Tuesday, November 27, 2012

St. Louis A to Z

For several years, I had a page (those tabs at the top of the blog) for St. Louis related things, where I kept a list of restaurants that we liked and so on. Now that I've moved away from St. Louis, I decided to replace the page and put all my St. Louis recommendations into this post instead. You know, in case someone is visiting St. Louis one day or moving there and finds some of this useful. Just for fun, and to make it harder for myself (!) I made it into an A- Z list. All this information is current as of late 2012 but things like restaurants are ever-changing so please keep that in mind if you ever use this list.

A Arch. The Gateway Arch is without a doubt the most iconic and well-known thing about St. Louis. The gleaming, sleek silver monument is certainly a pretty sight and fun to visit once (or you know, seven times, as I did with various visitors). The classic tourist thing to do is to climb into a tiny pod and go to the top of the arch. Downtown St. Louis right by the arch also has other places worth visiting, such as the Old Courthouse and the Citygarden sculpture park.

B Blogs. St. Louis is home to some wonderful blogs. I enjoyed getting to know some of the food bloggers, including the authors of A Veggie Venture, Kitchen Parade, The Cupcake Project, Bruno's Dream and Her Green Life. Riverfront Times, a local paper, also has an often hilarious and irreverent food blog called Gut Check. Ann Pollock regularly reviews local restaurants in St. Louis Eats and Drinks. My favorite STL book blog is Joy's Book Blog

C Cinema. I'm not much of a movie-goer but I have to mention three favorite movie theaters. Tivoli is a historic theater on the Delmar loop and often plays independent films and hosts film festivals. Moolah theater is another historic landmark; it has couches and loveseats! And a bowling alley in the basement. Hi-Pointe theater often plays off-beat films and tickets are only 5 bucks during the week.

D Dance and Theater.
COCA was one of my favorite places in St. Louis. It has dance classes for all ages and all skill levels. I took hip hop classes there. Yes, I looked completely ridiculous. Yes, I had a blast. COCA has a few dance productions every year, including one of The Little Dancer every holiday season. For years, I went to every performance by the Saint Louis Ballet. Culture vultures should check out what's playing at the Touhill, Powell Symphony Hall, the Fabulous Fox theater and the Edison theater. The Fabulous Fox has an interior that is so ridiculously ornate that you have to go and see it for yourself. The best dance event of the year is the Spring to Dance festival on Memorial Day weekend, with 3 days of dance performances for just 10$ each night. In summer, we have enjoyed musicals at MUNY in the outdoor theater in Forest Park.

E Ethnic restaurants. "Ethnic restaurants" is often a pejorative term, but believe me, these are the places I loved best.

By cuisine: Mexican- Tortillaria in the Central West End is my top choice, with vegetarian-friendly food, a wonderful chile arbol salsa in their salsa bar, addictive cheesy chiles rellenos and garlic-mayo corn-on-the-cob. But Cherokee Street has the most authentic Mexican restaurants and grocery stores in the city.

Middle-Eastern- Ranoush has Syrian food and I love it all- the foul medames, hummus and baba ghanouj, Arabic fries, knafeh and the pickled eggplants. Al-Tarboush is a Middle Eastern deli and a great place to pick up freshly fried falafel, tubs of hummus, tabbouleh and a packet of crisp pitas for a light meal at home. I love the falafel platters and mezze at Cafe Natasha's Kabob International; they also serve their version of falooda. The Vine also has terrific falafel, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Aya Sofia has Turkish-Mediterranean cuisine and has many vegetarian options.

Thai- The food at Thai Gai Yang CafeThai Cafe is inexpensive and good. I like the drunken noodles at Basil Spice Thai Cuisine and the desserts: warm coconut custard with sticky rice, and banana crepes.

Vietnamese- Lemongrass has tasty Vietnamese food and we particularly love the vegetarian rice in hot pot. But by far, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant was Mai Lee in Brentwood. We tried two unusual entrees, batter-fried eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce and water spinach with bean curd paste and taro root, we enjoyed them both. They have a vegetarian curry dish that is outstanding. Bahn Mi So is famous for its Vietnamese sandwiches. The food can be quite spicy but is very tasty.

Chinese- Lulu's on Olive Blvd. has good dim sum- fun to eat with friends on the weekend. Go early so you get all the varieties. The dim sum menu is heavy on meat and seafood, but these are the vegetarian dishes we enjoyed: vegetables (hot braised greens, cold pickled cucumber, edamame, seaweed), scallion pancakes, sweet and spicy tofu with mushrooms, spicy cold tofu, crispy noodles, and the sweet sesame balls filled with red bean paste. Mandarin House has wonderful Chinese food and is spacious, so it is great for dining out as a large group. I loved their ma po tofu and eggplant in spicy sauce. Chinese Noodle Cafe was a reliable Chinese take-out place.

Ethiopian- I love the vegetarian combination platter at Meskerem; Ethiopian food is something I crave every now and then and this restaurants has consistently good food.

Spanish- We went to BARcelona for tapas and sangria on my birthday. We enjoyed the fried artichoke hearts, empanadas and several other dishes. There are many vegetarian tapas options.

