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Hamburgers & Hot Dogs
KimCheese Kick yourself for not thinking of it first: A Korean burger joint is as obvious as Moroccan hush puppies. The burger comprises chopped rib-eye, marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce, grilled, and piled onto a Fazio’s bun, then topped with mild, crunchy kimchi. It’s served with hot French fries and a drink for $6.74—a Seoul-food lunch. 13435 Olive, 314-485-1408.
SweetArt We prefer to call this a vegetable patty, because calling it a vegetable burger makes it seem like a substitute for beef, something it isn’t trying to be. A perfect blend of veggies and textured vegetable protein, it stands magnificently atop its burger perch. Even carnivores have no beef with that. 2203 S. 39th, 314-771-4278, sweetartstl.com.
Tucker’s Place Five bucks may be the dominion of the fast-food burger, but we’re partial to Tucker’s substantial, 9-ounce patty of chargrilled beef, crowned with a nest of grilled onions, that rings the register at a nickel shy of a crisp Lincoln. Multiple locations, 314-772-5977, tuckersplacestl.com.
The St. Louis–Chicago Dog…Huh?
Steve’s Hot Dogs on The Hill We love genuine Chicago-style dogs as much as anybody, but at Steve’s, the dogs are quarter-pound Nathan’s, hickory-smoked then grilled; the buns are baked fresh daily right across the street. All dogs are half-price on Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. And best yet, they’re served without attitude! 2131 Marconi, 314-762-9899, steveshotdogsstl.com.
Burger and fries at Cutter’s Bar & Grill
A burger and fries is $2.68. 239 Carlyle, Belleville, Ill.,618-235-7642.
Happy Hour at Five Star Burgers
Get sliders for $1.50 each and discounted sides—plus half-price draft beer and house wine from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. 8125 Maryland, 314-720-4350, 5starburgersstl.com.
Carl’s Drive-In By most accounts, Carl’s Drive-In is the promised land for flat-grilled burgers in St. Louis, and nobody squishes ’em better than owner Frank Cunetto. As many times as we’ve studied his every move, we’ve never been able to duplicate his double cheeseburger at home. So we return—frequently. 9033 Manchester, 314-961-9652.
Overland Dear Jasmine Huda: Will you please go to Woofies and get your photo on the celebrity wall? You’ll adore the cozy, retro place. Chicago-style dogs, beefy, with a satisfying snap when you bite down, are dressed perfectly with mustard, celery salt, that radioactive-green relish, tomatoes, peppers, and pickles. Plus, there are incredible crispy, hot fries. Go. Please. Because in addition to the delicious dogs, it’d be nice to have a photo from a local celebrity of the present century. 1919 Woodson, 314-426-6291.
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Caramel-Bacon Long John
Old Town Donuts In the underworld of guilt-inducing junk food, one devilish treat reigns supreme. The 98-cent caramel-bacon long john at Old Town Donuts is a big ol’ barge of a donut coated in caramel frosting, then crowned with a mound of crumbled bacon. It’s the best parts of a fattening breakfast, joined together in a perfectly sinful endorphin bomb. If this donut is wrong, then you don’t want to be right. 510 New Florissant, 314-831-0907; 3941 Mid Rivers Mall, Cottleville, 636-447-0907; oldtowndonuts.com.
The Mud Slinger
The Mud House One thing you won’t be slinging around is money when you steal your first bite of The Mud House’s $6.50 vegetarian take on that oft-greasy St. Louis classic: the slinger. Spicy black-bean chili rests atop a pile of crisp, roasted potatoes beneath two sunny-side-up eggs just begging to be unleashed on the goodies below. It’s the best of the restaurant’s consistently satisfying options for breakfast. 2101 Cherokee, 314-776-6599, themudhousestl.com.
Ari’s Restaurant & Bar You can blow a Benjamin on a Sunday meal at the Ritz or enjoy a respectable brunch for a fraction of that at Ari’s on Hampton Avenue—on Saturday or Sunday. We head straight to the made-to-order omelet station and punctuate our plate with breakfast meats and fresh fruit. Coffee or tea, frequently an expensive add-on elsewhere, is included in the $6.95 price, and kids eat for less than that. And Ari’s takes reservations. 3101 Hampton, 314-644-4264, arisrestaurantstl.com.
