Discover 12 fabulous foods that got their start in Missouri, and we recommend restaurants where you can sample them. Find out where to get your St. Paul Sandwich, a Gerber Sandwich, Kettle Beef, Chicken Spiedini, or Peach Fuzzy.

Thanks to the endorsement of celebrity fans, the lore of St. Louis-style pizza is spreading across the continent. NBA star Jayson Tatum hawks for Imo’s, and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm even ate it on Jimmy Kimmel Live! But there’s more to Missouri than thin crust and Provel—though we love that too. Food lovers can wind around the Show-Me State and taste treats that got their start right here. From its world-famous, award-winning barbecue to a legendary mash-up of Ozark and Cantonese cuisine, Missouri makes it easy to find your flavor. (Note, you can find the restaurants mentioned in this story at the end.)

1. St. Paul Sandwich

The St. Paul Sandwich doesn’t exactly make sense on paper, but it sure makes sense in execution. Egg foo young, a Chinese-American omelet consisting of eggs, mung bean sprouts, and minced white onions, topped with an all-American combo of lettuce, tomato, mayo and onion, is nestled between two slices of white bread. St. Louis locals are split on where this dish came from. One story has Chinese restaurants adding St. Paul, allegedly named for an originator’s hometown, in the 1940s to make a dish like egg foo young more palatable to inexperienced Midwestern palates. James Beard attributed it to “Chinese chefs who cooked for logging camps and railroad gangs in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” Catch some of the best St. Pauls at Hong Kong Express on bustling South Grand, and choose from chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, ham, and veggie versions.

2. Toasted Ravioli

St. Louis’s iconic Italian neighborhood, The Hill, is home to many longstanding restaurants ranging from traditional, red-checkered tablecloth spots to modern interpretations. One of the most famous dishes to come out of The Hill is toasted ravioli: fried, beef-stuffed ravioli usually topped with Parmesan and served with marinara sauce. There is disagreement over who invented t-ravs; Mama’s On The Hill, Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill, and Lombardo’s all take credit for creating the fried favorite in the 1930s or ’40s. Today, you can find toasted ravioli on menus and in frozen foods aisles all over the state, as well as elevated versions like the one at Salt + Smoke in St. Louis, stuffed with burnt ends and served with tangy white barbecue sauce.

3. Cashew Chicken

Springfield is a growing metropolis in the southwest corner of the state that today is home to a vibrant food and drink scene and some of the most interesting restaurants in the region. You might say that spirit was born more than 50 years ago with David Leong’s humble creation: cashew chicken. In 1963, Leong, a Chinese immigrant, opened Leong’s Tea House despite a racist warning in the form of 10 sticks of dynamite thrown through the front window. Leong began experimenting with Cantonese and Ozark flavors, eventually honing in on the Queen City’s now-famous recipe that incorporates breaded and fried chunks of chicken topped with a savory brown gravy, green onions, and crushed cashews. You can get the original recipe in Springfield at the family’s current restaurant, Leong’s Asian Diner, or even order a jar of the famous cashew sauce on Leong’s website.

4. Kettle Beef

Kettle beef is one of those regional delicacies born out of necessity. Sometimes called beef tips elsewhere, kettle beef is traditionally made with rump roast, an inexpensive cut, that is slow-roasted with bacon drippings and a few aromatics in an iron kettle over an actual fire, like at one of the many southeast Missouri church picnics or civic clubs where you’ll find this dish. Kettle beef is often served alongside handmade chicken and dumplings. Missed the annual Sedgewickville United Methodist Kettle Beef and Chicken & Dumpling Dinner or the Burfordville Baptist Church Community Kettle Beef Dinner? Head to Hickory House Restaurant in Jackson, where they serve it with housemade brown gravy over mashed potatoes alongside Skillet Cornbread.

