Exploring Missouri’s Culinary Delights: Top 5 Foods That Define the Show-Me State

Toasted Ravioli

Missouri, a state rich in history and culture, is equally celebrated for its distinctive and delicious cuisine. When exploring the question, “what food is Missouri known for?”, one embarks on a flavorful journey through a variety of unique and mouth-watering dishes. From classic comfort foods to innovative culinary creations, Missouri’s food scene reflects its diverse cultural heritage and agricultural bounty.

Toasted Ravioli: A St. Louis Original

Toasted ravioli is a beloved culinary creation that hails from the Italian-American community of The Hill in St. Louis, Missouri. This dish has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century when Italian immigrants settled in the area, bringing with them their culinary traditions. The dish is a testament to the cultural fusion that occurred in St. Louis, blending Italian flavors with American cooking techniques.


Toasted ravioli starts with traditional ravioli filled with either meat, cheese, or a combination of both. The ravioli are then coated in breadcrumbs, giving them a crispy exterior when fried. The frying process is crucial, as it transforms the dish from a simple pasta to a crunchy, savory delight. Once golden brown and crispy, the toasted ravioli are typically served hot with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. The combination of textures and flavors makes this dish a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Where to Try

St. Louis is renowned for its toasted ravioli, and there are numerous restaurants across the city where you can sample this local specialty. Some popular establishments known for their toasted ravioli include:

  • Charlie Gitto’s – Located on The Hill, Charlie Gitto’s is a renowned Italian restaurant that serves up authentic toasted ravioli alongside other classic dishes;
  • Lombardo’s Trattoria – Another favorite spot on The Hill, Lombardo’s Trattoria offers a cozy atmosphere and delicious toasted ravioli made with care and attention to detail;
  • The Pasta House Co. – With multiple locations throughout St. Louis, The Pasta House Co. is a go-to destination for those craving toasted ravioli and other Italian specialties.

Kansas City Barbecue: Smoky and Succulent

Kansas City barbecue is renowned worldwide for its smoky flavor, succulent meats, and rich, tomato-based sauce. Located in the heart of Missouri, Kansas City has become synonymous with barbecue culture, attracting visitors from far and wide to indulge in its culinary delights. The city’s barbecue tradition dates back to the early 20th century when African American pitmasters began slow-smoking meats over wood-fired pits, creating the distinctive flavor profile that defines Kansas City barbecue today.


One of the hallmarks of Kansas City barbecue is its incredible variety. From tender ribs to flavorful burnt ends, there’s something for every barbecue lover to enjoy. Here are some of the most popular barbecue dishes you’ll find in Kansas City:

  • Ribs: Whether you prefer baby back ribs or spare ribs, Kansas City has them all. These ribs are slow-smoked to perfection, resulting in tender meat that falls off the bone;
  • Burnt Ends: Considered a delicacy in Kansas City, burnt ends are the flavorful, caramelized pieces of meat cut from the point end of a smoked brisket. They’re crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and bursting with smoky flavor;
  • Pulled Pork: Another barbecue favorite, pulled pork is made by slow-cooking pork shoulder until it’s fork-tender and easy to shred. It’s often served on sandwiches or piled high on a plate with a side of barbecue sauce;
  • Brisket: A true test of a pitmaster’s skill, brisket is smoked low and slow until it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender. It’s typically sliced thin and served with a generous drizzle of barbecue sauce.

In addition to the main dishes, Kansas City barbecue is often accompanied by classic side dishes like creamy coleslaw, tangy baked beans, and buttery cornbread, adding to the overall barbecue experience.

BBQ Joints

No visit to Kansas City is complete without sampling the city’s famous barbecue at one of its iconic barbecue joints. These establishments range from casual roadside stands to upscale restaurants, but they all share a commitment to quality and flavor. Some must-visit barbecue joints in Kansas City include:

  • Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue: Founded in 1908, Arthur Bryant’s is a Kansas City institution known for its no-frills atmosphere and mouthwatering barbecue;
  • Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que: Formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s, this barbecue joint consistently ranks among the best in the country, thanks to its delicious meats and friendly service;
  • Q39: Combining traditional barbecue techniques with modern flair, Q39 offers a gourmet take on Kansas City barbecue, with creative dishes and an upscale ambiance.

