielo is an absolutely lovely place to while away a Sunday afternoon. From 10:30 to 2:30, $69 will buy you access to one of the Midwest’s best brunch buffets, which boasts a weekly-rotating carving station, an omelette and frittata station, French toast, breakfast pastries, a large array of raw seafood, a rotating selection of entrées, a wide assortment of desserts, and all the Bloody Marys and mimosas you care to drink. We know where we’ll be spending our Sunday the next time we’re in St. Louis!
Best Burger: Winstead’s (Kansas City)
Winstead’s is a household name in the Kansas City area, serving diner staples and "steakburgers" for more than 70 years. These burgers are what the locals crave when they leave the city: fresh-ground Choice beef served with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and a thick slice of onion (along with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and/or bacon if you want it), served on a soft white bun. Order the double, comprising two 2-ounce patties, smashed down on the griddle until they’re essentially just crust, but retaining moisture. If this is your preferred type of burger, then you probably agree with Kansas City native Calvin Trillin, who proclaimed Winstead's burger one of the best in the world.
Best Chili: Dixon’s (Independence)
Yelp / Alan B
The oldest family-owned restaurant in the Kansas City area, Dixon’s has been going strong since 1919, and counted Harry Truman among its most loyal customers. Its chili is served atop a mound of beans and is available in three varieties: “dry” is crumbly and looser than you’re probably used to, “juicy” is served with natural meat juices, and “soupy” comes with bean broth. Any way you slice it (you can add in ketchup, onion, sour cream, cheese, pickles, or jalapeño relish, or enjoy it atop tamales or spaghetti), this throwback is one heck of a chili parlor.
Best Chinese Restaurant: New Peking (Kansas City)
Daniel H. / Yelp
This Kansas City gem has racked up accolades not only for its top-notch versions of traditional Chinese-American fare (seriously, try the General Tso’s chicken or the $14.95 four-course dinner), but also for its completely separate menu of traditional Chinese dishes.
Best Chocolate Shop: Christopher Elbow Chocolates (Kansas City)
This Kansas City shop takes the phrase artisanal chocolates to the next level. Each and every piece of candy is painted by hand, making these more like tiny, edible pieces of art than an after-dinner treat. The creativity extends beyond looks; these chocolates come in inventive flavors such as port wine fig, pear cinnamon, and bananas Foster.
Best Coffee Shop: Quay Coffee (Kansas City)
Kansas City is one of the best cities in America for coffee, and Quay Coffee is a big reason why. They keep their menu simple yet high-quality, with a guest roaster program in which they taste coffee from all around the country and Canada before ordering the absolute best. Making sure that their roasters work with direct trade coffee, Quay is dedicated to ethical sourcing and good service. The shop is a great place to study, socialize, meet, or work with baristas that are friendly and welcoming.
Best Craft Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Company (Kansas City)
Owner John McDonald first tasted Belgian beer on a trip to Europe and was hooked. After forays into art school and carpentry, he began home-brewing, eventually selling his house and cobbling together enough money to begin building what would become Boulevard Brewing Company. The first keg of Boulevard Pale Ale was delivered to a local restaurant in 1989, and the brewery’s reputation and size have been growing steadily ever since.
Best Cupcake: Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Café (St. Louis)
Michael U. / Yelp
If you’ve got a big appetite for cupcakes, you’ve come to the right place, friend. These gourmet cupcakes weigh nearly half a pound each — hefty enough to stand on their own against the likes of brunch. Try the pink velvet cupcake topped with cream cheese, caramel buttercream, and a German chocolate cake for a unique and flavorful cupcake experience.
Best Deep Dish Pizza: Pi (St. Louis)
Yelp/ Johanna L
Converting or infecting? Either way, non-chain versions of deep-dish are spreading beyond Chicago. Such is the mystery of pizza that the style landed in St. Louis, where Pi Pizzeria (area code 314, as in pi, get it?) launched its self-described “irrationally delicious deep dish and thin cornmeal crust pizza,” introduced St. Louis' first food truck (they claim), supposedly became the best pizza President Obama has ever had, and has since become a successful mini-chain of its own (there are three other St. Louis spots.
