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Dishes

31 Springfield Staples We Can’t Stop Eating

Your guide to the must-try food, flavors, dishes and restaurants you can only find in Springfield and Branson.

By Katie Pollock Estes

Aug 2019

Well known restaurants in Springfield MO

Any region with a bustling dining scene knows restaurants come and go. Great new eateries open to much fanfare but don’t always stick around for the long haul. That’s not terrible; it’s just the nature of trends. This feature, however, doesn’t care about trends—about what’s cool, or what’s new to the culinary scene or what’s blowing our food-obsessed minds. This feature is only concerned with the quintessentially Springfield dishes that have had serious sticking power. These dishes were created right here in the Ozarks and then shared with hungry 417-landers. They transcend trends and have survived changes within the restaurant scene, through local diners’ shifts in preferences and through the ticking clock of time. Feeling hungry yet? Read on for the local dishes and flavors we just can’t live without.

What Kind of Dish Are You Looking For?
Beer and soft pretzel sticks at Springfield Brewing Co in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsThere really isn’t a more classic combination than beer and pretzels, and at Springfield Brewing Co., you can even find the beer right in the dipping cheese! Purchase Photo

Whet your appetite with perfect salads, appetizers, sides and little shareable dishes.

Brew Co.’s Beer House Pretzels | Springfield Brewing Co.

305 S. Market St., Springfield
You know if a dish has remained in a restaurant’s repertoire for more than 20 years—and survived through numerous menu revamps—it must be good. For more than two decades, the pretzels on Brew Co’s appetizer menu have been filling bellies with that pretzel-perfect combination of a slightly crispy outside and a warm, soft center. We love that they’re paired with beer mustard and a cheddar cheese–based sauce that’s made with the brewery’s classic Paul’s Pale Ale. A long-lasting dish made with a long-lasting brew from a long-lasting local business. We love it! 

Trout Trio | Rockbridge Trout & Game Ranch

4297 Country Road 142, Rockbridge
After a quintessentially Ozarks outdoor activity (trout fishing on a Missouri stream), you deserve some quintessentially Ozarks fuel (tasty trout, of course!). We love that Rockbridge Trout & Game Ranch offers the fresh, caught-on-site fish prepared in a variety of ways on the menu, but the Trout Trio appetizer is our favorite. It includes smoked trout salad, trout pate and smoked trout served with crackers and other goodies. 

Bacon-Wrapped Peppadew Peppers | Jimm’s Steakhouse & Pub

1935 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield
Sweet, savory, creamy and spicy all come together in the customer-favorite bacon-wrapped Peppadews at Jimm’s Steakhouse & Pub. The sweet-meets-spicy peppers are perfect for stuffing (there’s cream cheese inside), but it’s the crispy bacon wrapped around that makes these little nuggets so craveable. They’re topped with a rich balsamic glaze, and honestly we don’t recommend starting any steak dinner without popping a few.

Garbage Salad | Flame Steakhouse

314 W. Walnut St., Springfield
We know you probably think of dry-aged steaks when you think of Flame. It’s their thing! But the restaurant also features a salad that has been on the menu since the beginning and is remarkably satisfying. The Garbage Salad has a little bit of everything. There are fresh greens and veggies, hard-boiled eggs, applewood smoked bacon and our favorite cheese-crunch combo: blue cheese and spiced pecans. Pay the extra $7 to spring for the sliced tenderloin steak on top. It’s like a cobb salad and a wedge salad had a baby, and it eclipsed them both.


Sweet Browns 
| Gailey’s Breakfast Café

220 E. Walnut St., Springfield
Ask anyone who has sent a friend to Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe why they recommended the longstanding downtown Springfield restaurant, and we bet tons of them will say, “The sweet browns!” This delightful take on hash browns starts with thinly grated fresh sweet potatoes that are fried on the flat top grill and then topped with a sprinkling of brown sugar. Pro tip: Order them extra crispy for an even crunchier, sometimes-kinda-caramelized experience. 

