The best St. Louis restaurants of 2023







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Last year, cautiously, the STL 100 returned. I once again picked the 100 restaurants new and old I was most excited about, but I didn’t separate them into the Top 25 and the Rest of the Best, as I had done before the pandemic.

This year, the STL 100 is all the way back.

Here you will find a new list of 100 restaurants, many of which have returned from the 2022 edition — but not all. Back to dining full time, I spent more time exploring restaurants beyond my weekly review subjects than I ever had before. There were so many restaurants deserving of first-time inclusion that I had to make some difficult decisions.

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I hope you will use this guide in the spirit in which I researched and wrote it: curiosity, excitement and hunger.







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The Top 25







Balkan Treat Box

Pide (front) with somun at Balkan Treat Box 




What should we expect from a great restaurant now? The era of white tablecloths passed long ago — and good riddance — but the swaggering, chef-driven, meat-drunk days that swelled this century’s first two decades had begun to wane even before the pandemic devastated the restaurant industry.

Actually, Balkan Treat Box might still be a little meat-drunk. Meat-tipsy, let’s say. Have you eaten its cevapi? The Bosnian beef sausages are served on wood-fired somun as gorgeous as any Neapolitan pizza crust, and the bread soaks up the cevapi’s peppery juices, giving you two meaty courses in one dish.

Balkan Treat Box tells a story of a time and a place, of St. Louis in our time. Loryn, a native, meets Edo, a Bosnian refugee from the war in the former Yugoslavia. They fall in love with each other, and she falls in love with his culture and cuisine. They open a food truck and then a brick-and-mortar storefront in Webster Groves to local and national acclaim.

This is a counter-service restaurant with fine-dining finesse. The brown-buttered crust of the pide and the artfully applied accents of creamy kajmak, dusky red ajvar and fresh green herbs across the flatbread’s surface. The lahmacun precisely rolled and cut to reveal a swirl of spicy ground beef or cauliflower. The breeze of apricot-pomegranate molasses that blows across the patlidzan’s wood-fired eggplant.

Balkan Treat Box answers my question with the most important legacy of the last 25 years of restaurant culture. What can we expect from a great restaurant? Absolutely anything.

Where 8103 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves • More info 314-733-5700; balkantreatbox.comHours 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (or until sold out) Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Bulrush

A beet “roll-up” at Bulrush




Bulrush is fun. Rob Connoley, the restaurant’s chef and owner and a two-time semifinalist for the “Best Chef: Midwest” James Beard Award, leads you through your tasting-menu dinner with a patter somewhere between your favorite college professor and a self-deprecating stand-up comedian. I mention this at the outset because I worry what I could write about Bulrush — researching not only historical Ozark cuisine and ingredients but the role of enslaved and indigenous people in that history; cultivating heritage seeds; aiming for zero waste; vital work, all of it — might make a visit here seem like homework.

It’s not, though if you care about the future of fine dining in St. Louis and in general, dinner here is mandatory. Your meal will be playful (a beet “roll-up” like, well, a Fruit Roll-Up, with maitake mushroom, toasted black walnut and, yes, a zero-waste miso sauce). It will introduce you to a local ingredient you might never have considered before — say, Guinea hog, which at my dinner was paired with a cruller.

You leave Bulrush eager to learn more about Ozark history and cuisine, both of which Connoley has single-handedly put on the St. Louis restaurant map. You leave even more eager to see what Connoley comes up with next.

Where 3307 Washington Boulevard • More info 314-449-1208; bulrushstl.com • Hours Dinner Thursday-Sunday • Pricing $$$$

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Vicia

Naked radishes with pesto at Vicia




Take Root Hospitality, the restaurant group that operates Vicia in the Central West End, did not relax on the other side of the pandemic. Married founders Tara and Michael Gallina and their business partner and culinary director, Aaron Martinez, opened a separate restaurant, Taqueria Morita, on the pavilion outside Vicia. (After a winter residence at Take Root’s University City restaurant Winslow’s Table, Taqueria Morita returns to Vicia in April.) They also transformed the former Bar Les Frères in Clayton into Bistro La Floraison. Both new ventures — very different from each other and from Vicia — have earned a spot in this year’s STL 100, a tribute to Take Root and the teams they have assembled. At Vicia, that team continues to produce exceptional forward-thinking, “vegetable-forward” cuisine, where maitake mushrooms that taste exactly like chorizo (without the involvement of any chorizo) are the perfect side dish for thick slices of wood-fired steak, where you’re as likely to rave about wood-fired cabbage as that wood-fired steak.

Where 4260 Forest Park Avenue • More info 314-553-9239; viciarestaurant.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday • Pricing $$$$

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Elaia

Thai curry with smoked sea scallop, apple, hon shimeji mushrooms and Chinese broccoli at Elaia




Alone among his peers, chef Ben Poremba has remained committed to a standard of fine dining that is progressive, luxurious and uncompromising at his flagship Elaia in Botanical Heights. Here diners choose between either a four-course prix-fixe dinner or the chef’s tasting menu. (For an even more luxurious experience, you can purchase a serving of Poremba’s private-label American caviar with your meal.) This February, the tasting menu ranged from an inspired riff on shabu shabu with a tomato dashi poured tableside over escolar with preserved mushrooms and sour cucumber to game hen in an old-school albufera sauce. It touched on its adjacent sibling, Olio, with that restaurant’s Jerusalem bagel among the bread-basket selections and concluded the savory progression with a small, intensely flavored course of rib-eye au poivre with potatoes, a play on a conventional upscale dish both clever and somehow even more — here comes that word again — luxurious.

Where 1634 Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-932-1088; bengelina.com/elaiaHours Dinner Thursday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Wednesday) • Pricing $$$$

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Indo

Massachusetts scallops with sweet pea puree, lump crab and shrimp butter sauce at Indo




St. Louis’ most anticipated new restaurant of 2023 — scheduled to open March 28 — is Sado, the Bognar family’s relocation of their original venture, Ann Bognar’s Nippon Tei, to the Hill. There it will become Sado, with Ann’s son, Nick, preparing the sushi and other fare that has made him one of the most acclaimed younger chefs of the past decade. Sado has already transformed Indo, the Botanical Heights restaurant Nick Bognar opened in 2019 to national as well as local acclaim, as he has removed Indo’s signature nigiri in favor of temaki, handheld rolls. These are fun and, at $41 for the chef’s pick of five, a pretty good value, if not quite as thrilling as Bognar’s pre-pandemic nigiri. On my latest visit, I was thrilled to see the rest of the menu still packed with the other dishes that made Indo’s debut so thrilling: shrimp toast, the lamb larb inspired by Bognar’s grandmother’s recipe, the composed sashimi dishes. I am excited for Sado but equally as excited to see where Indo goes next.

Where 1641D Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-899-9333; indo-stl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Little Fox

A grilled half-chicken with braised escarole, Castelvetrano olives and spring onions at Little Fox 




At Little Fox in Fox Park, Mowgli and Craig Rivard have invented their own geography, building a one-of-a-kind restaurant from New York City experience, Italian influence, a California breeze and the neighborhood corner on which they have invested three pandemic-blighted years. For the first time since the closures of Randolfi’s Italian Kitchen and Sardella, I feel optimistic for a new direction for Italian cuisine — Italian-ish for the humorless pedants — in St. Louis. It carries a whiff of smoke from backyard grills (the short ribs with Calabrian chile, the grilled half-chicken marinated with anchovy and rosemary). Its pastas can meet the season, like this winter’s fantastic white Bolognese sauce of pork and mushrooms, but throughout the year those pastas can carry the herbal lightness of the restaurant’s cavatelli. The wine and cocktail program should lead the way for restaurants of similar ambitions, sophisticated but approachable. The Rivards and their team have proven you can follow your own path, not the trends, and make your restaurant the place to be.

Where 2800 Shenandoah Avenue • More info 314-553-9456; littlefoxstl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$

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Nobu's

Clockwise from top: sashimi, takiawase, gin-dara and nuta at Nobu’s in University City




The storied career of sushi chef Noboru Kidera could have ended on a sour note. Nobu’s, his beloved University City restaurant, was forced to abandon its longtime home in a former IHOP due to the sprawling Costco-anchored development at Olive Boulevard and Interstate 170. Kidera did not retire. He and his family — wife Taeko, son George and George’s wife, Noi — relocated Nobu’s to the Delmar Loop and reimagined it as an omakase restaurant, with the now 74-year-old Kidera choosing what nigiri, sashimi and other Japanese dishes you eat. This “new” Nobu’s, which opened in October, is a revelation, even for longtime fans of Kidera’s work. In a modern, Japan-meets-Denmark space that relaxes you as soon as you arrive, your six-course omakase meal unfolds briskly but gracefully through composed dishes (raw salmon with tomato, radish sprouts and a yuzu-lime dressing), soulful chawanmushi, grilled fish, crisp tempura and, of course, impeccable nigiri. The six-course omakase dinner, available Friday and Saturday, is the signature Nobu’s experience, but the three- and four-course omakase meals are both also revelatory. Whichever omakase dinner you choose, do note that reservations are required.