Donut Brothers You can get your tortilla filled with whatever you want. And what you want is fluffy scrambled eggs; crumbles of sweet, hot chorizo; and melted cheese, stuffed to the point of bursting. The bowl of smoky russet chipotle sauce alongside tickles and stings the palate. For $5.50, it’s a muy sabroso way to start the day. 11084 Midland, 314-427-5580.
Breakfast Slider at White Castle
The breakfast sandwich is cooked to order, elevating this $1.45 slider to superlative heights. Served till 10:30 a.m. Multiple locations, 800-843-2728, whitecastle.com.
Mike and Dave Rook
King Louie’s and Empire Deli & Pizza Lou Rook III of Annie Gunn’s gets all the press, but younger brothers Mike and Dave are gunning for double glory, planning two adjacent restaurants downtown: 1. a reiteration of King Louie’s, a restaurant established by father Lou Jr. in Wood River, Ill., and 2. Empire Deli & Pizza, fashioned in true New York style. Empire is the place for “early breakfast” on weekends, serving till 3:30 a.m. And when it opens in late May, King Louie's will serve breakfast at all times. Sibling rivalry? Nah—but it doesn’t hurt that Lou III’s restaurant is 20-plus miles away. Empire Deli & Pizza, 1131 Washington, 314-553-9999. King Louie’s, 1137 Washington, 314-932-7079.
Billie’s Fine Foods
Soulard Billie’s serves up no-frills breakfast and lunch to regulars all week, then opens its doors at midnight on weekends to turn this greasy spoon into an epicenter of evening-ending late-night eats. Diner etiquette dictates seeking out a cup of joe and counter seating first, followed quickly by a plate of baseball-size biscuits smothered in a sawmill gravy that also makes an appearance atop an omelet overflowing with meatloaf, potatoes, and cheese. 1802 S. Broadway, 314-621-0848.
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Soups & Sandwiches
6-Inch Meatball Sandwich Southwest Market Cuisine
How fortuitous that the nicest bunch of sandwich makers in town also happens to whip up a mighty fine sandwich. The sloppy four-meatballer is what we call a “lean to” sandwich: You’d better lean over the table to eat it. Eat your meal there and receive a free warm cookie. Your mom does no better…and isn’t nearly as friendly. 5224 Columbia, 314-776-5220.
Valenza Special Muffuletta
Blues City Deli Go with the $6.95 half-order, unless you’re spending the afternoon climbing Mount Everest. It’d tax the range of a python’s jaws, but the layers of cured meats, cheese, and spectacular olive salad heaped between slabs of perfect, yeasty, tender bread are the essence of owner Vince Valenza’s accurate rendition of this New Orleans classic. 2438 McNair, 314-773-8225, bluescitydeli.com.
Extra Special Sandwich
Eovaldi’s Deli & Catering Eovaldi’s “special” is fine for some, but make ours the Extra Special: layers of sliced deli meat, Honey Creek spicy pepper cheese, mayo, and house-made Italian dressing sandwiched in crisp Italian bread. Just $4.45 buys you 4 ½ inches of sandwich and leaves some scratch in your pocket for a bag of Old Vienna Red Hot Riplets. 2201 Edwards, 314-771-5707, delionthehill.com.
Companion Like your college-age kid’s major, the soup selection at Companion changes daily. Whether you go for a savory mushroom-barley, a rosy tomato bisque, or the outstanding New England clam chowder, the soups are inevitably wonderful. Aficionados check the website regularly for the daily selections. A hefty $5.50 bowlful includes a crunchy French roll. 9781 Clayton, 314-218-2280; 8143 Maryland, 314-721-5454; companionstl.com.