5. St. Louis-Style Pizza

St. Louis-style pizza may be the most contentious dish to come out of Missouri. It’s both loved and reviled by pizza connoisseurs for its signature ingredients. The best-known version comes from Imo’s Pizza, which boasts locations all over St. Louis and as far away as Columbia, Cape Girardeau, and Kansas City, Kansas, but you’ll find the square-cut pizza on the cracker-thin crust at many pizzerias, and frozen versions from Dogtown Pizza available at regional grocery stores. One of the oldest spots slinging the city favorite is Monte Bello Pizzeria in south St. Louis, open since 1950, just three years after pizza made its debut in the Gateway to the West. The key to St. Louis-style pizza, other than the famous square cut, is Provel cheese, a unique blend of cheddar, Swiss, and Provolone cheeses, plus the key addition of liquid smoke. The result is a creamy, gooey, smoky cheese that fans of the famous pie say makes it perfect for pizza.

6. Burnt Ends

Kansas City barbecue stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the giants of the cuisine: Texas, Memphis, and North Carolina. The City of Fountains’ most unique addition to the genre has to be burnt ends, literally made from the burnt, crispy ends trimmed off the brisket. KC barbecue trailblazer Arthur Bryant’s originally handed them out to customers waiting in line. Burnt ends hit the big time in 1972 when hometown boy Calvin Trillin waxed poetic about the giveaways in Playboy. Today, they’re the main event at barbecue joints in Kansas City and beyond. Legend has it that Arthur Bryant’s rival, Gates Bar-B-Q, originally refused to serve burnt ends because they are, well, burnt, but by 2012, National Public Radio was calling them Gates’ specialty, and now the burnt ends sandwich is a can’t-miss.

7. Peach Fuzzy

Fans drive from every corner of the state to get their supply of peach Nehi soda at Scott’s Iconium Store in the Ozarks. The real treat, though, at Iconium’s century-old general store is the peach float, called a Peach Fuzzy by old-timers. It features classic vanilla ice cream and peach Nehi. Other flavors include orange, strawberry, and cherry. There’s even a version that features Monster Energy Drink. Those different flavors are tasty, but the store’s website is for a reason. Scott’s has won generations of fans, thanks to nearby H. Roe Bartle Boy Scout Camp a mile down the road. Sure, you can now buy peach Nehi on Amazon, but it won’t taste quite the same if you’re not sitting on the porch watching the store’s famous hummingbirds flit by.

8. Slingers

Don’t get St. Louis Slinger confused with its Cincinnati cousin. This slinger is the stuff of both late-night and morning-after dreams. The late, great Eat Rite Diner claimed to have invented the holy (or unholy, depending on your point of view) combination of meat, American cheese, eggs, chili, potatoes, and raw onions. Eat Rite traditionally used sausage as the default, but slingers are usually made with hamburger meat. At White Knight Diner in downtown St. Louis, the Super Slinger starts with the basics and adds button mushrooms and red and green bell peppers. In contrast, longstanding favorite City Diner on South Grand adds hot sauce, jalapenos, and somewhat inexplicably, yellow mustard. If you know, you know.

9. Gooey Butter Cake

One of St. Louis’s best-loved creations is also one of its sweetest. Gooey butter cake is somehow exactly what it sounds like and so much more. The dessert features a crispy crust and a creamy center made with lots of butter. The story is that a German-American baker in the 1930s messed up the proportions in a coffee cake, and a gooey butter cake was born. Today, you’ll find it in restaurants, groceries, and coffee shops all over the state and even as far away as Brooklyn. Skip Paula Deen’s rip-off recipe and try the real thing. Park Avenue Coffee in St. Louis offers a much-touted version, and its sister venture, Ann & Allen Baking Company serves 70 varieties, many available online, such as fudge brownie, red velvet, cinnamon roll, butter pecan, turtle, and triple chocolate, plus mixes to try at home. If you really want to go all out, try the gooey butter cake ice cream (with chunks of gooey butter cake) at St. Louis’s Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery atop a piece of actual gooey butter cake.