Where 6253 Delmar Boulevard, University City • More info 314-323-9147; nobustl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, reservations only (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$$

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Olive + Oak

Oysters on the half-shell, served with cocktail sauce, mignonette and lemon, and horseradish, at Olive + Oak




One evening in September, I needed some self-care, as the kids say. I also needed some dinner. The answer was obvious: Head to Olive + Oak in Webster Groves. I didn’t have a more-or-less mandatory reservation, but after its 2020 relocation just down the street from its original home (now O+O Pizza), there are more seats at the bar. I knew I could count on Olive + Oak for fresh oysters on the half-shell and a fine steak with just a tiny bit of chew that wouldn’t break the bank. (If you do want to break the bank, there’s always Olive + Oak’s prime cowboy rib-eye for two.) Since Olive + Oak’s debut seven years ago, it has been perpetually packed, thanks on one hand to the warm hospitality fostered by co-owner and public face Mark Hinkle, on the other to the kitchen led by the remarkable chef Jesse Mendica. In other years, I have saluted dishes both complex (rabbit mole) and relatively simple (the blue-crab gratin). This year, I am just grateful Olive + Oak is there for all of us.

Where 216 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • More info 314-736-1370; oliveandoak.oohosp.comHours Dinner daily • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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lucky accomplice 2023.jpg

Tagliatelle with chicken sausage at the Lucky Accomplice




From the beginning, the Lucky Accomplice represented a looser, more inclusive approach to modern dining than chef Logan Ely’s first restaurant, the austere, tasting menu-focused Shift (née Savage). Returning to the Lucky Accomplice for this year’s STL 100, I found a restaurant even more serious about enjoying the upscale, progressive dining experience. For one, Ely has added chef Justin Bell to the Lucky Accomplice’s kitchen as chef de cuisine. Bell is a perfect fit, a veteran of two of St. Louis’ most forward-thinking kitchens, Rob Connoley’s Bulrush and Ben Grupe’s late, much-missed spell at Tempus. Also, Ely is serving beef — and not just any beef but a whopping short rib (and I ordered the half-portion) with a malt-soy glaze and a generous sprinkling of furikake, umami all the way down. For all of the changes, vegetables as a main focus and the unexpected, just-right accent (the fennel conserva that adds autumnal spice to tagliatelle with chicken sausage) continue to lead the Lucky Accomplice into its exciting future.

Where 2501 South Jefferson Avenue • More info 314-354-6100; theluckyaccomplice.comHours Dinner Monday and Thursday-Sunday (closed Tuesday-Wednesday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Octopus at Louie

Octopus at Louie




Louie owner Matt McGuire has opened another blockbuster, the small, sleek steakhouse Wright’s Tavern in Clayton, which has won a spot on the STL 100 after only four months of operation. Wright’s out-of-the-box success isn’t a surprise if you know Louie, which was also essentially itself — essentially perfect — when it debuted five years ago in Clayton’s DeMun neighborhood. McGuire and chef Sean Turner haven’t changed the menu much since then, nor do they need to. There is the comfort of returning to the wood-fired pizzas’ crackling crusts and the hearty go-to main courses (the roast chicken with rapini, the pork chop with chermoula). What keeps Louie fresh, though, besides the always warm service, are the bright details: the perfect deployment of red onion and cherry peppers on the sausage pizza; the mint that enlivens the white-bean hummus; the chili oil that electrifies the charred-eggplant dip; and maybe the occasional newer dish like grilled octopus with chickpeas and soppressata. It’s a lesson I trust McGuire will bring to Wright’s with similar effect.

Where 706 DeMun Avenue, Clayton • More info 314-300-8188; louiedemun.comHours Dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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The Crossing

Iberico ham and arugula salad at the Crossing




Jim Fiala’s the Crossing isn’t the flashiest of St. Louis’ best restaurants — it turns 25 this year, after all — but from night to night this Clayton mainstay provides the ideal modern fine-dining experience more reliably than anywhere else. The service is professional but unfussy; even after the restaurant industry’s three years of labor woes, you will see familiar faces here. A complimentary crock of blue-cheese soufflé welcomes you to the table, and a delightful dessert of fried apple pie with a cider glaze and a scoop of cinnamon gelato might send you home. Fiala and chef Thu Rein Oo deliver the Crossing’s signature fare (foie gras, hamachi crudo, tagliolini with black trumpet mushrooms, quail, venison), but regulars know to look for such winning newer dishes as agnolotti filled with pumpkin and a three-cheese blend and finished with a bittersweet nocino glaze or a special like a perfect medium-rare duck breast in a ginger-streaked duck jus.

Where 7823 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-721-7375; thecrossing-stl.comHours Dinner Monday-Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$$$

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Kendele Sieve, co-owner of Noto Italian Restaurant, grew up working with her father, Jasper Noto, at his bakery in St. Peters.

Colter Peterson



If you’ve dined at Noto Italian Restaurant in St. Peters, you know owners Kendele and Wayne Sieve take their Neapolitan pizza seriously. In the dining room itself stands the wood-fired oven, imported from Naples, Italy, in which Wayne bakes each pizza for 90 seconds or so at 1,000 degrees. Some of those pies Noto simply won’t cut for you. The Sieves’ rigor recently earned Noto the stamp of approval of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, joining a select group of restaurants worldwide. For the full Neapolitan experience at Noto, you should order the Bufalina — that’s one of the pies they won’t cut — which features nothing more than San Marzano tomato sauce, basil, olive oil, sea salt and bufala mozzarella from Campania, Italy. For some of the best pizza you’ve ever eaten, with a piercing sourdough tang and a gorgeous leopard-print crust, order any of the pies here and, for the full Noto experience, pair it with one of the seasonal housemade pastas.

Where 5105 Westwood Drive, St. Peters • More info 636-317–1143; notopizza.comHours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Sidney Street Cafe

Beef cheek with celery root and braised carrot at Sidney Street Cafe




Kevin Nashan’s Sidney Street Cafe has found a smart middle ground between the ambitious cuisine that earned Nashan the “Best Chef: Midwest” James Beard Award and a format that lets diners approach that cuisine on their own terms. On the menu overseen by chefs Jose Venta, Chris Koenig and Mykee Adriano, I found a clever reimagining of the ubiquitous beef tartare as a sort of spring roll and a scallop dish that made a surprising connection between chorizo and a cauliflower chimichurri. Besides composed main courses like those scallops, you will also find an a la carte section of main courses (a rib-eye, fried quail), pastas and side dishes. The front of house, led by Nashan’s brother, Chris, makes sure that a dinner at Sidney Street Cafe is a special occasion no matter how you choose to experience it.

Where 2000 Sidney Street • More info 314-771-5777; sidneystreetcafestl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$$

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Beast Butcher & Block

Ribs served with bacon mac and Brussels sprouts with pork belly at Beast Butcher & Block




Update: Shortly before publication, Beast Butcher & Block closed. The original Belleville location remains open. 

David Sandusky, the pitmaster and with his wife, Meggan, co-owner of Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville and Beast Butcher & Block in the Grove, never stops innovating. Last year saw the closure of Beast Southern Kitchen & BBQ, the Sanduskys’ Columbia, Illinois, expansion — a setback, to be sure. But Beast has bounced back. Sandusky reintroduced Beast Butcher & Block’s pre-pandemic live-fire brunch. More intriguingly, he has revamped the Grove location’s dinner menu to feature hearth-fired steaks and other sophisticated fare alongside Beast’s barbecue. This change took place too recently for me to try for the 2023 STL 100, but just as a barbecue restaurant, Beast stands above its peers for its commitment to quality ingredients and impeccable technique, from the brisket smoked over white oak that can hold its own against any Texan’s fatty cut to the overwhelming St. Louis-style pork steak.

Where Beast Craft BBQ Co., 20 South Belt West, Belleville • More info 618-257-9000; beastcraftbbq.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

Where Beast Butcher & Block, 4156 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-944-6003; beastbbqstl.comHours Closed • Pricing $-$$ (lunch), $$-$$$$ (dinner)

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Chiang Mai

Sai oua at Chiang Mai in Webster Groves 




When Su Hill opened Chiang Mai in October 2020 in Webster Groves, she introduced herself and her lifetime of cooking — including the restaurant she opened nearly 30 years ago in Cape Girardeau, Missouri — through the dishes of northern Thailand. Some of these I had encountered before in St. Louis, like the curry noodle soup khao soi and sai oua, pork sausages verdant with lemongrass and makrut lime. Others, like gra dook moo (roasted pork ribs touched with garlic and honey), I hadn’t seen before. Collectively, Hill’s menu transcended the St. Louis standard for Thai food. Returning for this year’s list, I found an expanded menu that included both that northern Thai fare and green curry chicken and other dishes much more broadly available at area Thai restaurants. With all due respect to those restaurants, Hill’s green curry is also like nothing else in town, with a summery jolt of cumin and coriander and a sneakily building heat.

Where 8158 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves • More info 314-961-8889; chiangmaistl.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$

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Sureste

Cochinita pibil with tortillas at Sureste 




The Food Hall at City Foundry has landed several restaurants in this year’s STL 100, but I would have considered the long-awaited project a success if Sureste were its only vendor of note. Chef and owner Alex Henry cemented his rising-star status with his work at Nixta and Cleveland-Heath. At Sureste, drawing on mostly local ingredients and his Yucatecan background, he has exceeded that considerable potential, crafting not only the Food Hall’s foremost kitchen but St. Louis’ best Mexican restaurant. Henry’s ceviche and shrimp aguachile are incandescent fireworks displays of citrus and chiles. His take on Yucatecan cochinita pibil is almost as pyrotechnic, with brilliant citrus-marinated red onion arcing across the slow-roasted pork. On my most recent visit, though, I kept returning to the subtler pleasures of the pavo en chilmole, tender turkey in an inky, smoky, earthy burnt-chile sauce. If Sureste served only this, it would still be a win for the Food Hall and St. Louis.

