St. Louis vs. Kansas City

I’ve always been partial to our eastern metropolis, a condition explained only in part by my lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fandom. Tempermentally, architecturally, historically it always seemed more east than west coast – a reflection of my personal leanings, I suppose, but one I was cognizant of even before I heardthat whole “western-most Eastern city” and “eastern-most Western city” thing. It’s one of those cliches that fits very, very well.

I can admit that, but don’t want it to shade my take on their relative strengths and weaknesses when it comes to food. Both have plenty to offer, but St. Louis offers great restaurants, food magazines, a vibrant social media community centered on food, national acclaim and so on. This past weekend I had excellent, freshly-made pasta (Stellina), lunch at a handsome bar with great food and 50 beers on tap (Bridge) and finally, at 9pm on Sunday night, the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had (Pho Grand). Hell, they were selling homebrew at the St. Louis Zoo. On Twitter it’s the same thing: St. Louis is a hive of food opinion and tip-sharing, KC is a bit of a ghost town. That said, it’s very possible I’m utterly full of shit (or that Kansas City is keeping its best bets secret). If I’m missing the boat here, please set me straight.


  • I like JP Wine Bar and Bluestem. Jonathan Justus rocks.
  • Barbeque is excellent, life-affirming food, and I have had some good stuff in Kansas City.
  • I spend more time in KC than St. Louis, but rarely eat at restaurants – there’s a small sample size at work here.
  • KC’s Ulterior Epicure absolutely knows of what he speaks.

Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

21 thoughts

  1. I’ll be surprised if you haven’t opened a hornet’s nest here.

    Kansas City has an excellent, perhaps even better food scene than St. Louis.

    Just to name a few:

    Blue Bird Bistro
    Le Fou Frog
    Michael Smith
    Extra Virgin
    Blanc Burgers and Bottles
    R Bar
    Westport Cafe and Bar
    Westside Local

    So many more to name! There is fantastic, authentic Italian food, an abundance of Mexican/Spanish, French, American, Austrian (for christ’s sake), etc.

    Please, please come to KC and eat for god’s sake. And skip the BBQ. Though it is tremendously delicious, it’s tourist food.

  2. Hey, nothing wrong with a little hornet’s nest-kicking, right? I fully admit to being moderately ignorant on the KC front; it’s just the impression I’ve gotten over time.

    Michael Smith and Extra Virgin have been on my list for a while. Darn steak dinners at the in-laws!

    There is a place that has great homemade tortillas. It’s over in Wyandotte Co…I have the sister-in-law bring a few bags every once in a while. Mmm.

  3. Sounds like you have a “grass is always greener” situation seeing that you spend more time in KC. You have really overlooked a lot of great places and have overly simplified the comparisons of the two cities. Yes, St. Louis looks more “eastern” but I would not call KC western. Tell me what city in the west has an urban core like KC’s? Dallas? Oklahoma City? Phoenix? No!
    We in KC do not brag about our city like people in STL do. We realize our place as a city, but KC has gained a lot of national attention for our restaurant scene (beyond BBQ).

  4. I think you are just a bit out of the loop, which is perfectly forgivable. I fall into the trap of eating at more Kansas City restaurants as I’m a resident of St. Louis City and eat at the same corner bar 100 ft from my back door or Truc Lam down the street because i’m too tired, lazy, or busy to do anything else (which is nice, don’t get me wrong) until I’m visiting friends on the weekend in KC (or Chicago).

  5. You know what, nilsson, I wondered about the “self-promotion” factor myself. As a guy who does PR for a living, it’s no knock on STL, but I do wonder if part of it is they’re just better (or more inclined) to promote themselves in St. Louis. Interesting stuff all around.

    Matt, I’m definitely out of the loop. All we can do is try and try and try more restaurants, right? 😉

  6. What Universe are you living in? St. Louis is a dying eastern burg, KC is a vibrant western Center. Everything in St. L is a reflection of what was. KC is a reflection of what could be.

  7. I have to jump on the KC wagon here, too. As a recent (4-year) transplant with no prior inclination either way, and with multiple blank-slate visits to both cities, I’ve found that I vastly prefer KC in almost every way.

    STL is, to me, a food wasteland. I don’t doubt there are good places somewhere, but the city is such a sprawling mess that there seem to be no districts in which a tourist/visitor has a decent chance of finding interesting places to eat. Downtown is a ghost town, especially on weekday evenings, and the only places to eat are very generic psuedo-fancy bar-food places. The main areas, like LaClede’s Landing and the old train station, have no local feel or ambiance, just overdone touristy flair. The area around Busch is pathetically empty compared to most downtown stadiums I’ve visited. The only time I ate on The Hill, I was served overpriced boring American Italian with no trace of real Italian skill (though I did have good gelato nearby). I don’t doubt there are good places somewhere, and with references I’m sure I’d enjoy myself. However, as a visitor I don’t enjoy having to drive to some random location in a sprawling city to eat well and have not been able to find those places on my own, especially on foot. We’re normally very good at sniffing out good food on our own, and STL has been one of our biggest failures. Also, if memory serves, Capturing Como had real difficulty finding any good food on their first visit and ended up eating at Whole Foods or something.