There are 12 standards (six each of deep dish and thin crust). Beyond topping standards like sausage and pepperoni, Pi offers zucchini, feta, prosciutto, gorgonzola, and goat cheese. Thin-crust purists whose blood is already boiling over the fact that Pi proudly declares that “Sauce = On top” ought to look away from the signature deep dish, The Delmar, which contains mozzarella, Cheddar, barbecue sauce, roasted chicken, red and green peppers, onion, and cilantro.
Best Dive Bar: The Hideaway (St. Louis)
A South City staple since 1954, The Hideaway is truly like a bar from another time. You may or may not find patrons smoking inside, but the cheap beers, friendly owners, and plenty of TVs make up for any inconvenience that may cause. If that doesn’t sound delightfully divey enough for you, on Sundays they offer a Bloody Mary bar for just $5.
Best Doughnut: The Donut Stop (St. Louis)
The Donut Stop has been a St. Louis staple for more than 60 years, and there’s one offering that makes this place such a well-loved classic: the cinnamon glob. As you’d imagine from its name, this sweet treat is a giant ball of fried dough, which is crisp on the outside and dense, buttery, and packed full of cinnamon on the inside.
Best Farmers Market: Farmers Market of the Ozarks (Springfield)
This farmers market provides a home for diverse vendors from within a 150 mile radius. It is housed year round in a pavilion which is open air in the summer with roll-down doors to keep the heat in during the winter months. Vegetables, fruits, and plants are available to buy, as well as handspun yarn, stained glass vases, handmade clothing, skin care products, and other artisanal wares.
Best Food Truck: Go Gyro Go (St. Louis)
Go! Gyro! Go!/Yelp
Is it "jy-ro" or "year-o"? However you say it, you’ll call the rendition served by Go! Gyro! Go! "tasty." Owners Nick and Laura Cowlen bought their truck in 2011, outfitted it themselves, and set out into the streets of St. Louis with food inspired by the family recipes of Nick’s yia-yia and papou (both from the island Zakynthos off the southwest coast of Greece) and his own experiences when visiting the motherland. The menu is pretty simple: gyros. There’s the classic beef and lamb, chicken souvlaki, chicken tahini, and veggie gyro. Go with the classic: spiced beef and lamb wrapped in a freshly grilled pita with sliced tomato, red onion, feta, parsley, and homemade tzatziki.
Best Fried Chicken: Stroud's (Kansas City)
In business since 1933, Stroud’s is known for their famous pan-fried-to-order chicken served out of "an expanded 1829 log cabin and farm house." In fact, as an indication that the restaurant still does things the old way, one of their mottoes (available on popular T-shirts) is "We choke our own chickens." Along with the chicken, customers rave about the mashed potatoes and cinnamon rolls, which are decadent additions to your meal, but certainly worth the extra calories.
Best Homemade Ravioli: Lombardo’s (St. Louis)
Yelp/ Lesley S.
No discussion about ravioli in America is complete without a nod to one of St. Louis’ culinary treasures, fried (or “toasted” ravioli). Countless restaurants in town serve rather pedestrian versions of the dish, tossing frozen ravioli into a bread crumb mixture and then deep-frying them, but Lombardo’s does things a little differently, making the ravioli by hand, from scratch. These big ravioli are filled with beef, cheese, and spinach, fried until golden, and served with fresh marinara sauce and grated romano cheese.
Best Hole-in-the-Wall Diner: Eat-Rite Diner (St. Louis)
Scores of St. Louis residents were despondent when the beloved Eat-Rite Diner, a perfectly-preserved 1930s-era old-school diner with red swivel stools and plenty of gleaming white tile, closed last year after the owner decided to retire. But a local couple took it over and re-opened it earlier this year, and the throngs have returned. The menu at Eat-Rite is as classic as it gets, with eggs, hotcakes, burgers, chili, grilled ham and cheese, milkshakes, and hot tamales all top sellers. If you’re really hungry, go for the Slinger, with breakfast meat, two eggs, potatoes, and chili.
