STL’s Provel vs. KC barbecue (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Gerard Craft is the name most associated with contemporary dining in St. Louis. His flagship restaurant, Niche(nichestlouis.com), offers upscale New American cuisine. Next-door to Niche in Clayton is the casual, family-friendlyPastaria (pastariastl.com), which serves terrific pasta and Neapolitan-style pizza.

The past two years have been especially strong for new spots, including a new home for the Louisiana stylings of locally beloved chef Josh Galliano at the Libertine (libertinestl.com). In a quiet corner of the otherwise bustling Central West End neighborhood is another Southern-food gem, Juniper(junipereat.com).

Ben Poremba serves refined Mediterranean-influenced cuisine at Elaia (elaiastl.com), located near the Missouri Botanical Garden. The adjacent wine bar, Olio (oliostl.com), inside a renovated 1920s gas station, serves snacks and small plates.

An established restaurant that continues to draw acclaim (and crowds) is Sidney Street Cafe (sidneystreetcafe.com) in Benton Park. Owner Kevin Nashan is without a doubt the most respected chef among his St. Louis peers.

St. Louis might not enjoy the same national reputation for barbeque as Kansas City, but the area has experienced a ‘cue boom in recent years. Pappy’s Smokehouse (pappyssmokehouse.com) in midtown is the epicenter of the renaissance; a favorite of Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, it’s famous for its ribs.

Pappy’s pitmaster Skip Steele also operates Bogart’s Smoke House (bogartssmokehouse.com) in Soulard, which features incredible ribs and smoked prime rib. For Texas-worthy beef brisket, head to Sugarfire Smokehouse(sugarfiresmokehouse.com).

No visit to St. Louis would be complete without trying one of the city’s unique foods. St. Louis-style pizza from Imo’s Pizza (the original and most famous vendor, imospizza.com) is distinguished by its cracker-thin crust and love-it-or-hate-it Provel cheese. Follow that up with one St. Louis’ two famous desserts: a frozen-custard concrete from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard or gooey butter cake from Park Avenue Coffee or Gooey Louie.

— Ian Froeb, Post-Dispatch

If you know only one thing about Kansas City’s food scene, it’s that it’s famous for barbeque.

It’s home to the American Royal, considered the Super Bowl of Barbecue, and the Kansas City Barbeque Society, a membership of 15,000 enthusiasts worldwide and the sanctioning body for more than 400 contests in the U.S. each year.

Venerable barbeque landmarks include the gritty sauce, tender brisket topped by a slice o’ white bread and overall joint ambiance of Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque (arthurbryantsbbq.com). Then there’s the snappy patter, tangy beans and familial dynasty that is Gates Bar-B-Q (various locations,gatesbbq.com) or the pulled pork, sweet potato fries and lucky pig statue at Danny Edwards Famous Kansas City Barbecue on Southwest Boulevard (dannyedwardsblvdbbq.com).

More recently, the city has added a new breed of chef-driven barbeque restaurants.

Three barbeque competitors have jumped off the competition circuit to create their own brick-and-mortar concepts, including Jon Russell’s BBQ, which has rapidly expanded to four locations in the metro area (jonrussellsbbq.com). The newest, Q39 on 39th Street (q39kc.com), just north of Westport between the University of Kansas Medical Center and Southwest Trafficway, is owned by Rob McGee, a Culinary Institute of America grad and longtime member of the award-winnning Munchin’ Hogs.

Among the city’s ’cue afficionados, burnt ends, the bits cut from the point half of a smoked brisket, are a delicacy akin to black gold. (Keep in mind, you have to smoke a whole lot of brisket to get a decent amount of burnt ends so some restaurants only serve them on certain days of the week.)

If you’re looking for cheap eats, stick with Westport.

The neighborhood north of Kansas City’s tony Country Club Plaza is populated by eclectic eateries that serve everything from Mexican breakfast burritos to Mediterranean falafel.

Bread For All Bakery Tandoori Naan Cafe (no website; 1-816-753-5650) makes a good starting point for a Westport food crawl. Go at 11 a.m., when the fluffy naan is fresh from the tandoor oven.

For dessert, try Murray’s Ice Cream & Cookies (facebook.com/murraysicecreams) The cash-only scoop shop serves banana splits, egg creams, Snickerdoodle cookies and experimental ice cream flavors such as Pineapple Mojito sorbet.

After some shopping, chill out with happy hour at Beer Kitchen (beerkitchenkc.com). Between 4 and 6 p.m., sliders and 24-ounce “tall boy” cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon are $2 each.

Afterward, walk a block or so down Pennsylvania Street to Cancun Fiesta Fresh (cancunff.net). The authentic Mexican cafe sells street tacos for $1.75 each. Choose from seven kinds of meat (barbeque beef, roasted pork, chicken and even beef tongue) served in your choice of soft or crispy corn tortillas.

Hope you saved room, because Westport does it well. Eat Me Gourmet (eatmegourmetkc.com) puts Chef Peter Castillo’s spin on late-night munchies with its gigantic pork tenderloins, mac and cheese and bourbon brownies. You can order the sandwich inside Westport Saloon — a rockin’ roots music bar — at a window in the alley near Buzzard Beach, 4110 Pennsylvania, or from one of Eat Me Gourmet’s roving servers, who work until closing at 4 a.m.

— Jill Silva and Sarah Gish, The Kansas City Star