F Food & Drink. A few other random notes on food and drink. There are two free monthly magazines that are full of restaurant reviews, food news and recipes: Sauce magazine and the newcomer Feast; both can be found in many restaurants and grocery stores. I enjoyed teaching and learning at the cooking classes hosted at Kitchen Conservatory. They make for a great experience for yourself or as a gift. St. Louis is home to the largest brewery in the world- the Budweiser brand. They offer free brewery tours that are really fun even if you hate their beer or if you hate beer altogether- they're full of interesting history and architecture. Also in town are microbreweries and their tours are pretty fun too- like Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood.

G Grocery stores. Global Foods is a very well-stocked store for international ingredients and produce. Every aisle carries products from a different country/ region of the world. I often get my Indian supplies here, and other pantry staples like noodles, dried Mexican chillies, and sauces of all kinds. It is a really fun place. Jay International is another international market which is more accessible for those in St. Louis city, although it is a pretty cramped and chaotic place if you ask me. St. Louis has both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, both in multiple locations. Schnuck's is the local supermarket chain and some of their locations are better than others. I liked the one in Clayton the best.

H Hiking and biking (parks and recreation). St. Louis is home to incredible parks, the most prominent being Forest Park and there are dozens more. The Botanical Garden is beautiful. I'll update this particular entry later and list all my favorites.

I Indian Food. Spice 'n Grill is a mom and pop operation on Olive Blvd. with a tiny menu but very tasty food- I especially liked their weekend puri chole special. The Everest Cafe is unusual with Nepali, Indian and Korean food. Some of the popular lunch buffets are House of India ,  Saffron and my favorite of the lot is Priyaa where we gorged on puffy puris, South Indian kurma and a thick luscious raita. Seema Enterprises is the Indian grocery store that I liked the most. 

J Just for Babies and Toddlers. Lila really enjoyed Ms. Maria's Friday morning music group on Demun Avenue (15$ per session but the first session is free so you can try it once). We found Craigslist (online) and Kangaroo Kids (brick and mortar) to be great resources for buying and selling baby gear and clothing. We really liked Baby Care diaper service and used them for a whole year.

K Knitting and crafts. I miss my knitting group at Knitorious. St. Louis has a vibrant knitting community- you can find local groups on Ravelry.

L Libraries. Support your local library- I loved both public libraries that I went to- the St. Louis Public Library and the University City Public Library.

M Museums. Forest Park is an incredible urban oasis. It is home to the Art Museum, History Museum and Zoo.

N Neighborhoods. We always wanted to live in vibrant urban neighborhoods close to work and did just that. These three neighborhoods are very walking friendly and dotted with cafes and restaurants: Grand Avenue, Central West End and the Delmar Loop.

O Outdoor markets. Soulard Market is a farmers' market that operates all year round. Pappardelle's Pasta are also sold at a stall in this market- they are wonderful for making a special meal at home. Don't miss the mini-donut stall in Soulard, a treat after all that shopping. There are many others, like the Tower Grove Farmer's Market and the one in Maplewood, and small markets in many neighborhoods. There are several CSAs available.

P Pizza. St. Louis is home to Pi which is extremely popular for its cornmeal crust pizzas. We love the "Berkeley" deep dish pizza here. A'mis has decent New York style pizza but what I love is their fried mushrooms. The Good Pie makes authentic Neapolitan pizza. Dewey's Pizza is always crowded and you can watch the pizzas being made. I do like their calzones and pizzas but the crust is too soft and bready. La Pizza is my favorite pick for East Coast style pizzas for take-out. By the way, I love the pizza from Whole Foods, and we usually pair it with a salad topped with the bottled refrigerated ranch dressing.

Q Questions and Answers (trivia). Trivia nights are a very St. Louis thing to do, so form a team and hit the trivia circuit.

R Restaurants. (Other than the specific cuisines I already mentioned). For a special meal, we love going to Stellina Pasta Cafe for their fresh hand made pastas. Call ahead to see what vegetarian options they have that day. Black Bear Bakery and MoKaBe's have brunch buffets on the weekend. For yummy vegetarian sandwiches and cupcakes, we love Sweet Art. Southwest Diner is a relatively new restaurant and we loved their cornmeal pancakes and enchilada and poached eggs plates.

S St. Louis iconic food. I have to mention Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. We make it a point to take out-of-town visitors there. It is an old-fashioned stand on the historic route 66, and fun to visit. V loves the frozen custard; I don't (it tastes terribly eggy to me, and much too sweet). They also sell thick milkshakes called "concretes". Crown Candy Kitchen is an iconic St. Louis dessert store, a great place to buy classic sundaes, malts and shakes. Another local favorite is Gus's Pretzels. Their manufacturing unit is glassed in, and as you wait in line to get your pretzels (rest assured, there will be a line; this is a popular place), you can watch every step of the pretzel-making process.

T Transit. I'm a big fan of public transport. Metrolink may be a small system compared to other cities but very useful. You can go to touristy places like Busch Stadium and the Arch using Metro. And best of all, you can take the Metro right into the airport terminal. Getting to the airport in 30 minutes from downtown on a peaceful train- how great is that?