Best Hot Dog: Dogs ‘n Frys (Florissant)
This hip Missouri dog destination has 25 different hot dog varieties on its menu, each wilder than the last. There’s the Peanut Butter Jelly Bacon Dog, which is topped with a strip of beef bacon as well as a healthy dose of peanut butter, jelly, and caramelized onions; the Sweet and Spicy Dog, with spicy raspberry sauce, Cheddar, seared jalapeños, and sweet barbecue sauce; The Dude, bacon wrapped and topped with brown gravy, onion straws, and green onions; and the classic Chili Dog, with is kicked up with house-made chili, cheese, diced onions, sour cream, and Fritos.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Cielo (St. Louis)
Perched on the eighth floor of the St. Louis Four Seasons (complete with a terrace and a great view of the Arch), Cielo serves classic Italian fare in a lively and upscale setting. Executive chef Gian Nicola Collucci sources fresh and local ingredients to create dishes including octopus with farinata, mint, ricotta, and tomato confit; seafood ravioli with crab, shrimp, and lobster’ risotto with braised short rib ragù; bone-in veal milanese with truffle mashed potato; and a 32-ounce tomahawk ribeye with beet purée, eggplant caponata, and fingerling potato confit. Be sure to get the house-made gelato for dessert, and come back on Sunday for a lavish brunch buffet.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (St. Louis)
Best Italian Restaurant: Trattoria Marcella (St. Louis)
St. Louis has no shortage of great Italian restaurants, but ask any local what their favorites are and Trattoria Marcella will invariably be on everyone’s short list. In business since 1995, owners Steve and Jamie Komorek are serving stunning takes on traditional Italian fare like mortadella meatballs, toasted chestnut Roman-style gnocchi, toasted ravioli, chicken spiedini, pork osso buco, and braised veal tortelloni. The restaurant is homey and welcoming, the food is delicious, and nothing on the menu costs more than $24.
Best Mexican Restaurant: La Tejana Taqueria (St. Louis)
Located inside an unassuming strip mall, La Tejana is a no-frills room with a handful of booths and tables, but what’s coming out of the kitchen is spectacular. The selection of meats available is also pretty outstanding: steak, carnitas, cabeza (cow head), tongue, chorizo, chicken tinga, grilled chicken, al pastor, chicharrón, and occasionally goat. If you can’t make up your mind (and even if you can), we suggest you go for the campechano, which is the best of two worlds: steak and chorizo, all mixed up on one perfect taco.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Le Fou Frog (Kansas City)
Most Iconic Restaurant Dish: Toasted Ravioli, Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill (St. Louis)
Toasted ravioli, affectionately known as “t-ravs,” are one of St. Louis’ culinary claims to fame. One reason? They’re absolutely delicious. They were invented in the 1940s in the Italian neighborhood called The Hill, in the kitchen of a restaurant called Angelo’s. When Angelo’s closed down, a restaurant called Charlie Gitto’s opened in its place, and it’s still turning out the original toasted ravioli recipe — made by dredging and breading house-made meat ravioli in breadcrumbs and herbs and serving them alongside marinara sauce — to the hungry masses. There’s no shortage of places in town to get your t-rav fix, but Charlie Gitto’s is still the best.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: The Spaghetti Challenge, Mama’s on The Hill (St. Louis)
Americans love their spaghetti and meatballs, and at Mama's on the Hill, you can get spaghetti with a meatball that's not one, but two pounds heavy. The glorious entree consists of the mammoth meatball sitting on top of an equally large portion of spaghetti and marinara sauce with quite a bit of Parmesan cheese on top. The $24.95 dish is dine-in only, and if you manage to down all of it, it's free of charge.
