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From Gooey to Smoky: 12 Iconic St. Louis Foods You Need to Try

From breakfast to dinner and appetizers to desserts, these 12 iconic dishes are St. Louis food favorites you’ll definitely want to try. Read on to discover the best places to dig into each one.

A special thanks to Explore St. Louis for inviting me to experience their fair city. (<– See what I did there?) But you can count on me to always share my honest opinions, regardless of who foots the bill.

Whether you are visiting St. Louis to:

  • take in the amazing views from the top of the Arch,
  • cheer for the Cardinals at a baseball game, or
  • enjoy the city’s many free attractions,

at some point, you’ll get hungry. And when that time comes, this article about the St. Louis food scene is here for you! Create a food itinerary that takes you through all three meals of the day by trying St. Louis originals at these recommended restaurants.

Collage of st. louis, missouri classic foods featuring four dishes.

What's Your Favorite St. Louis Food?

Share your favorite photo with me by tagging @sagescott.kc on Instagram and using the hashtag #everydaywanderer

    

Gooey Butter Cake
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

1. Gooey Butter Cake

Cake for breakfast? Sign me up! In St. Louis, the most important meal of the day often includes a slice of gooey butter cake. While some debate lingers over who should get credit for inventing this iconic St. Louis food, we can at least agree that it was not Paula Deen, even if she calls her recipe the original.

Whether you’re on Team Danzer or Team Koppe, it’s widely believed that this must eat St. Louis food was mistakenly invented when the baker accidentally doubled the amount of butter in his cake recipe. The result is a coffee-cake like-base topped with a gooey custard and dusted with powdered sugar.  

Best Gooey Butter Cake in St. Louis

You’ll find this quintessential St. Louis pastry at coffee shops, bakeries, grocery stores, and just about anywhere else food is sold in St. Louis, but I recommend Park Avenue Coffee and The Missouri Baking Company. Try original gooey butter cake first and then dig into unique varieties like cherry, chocolate chip, turtle, red velvet, and white chocolate raspberry.

Slinger at Eat Rite Diner
Photo Credit: Katherine Bish.

2. Slinger

Not to be confused with the chicken sandwiches sold nationwide at Sonic, a slinger is a greasy gut bomb that’s perfect for soaking up beer and booze after a night on the town to head off a massive hangover. This St. Louis original dish is made by topping a hamburger patty, two fried eggs, and a side of hash browns with a generous ladle of chili, a handful of shredded cheese, and a sprinkle of diced onions.

Best Slingers in St. Louis

I believe that diner-style dishes just taste better when eaten at the formica counter in an old-school establishment, but sadly the Eat-Rite Diner has permanently closed. The next best hole-in-the-wall option is Dave’s Diner, founded by a man who got his start at Eat-Rite Diner. 

Or enjoy this classic St. Louis food with a twist at other St. Louis restaurants. Rooster offers three slingers: the rooster slinger (that swaps the hamburger patty with andouille sausage), a pork slinger (that substitutes sausage and bacon for the hamburger), or the vegan slinger, made with vegan sausage and eggs. The Mud House offers a vegetarian slinger with black bean chili (that can be made vegan upon request), and I can’t get enough of the Southwest Diner’s slinger that includes diced green chiles.

3. Mayfair Dressing

Hotel Caesar in Tijuana is known as the birthplace of the Caesar salad and its distinct anchovy dressing. And the Mayfair Hotel (now Magnolia St. Louis) is home to Mayfair dressing. Think of it as Caesar’s delicious cousin! 

Initially served in the hotel’s Mayfair Room, Missouri’s first five-star restaurant, the original Mayfair salad was a bed of romaine lettuce topped with julienned Swiss cheese and ham, croutons, and its namesake dressing. When you dine at Magnolia St. Louis today, the salad is a fresh take on the Mayfair original, with field greens, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes tossed with Mayfair salad dressing.

Where to Find Mayfair Dressing

In addition to Magnolia St. Louis’s restaurant, both Circa Pub & Grill and The Original Crusoe’s offer Mayfair dressing alongside ranch, Thousand Island, blue cheese, and other salad standards.. Or pour Mayfair dressing over your favorite salad at home by buying a bottle online or whipping it up from scratch with this recipe.

St. Paul sandwich at Mai Lee in St. Louis
Photo Credit: Mai Lee Restaurant.