Gooey Butter Cake: A Sweet St. Louis Tradition

Gooey Butter Cake holds a significant place in the culinary heritage of St. Louis, Missouri, tracing its origins back to the 1930s. Originally considered a mistake by a St. Louis-area baker who unintentionally reversed the proportions of sugar and flour in a cake recipe, this dessert has evolved into a cherished local delicacy. Over the decades, it has gained widespread popularity, not only within Missouri but also across the United States, with many variations and adaptations emerging.

Texture and Flavor

The hallmark of Gooey Butter Cake lies in its distinctive texture and flavor profile. True to its name, this cake is characterized by its irresistibly gooey consistency, owing to its generous butter and sugar content. The texture strikes a delicate balance between moist and cake-like, with a slightly chewy exterior giving way to a soft, melt-in-your-mouth interior. Its flavor is rich and indulgent, with notes of buttery sweetness that are perfectly complemented by a hint of vanilla. The cake is often adorned with a light dusting of powdered sugar, adding a touch of sweetness and visual appeal.

Perfect For

Gooey Butter Cake appeals to a wide range of palates and occasions, making it a versatile dessert option. Whether enjoyed as a decadent treat for oneself or shared with friends and family, it is sure to delight. Its inherent sweetness makes it an ideal choice for those with a penchant for desserts, satisfying even the most discerning sweet tooth. Additionally, its adaptability allows for endless flavor variations, catering to diverse preferences and seasonal cravings. From classic iterations to inventive twists such as chocolate or pumpkin, there’s a Gooey Butter Cake flavor for every palate. Its nostalgic charm and comforting indulgence make it a must-try for anyone seeking to experience the culinary treasures of St. Louis and beyond.

Recipe Variations

ClassicThe original Gooey Butter Cake recipe features a simple yet irresistible combination of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.
ChocolateFor chocolate lovers, this variation incorporates cocoa powder or melted chocolate into the batter for a decadent twist.
PumpkinPerfect for autumn, this variation adds canned pumpkin puree and warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to the mix.
LemonAdding fresh lemon zest and juice to the batter lends a refreshing citrusy flavor, balancing the cake’s sweetness.
NuttyThis variation incorporates chopped nuts such as pecans or walnuts into the batter, adding a delightful crunch and flavor.
Seasonal FruitsExperiment with seasonal fruits like berries, peaches, or apples, layering them atop the cake batter before baking.

St. Louis-Style Pizza: Thin, Crispy, and Unique

St. Louis-style pizza stands out as a distinctive culinary delight, offering a departure from the conventional American pizza varieties. Rooted in the cultural heritage of St. Louis, Missouri, this pizza style boasts unique features that set it apart. Let’s delve into the characteristics, experience, and optimal enjoyment of this beloved regional specialty.


St. Louis-style pizza is characterized by several notable features:

  • Ultra-Thin Crust: Unlike its thicker counterparts, St. Louis-style pizza is renowned for its exceptionally thin crust. The crust is crisp and provides a satisfying crunch with every bite, adding to the overall texture and enjoyment of the pizza;
  • Square-Cut Slices: One of the defining characteristics of St. Louis-style pizza is its distinctive square-cut slices. This departure from the traditional triangular slices adds to its visual appeal and facilitates easier sharing among diners;
  • Provel Cheese: Central to the flavor profile of St. Louis-style pizza is the use of Provel cheese. This unique cheese blend comprises cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses, resulting in a creamy, tangy, and slightly smoky taste. Provel cheese melts beautifully over the pizza, imparting a rich and indulgent flavor to every bite.


Indulging in St. Louis-style pizza offers a culinary experience like no other:

  • Distinctive Flavor Profile: The combination of the ultra-thin crust and the signature Provel cheese creates a flavor profile that is both distinctive and memorable. The tanginess of the cheese complements the crispiness of the crust, resulting in a harmonious fusion of textures and tastes;
  • Cultural Immersion: Sampling St. Louis-style pizza provides insight into the culinary heritage of the region. It serves as a delicious reminder of the cultural influences that have shaped St. Louis’s gastronomic landscape over the years;
  • Conversation Starter: Sharing a St. Louis-style pizza with friends or family often sparks lively conversations about food, culture, and regional traditions. Its unique attributes make it a conversation starter and a memorable dining experience for all involved.

