What to Know About Dining in St. Louis Now
This article appears in St. Louis Magazine’s 2020 Dining Guide, which was co-published with the December issue. Written from the perspective of an insider by the SLM restaurant team, it is an essential compendium of more than 500 restaurants across the metropolitan area. (The information was current at the time of going to press in late October, but be sure to call or research online beforehand as the operations of many restaurants have changed frequently during the pandemic.)
1. Call ahead. The information contained herein was current at the time of going to press at the end of October. With restaurants still facing uncertain times, you should call or research online to confirm the current status before you visit.
2. Know your service options. This year’s Dining Guide lists the service options for each restaurant. “Terrace only” means that the dining room was not open, but the terrace was at the time of going to press. “Dine-in” means that indoor dining areas are available, although seats may be limited. “Pickup” refers to internal pickup and / or roadside pickup. And “delivery” only refers to the delivery approved by the restaurant. (In some cases, third-party delivery options may still be available, but menu prices are often higher than if you contact the restaurants directly.)
3. Some St. Louis favorites are temporarily closed. At press time, some of St. Louis’ most popular restaurants were temporarily closed, including Zoë Robinson’s (Bar Les Frères, I Fratellini and Billie-Jean), Bogart’s, Southern, The Tenderloin Room and Tony’s (planned) restaurants in December reopening a new location in Clayton).
4. When life closes a door … Restaurateurs opened both open and walk-in windows during the pandemic. The former can be found at BEAST Butcher & Block / Wing Runner, Chicken Out, Club Taco, Edera, Epic Pizza & Subs, Grace Meat + Drei / Fisch, Little Fox, Pi Guy Pizza, Rise Coffee House, Vicia (counter), and Winslows Table. Out-of-chain restaurants with drive-through windows include Nachomama’s, Pi Pizza + Rico, Wicked Greenz (O’Fallon, Missouri), Yolklore, and Yummi Tummi.
5. Ghost kitchens emerge. Another concept that is gaining a foothold locally: restaurants without seats with limited menus that focus on pickup and delivery. Ghost kitchens launched this year include Balaban’s at Home, Roast-A-Rama, Play Ketchup, The Subdivision, SugarHi Ghost Kitchen (currently with KC Bones), Wing Ding Dong, and Wing Runner.
6. Enjoy a special delivery. As the chefs focus on approximating the home dining experience, some have focused on the collection and delivery of special meals. Blood & Sand offers multiple dinners for two (Date Night to Decadence) for pickup. Bulrush offers a tasting menu for pick-up, home delivery, or park-and-dine delivery outside the restaurant. Stone Soup Cottage’s “Cottage to Carriage” service offers circulated meals with linen napkins, a candle, wine and stemmed glasses. In addition to à la carte options, the Sidney Street Café also offers pick-up dinner for two.
7. Food trucks keep rolling. The introduction of 9 Mile Garden, the state’s first food truck garden, rekindled interest in mobile food. The trucks are open daily for lunch and dinner, and the line-up changes slightly each day. The trucks have become so popular that bookings in the neighborhood are now the order of the day.
8. Neighbors help neighbors. Brick-and-mortar restaurants also play in front of the crowd in the neighborhood. A neighborhood representative makes sure that a given restaurant delivers en masse meals on a weekday, and the households place their respective orders. A similar concept, To the Table, features a mysterious food delivery service with black and immigrant owned restaurants that is not limited to any particular neighborhood.
9. Get a drink to go. When state alcohol laws were relaxed to allow the sale of pre-made alcoholic beverages to take away, restaurants were eager to take advantage of the newly discovered profit center. Many offered take-away beer, wine, and cocktails. The most extensive cocktail programs can be found at Blood & Sand, Juniper, Planter’s House, Salt + Smoke, Vicia and Yellowbelly.
10. Show love. To stay in business and keep people busy, restaurants need maximum public support. This includes ordering meals / a visit during the week, a generous tip (20 percent for implementation and 25 percent for dinner are the new Covid norms), further ordering of gift cards (for personal use or giving away) and showing friendliness and understanding when restaurants may not perform well.
11. Looking ahead. Despite all the upheavals caused by the pandemic, there have been some positive results. Restaurateurs are now grappling with the wage and health insurance inequalities that have plagued the industry for decades. Restaurants are developing ways to enlarge wafer-thin bezels, e.g. These include reducing the menu size (and the often extensive nightly specials), offering take-away cocktails and reviving service models with drive-through lanes, pick-up windows and home delivery. Restaurants have been forced to review and improve their packaging on the go. The reduction in the number of in-house guests means a more generous table spacing, less ambient noise and no longer the dreaded “three deep at the bar” syndrome. There are more (and creative) outdoor restaurants than ever before. In all areas, increased safety protocols and hygiene measures were welcomed and appreciated.