In just six blocks near Tower Grove Park in St. Louis, you can take a trip around the globe: Cuisines from 14 countries are represented in the South Grand dining district, making this the most diverse dining destination in the St. Louis area. Authentic eats from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco, Iran, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, the U.S. and Vietnam make up the eclectic offerings, as well vegetarian-friendly spots, international grocery stores, ice cream parlors, coffee shops and sleek bars.
Uniting the Tower Grove East, Tower Grove South and Shaw neighborhoods, South Grand stretches from Arsenal Street to North Utah Place. Touting “a flavor all its own,” the district celebrates its diversity with the annual International Dine Around every May. Just blocks away are the expansive Tower Grove Park, with its Saturday-morning farmers’ market, picturesque pavilions and green space, and the 79-acre, 150-plus-year-old Missouri Botanical Gardens. (On Wednesday nights in the summer, the open-air Whitaker Music Festival held on the grounds is a free local favorite.)
When you head to South Grand, come hungry. Brunch favorite Rooster blends French influences with American breakfast staples, featuring from-scratch baking and on-premise butchering. The sweet and savory crêpes, like its top-selling goat cheese crepe with roasted plum tomatoes, are a must-try, as well as egg-based dishes like the decadent Rooster Slinger, which brings thick-cut toast topped with two eggs, andouille sausage, homemade sausage gravy and breakfast potatoes. Kick off the day with one of its six Bloody Mary drinks – its house version is made with 17 secret ingredients.
“Many of the businesses down here have been here for 20 years or more, so I’m the newest kid on the block in many ways,” says Dave Bailey, the owner of Baileys’ Restaurants, which includes Rooster, whose South Grand location opened only 2½ years ago. “But everybody has been really welcoming and we're all really excited to work together and support the community. South Grand is wonderfully diverse – that's one of its greatest strengths – and it just has a really great energy to it.”
Although his South Grand location opened more recently than the Downtown Rooster location, Bailey has been living near South Grand for 18 years and had his eye on the building (previously abandoned) for 13 years.
Many of the other restaurants and cafés have similar noteworthy origin stories, and Cafe Natasha’s is no exception. The family-owned restaurant introduced Persian delicacies like saffron chicken and sirloin steak kababs, savory stews and pomegranate yogurt dip with fresh pita to St. Louis 30 years ago and has been at its South Grand location since 2001. General manager Natasha Bahrami, daughter of founders Hamishe Bahrami and the late Beshid Bahrami, is the self-proclaimed “Gin Girl.” In 2014, she opened The Gin Room in the front of the restaurant with an impressive collection of 100-plus gins and an inventive cocktail list using the complex spirit.
Next door to Wei Hong Bakery & Restaurant and across the street from Jay International grocery, The Vine is the place to try authentic Lebanese cuisine, served in a traditional Arabic setting complete with Arabic hospitality. The Mediterranean cooking style features halal- and vegetarian-friendly dishes like stuffed grape leaves, hummus, kibbeh, richly marinated chicken shawarma and a kafta kebab of grilled ground beef and spices. Even from the spacious outdoor patio, your nose will lead you to the back of the restaurant, to display cases filled with freshly baked pita, chocolate baklava and date bars.
Many of the dishes served at The Vine come from generations-old family recipes, according to manager Ali Mohsen. “Lebanese food is light on spices, very fresh and has a hint of garlic,” he says. “It doesn’t have the heat, but it has the spices. Here at The Vine, we cook the same way we would cook at home. We share the love of food with anyone who comes to visit our community.”
And of that community, Mohsen says it’s incredibly supportive. “South Grand is a hidden gem,” he says. “Ritz Park right down the street is a place for the community to come together at events throughout the year in support of refugees and the arts. This is a culturally diverse neighborhood that welcomes everybody, and it’s an enjoyable place to be.”
Coming from farther east on the Asian continent is the Thai cuisine at King & I, which concentrates on the style of cooking native to central Thailand but which also features regional specialties including som tom papaya salad from the north and massaman beef curry stew from the south. Top-sellers include the skewered grilled chicken satay appetizer; spicy kee mao wide rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, red and green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots; and the pan-fried Thai Golden Shrimp flavored with rich red curry paste.
Continue on your tour of Asian eats three blocks south at Café Mochi, where owner Victor Pham serves food from Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines. You’ll find locals there Tuesday through Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30pm for the happy hour specials, including half-price nigiri sushi and rolls. Top-selling menu items include the goi cuon spring rolls with shrimp, crab, lettuce and rice vermicelli noodles and house rolls like the Volcano Roll with tempura shrimp, asparagus and avocado topped with baked crab, scallops and spicy mayo and the gorgeously plated Samurai Lobster Roll with tempura lobster, crab, asparagus and red tobiko, with lobster and panko bread crumbs as garnish.
On Sundays, you’ll find a picturesque brunch set up at Café Madeleine at Piper Palm House, the oldest standing greenhouse west of the Mississippi River, on the edge of Tower Grove Park. Between the palms and plants in the high-ceilinged, bright and airy space is a tempting French-inspired buffet. Aside from the namesake madeleine pastries, options vary each week and include a made-to-order omelet station, colorful seasonal salads, fresh fruit and delicate desserts.
End your trip around the world on a sweet note at Tower Grove Creamery, serving up hand-dipped ice cream and gelato made by Central Dairy in Jefferson City, Missouri. The mom-and-pop shop, owned by effervescent David and Beulah Ann McCreery, offers classic flavors, “primary” options like cinnamon, Butter Brickle and cherry-vanilla, or premium ice cream such as black walnut, Jamocha Almond Fudge and Extreme Chocolate. Sherbert, frozen yogurt and additional seasonal flavors, as well as banana splits, malts, shakes, floats, massive ice-cream sandwiches and housemade Oreo cream pie should satisfy just about anyone looking for something sweet to cap off a visit to South Grand.
Café Madeleine, 4256 Magnolia Ave., Shaw, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.575.5658, cafemadeleinestl.com
Café Mochi, 3221 S. Grand Blvd., Tower Grove South, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.773.5000, facebook.com/cafemochistl
Cafe Natasha's, 3200 S. Grand Blvd., Tower Grove East, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.771.3411, cafenatasha.com
King & I, 3155 S. Grand Blvd., Tower Grove East, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.771.1777, kingandistl.com
Rooster, 3150 S. Grand Blvd., Tower Grove East, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.772.3447, roosterstl.com
Tower Grove Creamery, 3101 S. Grand Blvd., Tower Grove South, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.772.2456, towergrovecreamery.com
The Vine, 3171 S. Grand Blvd., Tower Grove South, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.776.0991, thevinestl.com