11 places in St. Louis that Nolan Arenado needs to try

downtown St. Louis

Dan Buffa

“Hop in the backseat, Mr. Arenado.”

While I wouldn’t call it the most eloquent of first-time greetings, the absent moxie in my tone should be erased by the fact that I would be taking the newest St. Louis Cardinals on a proper tour of St. Louis. 

Nolan Arenado officially signed with the Cardinals on Monday evening, following a weekend of surreal euphoria that swirled not only around this city, but made the Birds a national news story that kept getting new takes and perspectives. The circus is coming to town.

It’s only a matter of time before Arenado jerseys fly off the racks, and his residence at third base begins. In order to save the future of a franchise, a man needs a full stomach, relaxed focus, plenty of coffee, and a good knowledge of where the good spots are in town.

Allow me to help. These aren’t the ONLY good places in town, just the places that I know and love. You won’t find a soul who loves and knows this town better than me.

After driving for three years for Uber-taking drunks home to the darkest streets and some of the worst neighborhoods-and a year of delivering food to people’s homes all over the Lou, I know a thing or two about a thing or two in this town. 

So, Arenado jumps in the car, and we’re off. Here’s where I take him.

The Hill

No questions. Full stop. Too many spots to hog up half of this list, so we just get out of the car and walk around here. Arenado needs a big plate of pasta from somewhere on Edwards, Marconi, Wilson, or wherever the loud Italian voices take him. Zia’s on the Hill could put a smile on his face, but maybe he heard about Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill. Visiting ballplayers hit the downtown location for decades, but the one on Shaw still owns some of the best toasted ravioli you will find in this town. (Ask Max Scherzer, Nolan.) 

A cup of the strongest coffee ever made at Shaw’s Coffee, a cannoli at Vitale’s Bakery, and possibly a hot salami at Gioia’s Deli. The first great steak I ever had took place at Frank Cunetto’s restaurant off Southwest. Let’s hope the guy brought his appetite. It’s a good thing he tacked on an extra year onto his contract to give him sufficient time to try all the great spots on St. Louis’ Italian strip of goods.

Don’t forget about: Paul Manno’s Restaurant

La Cosecha Coffee Roasters

Best coffee in town. Be it a plain old cup of regular, a hard-hitting espresso, or an easy on the eyes cappuccino-this place will take care of you. Greg, the face you’ll see most weekday mornings, greets me weekdays with some sports and family discussion, and then he supplies me with an espresso macchiato. He’s basically given me the Red Bull version of coffee. Arenado would need this every day as he’s driving to the ballpark. You can’t miss it on Manchester Avenue right inside Maplewood.  Oh, and there’s a Great Harvest Bread company inside.

Don’t forget about: Sump Coffee

Pappy’s BBQ

Does this really need an explanation? A story will suffice. A director came to town two years ago to promote his Mark Wahlberg-starring family film. The interview was a roundtable that took place inside a crowded Pappy’s downtown. Not the easiest of settings to record enough words for an interview piece, but there was a reason. He had come into town the night before and hit Pappy’s quickly, before he got settled in. The roundtable was the next day. He needed it twice inside 24 hours. It was that good. Enough said.

Don’t forget about: Smoking Barrel’s BBQ off Kingshighway Boulevard.

Craft Beer Cellar 

The unique thing about this place is that they use beers from breweries that you know, some even local-but they can also pull a hidden gem out of Idaho as well. ABV (alcohol by volume, aka how strong it is) runs from a soft-punching 4.6% to a 14.1% Frankenstein concoction. These guys are malt liquor searchers. As it reads on the Facebook page of their South City location:

“We spend our lives in search of beers made in breweries just down the street or on the other side of the world, that are well-crafted and good examples of either their style or what we think excellent beer should be, keeping in mind that “style” is not everything. We are not snobs, we are beer geeks!”

If Sherlock Holmes were mobile and he loved beer more than solving unsolvable crimes, he would work for Craft Cellar Brewery. After a long seven game stretch, Arenado will need to unwind with a few pints. 

