Mouth-watering choices for families visiting St. Louis
Midwesterns love to eat, so you shouldn’t be surprised by St. Louis’ mouth-watering offerings. Yes, many of these choices are a bit indulgent, but c’mon, you’re on vacation! Don’t worry, I’ve included a few tasty scratch kitchens to even it all out.
Photo Courtesy: Fitz’s
610 Washington Ave., Downtown & 6144 Delmar Blvd., Delmar Loop
I’ve done the calculations, and Pi Pizzeria equals deliciousness! While there’s five locations in St. Louis, you’re most likely to visit the downtown restaurant located within a 15-minute walk of Gateway Arch or the one in the popular Delmar Loop near Forest Park and Washington University at St. Louis. If you’ve got both deep dish and thin crust pizza lovers in your family, Pi is the solution! It does both really well, plus killer cheesy garlic bread which my boys polished off in seconds. And don’t leave without ordering one of the to-die-for milkshakes. S’mores and peanut butter were our favorites! Kudos, too, to the extremely attentive wait staff. $$
2/Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
6726 Chippewa St.
If you visit St. Louis when it's hot and humid (or maybe even when it’s not), then you’ll want to make a stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard a priority. Located along the original Route 66 and a little off the beaten path, this frozen custard stand is a mainstay. Join the throngs of people and place your order for some cold, creative custard. Then enjoy your tasty treat on one of the numerous nearby benches. There are dozens of options, but I recommend the Caramel Pretzel Twist. $
KidTripster Tip: To my horror, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport offers Ted Drewes via vending machines! Acquiring frozen custard in this manner is only acceptable on your way back home after you’ve visited the real deal.
KidTripster Tip: Sharing the title of St. Louis mainstay, beloved Crown Candy Kitchen (1401 St. Louis Ave) satisfies sweet tooths year-round.
3/Taze Mediterranean Street Food
626 Washington Ave., Downtown
Bright, colorful, and most importantly, yummy is served here. At Taze (pronounced “tah-zay”), you line up much like you would at Chipotle or Subway to instruct your food assembly professional. My four children loved this restaurant! Yes, they were famished from a flight and wait at the rental car counter; however, they legitimately enjoyed everything from customizing their meal to inhaling it.
For about $8.95/person, you can select a meat (vegetarian available), sauces, a side, and a hummus flavor. The pita foundation is enormous – more the size of a burrito tortilla than a typical pita. The meats were flavorful; I highly recommend the Tandoori chicken. I found both salads (because, of course, I asked for a half-and-half, being indecisive and “on assignment”) to be refreshing. I enjoyed the caramelized onion hummus with a dash of balsamic sauce; however, the kids campaigned for the cilantro and spicy versions to make this write-up. We were sorry to learn that there is just one Taze in St. Louis, but we will be back! $
KidTripster Tip: Come hungry! Study the menu and strategize to ensure all options are tried.
3106 Olive St.
The line that often snakes out the door and around the building says it all. Pappy’s Smokehouse serves up award-winning, Memphis-style BBQ right in the heart of St. Louis. Here the meats are slow cooked for 14 hours over sweet apple or cherry wood in smokers (each has its own name) right outside the window. While there’s a wait to order at the counter, the line moves fairly quickly. Your kids can entertain themselves by trying to decipher the autographs on framed menus that cover the walls. While Pappy’s is famous for its racks of ribs, we ordered the pulled pork sandwich and sides, which was still too much food! We loved the tasty baked beans and potato salad but were not fans of the vinegar coleslaw. Oh, and try the fried corn on the cob. Finally, top it off with St. Louis’-own Fitz’s root beer. Know that Pappy’s will sell out of certain items, like the burnt ends, on any given day. Come hungry! $-$$
920 Olive Street, Downtown
Featuring a "scratch kitchen" (meaning that everything is prepared from raw ingredients, including the sauces mentioned below), we were escorted to Bailey's Range by a virtual-local (Southern Illinois grad student). I am so glad she “made” us eat here! There is nothing artificial on a plate or in a glass, so families trying to make healthy choices on the road can dine easy... and deliciously! The kids' meals are priced like a parent is in charge; they are a flat $5 (not including beverage or dessert). Grown-up tastebuds will be delighted, too. I tried a half Power Salad, feeling smugly genius because it was amazing and supposedly going to make me healthier (or maybe smarter). The Going Back to Cali burger did not disappoint either. And you'll need to order a basket of fries and pick sauces. Don't skimp on the full experience! $-$$
KidTripster Tip: For added fun, the menu features a weekly "Burger Battle", in which two burgers vie for meaty domination. Ask your server which is winning and participate in the vote!
KidTripster Tip: If you have a choice in seating, ask to sit in the second floor loft; it offers an interesting view of the street below.