10. Chicken Spiedini

Chicken spiedini is so ubiquitous on Italian menus across Missouri that you might not realize it was invented in Kansas City. Spiedini is really anything on a skewer in Italy, but Mike Garozzo maintains that no one was making spiedini with chicken until 1989 when he opened Garozzo’s in Columbus Park, Kansas City’s traditionally Italian neighborhood. (Restaurants on The Hill, St. Louis’s Italian neighborhood, say they made spiedini as early as the ’70s.) The original recipe features marinated chicken tenders, garlic, basil, and breadcrumbs, rolled up and skewered, rolled in more breadcrumbs and charbroiled and sauced. Today, Garozzo’s offers four versions, including the Samantha, chicken spiedini served over fettuccini alfredo and artichoke hearts. Anthony’s on Grand in downtown KC serves chicken spiedini deep fried with amiogo, a garlic-lemon-olive oil sauce.

11. Gerber Sandwich

Pizza may not be the most controversial use of Provel cheese in St. Louis. Another Provel-drenched dish, the Gerber sandwich, has been a classic for decades. The simple, open-faced sandwich features copious amounts of ham, garlic butter, and gooey Provel, served hot. The Gerber originated at Ruma’s Deli in south St. Louis in 1973—a special request from namesake customer Dick Gerber. At one point, Ruma’s claimed to own a trademark for the name and sent other area restaurants cease-and-desist letters. Still, you can find Gerbers across the city. At Ruma’s remaining locations, choose from a signature Gerber, a turkey Gerber, or a Prosperity, featuring roast beef, garlic butter, Provel, and gravy.

12. Norton Wine

Although the Norton grape originated in Virginia, most of the world’s Norton wine comes from Missouri. The official state grape is incredibly disease-resistant and winter-hardy, making it ideal for the variable Missouri climate. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy grape to coax wine from. A Virginia doctor, Dr. Daniel Norton, created the grape through trial-and-error cross-breeding. It was first included in a horticultural catalog in 1822 and made its way to Hermann as early as 1843. Norton is a complex, acidic grape, and in the hands of talented winemakers, will result in wines that are elegant, restrained, and supple, with vivid notes of red fruit and white pepper. You’ll find award-winning versions of Norton wine from Noboleis Vineyards in Augusta, Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport, and Adam Puchta Winery and Stone Hill Winery in Hermann.

A Missouri Food Lover’s Directory

Here’s where you will find the businesses mentioned above in this story.

  • Adam Puchta Winery 1947 Frene Creek Rd., Hermann,
  • Ann & Allen Baking Company 6343 Manchester Ave., St. Louis,
  • Anthony’s 701 Grand Blvd., Kansas City,
  • Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque 1727 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City,
  • Charlie Gitto’s On The Hill 5226 Shaw Ave., St. Louis,
  • City Diner 3139 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis,
  • Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery has six locations in the St. Louis area,
  • Dogtown Pizza (available at regional grocery stores),
  • Garozzo’s 526 Harrison St., Kansas City,
  • Gates Bar-B-Q Five locations in the Kansas City area,
  • Hickory House Restaurant 2259 E. Jackson Blvd, Jackson,
  • Hong Kong Express 2247 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314-771-9498
  • Imo’s Pizza Locations in Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas,
  • Leong’s Asian Diner 1540 W. Republic Rd., Springfield,
  • Les Bourgeois Vineyards 12847 W. Highway BB, Rocheport,
  • Lombardo’s Trattoria 201 S. 20th St., St. Louis,
  • Mama’s On The Hill 2132 Edwards St., St. Louis,
  • Monte Bello Pizzeria 3662 Weber Rd., St. Louis,
  • Noboleis Vineyards 100 Hemsath Rd., Augusta,
  • Park Avenue Coffee 417 N. 10th St., St. Louis,
  • Ruma’s Deli Three locations in the St. Louis area,
  • Salt + Smoke Five locations in the St. Louis area,
  • Scott’s Iconium Store 12770 N.E. Highway C, Iconium,
  • Stone Hill Winery 1110 Stone Hill Highway, Hermann,
  • White Knight Diner 1811 Olive St., St. Louis, 314-621-5949

Article originally published in the October 2022 issue of Missouri Life.