. photo by ashley gieseking, styling by joy wiedner

These are the best salads in St. Louis right now

Salads are laboratories of possibility, where raw and cooked ingredients mingle with ease, and sweet, spicy and sour components find uncommon harmonies. A great salad can teach you something new about food – about how a vegetable can be pickled, or how the taste of a leafy green changes in combination with different spices or herbs. The right equation of high-quality produce and imaginative flavors can indeed change your life. Salads are magical.

Good salads are everywhere, and I made it my mission to find them. I tried dozens – I dragged my coworkers and friends all over town for months, sometimes willingly, sometimes begrudgingly. Occasionally, I had to hit restaurants multiple times. I went to Sunset Hills; I went to Frontenac. I ate salads in Chesterfield, Clayton, St. Charles and Tower Grove. I had salads in the morning. I had salads late at night. Sometimes, I tried two or three in a day. Hell, sometimes I tried four in a single meal. 

Salad isn’t easy to define. Empty the contents of a crisper into a giant beer cooler, dump a bottle of oil on it, splash some vinegar in there, and you can call it a salad. Mash up some barbecued chicken with mayo, put a sprig of cilantro on top and you can call that a salad too. Both would be true, technically. Neither of those salads will be discussed here, however, nor will potato salad, which is a shame because a good potato salad is basically the greatest thing ever. 

All the salads featured here have a produce base that includes raw elements, a dressing or sauce and at least two ingredients aside from greens and dressing. Some salads on this list aren’t entree-sized, but they’re certainly more than sides. To be considered dope, a salad should feel hearty and expansive, even if it’s just four ingredients. The dopest salads are the ones you go to a restaurant specifically to order. Anyway, you seem hungry. Here we go.

italian salad at louie // photo by julia calleo

Italian Salad at Louie
These salads aren’t ranked in any order – except this one. Louie’s Italian salad is one of my favorite dishes in St. Louis. In a town with so many beloved Italian salads, it’s hard to distinguish a standout, but this one is so good it transcends its own name. It derives a beautiful bitterness from its baby gem and radicchio base and takes a tingly sourness from pickled peppers. Pecorino romano brings a deep richness and tang to the bowl, while Castelvetrano olives offer up a subtle saltiness. Aromatic red wine vinegar-based dressing ties everything together. 

Fatoush Salad with Falafel at The Vine Cafe
This salad is earthy, Mediterranean umami. Its green pepper and cabbage provide a fresh, hearty base that’s balanced with brightness from parsley and a vinegar-and-oil dressing. The coolness of its tomato and cucumber make it especially good in the spring and summer. With a bit of fat from the pita chips and the crisp falafel, and a wash of tart creaminess from the accompanying tahini dressing, this salad has it all. (Pro tip: Always get the tahini dressing, even if you don’t get falafel.) 

Roasted Ozark Forest Mushroom Salad at Farmhaus Restaurant
Like "The Sopranos," "OK Computer" and "The Divine Comedy," this salad is a rare instance of something actually living up to the hype surrounding it. I was told by many that Farmhaus’ mushroom salad was amazing, and when I finally tried it, it blew my mind. Its magnificently cooked shiitake and oyster mushrooms take on an incredible, almost meat-like texture here, while its mixed greens provide a subtly bitter base. Creamy goat cheese and toasted pecans balance it all out against a deliciously savory warm bacon vinaigrette.

Jarrahdale Pumpkin at Confluence Kombucha
This is one of the most beautiful salads I’ve ever seen. Oh, the colors! Bright red beet mousse, deep green lacinato kale, burnt orange pumpkin, daisy-white cashew brie – and it tastes as vibrant as it looks. Burdock provides a durable base, while flax chips lend a veritable crunch. The amount of labor that goes into each component is staggering, but it’s presented with such natural breeziness that you almost don’t notice.

watermelon salad at katie's pizza & pasta osteria // photo by julia calleo

Watermelon Salad at Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria The watermelon salad at Katie’s is like a rustic dream – the kind of thing you’d come up with on summer vacation when attempting the perfect outdoor meal. But there’s nothing spontaneous about this salad. Basil and pistachio bring a robust edge to the sweet-and-sour punch of watermelon, aged balsamic and lime – it’s one of the most refreshing combos I’ve tried in a long time. 

Little Gem Salad at Union Loafers Café and Bread Bakery
This little powerhouse seems basic on paper, but after one bite, a whole world of brilliant textures and interlocking flavors is revealed. Here, silky buttermilk dressing coats punchy little gem lettuce, its intensity undercut by fragrant herbs. Zesty shallots and seriously on-point breadcrumbs provide a gripping crunch. Fun fact: When we asked our Instagram followers for their favorite salad in town, this was the clear winner. 

Make This // Union Loafers' Little Gem Salad Recipe

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Salad at Grace Meat + Three
With no less than 10 components, this ambitious salad made me very skeptical. “There’s no way this can be good,” I thought. “Deviled egg and white cheddar? Fresh herbs and everything seasoning? Pickled onion and turnip? AND there’s fried chicken? This is too aggressive!” I was confused. But aggressive is chef-owner Rick Lewis’ way, and I should have learned to respect it by now. If you aren’t feeling carnivorous, follow my lead and substitute tofu for the chicken – it’s a power move that was envied by many at my table.

Shaved Kale Salad at Pastaria
Pastaria’s shaved kale salad is one of the only things almost everybody in the Sauce office agrees on. In these parts, we simply call it “the kale Caesar,” and never have to specify that it’s from Pastaria, because real ones know. By any name, this killer salad is attractive, uniform and full of buoyant flavors and textures. Oh, what’s that? You don’t like kale? Pastaria is here to change your mind. 

Italian Salad at Grassi’s Ristorante & Deli
Grassi’s is a true O.G. of West County fast-casual Italian dining, and its house salad is the steadfast centerpiece of an expansive menu. Case in point: When you go down the line of the cafeteria-style eatery, there’s a guy whose sole job is to ask you two questions: “Salad?” and “Olives?” Say yes to both. If you’re like me, when you dig into this immaculately balanced Italian salad, you’ll basically black out and reawaken in front of an empty bowl. Perfection.

photo by ashley gieseking, styling by joy wiedner

Honorable Mentions 

Citrus Salad at Elmwood
I thought about this salad for weeks after I tried it. The combination of bitter endive, punchy serrano, citrus and fried shallot had trademark Elmwood forcefulness along with a wonderful levity. It’s out of season now – otherwise it would have been on this list. Keep an eye out in case it pops up again.

Famous Salad at Rich & Charlie’s
 This one inspired an argument in the office – some prefer it to Grassi’s salad, but I think Grassi’s is better. Either way, Rich & Charlie’s Italian salad is a beloved staple and should be recognized here. 

Mixed Green Salad at Acero
This salad is really spectacular – its aromatic tarragon vinaigrette and toasted pistachio play against each other perfectly. It has to be one of the best salads in town, but competition was tough. It barely missed the final cut. 

Adam Rothbarth is a staff writer at Sauce Magazine.