Similar to the (rumored) history of the potato chip and Worcestershire sauce, St. Louis’s very own toasted raviolis are said to have been created by accident. The tale, whimsical to any foodie, was documented in the Feb. 25, 1987 print edition of The New York Times. 

Yes, toasted raviolis caught national attention. However, we can guarantee the recipe in the article will not yield nearly as good results as the restaurants mentioned in this Metro East Eats. When it comes to a delicacy only found in St. Louis, it’s best to leave it to the pros. 

Anyway, The Times reported the STL staple was created at Angelo Oldani’s on The Hill when a cook mistook instructions from their boss and dropped ravioli into a pan of heated oil (toasted raviolis are not actually toasted, but fried). Seeing what had happened, Oldani tried to save the dish with a dash of grated cheese. That fateful night was reportedly sometime in the 1950s, and we are still enjoying Oldani’s improvisation today.

St. Louis Magazine found a slightly different version of events (actually, a couple of different versions), and perhaps unironically, two different Oldani families are involved and both were what — in the words of Bob Ross — we can call “happy little accidents.” 

The two restaurants dueling for the title of “birthplace of toasted raviolis” are today known as Mama’s on The Hill and Charlie Gitto’s.

Bella Milano has a toasty, cheesy wonderland of ravs, but at a hefty price

We ordered toasted raviolis from Bella Milano in Edwardsville through DoorDash. It was $8 for four toasted ravs and $11 for six. We actually had to order twice because we were so hungry, we forgot to take a photo before we ate the first time. 

Getting curbside pick-up is definitely more cost effective than delivery. The delivery fees were at least an extra $7 and the price of the pasta we ordered was $3 more on DoorDash than at the restaurant. Luckily, the food kept well throughout its voyage across town.

As soon as we opened the to-go container, the smell of Parmesan wafted through the air. It had been sprinkled on the ravs and in the marinara sauce and was melting to the sides of the container. The marinara sauce came in a separate container, plastic wrapped to prevent spillage. 

The ravs had a good crunch, but they weren’t quite as crunchy as we were hoping for. The filling was made with beef and herbs and was fine without the added flavor of the sauce. We think the meat could have used more spices. The marinara sauce had just the right amount of chunkiness, with pieces of tomato, onion and ground beef throughout. These ravs are definitely for meat lovers. 

They were crispy enough to hold globs of marinara without drooping and the filling managed to stay in the rav while dipping — which is good, considering this is a common problem rav lovers face. These ravs were definitely good, but we aren’t sure if they’re $2 per ravioli good. They also did not include silverware, which is very inconvenient for attempting to eat pasta, which Bella Milano is known for. 

Charlie Gitto’s takes the lead, and it has had quite some time to do so

The toasted raviolis at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill had over seven decades to be perfected, and they certainly have been.

Our online editor emphasizes the importance of made-from -scratch Italian food, and Charlie Gitto’s menu as a whole embodied that phenomenally, especially the t-ravs. Everything from grinding the meat filling to the creation of the dough was entirely from scratch — which according to the staff, allows every flavor to be fine-tuned.

The dish was served as an appetizer, which meant fewer raviolis (eight for $12), but good things come in small packages. The filling was warm and flavorful, made of a delicious blend of meat, cheese and roasted vegetables. 

Seasoning wasn’t skimped on either, completing the full-bodied flavor influenced deeply by the Italian roots of the dish. We enjoyed the breading, which was toasty and firm enough to hold a crispy texture, but not too tough or overpowering. The freshly  grated Parmesan on top completed the ravioli itself, a delicious topping accompanied by our own ample use of the freshly made marinara, which was subtly savory with a pleasant tartness. 

Overall, the t-ravs, though small, were full of authentic, well-balanced taste and had a crisp, yet almost pillowy quality in every bite.

The experience was second to none. The manager regaled us with the history of the toasted ravioli’s construction and origins, as well as the background of the restaurant itself. The customer service was exceptional, and we appreciated that the staff was dedicated to upholding proper sanitary measures during the pandemic.

Imo’s keeps the great, classic St. Louis taste, even in a different place

Despite being headquartered in St. Louis, Imo’s Pizza has expanded to over 100 locations across Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. We sought to find out if their quality is consistent, even outside of St. Louis. 

Of course, our main focus was on their toasted ravioli. Could this St. Louis specialty live up to high expectations across the river? This question brought us to their Edwardsville location.

We decided to dine in. The seats were spaced out, a plus for the pandemic, and mostly metal chairs sat at circular brown tables. At the counter, there was a large menu for easy viewing and someone waiting to take our order. Following the order of eight toasted raviolis for the price of $6.95, we took our seats to wait.

Barely a few minutes passed before the polite waitress brought out the basket of ravioli. At first glance, each ravioli was generously dusted with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, leaving some excess at the bottom for those who prefer a bit more. The first bite, without any marinara sauce, showed the breading to be perfectly toasted and easy to bite into, but not undercooked. The flavor of the breading was standard to what one would expect from the average toasted ravioli.

