St. Louis' neighborhoods are gems in their own right: full of history, great people and, as far as Gut Check is concerned, fantastic food. Each week we'll take you into a specific neighborhood and point you in the direction of the best places to grab some bites.
The Hill is the classic St. Louis neighborhood, originally swelling with transplants to the Gateway City via Italy in the early 1900s.
The neighborhood produced such sports heroes as Yogi Berra and four members of the 1950s World Cup U.S. soccer team (which beat a heavily favored Britain), as well as authentic Italian fare. Situated right off of Kingshighway beneath Interstate 44 (which cut down the neighborhood's size when built), the neighborhood still contains a lot of the old charm, right down to the fire hydrants that proudly display the colors of the Italian flag. But just because there's an Italian influence doesn't mean the area only serves up pasta.
Modesto Tapas (5257 Shaw Avenue; 314-772-8272) The first full-scale authentically Spanish tapas bar in town in a long time is brash and fairly loud but also very good; even all the wines and cheeses are imported from Spain. A couple dozen choices are offered to mix and match, but paella and a short list of dinner entrées are also offered. The menu's offerings remain in your face with many of the flavorings. Modesto offers happy-hour specials from 5 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Five Bistro (5100 Daggett Avenue; 314-773-5553) Cute but not cutesy, value-priced but not cheap, fancy but not fussy, Five is one of those quiet, half-hidden bistros where you wind up on a whim one weeknight, where no reservations (or jackets) are required, where the menu changes daily but you always know you'll find something tasty and fresh, simple yet surprising. Chef Anthony Devoti visits the markets each morning to bring back delights like Yukon Gold potato blini; risotto with lemon, Parmesan and arugula; and a radish, goat cheese and cilantro salad. Meats might be wild-caught Alaskan salmon, soy-and-citrus-marinated pork tenderloin or "duck two styles" -- a seared breast and a confit leg.
Charlie Gitto's (5226 Shaw Avenue; 314-772-8898) Dim lighting and secluded booths make Charlie Gitto's a great place to be romantic, incognito or both: No one will notice you, because the crowd is always intent on the huge plates of old-school St. Louis-style Italian food set before them. Fried calamari, served with a citrus chipotle mayo sauce, is crunchy and spicy. The standout entrée is the tenderloin Siciliano: a buttery cut of beef two inches thick, smothered with Provel and mushrooms and surrounded by a phalanx of tasty vegetables.
Adriana's (5101 Shaw Avenue; 314-773-3833) It's testament to an eatery's excellence when the place can stay open only five or so hours a day, yet hold a place among a city's most-loved nosh spots. Such is the case at the family-run Adriana's, where loyalists lunch on Sicilian specialties like eggplant caponata, mostaccioli and salsiccia sandwiches. Those sandwiches are oversize, so plan to pack up half a lunch for the next day, or take advantage of the half-sandwich combos (with soup or salad). Some folks call Adriana's a no-frills joint because there's no table service, the tablecloths are vinyl, and the prices are low. But really, the frills are in the food, abundant and delicious.
Joey B's on the Hill (2524 Hampton Avenue; 314-645-7300) Joey B's on the Hill might be more sedate than the original Joey B's on the Landing, but its neighborhood bar-and-grill ambiance is winning. The lengthy menu features standard bar-food fare like wings, T-ravs and potato skins, as well as pasta, burgers and sandwiches. The St. Louis-style pizza is popular, and those seeking a more substantial meal will find steak on the menu. The bite-size soft pretzels are fantastic: buttery sweet and served with a spicy jalapeño-cheese sauce for dipping. The dining rooms offer numerous flat-screen TVs to keep tabs on all the games.
See also: - RFT's "Best Snack" 2102
Anthonino's Taverna (2225 Macklind Avenue; 314-773-4455) The menu reflects both the Italian and the Greek heritage of owners Anthony and Rosario Scarato. The selection tilts toward the former, with numerous pizzas and pastas available, while the Greek board focuses on the cuisine's standbys, such as saganaki (flaming cheese), dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) and gyros. The pizza is very good: the crust thick, with a slight chew and a teasing sweetness; the sauce lightly applied beneath a blanket of melting mozzarella; the toppings ideally proportioned. The gyro is also good and a great value. A welcoming spot with a wonderfully friendly staff.
See also: - RFT's "Best Italian Restaurant (Cheap)" 2011
Gian-Tony's Ristorante (5356 Daggett Avenue; 314-772-4893) Serving up authentic Sicilian cuisine since 1989, Gian-Tony's on the Hill offers a taste of the classics. The extensive pasta list includes capellini alla Gian-Tony's -- angel-hair pasta with tomato sauce, onions, Italian ham and white wine. The menu also features chicken, veal, seafood and steak, such as the Ripieno filet, a nine-ounce steak breaded and stuffed with prosciutto, cheese and mushrooms. All dishes are prepared by owner and head chef Tony Catarinicchia. The vegetables on your plate come from the on-site garden.
Milo's Bocce Garden (5201 Wilson Avenue; 314-776-0468) A staple of the Hill, Milo's Bocce Garden features simple Italian and American fare. Guests can sit inside and select from items such as toasted ravioli, chicken strips and wings (available grilled or fried) to start. Milo's main events include sandwiches, pastas, burgers and pizzas. Wash it all down with wine or one of the domestic or imported beers available on tap or by the bottle. Milo's also offers party trays. The back yard provides bocce aficionados the chance to show off their skills.
See also: - RFT's pick for "Best Place to Play Bocce"
Guido's Pizzeria & Tapas (5046 Shaw Avenue; 314-771-4900) Rome? Or Madrid? At Guido's you don't have to decide. This Hill institution serves tasty Italian fare, including one of the city's best thin-crust pies, and authentic, knockout Spanish tapas. While Guido's has no pretensions of being a tapas bar in the Spanish sense, owner and chef Miguel Carretero and his parents Segundo (front of house, including wine) and Genoveva (executive chef) hail from Madrid, and Guido's tapas are as close to the real deal as you can find in this town: soul-satisfying albóndigas (meatballs), spicy patatas bravas (sautéed potatoes in a picante sauce), the striking charbroiled squid dish calamares a la plancha and more.
Lorenzo's Trattoria (1933 Edwards Street; 314-773-2223) Though still a relative youngster on the Hill's crowded Italian restaurant landscape, over the past decade Lorenzo's Trattoria has established a reputation as a go-to spot for elegant northern Italian cuisine in a friendly, unfussy setting. The arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with ground beef) are a can't-miss appetizer, and the pasta dishes are superb - especially the risotto. The veal entrées are fantastic, from fork-tender osso buco over saffron risotto to the succulent grilled veal T-bone. (Careful not to fill up on the tasty breadsticks that await you at your table.)