Where Food Hall at City Foundry, 3730 Foundry Way • More info cityfoundrystl.com/directory/sur-esteHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

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Akar

Rangoon ravioli with a sweet mango dip at Akar




Contemporary • Malaysian

Bernie Lee has quietly expanded his Clayton restaurant Akar into the space next to its tiny original dining room, significantly expanding its indoor capacity. More than just a convenience for Akar’s established fans, the expansion should introduce even more diners to Lee’s cooking. Lee is a mainstay of the STL 100 between Akar and its downtown west predecessor, Hiro Asian Kitchen, and with each year, my admiration for his cooking grows further. Drawing on his Malaysian heritage, an international palette and a nuanced understanding of flavor and texture, Lee ranges from playful appetizers (tamarind pork ribs, pot stickers with ponzu sauce and a black-rice vinaigrette) to elegant main courses (braised short ribs, a recent duck special with a perfectly sweet-tart-savory sauce). In a neighborhood that boasts three new heavy hitters in Bar Moro, Bistro La Floraison and Wright’s Tavern, Lee doesn’t merely hold his own at Akar. He is now the standard-bearer.

Where 7641 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-553-9914; akarstl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $$$

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Wright's Tavern

A baked blue crabcake with remoulade at Wright’s Tavern




Louie owner Matt McGuire and acclaimed chef Cary McDowell have crafted a restaurant with all the pleasures of the American steakhouse and none of the bravado. McDowell (most recently of Pi Pizzeria but whose long career has included co-founding the Crossing and making his bones at the iconic Daniel and Lutèce in New York City) understands the primal pleasures of steaks broiled for maximum Maillard-reaction savor and a medium-rare burger adorned with nothing more than cheese and onion, but he brings fine-dining finesse to dauphinoise potatoes and pommes frites alike. Wright’s is as compelling a seafood restaurant as it is a steakhouse, from the crabcake plump with actual blue-crab meat to stellar shrimp scampi to potato-crusted halibut in a delicate beurre blanc. As at Louie, McGuire has cultivated an ambience both heightened and intimate. Yes, you must plan ahead — and likely budget — to dine at Wright’s, but you could imagine yourself stopping by anytime.

Where 7624 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-390-1466; wrightswydown.comHours Dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$$$

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Pastaria

Garganelli pasta with braised beef, olives, gremolata and Grana Padano at Pastaria




Eleven years after opening in Clayton, with no significant changes to its menu or format, Gerard Craft’s Pastaria still feels fresh — like a revelation, even: a sophisticated but family-friendly Italian restaurant that dances past the “red sauce or white?” question. Instead, Pastaria boasts at least a half-dozen pastas any one of which another restaurant would be thrilled to call its signature: pappardelle with a smoked-pork ragu, canestri cacio e pepe, pistachio ravioli, lamb cavatelli and bucatini all’Amatriciana. (Yes, that’s only five. I saved the sixth for your favorite.) The wood-fired pizza finds that sweet spot between blistered Neapolitan-ish crust and American tastes. (Try the Allen, with Benton’s renowned country ham among the toppings.) The biggest change at Pastaria has been a sort of expansion into the adjoining space as Pastaria Deli & Wine, a sandwich shop and small market for wine and pantry staples. The sandwiches, served on Union Loafers hoagies, are as brilliant in their simplicity as the Pastaria concept itself.

Where Pastaria, 7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-862-6603; eatpastaria.com/stlouisHours Dinner daily • Pricing $$-$$$

Where Pastaria Deli & Wine, 7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-773-7755; pastariadeliwine.comHours Lunch Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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Jalea

The Jalea basket with fried flounder, shrimp and calamari, with salsa criolla, fried plantains, yucca fries, choclo and cancha




Andrew Cisneros is having a moment. Touted as one of St. Louis’ rising-star chefs after cooking for the likes of Gerard Craft, Ben Poremba and Mike Randolph, Cisneros and his family opened the Peruvian restaurant Jalea in late 2021 in St. Charles. Acclaim followed — I named Jalea last year’s best new spot — but Cisneros wasn’t finished. He brought Sanguchitos by Brasas, featuring Peruvian-inspired sliders, to the tasting room of Perennial Artisan Ales in the Patch neighborhood. He consulted on the opening of Casa de Tres Reyes in Des Peres. In March, he partnered with the Tavern Kitchen + Bar in Valley Park and will be reinventing that restaurant’s menu. Still, Jalea remains his signature achievement. The relatively brief menu might riff on a Peruvian classic (last spring, lomo saltado with rib-eye and confit potatoes) or pair grilled chicken with fries and four different dipping sauces. Two seafood dishes vie to be the must-order: jalea itself, an assortment of fried seafood, and ceviche, the day’s catch “cooked” in a dizzyingly delicious leche de tigre.

Where 323 North Main Street, St. Charles • More info 314-303-0144; facebook.com/jalea.stlHours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday, lunch Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday) • Pricing $$$

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Root Food + Wine

Shrimp toast at Root Food + Wine 




The winding drive to Augusta doesn’t seem so far once you’re seated inside Root Food + Wine, chef Philip Day’s 2-year-old restaurant in the Missouri wine country town. Day offers three prix-fixe dinners, each more than worth the cost relative to Day’s skill in the kitchen: three courses ($45 as of March), five ($62) or seven ($82), with optional wine pairings for each selection. The seven-course dinner gets you most of the day’s menu — two appetizers, three main courses and two desserts — but the three-course meal is entirely satisfying. My meal this year included two of what have become Day’s signature dishes, an umami bomb of a soup with mushrooms, toasted oats and jammy caramelized garlic in a smoked mushroom-tamari broth followed by plump agnolotti filled with beef in a miso butter sauce swirled with scallion oil. For dessert, Day served a lovely buttermilk panna cotta with a saffron-honey gelee and candied honeycomb. If heading to Augusta and back for dinner is daunting, Root is open for Saturday lunch, with the full menu available (as well as a lunch special burger).

Where 5525 Walnut Street, Augusta • More info 636-544-1009; rootfoodwine.comHours Dinner Thursday-Saturday, lunch Saturday (Thursday dinner begins in April; closed Sunday-Wednesday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Dining Review: Cellar House

A 10-ounce bone-in pork chop at Cellar House




Cellar House has undergone significant changes in its eight years. Born as a bar adjacent to owner Patrick Ahearn’s wine shop, it grew into a full-fledged restaurant and relocated to its current home in an Oakville-area shopping plaza. Cellar House’s most dramatic transformation occurred in 2022, however, when the chef Chloe Yates (most recently of the food truck Red Dirt Revival) stepped into the kitchen — first as a last-minute favor, eventually as the full-time executive chef and general manager. She has stamped Cellar House’s menu with her seasonal, flavor-forward style. Her cooking can be playful (meatloaf sliders like inside-out bacon cheeseburgers), subtle when you least expect it (the smoked-cauliflower puree that grounded a towering pork chop with a bourbon-peach-chipotle glaze) and unsatisfied with good enough (an already excellent rib-eye further amped up with a mushroom, anchovy and horseradish cream sauce). Yates has made Cellar House a must-visit restaurant — and, as her menu changes, to visit again.

Where 5634 Telegraph Road, Oakville • More info 314-846-5100; cellarhousestl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$

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Steven Pursley spent three years in Japan learning the intricacies of scratch-made ramen.

Colter Peterson



Menya Rui is a welcome addition to the St. Louis dining scene not simply because it’s a great restaurant — easily one of the best to debut here last year — but because it also expands our knowledge of a dish, a cuisine and, by extension, the world. At this Lindenwood Park storefront, chef and owner Steven Pursley focuses on ramen, and behind glass at one end of the dining room you can see the machine on which he makes his own noodles. Pursley was born in the Okinawa prefecture of Japan and returned to the country to study ramen. His style is lighter than tonkotsu ramen but no less flavorful: pork shoyu ramen luscious with rendered fatback, chicken shoyu ramen velvety with schmaltz. Strikingly, Menya Rui is also a ramen restaurant where you can skip broth for the thicker noodles of brothless mazeman ramen — or maybe you prefer to swish those thick noodles in concentrated broth, tsukemen ramen. Whatever you choose, you will leave Menya Rui satisfied and with your perception of the dish permanently transformed.

Where 3453 Hampton Avenue • More info 314-601-3524; menyarui.comHours Dinner Thursday-Sunday (closed Monday-Wednesday) • Pricing $-$$

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Bistro La Floraison

Steak tartare with steamed egg yolk, crispy shallots, smoked bone marrow vinaigrette, and salt and vinegar potato chips at Bistro La Floraison 




The initials are the same, the cuisine remains French, and you can still begin your meal with a snack of gougères, but Bistro La Floraison isn’t simply Bar Les Frères, version 2.0. Take Root Hospitality, the restaurant group behind fellow STL 100 honorees Vicia and Taqueria Morita, has reimagined the former home of Zoë Robinson’s French charmer in its own style. The dining rooms are brighter, though still cozy, and the kitchen led by chef Patrick Fallwell, under the direction of Take Root founding chef Michael Gallina and culinary director Aaron Martinez, finds exciting new approaches to familiar dishes, from the bone-marrow vinaigrette and silky steamed egg that distinguish the steak tartare to the signature fried chicken cordon bleu with oyster mushrooms and a sauce moutarde d’Orléans. Don’t overlook the delicate, delicious French onion financiers, and spend some time with the excellent wine list.