4. St. Paul Sandwich

Along with sweet-and-sour chicken and fried rice, you can find the St. Paul sandwich on the menu at nearly every Chinese restaurant in St. Louis. A total departure from typical noodle or rice dishes, the original version of this St. Louis food places a fried egg foo yong patty, iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and pickles between two slices of cottony white bread slathered in mayonnaise. But many restaurants now offer varieties that include shrimp, crab, chicken, beef, ham, pork, and vegetarian. 

Best St. Paul Sandwich in St. Louis

Mai Lee’s St. Paul sandwich, proclaimed by Food Network as one of the best sandwiches in the nation, is available in plain, pork, ham, chicken, beef, shrimp, or special varieties. You can also order this must-eat St. Louis food at Old St. Louis Chop Suey or The Rice House.

Order online and have a St. Paul Sandwich from Old St. Louis Chop Suey delivered to you via Grubhub.

Sage Advice: To learn about the St. Louis foods shaped by immigrants, listen to the “Chinese Food, Missouri-Style” episode of the Hungry for MO podcast here.

Gerber Sandwich at Ruma's Deli in St. Louis
Photo Credit: Ruma's Deli.

5. Gerber Sandwich

Another St. Louis food original is the Gerber sandwich. Similar to a French croque monsieur, this open-faced feast was invented at Ruma’s Deli in the early 1970s. The original Gerber sandwich is made by transforming fresh bread into cheesy garlic bread and then topping the crispy carb slab with sliced ham, Provel cheese (more on that St. Louis food shortly), and a sprinkling of paprika before toasting it again. 

While you may have spotted a Gerber sandwich on the menu at other St. Louis eateries in the past, Ruma’s Deli now holds a trademark on the name.

A plate of toasted ravioli with marinara sauce
Photo Credit: Canva.

6. Toasted Ravioli

What’s better than fresh homemade ravioli? Fresh homemade ravioli that’s been breaded and deep-fried! Invented in the city’s Italian neighborhood known as The Hill, this famous St. Louis snack is made by dipping ravioli in milk, dredging it in seasoned breadcrumbs, and then frying it to crispy perfection before serving with marinara sauce and Romano cheese.

Best Toasted Ravioli in St. Louis

While you’ll find toasted ravioli on menus all across town, there’s no place quite like The Hill to try this popular dish alongside some of the best Italian food in the city. Although the chef and restaurant credited with this delicious invention are both long gone, you’re sure to enjoy the toasted ravioli appetizer at Charlie Gitto’s, Mama’s, and Zia’s.

7. Provel Cheese

When you think of cities linked to delicious cheese,  Gouda, Parma, Stilton, or even Monterey (Jack) might come to mind. Although not named for the city that made it famous, Provel is St. Louis’s famous cheese. What the heck is Provel cheese? It’s a white processed American cheese that is a blend of cheddar, swiss, and provolone. And it includes a touch of liquid smoke for good measure. Invented in The Hill, its low melting point eliminates the messy “strings” of mozzarella that can interfere with eating pizza.

8. St. Louis Style Pizza

It’s impossible to talk about Provel cheese without mentioning the St. Louis style of pizza. After all, Provel cheese was created specifically for the local take on pizza. Instead of the buttery deep dish that you’ll find in Chicago, St. Louis style pizza begins with an unleavened, cracker-like crust. Pizza sauce, Provel cheese, and other toppings are added before it’s baked and served. It’s always cut into squares — like Little Caesars Pizza — rather than slices. With its low melting point, Provel cheese breaks easily with the thin crust when you bite into this St. Louis food.

Best St. Louis Style Pizza

My favorite St. Louis style pizza parlor is Imo’s where, in addition to pizza, they serve toasted ravioli and Provel bites, of course!

Order online and have Imo’s pizza delivered to you via Grubhub.

St Louis Style Ribs
Photo Credit: Canva.

9. St. Louis Style Ribs

Living in Kansas City, I’m used to a specific style of slow-cooked, smoked meats covered in tangy bbq sauce. But St. Louis does barbecue in its own special way. While Kansas City barbecue features a wide range of dry-rubbed meats, St. Louis barbecue focuses on pork. And when it comes to pork ribs, St. Louis style means they are always trimmed into a perfect rectangle.

Best Ribs in St. Louis

You can enjoy classic St. Louis barbecue — including fall off the bone St. Louis ribs — at Pappy’s Smokehouse. Or opt for a fresh take on classic St. Louis barbecue at Sugarfire Smoke House.

Related Article: Delicious Barbecue Quotes That Will Make Your Mouth Water

Barbecue pork steak at Sugarfire Smoke House in St. Louis
Barbecue pork steak at Sugarfire Smoke House. Photo courtesy of Katherine Bish.