This revealed the well-seasoned meat in the center, mixed with a couple of vegetables to enhance the taste. However, despite the great taste, the meat proved to be lackluster in its ability to fill the center of each ravioli. The marinara sauce held a watery texture, yet attempted to make up for this with the perfect balance of sweetness to counterbalance the heavily seasoned breading, meat and topping that maintained their quality claim.

After all these years, Lombardo’s Trattoria has yet to disappoint

It’s 2005 and a young girl is skipping across the train tracks of Union Station, eager to watch some Blues Hockey, of course. 

This vivid memory belongs to our lifestyles editor, and it would not be complete without the Lammert family’s post-game ritual: toasted raviolis at Lombardo’s Trattoria. The Trattoria is located right behind Union Station (or in front of, depending on which direction one is facing), which means it’s walking distance from the hub of STL Hockey. 

With this Metro East Eats focusing around one of St. Louis’s finest culinary inventions, we knew we had to revisit the site of the giant t-rav. Due to the pandemic we did not eat in, but it did not matter. The experience was just as great: multiple greetings from friendly waiters and managers, focaccia bread still warm and the t-ravs heavy with meaty, rich goodness. 

As always, the meat filling was the star of the show. A little chewy and blended with who-knows-what-else of mouthwatering goodness (St. Louis Magazine said beef, spinach, cheese and eggs), it was the perfect contrast to the somewhat sweet breading. The thick comforter of bread is not what one would expect from a t-rav — soft but toasty on the outside. To preserve the integrity of the ravs, the marinara and cheese were packaged on the side. We loved this, as the marinara fiends of us were able to drizzle the smooth sauce all over, while others were just as satisfied with sprinkles of the aged Parmesan. When feeding a whole staff, it’s all about the customization. 

After 16 years of visiting the restaurant, our lifestyles editor still regards Lombardo’s Trattoria as the best of the best. Thank you, Tony and family, for opening your doors to us again and again. 

For the alleged home of the original t-ravs, Mama’s misses the mark

If you’ve grown up around the St. Louis area, you know how near and dear to our hearts toasted raviolis are. Although where the famous dish was first created is debated among many St. Louis restaurants, Mama’s on The Hill continues to say their kitchen is where it started.

Since they call themselves the home of the toasted ravioli, we had to go to Mama’s to try them ourselves. We ordered carry-out and although we weren’t able to get the full dine-in experience,  the service was quick and the staff was pleasant. The restaurant seemed COVID-19 prepared with two containers of hand sanitizer sitting on the host stand and tables looked to be six feet apart.

In an order of Mama’s t-ravs, you get 10 raviolis, a side of marinara sauce and a dusting of Parmesan cheese for $9.99. The star of the show is no doubt the filling. They have a tender meat filling with all the different textures melting in your mouth. The raviolis are fried just enough for a crunchy, deep color on the outside while keeping the insides flavorful and absolutely not dry at all. 

The topping of Parmesan cheese was lackluster and not enough for our liking. On top of that, there was a thin, watery marinara sauce on the side. The taste of the sauce was similar to a majority of marinara sauces you can get at the grocery store and didn’t give us the feeling of homemade. Although the saltiness and overall flavor was OK, we could’ve eaten the t-ravs without it.

We had high hopes for Mama’s t-ravs as they are supposed to be the location that started it all. Even though they didn’t necessarily disappoint us, we expected them to be the best ravioli in STL. 

Rigazzi’s on The Hill’s toasted raviolis will leave you wanting more

The Italian restaurant Rigazzi’s in STL’s The Hill neighborhood strikes an appetizing balance of crunchy yet soft and filling with their toasted ravioli. 

When we arrived at Rigazzi’s the parking was what to be expected for STL — not terrible, but it could be better. This of course is not the fault of Rigazzi’s. 

We ordered ahead to pick it up inside the restaurant, but we weren’t at all disappointed with the wait. The warm and inviting atmosphere of the restaurant still existed even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The toasted ravioli came with 11 raviolis in the box with Rigazzi’s marinara sauce at the price of $9.95. The box itself came with a cute smiley face on it, giving us a positive feeling.

Like the rest of their menu, Rigazzi’s does their toasted ravioli just right. The filling seemed to be made up of only lightly spiced beef, but it was the perfect amount of filling for each bite to leave you wanting more.

The breading of the ravioli was slightly crunchy with a very fresh and toasty taste that the fresh Parmesan cheese garnish added to, making the experience of eating them quite addictive.

When we tried the toasted ravioli with Rigazzi’s marinara sauce, store-bought ravioli or marinara couldn’t compare to the taste. The sauce was a balance between being thin and thick, with the fresh ingredients leaving a good aftertaste.

Rigazzi’s left us feeling satisfied and wanting to come back for more. Their featured side of toasted ravioli will be something we order upon our next visit.

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