Flash Fried Spinach | Metropolitan Grill

2931 E. Battlefield Road, Springfield
Few restaurants incorporate as much southwest Missouri personality into their menus as Metropolitan Grill, where owner Pat Duran names dishes on his menu after local men and women. And while the menu at Metro gets face-lifts and updates from time to time, one always-there, gotta-try-it appetizer is the curiously addictive flash fried spinach. Baby spinach is served super-crispy and topped with zippy lemon, nutty Parmesan cheese and fresh garlic. There’s a reason this simple dish has stood the test of time!

Pasta Nicola at Nicola's Ristorante in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsPrep the pillows because you’re going to need a nap after diving into Nicola’s famed Pasta Nicola. Purchase Photo

Fill up on the entrees and main events that have been feeding 417-landers for decades.

Pasta Nicola | Nicola’s Ristorante

3631 E. Sunshine St., Springfield
When Nicola Gilardi sold Ristorante Gilardi’s (now owned by James Martin) and focused his efforts on his second eatery, Nicola’s Ristorante, one of his long-lasting menu items stayed with him. Pasta Nicola starts with a homemade ricotta noodle with a texture that seems to fall somewhere in between traditional pasta and gnocchi. It’s topped with rich sausage, earthy mushrooms and a spicy, creamy tomato sauce. It’s no wonder this dish is still an irresistible customer favorite.

Double Cheeseburger | Billy Bob’s Dairyland

1829 W. 76 Country Blvd., Branson
When the plate is a plastic basket with a waxy paper liner, you know the restaurant serving your dish isn’t trying to blow you away with presentation. And why should it when the food in that basket is so dang delish? The double cheeseburgers at Billy Bob’s Dairyland are the juicy, griddle-cooked classics at the heart of the strongest burger cravings. No frills, just good stuff. Order it with another Billy Bob’s favorite: a fried pie.

Taco Frito | Maria’s Mexican Restaurant

406 South Ave., Springfield
Known for its large tequila menu and its reliable presence in downtown Springfield, Maria’s Mexican Restaurant is a longtime local favorite. One crowd-pleaser Maria’s has become known for is the Taco Frito. It’s a deep-fried taco that packs major crunch. It’s filled with the meat of your choice and then is simply topped: lettuce, shredded cheese, nothing else. Drop on a little salsa, and you have a very munchable lunch.

Bowl of messy chili from Casper's in Springfield MO
Photo by Kevin O'RileyCasper's has been serving this overflowing bowl of meaty chili since 1909. Purchase Photo

Bowl of Chili | Casper’s

601 W. Walnut St., Springfield
An anachronism among the surrounding new development in downtown Springfield, the little orange Quonset hut that houses Casper’s looks like it was dropped in from another place and time. The inside is no different, with kitsch plastered all over the walls and up onto the curved ceiling. It feels pretty crammed in there, so we recommend sitting at the bar and ordering the dish the spot has been known for since 1909: a sloppy, overflowing bowl of meaty chili. Pass the napkins, please.

Deluxe Pizza | Pizza House

312 E. Commercial St., Springfield
It was 1958 when C-Street staple Pizza House slid its first piping hot pizza out of the oven, and Springfieldians are still loving those uber-thin pies and the restaurant’s charming retro feel. We like the deluxe pizza because everything about it is delightfully petite, but it’s packed with toppings. Tiny diced onion, green peppers, mushrooms and olives share the pizza with sausage and pepperoni, and it’s all sliced into little squares. It’s a thin-crust lover’s dream.

Egg Salad with Tomato Soup | Nearly Famous Deli & Pasta House

2708 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield
This hopping lunch spot always brings the midday crowd, but Nearly Famous diners in-the-know can get pretty strategic about which days they visit. That’s because the daily sandwich and soup specials are hot ticket items. One of the most popular: egg salad sammie paired with chunky, flavorful tomato soup. It’s served on Fridays—but you probably already knew that.