10. BBQ Pork Steak

While there is a distinct difference between the St. Louis and Kansas City styles of barbecue, both include a generous quantity of tangy, tomato-based barbecue sauce. And this St. Louis food is smothered in it! Beginning with pork shoulder steaks, the inexpensive cut of meat is seasoned and then smoked low and slow before being heavily sauced and served.

Best Pork Steak in St. Louis

Two of the best places to try BBQ pork steak in St. Louis are Sugarfire Smoke House and The Original Crusoe’s. And if you eat at Crusoe’s remember to try the Mayfair salad dressing if you order a dinner salad as one of your options!

Fun Fact: At a rate nearly double the national average, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce per capita than any other US city.

Ice cream and ice cream cones
Despite what many people think, the ice cream cone was not invented in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Canva.

11. Ice Cream Cone

Perhaps it’s because I attended fifth grade in St. Louis – and that’s the year most American school children study their state’s history — but the only World’s Fair I seem to know anything about is the 1904 event held in St. Louis. And all I remember of that history lesson is that the ice cream cone was invented there. I mean, what else would stick in the brain of a ten year old?

Technically, the ice cream cone was created by an Italian immigrant in New York who was granted a patent for his edible container in 1903. But the better known story — especially in St. Louis — is that an ice cream vendor at the 1904 World’s Fair ran out of paper cups and partnered with a waffle vendor to create a rolled cone. 

Best Ice Cream in St. Louis

Whether you eat it old school in a paper cup or in a cone (albeit technically not invented in St. Louis), my favorite ice cream parlor in St. Louis is Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery. On the nice list, you’ll find gooey butter cake ice cream with chunks of gooey butter cake layered throughout a rich and tangy cream cheese ice cream — among other tasty options. And crossing over to the naughty list means enjoying a scoop with a shot thanks to Clementine’s secret process of freezing alcohol into ice cream.

Another delicious ice cream shop in St. Louis is Boardwalk Waffles & Ice Cream. While their ice cream is served between two flat – not rolled into a cone – waffles, you’ll also find gooey butter cake ice cream on the menu.

Order online and have Clementine’s delivered to you via Grubhub.

The chalkboard menu at Clementine's Naughty and Nice Creamery

Sage Advice: While the majority of the ice cream is sold on a stick, Poptimism in City Foundry’s Food Hall is another must eat St. Louis food. 

12. Frozen Custard Concrete

A frozen custard concrete served upside down at Ted Drewes
Frozen custard concretes are served upside down. Photo courtesy of Ted Drewes.

Like ice cream cones, St. Louis cannot take credit as the birthplace of frozen custard  for it was an ice cream vendor in Coney Island, New York, who discovered that adding egg yolks to its standard ice cream recipe gave it a smoother texture and helped the ice cream stay cold longer. But St. Louis can take full credit for inventing the concrete (not “concrete” the building material, but “the concrete”, the famous St. Louis snack.)

Fun Fact: While frozen custard is decadently rich and creamy, it actually has fewer calories than ice cream.

Created in 1959 at the Ted Drewes frozen custard shop on historic Route 66, a frozen custard concrete is a malt or shake that is so thick it is served upside down. And while an ice cream treat that thick would be impressive on its own, the frozen custard in a concrete is typically blended with candy, fruit, nuts, sauces, or other tidbits before it’s handed over, upside down, of course!

Fun Fact: Fond memories of this beloved St. Louis food spot inspired St. Louis native Danny Meyer when he created the milkshake menu at Shake Shack

Best Frozen Custard Concretes in St. Louis

While you’ll find frozen custard concretes at several places across St. Louis, including national chains, I prefer the original. Be sure to add a stop for Ted Drewes at its original location on Chippewa to your St. Louis food itinerary. And if you’re one of those people who can’t eat ice cream when it’s cold outside, the folks at Ted Drewes feel you. Both locations typically close for about six weeks in January and early February, so plan accordingly!

A Bonus Tip

A colorful pyramid of TUMS
The most popular brand of antacid tablets in America began in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Canva.

As you eat your way through this list of delicious St. Louis foods, keep a bottle of TUMS close by. After all, the well-known antacid tablets were invented by a St. Louis pharmacist in 1928, and the main manufacturing facility remains in the Gateway City today.

Frequently Asked Questions About St. Louis Food

What food is St. Louis known for?