Gioia’s Deli What would happen if you took an award-winning house-made salami sandwich, added hot coppa and spicy giardiniera, then heated it all on garlic–pepper cheese bread? Why, you’d have the Spicy Daggett, the most successful daily special in the history of Gioia’s Deli. It’s not yet on the menu, but it’s always available. 1934 Macklind, 314-776-9410, gioiasdeli.com.
Pulled Pork at Pappy’s smokehouse
Arguably the best pulled pork sandwich in town is $6.99—and that includes two sides. 3106 Olive, 314-535-4340, pappyssmokehouse.com.
Sassy Jac’s Chef-owner Andrew Ladlie turns out memorable Monte Cristos and fat fried grouper sandwiches at Sassy Jac’s, a restaurant named after the whole family—his wife, Jen; Andrew; and their daughter, Claira. While no one’s saying who the sassy one is, Jen is expecting another potential candidate, a daughter, Samantha. “Had to go with an S name,” Andrew confessed, “or we’d have to rebrand the whole place.” 1730 S. Eighth, 314-932-1280, sassyjacs.com.
The Civil Life Brewing Company
Tower grove south Whether we’re playing board games in the wood-clad beer hall on a lazy afternoon or stepping up to the crowded bar on a busy weekend, owner Jake Hafner—once of 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar fame—shows us a second time that high quality doesn’t necessitate high cost. His $6 sandwiches, from hot pastrami on rye to a Mediterranean vegetable panini, are as warm and welcoming as the conversation. (Just remember to bring cash.) 3714 Holt, thecivillifebrewingcompany.com.
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Pizzas, Pastas & Calzones
Feraro’s Jersey Style Pizza Feraro’s 10-inch, one-topping, Jersey-style pizza for $5.50 might be the best pizza lunch deal in town. Lunch is available 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. 1862 S. 10th, 314-588-8345; 11726 Baptist Church, 314-843-3456; ferarospizza.com.
Clayton With an interesting array of chopped-to-order salads and ready–in–90 seconds personal pizzas, locally owned Crushed Red has put the “fast” back in “fast casual” dining. Two more local stores (in Kirkwood and the Central West End) are slated to open in 2013. 8007 Maryland, 314-725-8007, crushed-red.com.
Kid’s Menu at Pastaria
It’s a no-fail list of mix-and-match fresh pasta and dessert (the gelato is a must) for $10. 7734 Forsyth, 314-862-6603, pastariastl.com.
Mama Gustos Pizzeria With some restaurants—and some restaurant owners—it’s love at first sight. That’s the case with Al Carfagno of Mama Gustos Pizzeria. His easygoing demeanor, from-scratch cooking, and love of big portions (to wit, the 16–plus–pound Big Mama pizza, enough to feed an army for less than you’d spend on fast food) are the signs of a soon-to-be good friend, the kind of guy you want to have a beer with. So go. Mama Gustos is in Illinois and coming soon to Soulard. 115 W. Saint Louis, Lebanon, Ill., 618-537-8800, mamagustos.com.
Sauce on the Side
Downtown Downtown’s dining scene continues to improve, but no recent addition has captured the city’s attention (and stomachs) like the calzone-centric Sauce on the Side. Pulled from the oven, these smile-shaped golden crescents of oil-kissed dough cradle a swath of creamy ricotta and a dizzying array of meats and veggies that are begging for quality time with your knife and fork. 903 Pine, 314-241-5667, eatcalzones.com.
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Middle Eastern & Mediterranean
SoCo’s Gyros & Deli By all means, take a gyro from SoCo’s Gyros & Deli to go. The smart move, though, is to eat—OK, inhale—this $6.50 dish tableside, communing with a generous helping of spit-grilled beef and lamb, cut thick and crisped on a flattop grill before being loaded into a warm pita with veggies and a dollop of cool tzatziki. 5530 S. Lindbergh, 314-843-7600.