Most Romantic Restaurant: Sidney Street Café (St. Louis)
Located in a century-old Benton Park building and run by chef Kevin Nashan and his wife and brother, Sidney Street Café is a unique, stylish, and utterly romantic restaurant. Surrounded by old brick walls, with a dark wood plank floor and a ceiling dominated by large skylights, the restaurant offers a menu of creative Southern-inspired fare to diners sitting at well-spaced tables with white tablecloths. Standout menu items include lobster turnovers with tomato brandy reduction, house-made charcuterie, rabbit porchetta with wild mushroom ragout and cheesy grits, roasted scallops with shellfish chowder, and lobster-stuffed filet mignon béarnaise. A chef’s tasting can also be prepared upon request.
Best Pancakes: Uncle Bill’s Pancake & Dinner House (St. Louis)
Open 24 hours a day since 1941, Uncle Bill’s is renowned in St. Louis for its scratchmade breakfasts, country-style dinners, and house-ground coffee. The buttermilk pancakes are absolute perfection, served five to an order and topped with a big scoop of whipped butter, but if you’re in the mood for something especially decadent go for the Chocolate Alaska, 4 pancakes topped with ice cream, fudge sauce, and whipped cream.
Best Pasta Dish: Linguine with Lobster and Shrimp, Tony’s (St. Louis)
Yelp/ Ren V.
This venerable St. Louis institution can trace its roots back to 1946, when it got its start as a small café run by Tony Bommarito. Today it’s run by his grandson, Vince, and it’s a high-end destination for spot-on upscale Italian fare. Make sure you try the linguine with lobster and shrimp; every component is cooked perfectly, and the tomato sauce is an old family recipe.
Best Pizza: Imo’s (St. Louis)
Yelp/ Kathy L.
While the thin and unleavened crackery crust Imo’s is known for is almost like one you’ll find in a bar pie, it’s generally known to be a bit sweeter than typical bar pies, and meant more than anything else to act as a vehicle for the unique cheese topping that makes St. Louis style unlike any other slice you’ll have ever tried: Provel, a white processed cheese said to be a combination of Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone invented in the city’s Italian neighborhood shortly after World War II. Just as you’ll get different stories about who exactly invented Provel, the origin of the style is also debated. Imo’s is widely credited, but Farotto’s, which is said to have opened in 1956, eight years before Ed and Margie Imo opened Imo’s, has its own claim. Whichever story you choose to believe, you can’t deny one thing, Imo’s, with its more than 90 stores, has popularized a unique, love-it-or-hate-it pie you have to try at least once.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Rooster (St. Louis)
The two locations of this charming St. Louis café — one downtown and one on South Grand Boulevard — open at 8 and 7 respectively, and specialize in crêpes. You’ll find plenty of breakfast crêpes, savory crêpes, and sweet crêpes, and the possibilities range from eggs with Cheddar, potatoes, and house-made salsa to homemade German sausages, spiced apples, and Cheddar; smoked sirloin with caramelized onions, arugula, goat cheese, and tomato jam; and cookie crumbs, marshmallow, and dark chocolate. If you’re not in the mood for a crêpe, though, there are several three-egg scrambles on the menu (try the one with ham, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and spinach), biscuits and gravy, traditional Finnish custard pancakes, a brunch burger, and biscuit sandwiches.
Best Ribs: Arthur Bryant’s (Kansas City)
Kansas City can be very proud to be home to Arthur Bryant’s, arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America. You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you were to pay a visit to this place, which was founded in the 1920s, without trying the ribs. The secret to the barbecue here lies in the wood: The hickory and fruit wood used is of the quality more often used for making furniture than for burning. The pork ribs are pink and perfectly smoked, and when slathered with Bryant’s famous orange-red barbecue sauce (made with double-strength pickling vinegar), they’re the stuff dreams are made of.