    KC has multiple areas with great options, including Westport and the downtown farmers market area, which has multiple good ethnic restaurants (Ethiopian in particular). My first time in Westport, walking around, we stumbled across a fantastic pan-Asian place and saw many more places we’d like to try. Quick Googling of options in the past has turned up far more places I’d be interested in than the same type search for STL. In general, I’ve found KC to be a much more welcoming city to visit as a pedestrian, with a better downtown and a more authentic feel. And our instincts have served us well there over and over, which I can’t say for STL.

    Yes, I have a small sample size of maybe 3-4 visits to each place. But I’m at the point where I’ll bring my own food to STL, whereas I have a long list of places I’ve already discovered that I want to try in KC.

    Oh, and all in good fun, but if the Twitter food-culture of STL is more active, maybe that’s because St Louisans need to be told where to find good food?

  8. Clearly both sides think the other’s a barren, sprawling wasteland of strip malls and mediocrity. I know from personal experience that’s not the case for St. Louis, and others are (thankfully) challenging my impressions of KC. I need to branch out there.

  9. 1. The Ulterior Epicure is a fool. If he had an ounce of sense he’d search out the good places and stop whining that they don’t exist. Read Ruth Reichl for inspiration – she was in NYC, and could eat at any 3/4-starred place she wanted to, but found all sorts of interesting ethnic places and featured them prominently. And there are all sorts of crappy places, too, which she featured as well.

    2. There are a number of restaurants that feature local, well-prepared food in the Midwest. Why doesn’t some enterprising food writer do a guidebook instead of saying that there’s no good food?

    I for one am fond of Firefly in Effingham IL (Effingham?) and will happily rearrange my travel schedule to fly out of KC so I can eat at Justus Drugstore. We’re going to try June in Peoria (Peoria?) next month, and maybe Overlook Farms. Not to mention COMO’s own Wine Cellar and Bistro, Les Bourgeios, Sycamore, Abigail’s etc.

    If you eat a bad meal in France, it’s your own damn fault. Same is true anywhere, including in the Midwest – support what we have and their numbers will increase.

  10. Scott, we have much more experience and insight into St. Louis restos since hubby lived there for 17 years, but according to him and his perusals of the gastronomic reviews in his Esquire and Playboy mags, he reports that the overwhelming nods and recognition go to KC. He says that shamefully STL rarely has a mention of its up-and-coming, or even established, restaurants, which is a shame because we’ve dined in some very good ones over the years. For the record, we are planning to dine at Lidia’s (Bastianich) in KC this weekend for my birthday, she of PBS’ Lidia’s Italy fame.

  11. Frank, while I largely agree with the premise that “if you eat a bad meal it’s your own fault,” I also think I’m limited to about ten places in Columbia for reliably excellent food. Three or so if it’s date night and we want to go somewhere nice. So the rotation gets tired and I do wish we had additional options. We don’t have more options because too many of us Midwesterners are perfectly okay with Golden Corral (where the parking lot is always packed) or Outback.

  12. @Frank – I hope you have a great dining experience at June! I am originally from Peoria and absolutely loved it. I’m still a broke 20-something, so I’ve only had the chance to dine there once, but everything that I had was delicious. Peoria’s dining scene can be a bit lacking (although we at least have some good Italian places… I was lost and confused when I came to Columbia), but June is definitely a bright spot for the city!

  13. Agree with Frank-especially about the Firefly Grill!

    Anybody who can’t find something great in KC, St. Louis or Columbia for that matter must have extremely narrow parameters. We live in the St. Louis area but visit KC frequently. Both areas have great neighborhoods and many opportunities to eat outstanding food. St. Louis has areas with high concentration of Indian, Bosnian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants. Almost every other type of ethnic restaurant is represented one way or another including the hard to find Chiu Chow cuisine. We have chefs that carefully source their raw ingredients and know what to do with them- from the wonderfully familiar but attention to detail lunches at Farmhaus to the imaginative food @ Niche or Monarch. We love to go to KC too. I can’t say one is better than the other because even though we have been to KC many, many times over the last 15 years we haven’t scratched the surface. We are learning the neighborhoods there. We love to eat in Columbia too. They have a pretty good ratio of good places in proportion to the size of the population. We have been to many towns about the same size that you HOPE they have a Cracker Barrel. We travel quite a bit (often on back roads)and always talk to people to find out where to eat and what to order. You may kiss a few pigs but it is kind of like a treasure hunt! I love to find the obscure place that has wonderful tamales, pie with a perfect homemade crust, a salad bar with all the vegetables from someones garden, or perfectly smoked bacon, fresh farm eggs and homemade bread for toast. I think the world of food is rapidly changing in Missouri and things are now longer the way they were just a few years ago in either KC or St. Louis.

  14. I moved to Columbia over 30 years ago, when the dining choices were the Chinese place above Broadway next to KOPN (I forget what it was called but in one of its incarnations it was Formosa), Jack’s Coronado, Katy Station, Flaming Pit. Even the best of them all, Haden House, didn’t push the envelope – you could get OK food there but it was pretty much salad bar, meat and potatoes, or American Chinese.