Where 7637 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-725-8880; bistrolafloraison.comHours Dinner Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $$$$

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J's Pitaria

Sarajevski cevapi at J’s Pitaria




This year’s Top 25 begins and ends with a modern, family-friendly, counter-service restaurant featuring Bosnian cuisine. What the hearth is to Balkan Treat Box, the rotisserie spit is to J’s Pitaria, which Zamir and Josi Jahic opened in Bevo Mill and then relocated to south St. Louis County, right across South Lindbergh Boulevard from Ronnie’s. The doner kebab at J’s — marinated, spit-roasted beef tucked into somun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber and tzatziki sauce — is one of the great St. Louis sandwiches. If J’s Sarajevo cevapi on that same somun with onion and kajmak also counts as a sandwich, the Jahics can claim two of the area’s current greats. J’s Pitaria debuted with stuffed pita as its signature dish — meat, cheese, and spinach and cheese as the main fillings — and as expansive as the restaurant’s menu has grown since then, any understanding of J’s and St. Louis cuisine must begin there.

Where 91 Concord Plaza Shopping Center, south St. Louis County • More info 314-270-8005; jspitaria.usHours Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $

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The Rest of the Best

Listed alphabetically








Simply Delicious

The croffle plate at Simply Delicious 




The past year’s most audacious culinary debut belongs to chef Brandi Artis. A Kansas City native who came to St. Louis from Chicago, Artis opened two restaurants in eight months. Either alone would have earned her and her wife and business partner, Brittany, a spot on this list. 4 Hens Creole Kitchen premiered first, a Food Hall at City Foundry restaurant that supercharges dishes both familiar (shrimp and grits) and less so (succotash soup, the menu’s highlight whether or not you add andouille to it). Artis followed 4 Hens with Simply Delicious downtown, and while the breakfast and lunch fare is delicious, nothing about these dishes is simple, from the signature “croffles” (croissants pressed in a waffle iron) to the two-hander breakfast sandwich with bacon, egg, heirloom tomato, brie and fig jam.

Where 4 Hens Creole Kitchen, Food Hall at City Foundry, 3730 Foundry Way • More info 4henscreolekitchen.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

Where Simply Delicious, 1115 Pine Street • More info 314-802-7287; simplydeliciousstl.comHours Breakfast, brunch and lunch daily • Pricing $$

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Acero

Spaghetti chitarra Amatriciana at Acero




What is a value in fine dining? Inflation has complicated the question. The four-course prix-fixe dinner at Jim Fiala’s Acero in Maplewood, a mainstay of the STL 100 since the inaugural edition in 2015, now costs $58 per person, plus tax and tip. That’s up from $40 just before the pandemic hit in 2020. Tack on a cocktail or a quartino of wine and, say, the supplemental $3 to make your appetizer the lovely, understated hamachi crudo with olive oil, sea salt, shallot and bottarga — well, your dinner isn’t cheap. Still, in the context of fine dining, Acero remains a value, if not outright theft. Even if you don’t spend the $5 to upgrade your pasta to the famous egg raviolo, you can enjoy the terrific spaghetti Amatriciana or a just-right portion of tagliatelle in a hearty ragu antica. By the time you remember the price includes dessert, the ricotta cheesecake almost feels like a gift.

Where 7266 Manchester Road, Maplewood • More info 314-644-1790; acero-stl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$$

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Annie Gunn's

Grilled Marcho Farms lamb loin chops with mushroom chutney and potato gratin at Annie Gunn’s




Contemporary • Steakhouse

The good news for the many fans of Annie Gunn’s — particularly, those of us who tend to show up without a reservation, hoping for a seat at the bar — is that the Chesterfield institution is undergoing a dramatic expansion. In the meantime, you might find getting a table here a tighter squeeze than usual. Then again, given the appeal of chef Lou Rook III’s cooking, only an infinite expansion might satisfy the demand for tables. Annie Gunn’s is that rare spot where you can order the fried wings and the roast chicken with confidence, where steaks and burgers share the menu with the sort of dishes rarely seen in St. Louis these days, like sauteed calves liver or, to my delight on a recent visit, perfect fried sweetbreads with a creamy mustard sauce for dipping.

Where 16806 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield • More info 636-532-7684; anniegunns.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Asador Del Sur

Fried Mariscada, mahi-mahi with rocoto sauce, at Asador del Sur in Maplewood




For my 2021 review of Asador del Sur, Maria Giamportone and Daniel Gonzalez’s Ecuadorian, Uruguayan and more broadly South American restaurant in Maplewood, I ate a lot of meat. A lot. The grill is Asador del Sur’s heart, and the kitchen turns out a whopping rib-eye and a smaller, more intensely beefy tira de asado (short ribs sliced thin) and — rarity of rarities — charry, supple sweetbreads. I ate a lot of seafood, too: salmon, gorgeous pan-seared mahi-mahi with salsa criolla, fiercely spicy shrimp with bird’s eye chiles over twice-fried plantain patties. Yet thanks to the vagaries of the supply chain during the pandemic, I missed one of Asador del Sur’s most intriguing dishes, grilled langostinos. They were worth the wait, buttery crustaceans that needed nothing more than the heat of the grill and the restaurant’s chimichurri.

Where 7322 Manchester Road, Maplewood • More info 314-802-8587; asadordelsur.comHours Dinner Monday and Wednesday-Sunday, lunch Wednesday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Tuesday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Bar Moro

Bikini con trufa, a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich with mushroom-truffle duxelles and cheese sauce, at Bar Moro




At his latest venture, chef and restaurateur Ben Poremba has brought his inimitable style and meticulous attention to the cuisine of Spain and the broader Iberian peninsula. You won’t confuse Bar Moro’s sleek Clayton dining room with a tapas bar — generally speaking, this isn’t the sort of restaurant you just casually drop by — but the menu does offer a selection of tapas (salt-cod croquetas, a lovely version of the walnut, pepper and pomegranate molasses dip mohamara), as well as snacks (everything from olives to jamón Ibérico sliced to order and priced by the ounce) and a wide array of tinned seafood. You could build your meal just from these bites, but Bar Moro is at its best when you mix and match pleasures from across the menu: a classic toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich half draped in a silky Gruyère sauce, fresh shrimp sauteed with garlic or the Catalan-style roasted chicken afloat in a rich lobster sauce.

Where 7610 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • More info 314-296-3000; bengelina.com/bar-moroHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$$

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Review: The Bellewether

Short rib ragout at the Bellwether




The Bellwether features my favorite entrance of any St. Louis restaurant. Go into the former City Hospital power plant building in the Peabody-Darst-Webbe neighborhood just east of Lafayette Square, pass the rock-climbing gym and take the elevator to the third floor. When the doors open, you are whisked into an airy space of low, warm light and nuanced luxury. The elements are familiar — tuna crudo, a rack of lamb, strip steak — but the compositions on the plate are painterly, and there is always at least one accent you weren’t expecting. In a more casual mood? Sit at the bar for a terrific cocktail and the signature fries seasoned with togarashi. The Bellwether’s parent company keeps growing. In addition to Polite Society and three Food Hall at City Foundry restaurants, Be Polite Hospitality is planning a new cafe in Shaw. The Bellwether, though, remains the clear crown jewel.

Where 1419 Carroll Street • More info 314-380-3086; thebellwetherstl.comHours Dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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The Benevolent King

Salatim, a selection of small salads and spreads, at the Benevolent King




Sleek, dark, sexy: The Benevolent King would be the best date night restaurant in Ben Poremba’s portfolio if the chef and restaurateur hadn’t opened the sleeker, darker and sexier Bar Moro last year. It’s still the sexiest restaurant in Maplewood, OK? When the Benevolent King returned from an extended pandemic break, new executive chef Eliott Harris drew on his background in sushi restaurants to introduce some Japanese ingredients and techniques. That influence remains a welcome addition, but this year I was reminded how compelling Poremba’s original, Moroccan-inspired concept is: chicken electrified by a chermoula sauce; fresh, herbaceous farmer’s cheese; and, new to me, a bracingly crisp salad of poached Honeycrisp apples with olives, mint and feta.

Where 7268 Manchester Road, Maplewood • More info 314-899-0440; bengelina.com/the-benevolent-kingHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$

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Blue Violet

Rocket Pork, braised pork belly with grits and a poached egg, at Blue Violet 




Describing the year-old Edwardsville restaurant Blue Violet in one of these bite-sized blurbs is a challenge. The name refers to the Illinois state flower, which offers no insight into the menu. Blue Violet is a new venture from Michael Del Pietro, but unlike his other restaurants (Sugo’s Spaghetteria, Del Pietro’s, Il Palato), the cuisine isn’t Italian. You can’t pin down what, exactly, Del Pietro and his partners, Ryan French, Micah Hopkins, Pat Baltes and Jordan Knight, are up to. One signature dish, the Rocket Pork, nods to the U.S. South with accents of coffee and cola and a bed of grits. Ancho chile is the unexpected spice that enlivens the tuna crudo, another signature. Call the menu Modern Global Eclectic, I guess? Whatever Blue Violet does, it works.