6197 Delmar Blvd., Delmar Loop
Need a spot for a snack or quick break?Piccione Pastrydoesn't open until 9 a.m., so we went for a late breakfast. This cheerful, charming eatery has a well-stocked selection of delectable-looking pastries but also Italian cream sodas - much to my kids' delight. Yes, for breakfast. Don’t judge; we were on vacation. I was thrilled with my savory, garlicky frittata; this version was placed in a popover cup. I was likewise pleased with my stealth cookie. (Don't expect to find "stealth cookie" in the display case… it was simply a cookie that I added to my order and did not advertise to the others at my table). $
KidTripster Tip: There’s a free parking lot behind the restaurant.
7/Zia's on the Hill
5256 Wilson Ave., The Hill
A funny thing happened on the way to Missouri Bread Company… we didn't know that the restaurant is cash and check only. So there I am with three hungry kids in tow, having just visited two tourist attractions before lunchtime. I did what any desperate mom would do: yelped (yep, it’s a verb) the nearest decent restaurant that accepted plastic for payment. Hello, Zia's on the Hill.
We entered Zia's with moderate expectations. It’s located in The Hill area, where the fire hydrants are painted in the colors of the Italian flag. The food was as good as any we enjoyed on our vacation. The fried ravioli was awesome, and the arancini (breaded, fried balls of risotto, meat, and cheese) awesome-plus. My son's lasagna and salad were fabulous and ample. My other children split an adult meatball and spaghetti. It was the real deal. Great service, reasonable prices, no frills decor, and a victory for the hapless tourist! $$
KidTripster Tip: Visit Missouri Bread Company on your way back to the hotel and pick up some cookies and a loaf of bread.
8/Steak 'n Shake
Yes, this is a regional chain of restaurants. However, the original Steak 'n Shake opened in my adopted hometown (Normal, Illinois), and I insist that KidTripster readers receive good advice on yummy eats. This is a steakburger joint with the thinnest, crispiest steakburgers you've ever seen alongside thin, crispy french fries. The chili is Cincinnati-style and worth the drive from wherever you've originated. The Chili Mac is a personal favorite.
The shakes are the opposite of thin. They are nearly-perfect, available in a variety of rotating flavors, and never disappoint. Junior sizes are available. Consider the Orange Freeze if you fancy something a little different. $
KidTripster Tip: Many Steak 'n Shake 24-hour locations offer daily Happy Hour pricing with half-off shakes and floats between 2 to 4 p.m. and 2 to 4 a.m.
KidTripster Tip: Order your shake to-go; the servers will put it in a styrofoam cup, and it will last longer on your drive. Quiet travelers are always my goal.
9/Lona's Lil Eats
2199 California Ave., Fox Park
I'm delighted to send folks to family-run, Lona's Lil Eats. Located in an area that might not lure the average tourist, the menu is inventive and thoughtful. No MSG crosses the threshold of this establishment (and in fact, only sugar cane sodas are offered at only $1.50 with free refills); it’s truly a scratch kitchen. Plus, aren't you deep down hoping to check "sampled the original Giant Paper Wrap" off your bucket list?
Tea lovers also will be pleased by the offerings (as will those visiting the separate bar area complete with a "mystery-punch") but, let's be candid, we're here for the yumming! The portions are generous but not guilt-provoking. Pick a protein, pick a carb, pick the sauce. Kids' portions are $5. If you go at peak times, expect a visually-arresting line, but the queue moves quickly. $$
KidTripster Tip: Sometimes there's just not enough sauce in the wrap. Ask for extra on the side. Besides, what kiddo is not immediately cheerier with a dipping sauce?!
6605 Delmar Blvd., Delmar Loop
If you’re looking for a bit more experiential dining with youngsters, then head to Fitz's, a local soda maker. The old-school, soft drink assembly line is behind giant, glass windows on one entire side of the restaurant, while the remainder of the venue channels a 1950s-diner vibe. We enjoyed the fried raviolis as part of our hunt to find the best fried pasta in town. The Philly cheesesteak was large, and my picky-about-his-cheesesteak teen termed it “okay;” the BBQ sampler was immense, and the root-beer-based BBQ sauce was tasty.
The star of the meal, however, is the soda. If the Cardinal Cream is available, you must try it. Bottomless mugs of draft sodas ensure kids will be giddy. The floats were universally pronounced “perfect." My 8-year-old (that very day) daughter was over-the-moon when the waitress presented her with a dated birthday souvenir bottle. The selection of mostly local craft brews - not manufactured by Fitz's - made for pleasant sipping, too. $-$$
KidTripster Tip: If you want to be able to actually witness the bottling, then call in advance and plan accordingly. When we visited, bottling was only on Fridays through Sundays.
KidTripster Tip: Ask the server to split the floats. Your children won’t know the difference, and you'll feel a smidgen better about your parenting decisions regarding sugar consumption.
Moira Allbritton was reared about three hours to the north and spent many memorable vacation days with her aunt and uncle in St. Louis. She has a new appreciation for St. Louis' variety of kid-friendly amusements and parent-worthy dining establishments as mom to five children.
This writer received some complimentary meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.