Remy’s Kitchen & Wine Bar Now almost 20 years old, Remy’s has always been priced right, and never more so than during its Ecstatic Hours, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Priced at just $4.95, the hummus epitomizes the restaurant’s success. Arguably the best in town, it is more roughly textured than most, and it showcases executive chef Lisa Slay’s Lebanese heritage by subbing in a thin, specially sourced Lebanese flatbread in place of the typical fluffy pita. 222 S. Bemiston, 314-726-5757, remyskitchen.net.
Ranoush Alhamid whirls through the dining room at the Kirkwood Ranoush like he’s the mayor, nodding, smiling, shaking hands. He also balances plates on his head—skillfully—and will often disappear to produce a small, silver kiddush wine fountain to salute new friends. Order a traditional mezza platter and enjoy the show. 200 N. Kirkwood, 314-984-8899; 6501 Delmar, 314-726-6874; ranoush.com.
South Grand Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Café Natasha is an avuncular anchor on South Grand Boulevard among its ever-changing neighbors. While most items are reasonably priced, it’s at the $10 all-you-can-eat hummus bar happy hour, on Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m., that you’ll find the best deal. And on sunny days, enjoy your tart pomegranate eggplant and house-made baklava on one of the city’s best patios. 3200 S. Grand, 314-771-3411, cafenatasha.com.
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Mai Lee Restaurant For pho lovers, the bar is prime real estate when it comes to the important business of noodle slurping. Alternate between spoonfuls of rich beef broth and using chopsticks to devour long rice noodles—a blissful act best enjoyed at full volume (and at $7.95). 8396 Musick Memorial, 314-645-2835, maileerestaurant.com.
Pancit Bihon Guisado
Manila Bistro Filipino cuisine might be the next big Food Thing, and this noodle dish is a good reason why. Manila Bistro’s version is simple, elegant, and satisfying. Cheap? It’s only $8.50. Exotic? Maybe. Delicious? Absolutely. 343 S. Kirkwood, 314-966-5288, manilabistro.com.
Fork & Stix Fork & Stix might have introduced St. Louis to northern Thai cuisine, but none of its offerings have made a bigger splash with foodies than the $8 khao soi: noodles submerged in a thin, spicy curry, topped with crisp ribbons of fried egg noodles that bring a playful air to a serious bowl of soup. 549 Rosedale, 314-863-5572.
Café Mochi Until recently, we’d dropped some serious coin on sushi. Then we discovered the happy-hour deal at Café Mochi, where nigiri sushi and traditional (not specialty) rolls are half-price, as is sake. Cocktails are two-for-the-price-of-one, and beers are a buck less than usual. Go early (from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday), and be happy. 3221 S. Grand, 314-773-5000, cafemochistl.com.
Bánh Mì Dac Biet
Dao Tien Bistro A crunchy baguette holds the usual bánh mì ingredients. But the do chua (the pickled carrot-daikon condiment), made here with just the right sweet-sour combination, elevates the bistro’s $5.95 version of the classic Vietnamese sandwich to extraordinary. 8600 Olive, 314-995-6960, daotienbistro.com.
Lunch Special at Lemay Wok
The outstanding lunch special includes Chinese-American standards like sweet-and-sour chicken and spicy Hunan beef. 4530 Lemay Ferry, 314-487-8834.
Pearl Café Scott prepares Thai favorites in back as his brother Tommy puts customers out front at ease with his casual but always professional demeanor. It’s easy to see that the Truong brothers were paying attention while growing up in a restaurant family, taking mental notes about how their dream restaurant might look and feel, then executing it with precision. Pearl Café (named after Scott’s daughter) has become a Florissant landmark. 8416 N. Lindbergh, 314-831-3701, pearlcafestl.com.
Everest Café & Bar
The Grove There are two locations serving three different cuisines. Go with the wonderful Nepali offerings: chunks of Gorkhali chicken, bright with chilies and cumin, ginger and garlic; or pickled vegetables spangled with coriander. Delicately seasoned ground pork stuffed into light dumplings (momos) is a signature dish. The location in The Grove is cozy, with Nepalese art and prayer flags decorating the walls. The lunch buffet is among the most unusual—and delicious—in town. 4145 Manchester, 314-531-4800; 711 Olive, 314-621-8533; everestcafeandbar.com.