Where 6108 Shoger Drive, suite B, Edwardsville • More info 618-650-9003; bluevioletedwardsville.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$

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Bolyard's Meat & Provisions

A Reuben with a side of pickled and fermented vegetables at Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions 




St. Louis offers many, many options for smash burgers. You know that. But you might not realize you can find three of the best smash burgers at one spot: Bolyard’s Meat & Provisions, Chris and Abbie Bolyard’s Maplewood restaurant and butcher shop. There’s the classic smash burger, the accurately named Umami Burger and the patty melt. The last of the trio might be my favorite: properly caramelized onions, gooey Swiss and Colby jack cheese, Thousand Island dressing and two patties that give you both lacy-edged char and beefy heft. Chris Bolyard is both a butcher and a chef, and that duality gives Bolyard’s its edge, from everyday sandwiches like the Reuben and the Italian beef-ish Feisty Bull to biscuits made with actual lard, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tricked out with beef bacon, and other weekend brunch fare.

Where 2733 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood • More info 314-647-2567; bolyardsmeat.com • Hours 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday (regular menu daily, brunch also available Saturday-Sunday) • Pricing $

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Bowood by Niche

Cacio e pepe eggs served with arugula salad and semolina toast at Bowood by Niche




I’m sure real-estate agents and business consultants could have identified more conventionally promising locations, but from an aesthetic point of view, no empty restaurant space cried out for a new occupant more loudly than the former Cafe Osage in Bowood Farms’ Central West End plant nursery and garden shop. Into the breach stepped acclaimed chef and restaurateur Gerard Craft with Bowood by Niche: a straightforward name that captures the space’s nearly seamless transition from garden essentials to restaurant. Executive chef Dakota Williams opened Bowood with soigné riffs on breakfast and lunch fare: cacio e pepe scrambled eggs, eggs Benedict with prosciutto and browned-butter hollandaise, a smash burger with pickled shallots and caramelized-onion aioli. Since then, he has added a dinner program that has already evolved from the prix-fixe format I encountered last spring to a full menu, including pizza.

Where 4605 Olive Street • More info 314-454-6868; bowoodbyniche.comHours Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Thursday-Monday • Pricing $$-$$$

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Brasserie

Steak au poivre with pommes frites at Brasserie by Niche




The older Brasserie by Niche gets — it turns 14 this year — the more brasserie-like it becomes. Gerard Craft and his team nailed the basic concept upon opening, and while dishes might come and go with the seasons or as specials, the restaurant’s core menu is familiar. You know you can walk into Brasserie on a glum night, grab a seat at the bar, and drown your troubles in a glass of wine, the rich broth and blistered Comté cheese of the French onion soup and the juices that pool under your steak and frites. Your experience can range from the joyously busy main dining room to the more intimate Brass Bar next door. Brasserie by Niche was once the shiny new thing. Now, far more importantly, you know it is there for you every day.

Where Brasserie by Niche, 4580 Laclede Avenue • More info 314-454-0600; brasseriebyniche.comHours Dinner daily, brunch Sunday • Pricing $$$-$$$$

Where Brass Bar, 4584 Laclede Avenue • More info 314-361-1200; brasseriebyniche.com/brassbarHours Dinner Thursday-Monday (closed Tuesday-Wednesday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Cate Zone Chinese Cafe

Beef brisket tendon noodle soup at Cate Zone Chinese Cafe 




The past few years have transformed Olive Boulevard in University City. This crucible of small, often immigrant-owned restaurants has seen storefronts wiped off the map to make way for a sprawling new commercial development at Olive and Interstate 170. Add in the effect of the pandemic on the restaurant industry, and it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about this vital St. Louis neighborhood. Which is how Cate Zone Chinese Cafe, which not so long ago was one of the upstarts along Olive and which still radiates a youthful energy, has found itself among the neighborhood’s stalwarts. Cate Zone is small, but its menu is capacious. The restaurant essentially introduced St. Louis to the Dongbei cuisine of China’s northeast, also staked a claim to being one of its best Sichuan restaurants and, even if you aren’t interested in China’s regional cuisines, serves a sweet-and-sour pork to have you swear off your favorite restaurant forever.

Where 8148 Olive Boulevard, University City • More info 314-738-9923 • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Chao Baan

Beef nam tok — grilled steak drizzled with lime, chile and toasted rice powder — at Chao Baan




In October, the Prapaisilp family announced plans to relocate their South Grand Boulevard institution the King and I to Richmond Heights. The news was the latest monumental change to the South Grand commercial district, following the closing of Pho Grand and City Diner and the transformation of Cafe Natasha’s into Salve Osteria. According to Shayn Prapaisilp, son of the King and I founders Suchin and Sue Prapaisilp, one of the main reasons for the move was overlap between the King and I and the family’s newer Thai restaurant in the Grove, Chao Baan. Fans of the King and I who don’t want to trek to Richmond Heights will find several of that restaurant’s beloved dishes on Chao Baan’s menu. Still, don’t overlook Chao Baan’s original showstoppers drawn from Sue’s native northeast Thailand and Suchin’s native south such as sai grog (sausage), beef nam tok and fiery kua kling with ground beef.

Where 4087 Chouteau Avenue • More info 314-925-8250; chaobaanstl.comHours Dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

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Chez Ali

Yassa chicken at Chez Ali




There are any number of approaches to visiting the Food Hall at City Foundry, which offers more delicious choices than I can fit into this list. But if your heart isn’t already set on one restaurant in particular, I suggest starting at Chez Ali. You might get lucky and find chef and owner Alioun “Ali” Thiam’s oxtails on the cafeteria-style buffet. These are the best oxtails I’ve eaten in St. Louis — or anywhere else, for that matter — smoked and then cooked down on the stovetop, meaty, peppery and touched with the mellow sweetness of long-simmered vegetables. No oxtails? No problem. Chez Ali’s default offerings are jerk chicken and curry chicken, the former blazing with scotch bonnet chiles and mustard, the latter more subtly spicy. Order both as a combo platter with rice and beans and cabbage.

Where Food Hall at City Foundry, 3730 Foundry Way • More info cityfoundrystl.com/food-hallHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

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Chicken Scratch

A crispy chicken sandwich, served with Brussels sprouts and jojo potatoes, at Chicken Scratch 




In February, Christine and Nate Hereford opened a brick-and-mortar location of their Food Hall at City Foundry restaurant Chicken Scratch in Glendale. The new storefront is small but a milestone nonetheless — for the Herefords, who had originally envisioned their rotisserie-chicken restaurant as a standalone operation, and also for the Food Hall itself. Chicken Scratch is the first of its kitchens to expand elsewhere. This growth won’t shock anyone who has eaten Chicken Scratch’s succulent rotisserie chicken or its fried chicken sandwich, a standout by itself and otherworldly dabbed with the Fresno chile-based house hot sauce. An actual Chicken Scratch shock? The fried chicken is only its second-best sandwich, after the Dip: pulled rotisserie chicken gilded with provolone and accented with marinated kale and zippy horseradish mustard.

Where Food Hall at City Foundry, 3730 Foundry Way • More info chxscratchstl.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

Where 9900 Manchester Road, Glendale • More info chxscratchstl.comHours Lunch and dinner Thursday-Sunday (closed Monday-Wednesday) • Pricing $-$$

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ChiliSpot

Chongqing-style fried chicken at ChiliSpot




I have never seen ChiliSpot anything less than bustling — not just its University City dining room but the entrance where bags of takeout wait to be picked up by delivery-app drivers. The problem isn’t finding a seat but seeing and smelling all the amazing dishes from ChiliSpot’s lengthy menu and figuring out what to order. On my latest visit, I ordered the Sichuan dish that is probably best known here in America, the kung pao chicken, and was rewarded with a version far more potent in its heat (not to mention ticklish Sichuan peppercorns) than any other I’ve tried. Every meal here has yielded a reward, even before the pandemic, when the restaurant operated under the name Sze Chuan Cuisine: fiery Chongqing chicken, cumin lamb, braised greens with black mushrooms and the luscious homemade tofu.

Where 7930 Olive Boulevard, University City • More info 314-925-8711; bestspicy.comHours Lunch and dinner daily (closed Wednesday) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Clara B's Kitchen Table

A biscuit sandwich from Clara B’s Kitchen Table




When Clara B’s Kitchen Table made its STL 100 debut last year, I had only visited the original food truck. In February 2022, chef and owner Jodie Ferguson opened a brick-and-mortar Clara B’s in Belleville. You could say the new location was a hit. Ferguson has already outgrown that space and is moving Clara B’s into a shared space with Belleville’s LongStory Coffee. The relocation is in progress as I write this, but Clara B’s is serving food from the truck at LongStory. When I visited this winter, I was even able to try such new (to me, at least) dishes as a hefty fried bologna sandwich zippy with mustard and brawny brisket chili served over thick fries. Inspired by her late grandmother, the eponymous Clara Bloodworth, Ferguson’s cooking — especially her signature shrimp and grits and breakfast burrito — is worth seeking out wherever she sets up shop.

Where 732 South Illinois Street, Belleville • More info 618-416-1812; clarabs.comHours 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday; check social media for food truck location) • Pricing $

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Cleveland-Heath

Jerk chicken with cilantro-coconut rice, black beans and passion fruit boba at Cleveland-Heath 




Cleveland-Heath has been the dining destination in downtown Edwardsville for a dozen years now — remarkable in any circumstances, even more so considering the restaurant is now under its third different owners. Evan and Gina Buchholz have been leading Cleveland-Heath for just over a year now, following the eponymous founders Jenny Cleveland and Eric “Ed” Heath and their successors, Kari and Keith McGinness. In that time, Evan has kept such Cleveland-Heath classics as the posole, pork chop and cherry pie on the menu, but he hasn’t been afraid to introduce his own voice. My most recent visit included prickly jerk chicken served over coconut-cilantro rice with black beans and the unexpected, brilliant sweet-tart accent of passion fruit boba.

