Top St. Louis Food Finds: 5 Cardinal Virtues

1) Pueblo Nuevo (N. Lindbergh): Greatest Guadalajaran restaurant in the Midwest. Don’t worry about the gunshops, liquor stores and check cashing operations in the area. People mind their own business, at least in the early, happy part of Friday night.

The genius green burrito is flatter and less obese than the California version and far tastier. As with burgers, burrito components need to be in harmonious proportion; here they are. A great balance of rich white cheese, shredded pork, homemade beans and a biting, tart green sauce. Speaking of sauce, hot kitchen-fried tortilla chips with the house red salsa are fantastic and free. This squeeze bottle sauce is dark, smoky, hot and addictive. You’ll quickly find yourself scoring a take-home extra bottle at the front counter. I used to have it shipped to college.

The tapatío style quesadillas are, though not free, also a bargain and a great way to wrap up the savory section of dinner. These are not the lazy Tex-Mex broiler creations that populate most bar menus, but rather lovingly deep fried dough pockets filled with loads of cheese and strips of hot jalapeño. Drizzle some of the smoky hot sauce on top to bring the meal together.

Settle in for another beer or two and then finish with a sopapilla and ice-cream. The PN version is a world away from the Hacienda chain Mexican monstrosity that plagues most of St. Louis. At these prices, tables do turn quickly, so tip well and don’t linger.
2) Kreis’ (S. Lindbergh Rd.): For rubicund men of a certain age, prosperity and girth, this is paradise on earth and a second home. For the rest of us, this is a place to visit on occasion and savor. No need to do penance with the sad scrawny food prudes afterwards, but it’s an Olympian endeavor for me to eat here more than once a week.

Tables are well spaced to accomodate those who need to wedge an avoirdupois between table and chair. Drinks are stiff enough to keep the rose on the cheeks of the roseate. Above all, standing rib roast is carved in juicy, plate-bending portions at prices that remind you you’re not in Kansas (City) anymore. This is a better deal than KC’s steakhouses and a wonderful way to spend a long cold evening. Hunting lodge feel and temperature are great around Christmas.

2) Carl’s (Manchester Road): Best burger and root-beer float combination in town. This is what Steak n Shake purports to offer. Root beer is mixed in house and burgers are made before your eyes. You’ll wait a bit for a counter seat, so come prepared to salivate and cast daggers at those who linger over a burger, or, heaven forbid, reload with a second round. Of course, you’ll want to do the same when your turn arrives.

3) Steak ‘n Shake (various locations). Perfect late night hangout for teenagers and those behaving like teenagers. Fifties feel isn’t forced, though pseudo-Native American Takhomasak takeout brand is absurd.

Highlights include selection of luxury shakes, hot pepper sauce–which is good for tests of manhood on a Saturday night and atop city-best skinny frie– and a bizare excellent chili topped spaghetti dish with many colorful condiments (best when Widespread or Moe is in town).

4) Ted Drewes (Chippewa): A former local tennis great found his true calling in world-class frozen custard. Head to South St. Louis. Wait in line for an hour. Run into everyone you know. Watch a team of Disney quality smiling teenagers mix frozen custard concretes thick enough to turn upside down. Combinations are endless, but I enjoy blueberry chocolate chip.

5) Farotto’s: Fried ravioli are a St. Louis original. Breaded and deep-fried with marinara sauce, they’re a perfect starter to a meal or bar snack.

Warnings:

1) Avoid Imo’s. Imo’s is an overrated chain serving square slices of Silly putty string cheese-soggy crust pizza. I’m not a cubist nor am I a masochist. This chain doesn’t cut it.

2) St. Louis Ribs aren’t a St. Louis thing: People aren’t that fastidious about their rib cut. KC, Memphis, TX and the Carolinas can fight their blood feuds over great barbecue. Other than local pride in Maull’s barbecue sauce, the St. Louis natives aren’t impassioned fans.

Hall of Fame:

Fio’s La Fourchette: Now gone, this was the greatest fine-dining value in the U.S.  The six course prix-fixe menu was merely the start of a negotiation, not the finish. Fio’s allowed substitution of five or six options for each course with no supplementary charge and no requirement that the whole table do the same thing. I have no idea how the kitchen could pull off the timing, but they always did.

On top of flexibility of ordering options, diners could also request seconds or thirds on as many courses as they liked. I often did so during softshell crab season. Great sauces, great bread service, even grand souffles that turned a cliché into a deal-clincher. I hope someone takes up the torch.

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2 Responses to “Top St. Louis Food Finds: 5 Cardinal Virtues”

  1. tigerdog Says:

    Just hit Ted Drewes. It’s still a top notch operation. Service is quick and friendly and utterly competent. Will be matching it with Shake Shack soon.

  2. tigerdog Says:

    Also stopped by Thai Country in the University City Loop. The place smelled like baby caca and made some of the worst Thai food I’ve ever eaten. Thai iced coffee was stale sanka with way too much sweet in the sweetened condensed milk. Cold steak salad was intolerably salty and had none of the hot or sour notes that can make the dish so tasty. Like dry salt cod before the milk soak.

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