Chesterfield This place serves cookin’ like your halmoni used to make. Among the offerings: spicy tofu stew, Korean barbecue short ribs, fried dumplings… It’s homey Korean fare—and decidedly low-key. Point to the photo of what you want and take a seat at this unassuming café, connected to a popular Asian grocery. The bibimbap—a huge bowl of rice, beef, stir-fried vegetables, and a fried egg—is notable, and prices are about half of what you’d expect. 13365 Olive, Chesterfield, 314-205-1882.
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Mexican, Latin & South American
Taqueria Durango This is the place for the chitlin-challenged to confront their food phobia. Our favorite’s called buche, a.k.a. “hog maw.” Buche tacos are salty, packed with earthy grilled nubbins that are less chewy than tripe, and rarely offered at local taquerias. Durango’s are only $1.89 each, the meat tossed with an impeccable salsa and spritzed with lime, then wrapped in warm corn tortillas. Trust us: They’re addictive. 10238 Page, 314-429-1113.
Chori Huevo Torta
Mission Taco Joint A carryover from older sibling Milagro Modern Mexican, the $9 chori huevo torta shows up in a larger, more authentic form at Mission Taco Joint. Nestled in a fluffy, torpedo-shaped roll called a bolillo are black beans, chorizo, and the pickled jalapeño that devotees have come to expect—topped with not one but two fried eggs. 6235 Delmar, 314-932-5363, missiontacostl.com.
Lunch Special at La Tejana Taqueria
Two tacos, beans, and rice appear so quickly, you’ll consider another round—especially after you see the $5.99 pricetag. 3149 N. Lindbergh, 314-291-8500, latejanataqueria.com.
La Cantina Younger customers say the gregarious Trevino has “smiley eyes” (he does), and he often smiles widely as he describes La Cantina’s myriad botanas (Mexican tapas) and explains why his margaritas are better than you’d make ’em (he’s not wrong). 35 N. Gore, 314-968-3256, lacantinawebster.com.
Mango Peruvian Cuisine
Downtown At some places, small plates equal small portions and large prices. Not at St. Louis’ only Peruvian restaurant, where small plates are generously sized: Two could easily mix and match among the yuca frita ($4) or anticuchos de corazon ($8 beef-heart skewers) while staying near the $10 mark. 1101 Lucas, 314-621-9993, mangoperu.com.
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Barbecue & Chicken
Chicken ’N Biscuits
Quincy Street Bistro Chef Rick Lewis knows comfort food, and his finest take on it might just be this decadent soup (for $3 or $6) of slow-roasted chicken and vegetables, served with a handful of light, fluffy buttermilk biscuits that we like to float atop it all, like perfectly golden, downright delicious clouds. 6931 Gravois, 314-353-1588, quincystreetbistro.com.
Blazed Wings at Pi
The wings are juicy and crunchy from being aggressively spiced, then “blazed” in a pizza oven. It’s a lip-smackin’ deal at $9 per pound. Multiple locations, 314-727-6633, restaurantpi.com.
Sugarfire Smoke House People scoff when a fine-dining chef opens a less-fancy restaurant like a burger shack or, in Mike Johnson’s case, a barbecue joint. Scoff all you want. The affable and laid-back Johnson’s restaurant is being compared to the reigning kings of ’cue, Pappy’s and Bogart’s. And his side dishes are even better than theirs. 9200 Olive, 314-997-2301, sugarfiresmokehouse.com.
Vernon’s BBQ & Catering
University City Peer through the translucent garage doors of the former auto shop to watch cooks prep ribs for the smoker. Come this summer, the same doors will raise to send warm breezes through the barbecue joint. Vernon’s is home to baby back ribs; smoked chicken wings, ham, and tofu; baked beans cooked with burnt ends; and a choice of five house-made barbecue sauces. While you’re there, ask for Vern—that’s the name embroidered on every employee’s cheeky uniform. 6707 Vernon, 314-726-1227, vernonsbbq.com.