Oh My God sushi roll at Haruno's in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsYou’ll be OMG-ing over Haruno’s flaming Oh My God! roll, but the nigiri, seaweed salad and miso soup will also leave your mouth agape. Purchase Photo

Oh My God! Roll | Haruno Japanese Sushi Bar & Grill

3044 S. Fremont Ave., Springfield
Haruno’s super-popular Oh My God! sushi roll is a showstopper. It’s made with not-too-adventurous ingredients (shrimp tempura, crab, Sriracha, mayo, eel sauce, avocado and shrimp) but is served on fire—the perfect thing to make diners at neighboring tables jealous as your dish breezes past them in the server’s hand. And it’s a great gateway to the restaurant’s other always excellent fresh fish and sushi options. You can’t go wrong with a plate of pristinely sliced and beautifully colorful nigiri.

Chicken Bijan | Char Steakhouse & Oyster Bar

1620 E. Republic Road, Springfield
You might be wondering, “How can a restaurant that has been open less than a year serve a quintessentially Ozarks dish that has stood the test of time?” Good question! As you probably know, before it was Char, Char was Touch Restaurant. Both are creations of Mike Jalili, who also owns familiar eateries Flame Steakhouse and Black Sheep Burgers + Shakes. With me? Now, have you lived here long enough to remember the restaurant Bijan’s Sea & Grille? Bijan’s was also part of the Jalili empire, and one of the restaurant’s signature dishes was the chicken Bijan. It’s a chicken breast stuffed with bacon, basil and goat cheese, and it’s divine. It has existed off and on in some iteration or another since the good old Bijan’s days (including as a sandwich on the Black Sheep menu), and it currently lives as an entrée on the menu at Char—a delicious little Easter egg for Springfieldian foodies in the know.

Pork Pomodoro | The Keeter Center

1 Opportunity Ave., Point Lookout
The Keeter Center’s excellent restaurant is staffed by the students at College of the Ozarks and had a farm-to-table menu before that was even cool. Many menu items feature ingredients grown or raised on campus, and the Pork Pomodoro entree is a longstanding favorite. The pork is raised on-site, and it’s topped with tomatoes (also grown on-site), roasted garlic and delicious pesto with some cornmeal polenta on the side. That’s grown on campus, too!

Spicy hot buffalo wings being dipped into ranch dressing at Coyote's Adobe Cafe in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsThe spicy cool combo of buffalo wings and ranch at Coyote’s Adobe Café are a slam dunk. Purchase Photo

Buffalo Chicken Wings | Coyote’s Adobe Café

1742 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield
Open since 1992, Coyote’s Adobe Café is most well-known for slinging some seriously good wings. Although you can order them boneless, we recommend bone-in for the tastiest experience. These little chicken elbows are so meaty. And if you aren’t digging right in, bones and all, you aren’t really eating wings. There are more than 25 sauce flavors (with expected options like Jamaican Jerk and surprising ones like a barbecue-honey-whiskey combo), but we like to go for classic buffalo. It leaves our lips burning and our boneyard full.

Curry Chicken Salad | Tea Bar & Bites

621 S. Pickwick Ave., Springfield
A mainstay at the darling corner of Pickwick Avenue and Cherry Street, Tea Bar & Bites has a wealth of sweet details (mismatched cloth napkins, a gated stone patio) and a menu of typical lunch fare accented with more global flavors. One favorite—which, we swear, at least one person orders every time we visit—is the excellent curry chicken salad. It has remained steadfast—never changing but always surprising us with how darn delicious it is. Bonus: If bread’s not your thing, you can also get it on a salad.

Mexican Villa's Burrito Enchilada Style in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsStuffed to the gills with meaty, beany filling, Mexican Villa’s burrito enchilada style is the stuff of legends. Purchase Photo

Burrito Enchilada Style | Mexican Villa

Multiple 417-land locations
The restaurant has been open since 1951, and over the years it has grown to include six locations in Springfield and one in Ozark. The original spot still has an old-school feel and colorful murals that brighten up the corner of National Avenue and Bennett Street. And when diners visit, they love to dig into the Burrito Enchilada Style dish—a massive beef, bean and cheese burrito that’s swimming in enchilada sauce and topped with a whole load of cheese. Be brave and order it full-size—with chips to dip in sweet sauce of course.