With its own style of many culinary treats, must eat St. Louis foods include gooey butter cake, slingers, the St. Paul sandwich, toasted ravioli, St. Louis style pizza, St. Louis style barbecue, and frozen custard concretes, to name a few!

What are slingers?

A slinger is a delicious mess of a hangover antidote that’s made by covering a hamburger patty, eggs, and hash browns with a big ladle of chili and then topping it with shredded cheese and diced white onion.

What is Mayfair dressing?

Whipped up in the kitchen of the Mayfair Hotel (now Magnolia St. Louis), Mayfair salad dressing is St. Louis’s take on anchovy-flavored Caesar salad dressing.

Where can I buy Mayfair dressing?

You can find Mayfair dressing on the shelves of grocery stores in and around St. Louis, or purchase a bottle online.

What is a St. Paul sandwich?

A St. Paul sandwich is the last thing most people would think of ordering at a Chinese restaurant. However, this fried egg foo yong patty topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato, and pickles served between two slices of Wonder bread is on the menu at just about every Chinese restaurant in St. Louis!

How do you make a St. Paul sandwich?

Here’s how Chef Qui Tran of Mai Lee makes his award-winning St. Paul sandwich:

What is a Gerber sandwich?

An open-faced sandwich that layers sliced ham and Provel cheese over toasted bread smothered in garlic butter, a Gerber sandwich is a lot like a French croque monsieur.

What is Provel cheese?

Provel cheese is a white processed American cheese that is a blend of cheddar, swiss, and provolone. It has a low melting point and was invented specifically to top the cracker-thin, unleavened crust of St. Louis style pizza.

What is St. Louis style pizza?

Starting with an unleavened, cracker-like crust, St. Louis style pizza layers red sauce, Provel cheese, and other toppings before baking and serving it cut into squares.

What are St. Louis style ribs?

After removing the breastbone and cartilage from pork spare ribs, St. Louis style ribs are always trimmed into a perfect rectangle.

Were ice cream cones invented in St. Louis?

You may have been taught that ice cream cones were invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis when an ice cream vendor creatively rolled waffles into makeshift containers after running out of paper cups. And while waffles saved ice cream lovers from disappointment at the fair, an Italian immigrant in New York was granted a patent for the ice cream cone a year earlier.

What is a frozen custard concrete?

A concrete (the edible variety) is ice cream blended with fruit, candy, nuts, and other mix-ins that is so thick it is served upside down.

What Are Your Favorite St. Louis Foods?

Do your taste buds prefer savory or sweet? What’s your favorite food invented in St. Louis? Where’s your favorite place to eat it? Share your St. Louis food recommendations in the comments section below.

St. Louis Arch along the Mississippi River in St. Louis

Looking for more information to plan your St. Louis vacation? Check out my additional recommendations to help you plan your trip to St. Louis including what to see and do in St. Louis, the best places to stay in St. Louis, where to eat in St. Louis, and more!

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15 thoughts on “From Gooey to Smoky: 12 Iconic St. Louis Foods You Need to Try”

  1. I have a conference coming up in St. Louis next month, and I came here looking for food ideas. This list did not disappoint! I am drooling thinking about those ribs.

  2. “St. Louis Style Pizza” — I think I counted over 10 US cities that claimed this as their “style”. Super thin, cut in squares… at least St. Louis has provel…. ? … ? (that’s a feature, right?)

    “St. Louis Style Ribs” — this one is just dumb.
    Cutting off the ends of something doesn’t make it a style.
    And if they have some special seasoning… isn’t that every bbq rib?

    Come on guys… we have way too many legitimate unique foods here. These two (esp the ribs) is just trying way too hard.

  3. Yes, hello! You had me at Gooey Butter Cake but then you threw in that Gerber sandwich and I was really sold. I need to get to St. Louis just to eat!

  4. I’m a Texas girl and I’ve always wanted to try St. Louis ribs. They look delicious. Also, the gooey butter cake – oh my goodness! Great list of food to try when we make it to St. Louis.

  5. I want to get back to St. Louis. I loved the BBQ and now you make me want to try the custard! Looks so good. Oh yes, and I love the fried ravioli.

  6. That frozen custard is no joke!! : 0 I’d love to try the pizza. The cheese sounds intriguing! I don’t eat meat, but I’ll take all the carbs….incl the butter cake ; )

  7. I got hungry reading this article and looking at the pictures. I would love to go to St. Louis to try these delicious things. I love recommendations of places to eat. For sure, I would love to try Gooey Butter Cake, St. Paul Sandwich, and St. Louis Style Ribs.

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