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Upscale— on the Cheap
Bloody Mary Bar at Cielo
It has house-infused spirits, a score of add-ins, plus a choice of cucumber, celery, or bloody Mary ice cubes—all for $10. Oh, and did we mention that includes free refills? Open 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sun. 999 N. Second, 314-881-2105, cielostlouis.com.
Social Hour at Taste
Even the pinnacle of local cocktail bars has deals: From 5 to 7 p.m., Sunday through Friday, classic cocktails are $6, and all snacks are a buck off. 4584 Laclede, 314-361-1200, tastebarstl.com.
Bookish Booze at Sanctuaria
From 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, Sanctuaria chief mixologist Matt Seiter discounts his kitschy cocktails, pairs them with half-price apps—and will even sign a copy of his new book, Sanctuaria: The Dive Bar of Cocktail Bars. 4198 Manchester, 314-535-9700, sanctuariastl.com.
On Sunday nights, chef/owner Ben Poremba creates off-menu items like “home cooking for friends at my house,” a three-course dinner for $25. 1634 Tower Grove, 314-932-1088, elaiastl.com.
Tuesday through Thursday, choose between several $25 three-course prix-fixe offerings. 5100 Daggett, 314-773-5553, fivebistro.com.
One of the highest-rated restaurants in town has tasting menus that start with four courses for $30. 7266 Manchester, 314-644-1790, fialafood.com/acero.
L’École Culinaire The intent of this lunch/dinner/event facility is not to make a profit, but to help educate culinary students. As a result, prices are low and the culinary quality is high. Lunches hover around $10, dinner is in the teens, and four-course seasonal wine dinners are $50 per person. Hours are variable, so make reservations. 9811 S. Forty, 314-587-2433, lecole.edu.
Sump Coffee This brainchild of Mike Miller and Chris Meyer eludes a set incarnation. Most recently, the duo has run a brunch on the last Sunday of every month at Sump, the South City coffee shop that’s a darling of industry insiders. Add pastries from Pint Size Bakery’s Christy Augustin, and you have a meal that’s worth the wait. 314-277-3881, kitchenkulture.co.
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The Flying Pig
Guerrilla Street Food The $7 Flying Pig is what street food is supposed to be: spicy, cheap, and decadent. Slow-roasted pork asado and chilies are topped with calamansi (Filipino lime) juice and sriracha sauce, then served over rice and finished with a sous-vide 1-hour egg—a fresh taste with an exotic punch that makes you grateful for the rare occurrence of a Filipino food truck. 314-529-1328, guerrillastreetfood.com.
Jambalaya at Completely Sauced
With locally sourced andouille and chicken, plus house-made seasonings and herbs, this food-truck dish is tops—in Soulard or any other French Quarter. 314-221-9310, completelysauced.com.
2 Girls 4 Wheels
Food truck Cherish Patterson and Katie Keller are the girls of the 2 Girls 4 Wheels food truck, and they do it all: cooking, cleaning, truck repair, and plating up the food. Try the white-chicken chili with house-made jalapeño cornbread or the grilled-cheese sandwiches, made with Muenster, Cojack, and chopped dates, then served with a tomato dipping sauce. Our reaction when we discovered that no item costs more than $7? “You go, girls!” 618-363-8154, 2girls4wheels.com.
Food Truck The cutest food truck in town, Holy Crepe! is a mini school bus that’s been converted into a French-cuisine kitchen on wheels. Owners Nicole Shelledy and Sheila Korte pass the crepes through one of the bus’s sliding side windows. If that triggers your memories of making faces out the school-bus window, then you’re not alone. The crepes are inexpensive; the nostalgia is free. 314-556-4907, twitter.com/holycrepestl.
SLM’s dining team gets asked a lot of restaurant-related questions, but the most frequent query is, “Can you recommend somewhere that’s good—and cheap?” Indeed, we can (after much thought and research). In the following pages, you’ll discover 50 options, something for any mood, culinary hankering, relative liquidity, or weather. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite, one that you can recommend if you’re ever asked the same thorny question.