Best Enjoyed

To fully savor the essence of St. Louis-style pizza, consider the following recommendations:

  • Local Pizzerias: Embrace the authenticity of St. Louis-style pizza by visiting local pizzerias throughout St. Louis. These establishments take pride in crafting pizzas that stay true to tradition, ensuring an unparalleled culinary experience for patrons;
  • Pairing Suggestions: Enhance your enjoyment of St. Louis-style pizza by pairing it with complementary beverages such as craft beer or a refreshing soda. The carbonation and flavor profile of these drinks serve as perfect accompaniments to the rich and savory flavors of the pizza;
  • Sharing with Loved Ones: Share the joy of St. Louis-style pizza with friends and loved ones, creating cherished memories around the dining table. Whether enjoyed during a casual gathering or a special occasion, this culinary delight brings people together in celebration of good food and great company.

Springfield Cashew Chicken: A Local Chinese-American Fusion

Springfield cashew chicken stands as a testament to Missouri’s culinary innovation, showcasing a delightful fusion of Chinese and Midwestern influences. Originating in Springfield, Missouri, this dish has garnered acclaim for its unique blend of flavors and textures, making it a notable entry in the realm of Chinese-American cuisine. Let’s explore the origins, composition, and where to find this beloved local specialty.


Springfield cashew chicken emerged as a culinary creation in Springfield, Missouri, during the mid-20th century. The dish reflects the ingenuity of chefs seeking to incorporate Chinese culinary techniques and flavors into the local dining scene. By marrying elements of traditional Chinese cuisine with Midwestern ingredients and cooking methods, Springfield cashew chicken embodies the spirit of culinary fusion.


The composition of Springfield cashew chicken typically includes the following components:

  • Deep-Fried Chicken Chunks: Succulent pieces of chicken are coated in a light batter and deep-fried to golden perfection. This cooking method ensures a crispy exterior while locking in the juicy tenderness of the chicken;
  • Savory Sauce: Once fried, the chicken chunks are generously coated in a savory sauce that balances sweet, salty, and umami flavors. The sauce may feature ingredients such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, ginger, and a hint of sweetness from sugar or honey;
  • Cashew Nuts: To add a delightful crunch and nutty flavor, Springfield cashew chicken is garnished with roasted cashew nuts. These nuts not only contribute to the dish’s texture but also provide a distinct flavor contrast to the tender chicken and savory sauce;
  • Serving with Rice: Springfield cashew chicken is traditionally served alongside steamed white rice, allowing diners to enjoy the flavorful sauce soaked up by the rice grains. The rice serves as a neutral canvas that complements the bold flavors of the dish.

Where to Find

Springfield cashew chicken can be found in numerous Chinese restaurants throughout Springfield, Missouri, and beyond. While variations may exist among different establishments, each offering their unique interpretation of the dish, the core components remain consistent. Visitors to Springfield can explore various dining options to sample this local specialty and experience firsthand the fusion of East and Midwest flavors.


Exploring what food is Missouri known for leads to a diverse and appetizing array of dishes. Each dish not only offers a taste of Missouri’s culinary landscape but also tells a story of the state’s rich cultural tapestry. Whether you’re a lifelong resident or a visitor, indulging in these five iconic foods is a must for a true taste of the Show-Me State’s flavor and heritage.


What makes Kansas City BBQ different from other BBQ styles?

Kansas City BBQ is renowned for its unique blend of spices in the rub and the rich, tomato-based sauce that’s a bit sweet and tangy. The variety of meats, including beef, pork, and chicken, and the slow-smoking process also set it apart.

Can I find vegetarian options in Missouri’s food scene?

Absolutely! Many Missouri restaurants are embracing vegetarian and vegan diets, offering creative plant-based versions of classic dishes.

Is St. Louis-style pizza similar to New York or Chicago-style pizza?

St. Louis-style pizza is quite unique, with a thin, cracker-like crust and Provel cheese, setting it apart from the thicker crusts and different cheese blends of New York and Chicago pizzas.

Are there any food festivals in Missouri dedicated to its local cuisine?

Yes, Missouri hosts various food festivals throughout the year, celebrating everything from BBQ to local wines and beers, where you can indulge in these iconic Missouri dishes.

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