Frutti di Mare | Avanzare Italian Dining

1908 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield
Avanzare Italian Dining serves plenty of Italian classics, but among the menu lies a seafood dish that always delivers—and has for years—despite our landlocked Missouri location. The Frutti di Mare offers up the ocean (shrimp, calamari, black mussels and scallops) in a light but spicy tomato-based sauce for the perfect combination of mellow plus a kick. It’s served with spaghetti for indulgent slurping.

The Lindburgers from Lindberg’s Tavern Springfield MO
Photo By Brandon AlmsThe Lindburgers from Lindberg’s Tavern are truly some of the best burgers around. Purchase Photo

The Lindburger | Lindberg’s Tavern

318 W. Commercial St., Springfield
The building currently occupied by Lindberg’s Tavern is rich with local history. So it makes sense that it’d house one of our favorite local burgers: The Lindburger. The double beef patty is seared in duck fat and then topped with mayo and Provel cheese. And they must be topped with the homemade ketchup. These burgers are always beautifully cooked and delightfully inexpensive. (P.S. You can get single or triple patties, too, and the menu also has a few more creatively topped burger options.)

It’s a Wrap with Housemade Chips | Galloway Station

1281 E. Republic Road, Springfield
Before Galloway Station moved to its current Republic Road location, it was a casual trail stop along the Galloway Creek Greenway. Some things that didn’t change when they made the move: Everybody’s old menu favorites. That includes big, juicy burgers and the chicken wraps that are so simple but somehow so craveable at the same time. They start with a spinach tortilla and are stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, cream cheese spread and cheddar. Eaten with housemade chips that you dip in housemade spicy ranch, it’s a special kind of comfort food.

Deconstructed ingredients to make Springfield style cashew chicken
By Brandon AlmsMany have tried but few have perfected Springfield-style cashew chicken, but with Leong’s pro tips, you can whip up a batch at home. Purchase Photo

Talkin' Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken with Wing Yee Leong | Leong's Asian Diner

1540 W. Republic Rd., Springfield
What started as a menu tweak meant to appeal to southwest Missouri palates turned into a worldwide phenomenon and a local favorite that just won’t quit. 

In the kitchen at Leong’s Asian Diner, Wing Yee Leong walks us through the steps that go into making Springfield-style cashew chicken. As he explains how the restaurant preps the chicken (battering and blanching it before it is fried a second time to order), we see one of his employees starting that breading process with two giant bins of chicken. On racks across from him are tray after tray of blanched chicken. Even now, 56 years after Leong’s dad David Leong invented the dish and nine years after Wing Yee opened the restaurant, they’re still churning out an enormous volume every day. Wing Yee has spotted the dish touted on billboards across the United States and even outside Hong Kong restaurants: Springfield-style cashew chicken sold here! “Behold the power of cashew chicken,” Wing Yee says. 

By now, most locals probably know the backstory of the Leong family’s relationship to Springfield dining, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version. In the 1940s, David Leong was working at a restaurant in Florida after a tour in the U.S. Army during World War II. A Springfield surgeon dined there, loved David’s food and lured the budding chef up to Missouri to share his food with 417-land. For a while he worked at Lotus Garden and Grove Supper Club restaurants before venturing out on his own to open Leong’s Tea House in 1963. 

Starting his own restaurant wasn’t without its challenges. David faced racism, and Wing Yee believes a dynamite explosion at the restaurant shortly before it was set to open was no coincidence. For the most part, Asian dining didn’t really exist yet in the Ozarks, and that was a hurdle for David. But he persevered, and his restaurant—which featured white tablecloths and a fine dining–level service—began to gain a following.

David knew he could please more customers if he married his authentic Cantonese cuisine with something that he believed would appeal to a southwest Missouri palate: fried chicken. He modified traditional cashew chicken stir fry by adding the fried meat he saw on menus around town, topped the fried chicken with cashews and an oyster sauce–based gravy, then sprinkled on some green onions. It was a hit, and the rest is history.

