Just a few minutes from downtown St. Louis, neatly tucked away in the southwest corner of the city, sits the neighborhood known as “The Hill.” Chef Mario Batali of The Food Network calls The Hill one of the top “Little Italy” neighborhoods in the country.
Settled in the early 1900’s by Italian immigrants, this neighborhood has stood the test of time. Some things haven’t changed very much over the years. You can still get authentic Italian groceries at one of the many small corner stores that dot the area, or play a friendly game of bocce, which is Italian lawn bowling. Even the neighborhood’s fire hydrants are painted green, white and red in tribute to the nation’s tri-color flag. Baseball personalities Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, and Jack Buck grew up on Elizabeth Avenue on The Hill and the street is now named Hall Of Fame Place in their honor. There are so many good Italian restaurants on The Hill (and scattered throughout other parts of St. Louis) you could just about stumble into any place wearing the tri-colors and get a pretty decent meal, but here are a few of the favorites:
Tony’s 410 Market Street (314) 231-7007 Tony’s is the only restaurant ever to receive the AAA Five-Diamond Award in the state of Missouri and one of only 34 in the entire United States. The perfect meals, fine wines, and the most elegant service combine to make this St. Louis’ premier restaurant. The waiters, dressed in Tuxes, great you at the door with white linen draped over their arms and lead you up the stairs to the second floor dining room without ever even turning around. The waiter going up the stairs backwards is just a hint of the personal service and attention that you are about to receive. Pick something off of the menu, all the favorites are there plus a few very special creations, the only drawback is that the prices are out of reach for most of us common folks. But what the heck, you can always buy Tony’s sauces in a jar at the local supermarket for about 4 bucks.
Charlie Gitto’s 5226 Shaw (314) 772-8898 This landmark 2 story brick restaurant was originally the home of Angelo’s where the famous (or infamous) toasted ravioli was invented way back in 1943. The Gitto family has operated the restaurant since 1981. The antique-laden dimly lit front room definitely has an Old World feel about it. Or maybe the feel that you have been transported back to 1930’s era Chicago. There are two rooms for private parties: the Garden Room and the Tommy Lasorda Room.
Try the Chicken Marsala: tender boneless breast of chicken with mushrooms and Marsala Wine sauce. If you’re really hungry for some carbs, dig into the six layer lasagna : meat lasagna made with fresh tomato sauce and ricotta and mozzarella cheese.
Rigazzi’s 4945 Daggett (314) 772-4900 Rigazzi’s is the favorite Italian restaurant in St. Louis to either love or hate. Advertised as the “Home Of The Frozen Fishbowl” for the sizes of their drinks, you may just need one after you find out how long you have to wait to get served. But there are a lot of devoted fans of the place that say it’s well worth the wait. The restaurant attracts all types: families, college students, and business people dropping in for lunch. They don’t accept reservations and on busy weekend nights the tiny parking lot in the back of the place can’t handle all of the crowds, so you’ll have to find a place to park on the street. Once you get inside, sit at one of the red and white checkered tables, listen to Dean Martin sing “That’s Amore” and feast on the traditional American-Italian food. Spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, sandwiches and chicken dishes are abundant and reasonably priced.
Mangia Italiano 3145 South Grand (314) 664-8585 Not really on The Hill, but Mangia is one of my all-time favorite Italian restaurants. The dÃ?Â©cor is definitely unique, sort of Bohemian meets 1950’s chic. Real chrome-heavy kitchen tables from the fifties dot the dining room. Lamps from the same era that you can turn on or off accent the tables. The walls are painted a deep red except for the wall-sized mural by local artist Wayne St. Wayne. The mural is a manic history of humankind titled Mangia Evolutiano. The pasta is made in-house and even sold to other restaurants. My favorite dish is the Pasta, Garlic and Cheese: fresh pasta, loaded with fresh garlic and a variety of cheeses. I get a side order of red sauce to top it with. Simple, but delicious. They also have Spinach Manicotti for $8.00 and some of the best Calamari Fritti in town for $4.95. A really good bargain is the pasta buffet for lunch at $5.95.