Where 106 North Main Street, Edwardsville • More info 618-307-4830; clevelandheath.comHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Crooked Boot

Fried catfish po’boy from the Crooked Boot




Tucked into a small storefront with only counter seating (and not much of it) just off Interstate 70 in St. Charles is one of the metro area’s most intriguing menus, a Creole-inspired selection that has branched out into the fare of Haiti as well. The Crooked Boot is the sort of restaurant that must be born from the passion of an individual chef, not focus-grouped demand: Coria Griggs, who ditched the corporate life several years ago to pursue cooking, first with a food truck, now with a brick-and-mortar location as well. A new visitor can survey Griggs’ talent by pairing an order of akra, Haitian fritters of the root vegetable malanga, with one of her terrific sandwiches: the Savage Crabwich (soft-shell crab) or the Lafayette (fried or blackened shrimp) or Tha Bundee Boy (fried or blackened catfish) po’boys.

Where 2012 Campus Drive, St. Charles • More info 636-757-3305; the-crooked-boot.square.site • Hours Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday); truck hours and location vary • Pricing $

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The Curry Club

Biryani at the Curry Club




If I lived or worked full time in Chesterfield, I would eat at the Curry Club at least once a week — more often, most likely. The small, usually packed shopping-plaza storefront offers an oft-changing variety of Indian fare in its weekday lunch buffet and weekend specials. Focusing on the cuisine of southern India — the restaurant’s founders all hail from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh — the Curry Club’s main attraction is that lunch selection, a cafeteria line that usually features a couple of chicken curries that don’t stint on the chile heat, as well as nonmeat (vegetable, dal) fare. There is a separate menu of dosas made to order, and in the evening you might build a feast from Hyderabad chicken dum biryani, naan and, as a snack, crisp fried green chiles (gongura mirchi bajji).

Where 1635 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield • More info 636-778-7777; stlcurryclub.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (opens at 9 a.m. Saturday-Sunday, closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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DD Mau

Shrimp bao sliders at DD Mau Vietnamese Eatery




Did Julie Truong reinvent the fast-casual restaurant for Vietnamese cuisine at DD Mau Vietnamese Eatery, or did she reimagine her Vietnamese cooking for our fast-casual age? It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question, I suppose, though the vibrant, uncompromising flavors of the food at her original Maryland Heights location and its Webster Groves spinoff suggest the former. You win either way. You can customize your main course — vermicelli or rice bowls, banh mi, fried rice, bao sliders — but DD Mau is at its best when you let Truong lead the way with the pungent heat of her Thai chile pepper wings or the rich, warmly spiced heart of her pho broth. DD Mau isn’t a vegan restaurant, per se, but its vegan-friendliness is a model for other local, independent operations, from entire dishes (the terrific vegan lemongrass soup) to faux chicken and shrimp options to add to your meal.

Where 20 Allen Avenue, Webster Groves • More info 314-926-0900; ddmaustl.comHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

Where 11982 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights • More info 314-942-2300; ddmaustl.comHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery

The torta carnitas at El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery 




I’m older now and a parent. I take fewer risks. Like, I still order the torta at Fausto and Maggie Pizarro’s El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery in Manchester, but I don’t try to finish it. If you don’t count the gimmicky, over-the-top sandwiches some local spots run as specials, the torta here might be St. Louis’ most overwhelming sandwich. And you actually want to eat it: the meat of your choice with ham and head cheese; mayo and a chipotle salsa; Oaxacan cheese and queso fresco; beans; lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado. You can’t go wrong with your choice of meat, either in your torta or as a taco. The secret-recipe pork al pastor is deservedly El Toluco’s signature dish, though these days I’m partial to the lamb barbacoa.

Where 14234 Manchester Road, Manchester • More info 636-686-5444; eltolucotaqueria.comHours Lunch Tuesday-Saturday (open until 7 p.m. Friday, closed Sunday-Monday; grocery store open Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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Fattened Caf

The Kamayan Box from the Fattened Caf




Charlene and Darren Young’s Filipino barbecue restaurant the Fattened Caf is no longer a pop-up. The Fattened Caf is now a regular fixture inside Earthbound Beer on Cherokee Street in Gravois Park, which had been its usual pop-up location. It’s been a big year for the Fattened Caf: You can also find the couple’s food at St. Louis City SC’s new CityPark stadium. Anything that brings the Youngs’ cooking to more people is a step forward for St. Louis dining. Drawing on Charlene’s love of sharing her Filipino heritage and Darren’s love of the grill, the Fattened Caf turns out a citrusy, charry take on a St. Louis backyard staple with its Pinoy Pork Steak, and it has added its savory-sweet longganisa to the list of the area’s great grilled sausages. Also keep an eye out for classic Filipino dishes like chicken adobo on the menu board inside Earthbound.

Where Earthbound Beer, 2724 Cherokee Street • More info thefattenedcaf.comHours Dinner Thursday-Saturday, brunch Saturday • Pricing $

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Fire Chicken

Chicken gangjeong at Fire Chicken 




Did the hottest option at Fire Chicken get even hotter over the past year, or am I just happy to be eating the Overland takeout restaurant’s chicken gangjeong again? Eating my order of Buldak chicken gangjeong in my car because I didn’t want to sacrifice a minute of the fried chicken pieces’ crispness, I felt flushed and flop-sweaty after only a few bites. I felt great, in other words. Each of Fire Chicken’s hot sauces — Fire, Red and Buldak in ascending order of power; mild teriyaki is also available — pack flavor as well as punch, finely calibrated umami, aromatics and sweetness. Michelle and Sungmin Baik opened Fire Chicken in the depths of the first pandemic summer, but then and now their food transcends takeout convenience.

Where 10200 Page Avenue, Overland • More info 314-551-2123; facebook.com/firechickenstlHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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Fleur STL

A slinger at Fleur STL 




If the ghost of the Eat-Rite Diner lingers around its former home, it doesn’t seem to bother Tim Eagan. The chef and owner of Fleur STL, the new restaurant inside the iconic little building just south of downtown, has fashioned a diner in his own style, with an ambition barely contained by Fleur’s compact menu. The preparation of the eggs Benedict changes often; when I ordered it, Eagan served the eggs with very good pastrami he had cured in-house. For the slinger, he artfully stacks a patty of prime beef, potatoes, eggs and cheese and decorates it with chili and a tangle of onion “hay.” Fleur’s burger brings you two of those medium-rare patties with both cheese and aioli. Pair it with freshly cut fries or — if you really want to frighten the Eat-Rite ghost away — fried Brussels sprouts with bacon, shallots and a cider reduction.

Where Fleur STL, 622 Chouteau Avenue • More info fleurstlfoodgroup.comHours 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $-$$

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Fordo's Killer Pizza

From left: shakshuka, supreme and Hawaiian pizzas at Fordo’s Killer Pizza




Fordo’s Killer Pizza, a 2022 addition to the Food Hall at City Foundry, is one of two new restaurants from Gerard Craft’s Niche Food Group to debut on this year’s STL 100. It’s also one of two wood-fired pizzerias from Niche Food Group on the list. Fordo’s isn’t simply Pastaria remade for the food hall, though. The pizzas look similar, but Fordo’s tang, airy chew and blistered surface hew slightly closer to the Neapolitan ideal. More importantly, Craft has given executive chef Joe Luckey the freedom to experiment with the sort of pies you would never find at Pastaria. The Hawaiian pizza uses a roasted-pineapple sauce as the base for silky Volpi Heritage Prosciutto, mozzarella, red onion and jalapeño. A special pizza when I visited even riffed brilliantly on larb with lamb. Fordo’s also delivers familiar pizza pleasures like pepperoni and sausage with onion and bell pepper.

Where Food Hall at City Foundry, 3730 Foundry Way • More info fordospizza.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

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Gioia's Deli

A Hot Salami sandwich at Gioia’s Deli 




Shortly after the publication of last year’s STL 100, Gioia’s Deli opened a third location, a walk-up window at its Maryland Heights production facility, which itself had debuted only the previous year. In March, owners Alex and Amanda Donley announced plans for a fourth Gioia’s, which is slated to debut this spring in Valley Park. This likely isn’t the end of Gioia’s growth, either. The restaurant polled customers on future locations, and St. Charles finished No. 2 to the Valley Park-Fenton area. “We’re always looking for a spot in St. Charles,” Donley told the Post-Dispatch. The Donleys, both the current generation and Alex’s mother, Cathy, and grandmother, Arlene Versen, have proven ideal stewards of one of St. Louis’ culinary treasures, a restaurant where even after a century, the potential combinations of hot salami, roast beef and other meats and garnishes seems inexhaustible.