Don’t forget about: 4 Hands Brewery

The Grove

Another place too big to carve off a chunk of the list, this is a genuine party strip that invites everyone to the table. People can enjoy bars, restaurants, comedy clubs, breweries, and various locally-owned businesses. Need New York Style pizza done right? 

Pie Guy Pizza and Urban Chestnut Brewing Company got you covered. Sauce on the Side has world-moving calzones, and Grace Meat +Three has comfort food that will make every day of the week seem like Super Bowl Sunday.

There’s culture, love, acceptance, and real personality in this part of town, starting after the turnover from Chouteau to Manchester Avenue after you cross over Vandeventer.

Don’t forget about: The Macklind District. 

Hi-Pointe Drive-In 

This is the burger shop for Arenado. You can go double cheeseburger with all the fixings, or you can lean into it with a configuration that would end up in the Smithsonian if you didn’t have to eat the last piece of it. I’m talking about this new selection made available this week. 

That one may require eight Gold Glove awards to keep down or throw out of your stomach eventually, but you will get one thing going down that rabbit hole of comfort: taste. Mike Johnson’s burgers are the real deal, giving you that smashed burger sensation with extra meat attached.

Oh, and there’s shakes with booze, Belgian-cut fries made to order, and a fine selection of local brewery options. Arenado may want to save this for the All Star Break, so he can recover. Or maybe this is that escape-type binge after a rough 2-20 stretch at the plate.

Don’t forget about: Carl’s Drive-In.

Southwest Diner

If breakfast is still considered the most important part of the day, then this should be on Arenado’s itinerary.

Perhaps before a Sunday day game, because their hours run Friday through Monday afternoon. A lovely hybrid heart match-up between diner food and some of the finest Southwestern dishes in the Midwest.

Jonathan’s Fiery Scramble throws some heat and fiery cheese onto your scrambled eggs, with a sheet of toast and a pile of mega-crispy potatoes. The New Mexican Breakfast Burrito to fit to feed a couple, and pack them with fresh Italian Sausage and red/green chile sauce to make your eyes water.

The Bloody Mary’s are terrific and the people who own and work there are even better.

Don’t forget about: Russell’s on Macklind. 

Protzel’s Delicatessen

Five months after my father was born, Bob and Evelyn Protzel opened a deli that would become the go-to spot in St. Louis for a certain kind of sandwich.

“The finest corned beef since 1954” slogan that still sits atop their website is no lie. If you want to do it right, Protzel’s is the only way to go.

If Gioia’s owns the salami namesake in this town, Protzel’s Deli owns the corned beef trophy. If you need another option-or perhaps a co-pilot for the sandwich-Evelyn’s potato salad is delicious. The knishes and kugels are homemade, and the chicken soup should come with a warm blanket.

But there is nothing wrong with an everything bagel piled high with capers and onions. Old school is always the new school at this place, and it’s another family-owned establishment that needs the love.

The City Museum 

The best thing about this place is that it doesn’t bore the kids out or make the parents check their watch too often. There’s interactive fun to be had by everyone here. I never leave bored. A collection of the world is how I would describe its versatile benefits for attendance. World-renowned sculptor Bob Cassilly was the mind behind the creation, an island of misfit toys including parts made out of found and repurposed objects from all over the world. Everything you see is made out of those unconventional yet unique parts. This would be the place to learn about St. Louis and its history. Or you could visit the big monument down the street.

Don’t forget about: The Science Center 

The Gateway Arch

Nearly left off the list, this one is unavoidable. One of those spots that Arenado will have a hard time missing, this area isn’t just a large shiny horseshoe anymore. The vibrant history of St. Louis and a small museum of its own is located underground, where shops and other physical recaptures exist. But for me, the best part about the remodel is the monstrous park area located outside. All you have to do is go down there, bring a blanket, and just gaze up at the city. A little peace amid the chaos.

Where’s your favorite St. Louis spot? Tell us in the comments below or find me on Twitter @buffa82. Since he will be here for up to seven years, Arenado will definitely need more places to visit.