Dave’s Note: This restaurant burned down about a year ago. If you know of another good place to find a St. Paul Sandwich, please post a message.
I consider myself a local food guru. Whenever I travel I research what the local specialties are and the best places to get them. Whether ribs in Kansas City, barbecue in Memphis, crab cakes in Baltimore, or fish in Seattle, I’ve always succeeded. (Or at least succeeded in finding where not to go!) Before coming to St. Louis I read of two local specialties (besides beer!) that I had to try: toasted ravioli and a St. Paul sandwich. Finding toasted ravioli was easy—they even serve it at the local schools! However, finding a St. Paul took some effort.
Let me explain what a St. Paul is. My apologies to Minnesotans, but it has nothing to do with your capital city. You’ll just have to be content with your local pecialty of rice soup. The origin of this Chinese-American delight is a mystery, but it definitely is a St. Louis original as it is found nowhere else. The delicacy is basically constructed by taking an egg fu yung (a Chinese omelet of sorts), putting it on Wonder Bread, topping with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise and viola—a St. Paul Sandwich.
But where to find one? I had been up and down the Chinatown section of Olive Boulevard and similar neighborhoods in my search. Not only could I not find a St. Paul, I couldn’t even find a decent Chinese restaurant! I had all but given up my search until the day I stopped by that little Chinese place behind the huge Amoco sign east of campus. It’s a little shack of a place with cracked sidewalks and a faded blue awning declaring “Chinese Express” in front and a potholed parking lot in back. It doesn’t appear a top prospect for good cuisine. Then I open the front door and discovered a gem of a restaurant with clean tables, interesting decorations, and on the “Specials” board—St. Paul Sandwiches. After a year-long search I finally found it right in our own front yard! I promptly ordered a vegetable St. Paul ($2.98) and a drink. I knew this place was authentic when the Chinese man behind the counter wrote my order in Chinese. I tried to pay with my check card but my tab was under $5 so I had to get a side of egg rolls ($1.15) to get above the minimum for a check card. I instantly knew I had found the latest “cheap eats.” But it gets better!
The St. Paul was excellent. Who would have thought egg fu yung and Wonder Bread such a tasty combination? But the value goes beyond taste. You can get half servings (more than enough to fill most people) of beef, poultry, and pork dishes for about $5. Half vegetable dishes go for $4.59. If you’re really on a tight budget, you can get fried rice, boiled rice or noodles with meat or veggies in the $3 range! Now, I know some of you guys have big appetites. For you there are lunch combination plates with soup, fried rice, TWO crab rangoons and an entree all for less than $4.50. OK, if you want shrimp with cashews it’ll cost you 4.59 or you can splurge on Hot Braised Fish Fillet for $5.50. Still, not bad for a big meal.
One more bonus. You know that exclusive table in the Loeber snack bar—the one with all the professors but never a student? Do you ever wish you could get in on those conversations? Well, Chinese Express just happens to be a popular lunch hangout of some of your favorite professors. In this relaxed setting you can munch on your St. Paul Sandwich and discuss with them the theology of St. Paul. (Just make sure you don’t get any egg on your face.)
(This article originally appeared in the April 2005 ATT)