Where 1934 Macklind Avenue • More info 314-776-9410; gioiasdeli.comHours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

Where 623 North New Ballas Road, Creve Coeur • More info 314-776-9410; gioiasdeli.comHours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

Where 11855 Adie Road, Maryland Heights • More info 314-776-9410; gioiasdeli.comHours 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday (closed Saturday-Sunday) • Pricing $

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Golden Chicken in St. Peters

A chicken shawarma plate at Golden Chicken




The name of Golden Chicken might refer to the rotisserie chickens spinning behind the counter of this St. Peters storefront. Those chickens are exceptional: crisp-skinned, juicy and deeply flavorful thanks to a long herbal, citrusy marinade. (Fair warning: Call ahead if you want to order a whole chicken.) But Golden Chicken could also refer to owner Amjed Abdeljabbar’s general mastery of the bird. Spinning alongside the rotisserie chickens is the restaurant’s chicken shawarma, crackling with char and nearly as tender as the rotisserie. The chicken shawarma platter comes with garlic sauce — ask for the spicy version instead to fully electrify your meal. You should also upgrade your order of Golden Chicken’s hummus to spicy. It’s just $1 more for a jalapeño-based sauce that turns already very good hummus into a dish worth co-billing with that Golden Chicken.

Where 632 Jungermann Road, St. Peters • More info 636-244-3031; goldenchickenstpeters.comHours Lunch and dinner daily (closed Thursday) • Pricing $-$$

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Grace Meat + Three

Fried chicken served with cornbread and pickled beets at Grace Meat + Three




On the other side of the pandemic, Grace Meat + Three in the Grove is best appreciated as a greatest-hits collection from vastly talented chef and owner Rick Lewis. That makes Grace a destination for its fried chicken alone, among the best in the area and available in varying degrees of heat. (In my middle age, I now tap out at the basic Hot, which is plenty of fire.) Lewis knows how to fry: gnarly, juicy chicken; more delicate shrimp; cornmeal-crusted catfish. All three are available as a sandwich or po’boy, though when it comes to Grace’s sandwiches, the fried bologna larded with both pimento cheese and a sunny-side-up egg is the restaurant’s true indulgence. Having followed Lewis’ career from Quincy Street Bistro to Southern to Grace, I know he can continue to delight Grace’s many fans with these dishes indefinitely. I do wonder if he is ready to push his restaurant forward again, too.

Where 4270 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-533-2700; stlgrace.comHours Dinner Wednesday-Sunday, lunch Wednesday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $-$$

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The Gramophone

The Big Willie’s Meatball at the Gramophone 




At lunchtime on a typical Saturday, the tables inside the Gramophone in the Grove will be full or nearly so, there will be a line to order and a crowd around the register and the display of bagged chips as folks wait for takeout orders. Maybe someone is playing the guitar. It’s lively, as buzzy as the hot new restaurant in town at 7 p.m. on a Friday. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m., so I can only imagine what the Gramophone is like then. (I’m married with young kids, so I literally can only imagine being out this late.) If you want a classic Italian sub, you can get that. If you want a sandwich topped with jalapeño-popper soup, you can get that, too. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve eaten here, and I’ve only made it through maybe half the menu — and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

Where 4243 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-531-5700; gramophonestl.comHours 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday (kitchen closes at 1 a.m.; closed Monday) • Pricing $

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Havana's Cuisine

A ropa vieja sandwich at Havana’s Cuisine




For the Great Taste, the annual Post-Dispatch tasting event that follows publication of the STL 100, most participating restaurants bring one or maybe, in a few cases, two dishes for guests to sample. At her Great Taste debut last year, Havana’s Cuisine chef and owner Tamara Landeiro brought what looked like at least half the menu of her downtown Cuban sandwich shop. You might think, “Why not just bring a Cuban sandwich?” At Havana’s, though, Landeiro explores the many subcategories of the Cuban sandwich, from the classic arrangement of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard to variations that add salami or croquettes to the Elena Ruz’s trio of turkey, cream cheese and guava. I can’t pick a favorite or best sandwich at Havana’s so much as a favorite and best sandwich ingredient, Landiero’s roasted pork, a marvel of garlic, Seville orange and pig, no matter what else you put between bread with it.

Where 1131 Washington Avenue • More info 314-449-6771; havanascuisine.comHours 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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Juniper

Hot fried chicken at Juniper




Update: Juniper has closed. However, owner John Perkins plans to open a new concept called Sunday Best, featuring fried chicken and other Southern fare, in the same location. Perkins aims for a late July 2023 debut.

Once again, I visited Juniper certain I wanted the burger or the fried chicken, the centerpiece of John Perkins’ Central West End restaurant, and found myself intrigued instead by a new dish. For last year’s edition of the STL 100, it was an appetizer of grilled hen-of-the-woods mushrooms with Jimmy Red corn grits and popped sorghum. (The umami-laden dish remains on the menu.) This year, I couldn’t resist the idea of the RC Cola jus served with fork-tender beef short ribs, though this was just one component of the brilliant smoky-sweet dish with a smoked-farro risotto, buttery confit oyster mushrooms and the verdant accent of fried collard greens. Through two locations now and several changes in kitchen leadership under Perkins, Juniper has remained at the forefront of both can’t-miss favorites and thoughtful, modern Southern cooking.

Where 4101 Laclede Avenue • More info 314-329-7696; junipereats.comHours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Katie's Pizza & Pasta Osteria

Coppa pizza at Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria




Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria will open its third and most prominent location yet this spring at Ballpark Village. I’d say being across the street from Busch Stadium will introduce Katie’s to a significantly wider audience, but Katie’s early-pandemic pivot to frozen pizzas (first via shipping, then in grocery-store freezers) took care of that. Still, a frozen pie can’t compare to a pie right out of the restaurant’s wood-fired ovens in Rock Hill and Town and Country, whether a swanky version of pepperoni (with wildflower honey and Calabrian chile paste) or sausage (with fontina, leeks and fennel pollen) or an inspired creation like pancetta and persimmon with goat cheese, fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano — to say nothing of the sophisticated pastas from co-owner Katie Collier and her co-executive chef, Jake Sanderson. With the addition of Katie’s and Salt + Smoke a couple of years ago, Ballpark Village is finally bringing great local cuisine to Cardinals fans.

Where 9568 Manchester Road, Rock Hill • More info 314-942-6555; katiespizzaandpasta.comHours Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday • Pricing $$$

Where 14171 Clayton Road, Town and Country • More info 636-220-3238; katiespizzaandpasta.comHours Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday • Pricing $$$

Where 751 Clark Avenue • More info 314-942-2416; katiespizzaandpasta.com • Hours Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday • Pricing $$$

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Khanna's Desi Vibes

Tandoori lamb chops at Khanna’s Desi Vibes 




Poke around any lengthy menu long enough, and you’ll eventually find the weak point. Or so I’ve always thought. Khanna’s Desi Vibes might prove me wrong. The sprawling menu of Pravin Khanna’s Chesterfield restaurant has yet to disappoint, from the dusky spice and tender, grassy lamb of paprika-red rogan josh to dishes I had never encountered before my visits here, like the fenugreek-kissed malai chicken tikka served in a smoking miniature tandoor. The cuisine of India’s north is the menu’s main focus, but there are personal touches, including Italian and Mexican fusion dishes inspired by Khanna’s business travels before he entered the restaurant industry, as well as his mother’s recipe for the tomato-chickpea dish Amritsari chole. Be sure to read the fine print on Khanna’s menu. For many dishes, it recommends a specific bread or breads as a pairing. Like the menu as a whole, these recommendations haven’t led me astray yet.

Where 13724 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield • More info 314-392-9348; desivibesstl.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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The Kitchen

General Tso’s chicken at the Kitchen 




The Kitchen is a new restaurant and the next chapter of a family’s legacy. Sisters Mary Nguyen and Kristin Liu opened the Kitchen in November 2021 in the former home of Chinese Gourmet Restaurant in Florissant, the restaurant their parents founded after immigrating to the United States from Vietnam. They draw on the recipes their late mother, Tram Nguyen, cooked at Chinese Gourmet Restaurant and Bamboo Bistro downtown. The menu ranges across familiar American Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes: St. Paul sandwiches, pad thai in a subtly sour tamarind sauce, fragrant pho. The Kitchen’s General Tso’s chicken might be the best in town, crisp and teasingly tart under its citrus and heat, and look to the restaurant’s selection of stir-fries for a pungent deployment of red curry paste with a vibrant lemon-grass bite.

Where 14065 New Halls Ferry Road, Florissant • More info 314-831-9292; the-kitchen-asian-restaurant.business.site • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Kreis' Steakhouse & Bar

The signature prime rib at Kreis’ Steakhouse & Bar 




Frontenac institution Kreis’ Steakhouse & Bar celebrates its 75th birthday in 2023. To say I was overdue for a visit is an understatement. My dinners there this past fall found no dust gathering in the dining room but a proud, confident operation in both the front and the back of the house. Of course, Kreis’ means prime rib, and a slab of juicy beef remains a must-order here. (Even the smallest cut, the Queen, is a hefty piece of meat.) But the kitchen also sends out a fine strip steak and some of the best lamb chops in St. Louis, with a peppery crust and the meat’s distinctly grassy tang. Seafood hits all the pleasure points: perfect oysters Rockefeller (a special); crabcakes sweet with lump crab meat; buttery garlic shrimp. In 1983, brothers Byron and Tyke Tompras became Kreis’ stewards. Byron’s daughter Renee Bogdanos and her son, Nick, now lead Kreis’ impressive, lively legacy into the future.

