Hello, fans of North Carolina, North Carolina State, Kansas and Ohio, and welcome to St. Louis for the -- deep breath -- 2012 NCAA Division One Men's Basketball Championship Midwest Regionals!
Whether you're a broke college student, a devoted alumnus or alumna or just a fan, after shelling out the big bucks for lodging, transportation and tickets, you might not have much cash left for incidental expenses. Like, you know, food.
Never fear! Gut Check has drawn up a list of ten terrific and budget-friendly restaurants within a five-mile radius of the Edward Jones Dome.
(Feel like splurging? Gut Check also has a list of ten upscale spots in the same area.)
Baileys' Range (920 Olive Street; 314-241-8121): Baileys' Range hits the burger-joint trifecta: juicy, flavorful burgers, perfect French fries and thick, sweet milkshakes (including booze-spiked varieties for the grownups). A few bucks more than fast food but worth it for impeccably sourced ingredients, like locally raised, grass-fed beef.
Blues City Deli (2438 McNair Avenue; 314-773-8225): As its name suggests, Blues City Deli is a temple to the deli sandwich and the blues (lots of memorabilia and occasional live music). The sandwiches are fat, delicious and cheap. You can't go wrong with any of the twenty choices, but the giant muffaletta and the "7th Street Sicilian" po' boy are especially good.
Bogart's Smokehouse (1627 South Ninth Street; 314-621-3107):Barbecue genius Skip Steele has gone hog wild at his wildly popular year-old restaurant. The pork ribs, which feature an apricot glaze that Steele finishes with a propane torch, are a can't-miss, but don't overlook the more unusual selections like prime rib and pastrami. Trust us: For a side dish, you want the beans.
Guido's Pizzeria & Tapas (5046 Shaw Avenue; 314-771-4900): Located in the heart of the Hill, St. Louis' Italian neighborhood, Guido's offers terrific, inexpensive Italian favorites like pizza, pasta and veal Parmesan. But regulars know to turn to the selection of authentic Spanish tapas dishes like grilled squid, patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) and Spanish-style meatballs for the true gems.
La Vallesana (2801 Cherokee Street; 314-776-4223): One of St. Louis' best-kept secrets is the number -- and quality -- of authentic Mexican taquerias in town. The recently rebuilt and expanded La Vallesana is a nearly universal favorite, with excellent street tacos (try the al pastor, seasoned pork with pineapple), torta sandwiches, burritos and more. Be sure to try a homemade paleta (popsicle).
The Mud House (2101 Cherokee Street; 314-776-6599): A perfect spot for breakfast, lunch or a caffeine infusion in one of the city's hippest 'hoods. Breakfast (served all day) includes egg sandwiches, quiche and even a traditional English breakfast. For lunch, the "Crispy Confit Pork Shoulder" sandwich with an apple-cucumber relish or the grilled (three) cheese sandwich are slam dunks.
Pappy's Smokehouse (3106 Olive Street; 314-535-4340): Mike Emerson's barbecue joint might be the most popular restaurant in St. Louis. It's worth the wait in line -- 30 to 45 minutes when busy; call ahead for takeout if you're in a hurry -- for the incredible pork ribs, succulent pulled pork and tender beef brisket. As a side, the fried corn on the cob and sweet-potato fries are sure to please a crowd.
PW Pizza (2017 Chouteau Avenue; 314-241-7799): Paul and Wendy Hamilton run two of the city's most popular upscale restaurants (Vin de Set and 1111 Mississippi), but their unpretentious pizzeria might be their best venture. The pies are classic American thin-crust, topped with a slightly spicy sauce and plenty of cheese. Carnivores should try the "Wolf," loaded with pepperoni, sausage and bacon.
Riverbend Restaurant & Bar (701 Utah Street; 314-664-8443): This tiny restaurant tucked behind the massive Anheuser-Busch Brewery is worth seeking out for authentic Creole fare that packs quite a bang for its buck. The crawfish Creole and the cochon de lait (roast pork) sandwich are standouts; the red beans and rice, available only on Monday, are worth planning your week around.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (6726 Chippewa Street; 314-481-2652): No visit to St. Louis is complete without a stop at this institution where frozen custard (not as heavy as ice cream, but much creamier -- and tastier -- than frozen yogurt could ever be) is the house specialty. The "concrete," a sort of shake so thick that the servers turn it upside down when they hand it to you, is the go-to dish.