The Hill: St. Louis' Famous Italian Neighborhood

Berra Park on The Hill
••• Playground at Berra Park on The Hill. Photo by Deborah O'Brien

The Hill Neighborhood in St. Louis is the city's traditional Italian American neighborhood. Although known primarily for the dozens of fantastic Italian restaurants within its boundaries, the Hill is also one of the city's most tight-knit communities. Just as they did a century ago, families on the Hill greet each other warmly at church, local bakeries or while working in perfectly manicured front lawns.

The Hill is still the Italian version of a Norman Rockwell neighborhood.

Location

The Hill is located south of Manchester Avenue, between Hampton Avenue on the west and Kingshighway Avenue on the east. Its southern border runs along Columbia and Southwest Avenues.

History

Settlement of what's now called "the Hill" began in the 1830's, but the area boomed later that century with the discovery of rich clay mines. The mines and other jobs attracted large numbers of Italian immigrants, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the area was a virtual "Little Italy."

The small neighborhood has played a large role in the history of sports in America. One city block of the neighborhood is famous for hosting the boyhood homes of Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, as well as the home of Jack Buck as he began his broadcast career. The neighborhood also produced approximately half of the 1950 U.S. soccer team that upset top-ranked England in the World Cup.

Demographics

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the Hill has 2,692 residents. Ninety five percent of the residents are white and about three percent are African American. Approximately 75 percent of residents still claim to be of Italian descent.

The median household income is $33,493, and two thirds of the housing units are owner-occupied.

About half of the households are family households.

Restaurants

The Hill is known nationally for it's great Italian restaurants. It's often the dining destination of visiting celebrities, as well as the area locals take out-of-town guests. Great places to try include:

  • Zia's - A favorite of both locals and out-of-town visitors in the know, Zia's serves classic Italian dishes. Portions are generous, the atmosphere is simple but warm and prices are fairly moderate.
  • Mama Campisi's - A Hill landmark for more than 60 years, the restaurant has a casual atmosphere (great for families) but still offers terrific Italian dishes at reasonable prices. Mama Campisi's claims to have invented "toasted ravioli."
  • Lorenzo's Trattoria - As a relatively new restaurant on the Hill, Lorenzo's can't rest on tradition. Actually, it does just the opposite, bringing modern twists to classic Italian dishes.
  • Rigazzi's - Best known for its "fishbowls" of beer, Rigazzi's offers everyday Italian dishes and pizza.
  • Adriana's - The Hill's own Yogi Berra's famous quote "no one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded," could easily be applied to Adriana's. Its classic Italian sandwiches and more always brings in a full lunch crowd.

    Shopping

    In addition to the dozens of restaurants, numerous Italian markets and bakeries, the Hill also has quite a few independent shops selling everything from cutlery to ceramics. Here are just three of the must-see shops on the Hill:

    • Girasole - Girasole sells a wide variety of Italian products, including ceramics, jewelry, handbags, beauty products and books. Located at 2103 Marconi Avenue.
    • Bertarelli Cutlery - Although geared toward serving the restaurant business, Bertarelli can be exciting for anyone that loves to cook. Shop for new knives and other quality kitchen supplies or take your current knives in for sharpening. Located at 1927 Marconi Avenue.
    • Viviano's Market - Viviano's sells all kinds of Italian foods including olive oils, pastas and spices, along with cheeses, desserts and prepared food items. This neighborhood grocery store has been business for more than 50 years. Located at 5139 Shaw Avenue.

      Walking Tour of the Neighborhood

      The best way to experience the Hill is on foot, walking from shop to market, stopping occasionally to get a cup of coffee, some gelato or a full lunch or dinner. Read my article A Walking Tour of the Hill for a step-by-step guide on exploring the Hill by foot.

      Inspired to See the Old Country?

      If visiting the Hill just makes you yearn to see Italy itself, why not plan an Italy vacation? Even with pricey airfares and a week dollar, Italy can still be affordable. In fact, some of Italy's best destinations are also quite inexpensive. Read Martha Bakerjian's article Saving Money on Your Italy Vacation to find out how to make your Italy vacation dream a reality.