As the dish grew in popularity, other restaurants around town created their own takes on the recipe and started to serve Springfield-style cashew chicken as well. And in 1997, Leong’s Tea House—the most beloved cashew chicken purveyor in town—closed its doors.

Wing Yee Leong of Leong's Asian Diner
Photo by Brandon AlmsWing Yee Leong of Leong's Asian Diner Purchase Photo

Wing Yee says some restaurants’ versions of cashew chicken are better than others. He thinks Canton Inn and Hong Kong Inn (which are run by a former employee and a good friend of David’s, respectively) have the most authentic takes on the dish. Others… not so much. But Wing Yee says he knows everybody wants to put their own spin on it. 

After Leong’s Tea House closed, Wing Yee (who had been in the kitchen in one way or another his whole life and had worked for a while at restaurants in California after culinary school) bopped around a few other local restaurants, helping them open up before moving on to his next venture. He helped open Flame and Fire & Ice, but the jobs didn’t have staying power. In 2010, he was searching for his next opportunity and vetting the possible purchase of a local restaurant when he took his dad along to check it out. David was not sold on the idea. “You don’t need this,” he told Wing Yee. “We’re going to open our own restaurant.” And just like that, the Leongs were back in business.

Wing Yee says the opening of Leong’s Asian Diner was a whirlwind. Customers flooded in as soon as they opened for business, ready to taste their favorite dish again and bringing with them stories of their experiences at Leong’s Tea House. The restaurant was packed from open to close every day, and before long a dining room expansion was in order. Since then, things have slowed down to a more manageable pace. The Leongs still make everything from scratch—including the labor-intensive egg rolls that take three days to make. 

As for David, he celebrates his 99th birthday this month and he still has an active role in the business—keeping a watchful eye on the empire he created. “He comes in to work every day whether I ask him to or not,” Wing Yee jokes. 

To make Springfield-style cashew chicken at home, follow Wing Yee Leong's recipe.

Chocolate and Vanilla Cakes at Spring Creek Tea Room in Ozark MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsSpring Creek Tea Room offers a sour cream chocolate cake for the chocoholics, strawberry cake for the fruit fanatics, and even cakes inspired by candy bars. But if you aren’t on the ball and order your dessert as soon as you sit down, you’ll never get a taste. Purchase Photo

Feed your sweet tooth—you don’t even have to wait until it’s time for dessert.

Any Cake | Spring Creek Tea Room

107 S. Third St., Ozark
The trick to enjoying a dessert at Spring Creek Tea Room is to act fast. Go in ready to make a snap decision, then strike swiftly. You’re not getting a slice of that raspberry coconut cake if you don’t order it the second you sit down, before you even contemplate what you want to eat for lunch. Every day, Spring Creek offers a rotating lineup of luscious homemade cakes and pies (the variety is truly impressive), and they are known to sell out. There’s sour cream chocolate cake for the chocoholics, strawberry cake for the fruit fanatics, and even cakes inspired by candy bars. But if you aren’t on the ball, you’ll never get a taste.

Mudskipper | Mudhouse Coffee

323 South Ave., Springfield
The coffee shop that held down the fort in downtown Springfield before our city had a bit of a coffee shop boom, Mudhouse has been roasting and serving great cups of joe since 1998. And its drink menu includes some seriously sweet treats, too. Customers have long loved the Mudskipper, a latte made with hazelnut syrup and Ghiradelli chocolate and topped with whipped cream. It has a memorable name and a killer flavor to boot. 

Kringle | Supreme Kringle Bakery

3314 S. National Ave., Springfield
Potlucks, office parties and holiday celebrations around 417-land are often accented by one crowd-pleasing Springfield treat that has had some serious sticking power: the Kringle from Supreme Kringle Bakery. It’s a Danish pastry that starts with 39 layers of flaky dough, shaped into a ring and filled with a variety of fillings. We’re partial to the Holiday Kringle around Christmas (filled with apples, cream cheese, cranberries and walnuts) and the raspberry Kringle all year long.