Best Sandwich: Gerber, Ruma’s Deli (St. Louis)
Popular in and around St. Louis, the Gerber is an open-faced sandwich made with a loaf of Italian or French bread that’s topped with garlic butter, ham, provel or provolone, and paprika, then toasted, and nobody does it better than the place where it was invented, family-owned Ruma’s Deli. The cheese and garlic butter melt, the whole thing gets brown and bubbly, and it’s simple and delicious.
Best Soup: The Rieger Pork Soup, The Rieger (Kansas City)
Yelp/ Mike B.
The Rieger Hotel has been open since 1915, and its restaurant, now under the auspices of chef/owner Howard Hanna, has become a Kansas City must-visit. And when you visit, you must order the pork soup. It starts with a pork stock that’s loaded with roasted garlic, into which pork confit, sherry vinegar, and Angostura bitters are added. After being ladled into bowls it’s topped with crunchy house-made chicharrones and a generous layer of Gruyère before being finished off in the oven. It’s a cheesy, porky masterpiece.
Best Spaghetti and Meatballs: Charlie Gitto’s (St. Louis)
Charlie Gitto’s is a St. Louis institution, arguably its most famous Italian restaurant. Sure, it may be touristy, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t good; in fact, locals will tell you that there’s no better place for a big platter of Italian-American classics, especially spaghetti and meatballs. Meatballs are perfectly sized and long-simmered until tender, and they’re nestled in a bed of al dente spaghetti and topped with house-made Bolognese and a healthy dose of shredded mozzarella before being finished in the oven.
Best Sports Bar: Chappell's Restaurant & Sports Museum (Kansas City)
Upon entering this Kansas City bar, you’re immediately greeted with over 100 years of sports greatness: 1,000 football helmets, Super Bowl rings, autographed Hall of Fame baseballs, and more. As its name implies, this is not just a bar, it’s a sports mecca. Chappell’s owner has searched high and low for his collection of sports memorabilia, and it’s all on display, from vintage helmets to an autographed pair of Muhammad Ali’s gloves. Northwest Missouri State even conducted sports memorabilia classes at Chappell’s. Guests tour the space in between stuffing themselves with house favorites like the Chappell Burger and Smokehouse Chicken Grill.
Best Steak for $20 or Less: Bar at Bluestem (Kansas City)
Bluestem is one of Kansas City’s finest upscale restaurants (the dining room only offers a tasting menu), but the bar room offers a menu that makes it a destination in its own right. It’s here that you’ll find a grilled hanger steak served with chimichurri, greens, and fries that will set you back just 20 bucks.
Best Steakhouse: Jess & Jim’s (Kansas City)
In a town known for great steak, Jess & Jim’s stands apart from the pack, and did so even before Calvin Trillin put it on the map in 1972, when he named it one of the country’s best steakhouses in Playboy. Family owned and operated since 1938, this no-frills, casual steakhouse is no pomp and all steak. The beef is from Wichita-based Sterling Silver, and is hand cut daily (trimmings are ground into meat for world-class burgers). It’s served completely seasoning-free, all the better to taste the meat in its unadorned glory. You could go for the KC strip, a cut that this restaurant helped to popularize, but you might as well go all out and order the "Playboy Strip," named in honor of the publication that helped make this place famous: a 2-inch-thick, 25-ounce sirloin. Save room for the twice-baked potato. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.
Best Taco: Cochinita Pibil, Taco Republic (Kansas City)
This low-key and inviting restaurant is one of the coolest spots in Kansas City — and one of the most popular patios. The fun menu includes items like five-cheese queso, spicy tequila lime wings, grilled shrimp tostadas, and a very popular wood-fired chicken, but the tacos are the star of the show here. The Salazar (pork belly, salsa verde, cilantro, onions, and chicharrónes) and Tecate Barbacoa (beer- and chile-braised brisket with onions and cilantro) are fan favorites, but you have to try the classic slow-cooked cochinita pibil, marinated and roasted pork topped with pickled red onions and tostones. It’s a taste of the Yucatán in Kansas. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.