U Upcycle exchange and other one of a kind stores. St. Louis is home to many interesting stores. Upcycle Exchange on Grand Avenue sells donated/recycled art and craft supplies for a pittance. Home Eco has many eco-friendly products. There are several natural food stores like Golden Grocers. Plowsharing Crafts sells fair trade goods- my favorite source for gifts. City Sprouts has really cute gifts for kids.

V Volunteering. There are hundreds of ways to get involved with the local community, including Community gardens, Stray rescue, Humane Society, Campus Kitchen. I'll update this entry later with links and more information. 

W Weather. St. Louis seems to go from boiling to freezing and back again. Fall and Spring sometimes seem to last only a week each. But St. Louis weather is influenced by weather systems from both coasts- so it is ever-changing on a daily basis. Check the forecast!

X X is the wild card of this alphabetical journey. So I'll tell you about the most random thing I miss about St. Louis- the Deer Creek DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Really! They're efficient and super-nice in this office.

Y Young ones. City Museum is a uniquely St. Louis museum and perfect for older kids. Other kid friendly places that we never got around to visiting are the Butterfly House and Magic House.

Z Zero $ as in free! St. Louis is very affordable- the zoo, art museum, history museum have no entrance fee. In Summer and Spring, there are many free concerts around town. My favorite every year was the free outdoor symphony concert on Art Hill. 

This list is highly subjective and missing all those very St. Louis things like barbecue and baseball- but all I can say is that there's more to this city than one would think. I'm very glad I got to discover it. 


  1. what a wonderful list nupur.... its like i just had a mini tour of st louis... i can see that you loved your time here and really got to know your city

    1. Yes, we went everywhere and had a blast :)

  2. You have a lot of patience girl ! I love love love your A-Z Marathi cooking, thats so inspiring on days when I just dont know what to make, I pick and alphabet from this list and cook !

    1. LOL yes I like wasting time on this alphabet nonsense! SO glad you're still using my A-Z of Marathi cooking.

  3. Never been to St Louis but your post was a nice trip of the lovely place. I literally searched today on Google map as to where is this, loved your post, if I do visit it any time will sure keep your post in hand :)

    1. Glad I made you find STL on the map!! It is smack dab in the middle of the US.

  4. What an awesome list Nupur! I'm definitely to going to refer to this list when I visit St. Louis.


    1. I hope you get a chance to visit it- fun place especially with kids.

  5. Great job, Nupur! You hit a lot of the big highlights. St. Louis is a great place to live and I hope you come back to visit. :)

    1. I will- I miss all my friends there Holly!

  6. I love this list that you compiled! It leaves an impression of St. Louis beyond the baseball and barbecue and is great for arm-chair travel. Could you dig deep into you memory and come up with a NYC a-Z list? That would be wonderful for many of us too :)

    Love, Shoots :)

    1. I'm so sad you never made it out to visit us in STL! Oh well, come to GA now.
      An NYC A-Z would be easy actually- there's so much to do there. But it is funny how many details you forget in just a few years.

  7. Did you ever have Gooey Cake while living in St. Louis? I just heard of it and made it thanks to David Lebovitz. His version is like eating the best buttery slightly salty cinnamon toast ever! G for Gooey ;-)

    1. I did eat gooey butter cake in STL but honestly it is just cake with extra sugar and butter. Because cake doesn't have enough butter and sugar to begin with??!!
      Having said that, the Lebovitz version looks amazing :)

  8. Great list! Thanks for featuring my blog. And the Botanical Garden, my fave!

    1. I enjoy glimpses of STL and MO through your blog now :)

  9. We have been to almost all the places you mention and now you are making me miss St. Louis more than ever. I keep wanting to go back there for Christmas, though none of our friends are there any more - including you guys.

    Definitely try the bread from pinterest, it was easy to make and I am happy to have found a keeper bread recipe. The best way to check out my art is through facebook (facebook.com/artbybala) or my sporadically updated art blog (artbybala.blogspot.com).

    Hope Dale is doing much better. Love to L!

    1. Come to GA for Christmas- seriously!
      Dalu is much better, begging me for a biscuit as I sit here and type.

  10. Hi Nupur,

    Hope you are settling well in Georgia. I also moved away from STL in July and your post made me cry...I loved the closeness in the city, Some how I have always felt very comforting there....maybe because its a lot smaller than texas where I am now...Loved the references to Pi`s, Global Foods ( I havent found one as good as yet!) Aya Soffia, Ted Drews, delmar loop and loads and loads of small things that you have mentioned and the many faces of STl that I have seen, that you have not I guess!!! I love Soulard, love The Vine, love Blick the art store on Delmar, love Fritzs soda where we hang out a lot as I love their strawberry cane soda....love forest park, metro, busch stadium where we have watched countless games....wow i want to visit stl aready!!!


  11. Awesome list! By the way, does One Hot Stove have a facebook page that one can stay updated with? Couldn't come across it on fb search, but if its under a different name, let us know!

    PS Glad you started blogging so regularly again Love your blog :)



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