Pineapple Whip twist in a cone Springfield MO

Can't decide on a flavor? Order your Pineapple Whip as a twist, available in a cup or a cone.

Purchase Photo
Stack of various flavors of St. George's cake donuts Springfield MO

No matter the flavor, St. George’s doughnuts rise above typical breakfast fare.

Purchase Photo
Photos by Brandon Alms

Pineapple Whip | Pineapple Whip

Multiple 417-land locations
There are warring factions out there in Springfield, Missouri who would throw down (right here, right now) over which Pineapple Whip flavor is the best. The grape group will never agree with the orange outfit, and the strawberry-kiwi squad has plenty of supporters, too. But we’re just going to say it: The classic pineapple flavor is unbeatable. Because no matter which additional flavor you enjoy the best, you can’t deny that it all started with pineapple at these little summertime-perfect trucks. Viva l’ananas!

Old-Fashioned Donut | St. George’s Donuts

3628 E. Sunshine St., Springfield; 1415 W. State Highway J, Ozark
Open and making donuts from scratch since 1971, St. George’s Donuts is the go-to for conference room dozens and sweet Sunday morning treats for a whole lot of people. For cake donut lovers, the restaurant’s Old-Fashioned donut made with buttermilk is the definition of a comforting, nostalgic breakfast indulgence. It needs no special flavor in the batter. It needs no special flavor in the glaze. It’s perfect as-is, and its simplicity is our favorite part. Just add a cup of coffee, and you’re ready to start the day.

Banana Cake | St. Michael’s Restaurant

301 South Ave., Springfield 
Oh, the banana cake from St. Michael’s! It seems so simple: a dense banana cake layered with a rich cream cheese frosting. That’s it. But it’s so incredibly tasty. It’s hand-to-chest, eyes rolled back, can’t-help-but-do-a-happy-dance divine. You can order a slice with your meal, but here’s a pro tip you can also use: Order a full cake, bring it to a family party and be everybody’s hero.

The Perfect Pairings

Sometimes classic local dishes are made to highlight local ingredients. These delicious desserts were made with ingredients from downtown coffee shops and a Springfield, Missouri chocolatier.
Pot de Crème
On the menu at: The Order
Made with: Askinosie  chocolate, Coffee Ethic espresso custard, caramel
Torte de Askinosie 
On the menu at: Café Cusco
Made with: Askinosie caramel fudge frosting, coffee-soaked chocolate cake, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, whipped cream
Espresso Chocolate Shake 
On the menu at: Alamo Drafthouse
Made with: Mudhouse cold brew coffee, dark chocolate sauce, candied espresso beans, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream

Ozarks Turtle | Andy’s Frozen Custard

Multiple 417-land locations
Okay, we know you can find Andy’s Frozen Custard outside of southwest Missouri, but this particular treat is an Ozarks classic. It’s right there in the name! The vanilla custard, rich caramel sauce and luscious hot fudge are all delicious, but it’s the crunchy-crispy, salty-sweet roasted pecans that take it over the edge and make it a perennial favorite.

Missouri Butter Cake | Level 2 Steakhouse

200 E. Main St., Branson
This take on gooey butter cake is a little different than the St. Louis original. Level 2 Steakhouse has put its own spin on the dessert—and people adore it. It is topped with vanilla ice cream, berries and a fresh crème anglaise whipped cream.

Maple Bacon Donut | Hurts Donut

320 Park Central W, Springfield1111 E Republic Rd #164, Springfield
A lot of the treats at Springfield-based but nationally franchised Hurts Donut are over-the-top. But nothing tops the maple bacon donut, a long john–style yeast donut topped with a sticky-sweet maple frosting and so many chewy bacon crumbles that every single bite offers globs of salty sweetness. We always go back to the maple bacon donut that was our first taste of Hurts.

Food and drink events in Springfield MO

Feeling hungry? Springfield has an impressive list of food and drink filled events that take place throughout the year. 

There are events for the whole family to enjoy together, and events suited for an adult crowd. Check out some of our favorites below and mark your calendars so you don't miss out on the fun!