    To me, the fact that CoMO now has 10 places to go to, and 3 on date night represents real progress. But if the finest restaurant in the world can be located in a town of less than 40,000 (Troisgros in Roanne, France), why don’t we have destination restaurants? Why doesn’t the Midwest have an Inn at Little Washington or French Laundry – maybe it’s because we flyover folks are placebound, and tend to stay locally or default to the big city when we want something to eat.

    Sara, in the absence of a guidebook your strategy seems best.

  15. Glad to hear the Firefly Grill in Effingham, IL, is worth the drive. Have been wanting to try it for a long time now. We dined at Justus Drugstore a couple years ago, and loved it. Loved how when the food is presented, the server tells you exactly what’s on the plate. Very educational and informative. We really appreciated that touch. Also, the handmade syrups and concoctions for the drinks were a great touch as well, just like an oldtime apothecary, which is what it was back in the day. Would recommend for a dining destination. Although it’s a “bit of a drive”, the town of Smithville is very charming, I thought.

  16. Effingham is at the intersection of I-70 and I-57 so it’s definitely worth planning a trip so you’re at Firefly when it’s time to eat. I don’t think I’d drive 210+ miles each way just to eat there, however – it’s not Justus or June although it’s pretty darn good.

  17. Yep, still arguing over which town is better, KC or the STL.

    I think it’s an easy call. KC

    My biggest pet peeve about those from the STL is how frikkin’ pretentious some of them can be. In fact they would go out of their way to tell you how great St. Louis was and how they abhorred their western cousin on the other side of the state.

    The problem with all that reppin’ on their town was that up until 10 years ago or so, 95% of them didn’t actually live in the STL. You’d ask where they were from and right after they said St. Louis, you would then say, no, really, where you really from? ‘Cause if you’re white, I know damn good and well you ain’t from the STL.

    It would eventually come out that they were from Ballwin or Chesterfield or North County. I’d be like, no shit. you’re white and you live in the ‘burbs like all the other white folks down there. They were about as big a boor’s as a Cubs fan. It was ridiculous. All that I’m from St. Louis crap when they live 40 miles away. They’re basically Junior Chicagoans’ with all their “look at me” bullshit.

    Anyway, I digress…

    I had a long time girl who’s parents lived in Ballwin and her parents got us some great seats to Cards games all the time and I found her family to not be like the boor’s I had met previously and were very nice people. In fact I’ve met many from the other side and most are very cool, but that dueling cities crap is for the lame and weak-minded.

    Way back when, Lewis and Clark’s last stop before heading into the wilderness was in St. Louis and at that time the STL was the easternmost big city in the country and KC wouldn’t exist for another 50+ years.

    Today we can act like grownups and appreciate each others city for the uniqueness that makes it ours and yours. We’re in the same state, so we should try to get along and enjoy the fruits that lie in front of us in both places.

    Btw, if you can’t find good food along with some great bars and great local bands in K.C., you’re not even trying. It’s everywhere. You’re hanging out with the wrong folks.

    P.S. If you want to kick my ass for this, I recommend that you visit our palatial and over-priced P&L district in downtown K.C. the next time you stop in for a visit. You’ll love it.

  18. Hey, Frank, I first noticed the Firefly Grill when we’d make our annual trek to Ohio via I-70 and then read about its culinary offerings, so thought it would be a good place to check out, but if you say it’s not really worth driving all the way from Columbia just to dine there, maybe we’ll have to incorporate it sometime when we spend a weekend in STL, not that that happens much anymore. And Joe, yeah, I know what you mean about people from STL saying they’re from STL, when in fact, they live in St. Louis County. What’s even worse are people who live in St. Charles or Jefferson counties saying they are from St. Louis. Hubby lived in Maplewood, an inner suburb that borders St. Louis proper, snuggled between Brentwood and Webster Groves. I don’t know why people just don’t say the name of their suburb and say it’s a suburb of St. Louis. Much more precise. Although DH says anything starting with “631” in the zip can be considered St. Louis, but it’s not St. Louis city proper, that’s for sure.

  19. yeah, STL is definitely a culinary wasteland for how large of a city it is. basically, it seems to me that STL and KC have competitive food scenes – but this shouldn’t be the case since the STL area is 50% larger than KC. before gerard craft, STL was never on the james beard circuit. KC had michael smith, debbie gold, and now colby garrelts representing us for years.

    KC has a world-famous local cuisine (BBQ), the expected smattering of international food you’d expect in a midwestern city (i.e. a handful of thai, vietnamese, indian, eastern european, etc.) and a surprisingly bustling foodie scene from high-end dining to more casual bistro places. KC seems more beer-forward as well.

    for better or worse, KC is just a more “young” and western city, and has a bit of austin/portland flare mixed into its sleepy midwestern stew, whereas STL feels like nothing other than the decaying, shrinking former industrial powerhouse that it is. and don’t get me wrong, i actually like STL and prefer it to KC in many ways, but in terms of food culture i think KC wins – for now.

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