Where 535 South Lindbergh Boulevard, Frontenac • More info 314-993-0735; kreissteakhouse.comHours Dinner daily • Pricing $$$$

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La Patisserie Chouquette

The Darkness, a triple chocolate croissant, at La Patisserie Chouquette 




Simone Faure’s La Patisserie Chouquette in Botanical Heights is a semifinalist for the nationwide “outstanding bakery” category in this year’s James Beard Awards. When the semifinalists were announced in January, Faure told the Post-Dispatch she was in “shock and disbelief” about the honor, though “grateful” for herself and her team. “I grew up in New Orleans; I grew up in the projects,” Faure said. “Like, I wasn’t even supposed to be a French pastry chef. You know, I had already defeated all these odds.” The honor won’t surprise regular patrons of La Patisserie Chouquette, where for a decade now Faure and her team have been showcasing their sublime creations: macarons in every color of the visible spectrum; everyday croissants and the highly sought chocolate croissant known as the Darkness; an ethereal lemon curd tart with raspberry jam and an airy puff of Swiss meringue.

Where 1626 Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-932-7935; simonefaure.comHours 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $

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La Tejana Taqueria

Tacos at La Tejana Taqueria 




I could pick and choose individual tacos from my favorite St. Louis restaurants to create a sort of Super Taqueria, but even then I don’t know if it would make for a more satisfying overall experience than Antonio and Brenda Garcia’s Bridgeton mainstay La Tejana Taqueria. You might notice the La Tejana difference in the small details — how what the English side of the menu calls cheese dip isn’t typical queso but rajas con crema, a rustic dip of roasted poblano chiles with onions, corn and cream. You’ll definitely notice it in how you can confidently order any of the taco fillings rather than whatever the house specialty is, from tender suadero to brawny carnitas to succulent cabeza. Longtime readers of this list have probably tired of me mentioning this dish, but no all-star restaurant could hope to match La Tejana’s exceptional goat soup.

Where 3149 North Lindbergh Boulevard, Bridgeton • More info 314-291-8500; latejanastl.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $

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Lona's Lil Eats

A chicken plate with cucumber salad at Lona’s Lil Eats




I probably reached the peak of praise I could offer Lona’s Lil Eats last year when I said it was a restaurant without peer in St. Louis. This remains true, and if you still haven’t tried Lona Luo’s Fox Park restaurant, I feel sad for you — but also excited that you might still experience her personal Chinese- and Thai-influenced cooking for the first time. If you need further provocation after all that, well, consider that Lona’s brisket wrap could be the best barbecue sandwich in St. Louis despite Lona’s not being a “traditional” barbecue restaurant and a rice-paper wrap not being a “traditional” sandwich. Still, if the point of a barbecue sandwich is to somehow accent excellent smoked meat, you can’t do much better than the crunch of fresh greens, the cushion of fragrant jasmine rice and Lona’s searing spicy sesame sauce with brisket better than most of the ‘cue joints in town. Get the brisket wrap, the Hill Tribe Soup and the dumplings, and thank me later already.

Where 2199 California Avenue • More info 314-925-8938; lonaslileats.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $

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Mai Lee

Crispy salt-and-pepper calamari at Mai Lee 




Not quite three years later, my family and I sat down to lunch at Mai Lee in Brentwood, which was the site of our final dine-in restaurant meal before the pandemic shut everything down. We didn’t mark the occasion. We had already returned to restaurants together, and we were tired of talking about COVID. We just ate. I made the kids order from the Vietnamese side of Mai Lee’s menu rather than the Chinese because they needed to branch out, and among their 200-plus dishes, the Tran family offers something to please surely anyone, from soulful pho and other soups to crisp salt-and-pepper calamari to fiery stir fries bright with lemongrass. I got the kids bo lui and ga lui, beef and chicken shish kebabs, respectively. They dug them. They don’t know it yet, but they are going to be Mai Lee customers for as long as they live in St. Louis, and I know now not to take that for granted.

Where 8396 Musick Memorial Drive, Brentwood • More info 314-645-2835; maileestl.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $$

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Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience

Del Trompo at Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience




If any St. Louis restaurant would find a unique twist on the inescapable quesabirria, it would be Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience in Ellisville. Here Angel Jimenez-Gutiérrez and his mother, María Gutiérrez Molina, have fashioned a Mexican dining experience unlike any other in town, deeply personal dishes plated with an artist’s soul and an architect’s eye. For their quesabirria, they stuffed a corn machete (a smaller version of the oblong quesadilla called a machete) with extraordinary lamb, smoky and guajillo-spiced, and Chihuahua cheese. It paired well that evening with one of Malinche’s signature dishes, Del Trompo, a single taco al pastor treated with the reverence its succulent achiote-seasoned pork deserves. A shopping-plaza storefront, Malinche is a casual restaurant, and on Monday and Tuesday it offers an even more casual taco-focused menu. Still, the word about Malinche is out: Reservations are a must.

Where 15939 Manchester Road, Ellisville • More info 636-220-8514; malinchestl.comHours Dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$

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Mayo Ketchup

Pernil at Mayo Ketchup 




Of the restaurants slated to open in 2023, one of the most intriguing is Salsa Rosada, the new venture from Mayo Ketchup chef and owner Mandy Estrella. At Salsa Rosada, Estrella will turn her attention to the cuisines of Venezuela and Colombia. At Mayo Ketchup, she has already showcased her passion for the food of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, serving a menu of sandwiches, rice bowls and appetizers that don’t lack any spark for being served in the fast-causal format. Let pork and plantains be your guide. Pork is the star of the standout pernil bowl (with arroz con gandules and fried plantains) as well as the Cuban and, with steak, La Tripleta sandwiches. As for plantains — well, Estrella’s nickname is Plantain Girl, after all. Fried green plantains bracket the jibarito sandwich, and tostones tossed in Buffalo sauce is the must-order appetizer.

Where 2001 Park Avenue • More info 314-696-2699; plantaingirl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $

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Nathaniel Reid Bakery

Amber-caramel pecan tarts (left) and ruby-chocolate and raspberry tea domes at Nathaniel Reid Bakery 




Bakery & desserts • Sandwiches

I brought my kids the double-chocolate brownie from Nathaniel Reid Bakery. These were their verbatim reactions. The 9-year-old: “Oh my God!” The 5-year-old: “What the heck? This is amazing!” Embrace your inner child’s sweet tooth at Nathaniel Reid’s world-class bakery in a Kirkwood shopping strip. Your reaction will be similar whether you choose that brownie or one of the gems, full or personal-sized, that look as if they came straight from a glossy Food & Wine photo spread. (First-timers might begin with the otherworldly Amber: salted caramel mousse and pecan caramel on a sablé Breton.) Make a meal out of a visit with a sandwich and a pastry — or maybe a “sandwich” of smoked ham and Gruyère inside a seeded croissant. With dessert programs in retreat in many restaurants, supporting the work of Reid, fellow STL 100 honoree Simone Faure of La Patisserie Chouquette and other dedicated pastry chefs is as vital as it is delicious.

Where 11243 Manchester Road, Kirkwood • More info 314-858-1019; nrbakery.comHours 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Nomad

Pastrami sandwich at Nomad 




St. Louis needs more Nomads. Not exact copies of this specific sandwich shop but more situations like the one that has let chef Tommy Andrew and his specific vision thrive in Dogtown. For one, Andrew isn’t running an entire operation — Nomad is the restaurant inside Tamm Avenue Bar, which boasts a good beer list and a spacious patio — so he can concentrate on food. Second, Andrew’s focus is narrow, if not exclusive: pastrami. He wanted to become “the pastrami guy,” he said a few years ago, and he has succeeded. His pastrami is meaty, smoky, salty, bright with coriander and swaggering with black pepper: St. Louis’ new standard for the dish. For a likewise beneficial arrangement, see Nomad’s fellow STL 100 honoree, Melanie Meyer’s Tiny Chef inside the Silver Ballroom in the Bevo Mill neighborhood. How many other talented chefs might shine if given a similar opportunity?

Where Tamm Avenue Bar, 1221 Tamm Avenue • More info 314-696-2360; facebook.com/nomadeatsstlHours Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $

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Nudo House

Shroomed Out, a vegetarian mushroom ramen, at Nudo House 




I’ll leave it to the sportswriters to opine about what the arrival of St. Louis City SC and the club’s shiny new CityPark stadium means to St. Louis. I can say the curation and rollout of CityPark’s food options have been superb, and the day I drove past the stadium on Olive Street and saw the sign advertising Nudo Goonies for sale was thrilling. Goonies are crab Rangoon, of course, a perfect snack that Nudo House co-owner Qui Tran and his family had already perfected at their Vietnamese restaurant Mai Lee. Even though Nudo House was born of last decade’s ramen boomlet, those crab Rangoon are among the elements that make this restaurant from Tran and co-owner Marie-Anne Velasco a distinctly St. Louis affair, as is the way it intensifies its already excellent tonkotsu ramen (Classic Nudo) with spicy ‘nduja from local artisan Salume Beddu for its aptly named ‘Nduja Bomb.

Where 11423 Olive Boulevard, Creve Coeur • More info 314-274-8046; nudohousestl.comHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

Where 6105-A Delmar Boulevard • More info 314-370-6970; nudohousestl.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $

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O! Wing Plus

Boneless chicken wings at O! Wing Plus




The Plus of Steven and Heidy Songs’ Overland storefront O! Wing Plus isn’t meaningless. The menu does extend beyond wings to include such Korean and Korean-fusion fare as tacos, kimchi fried rice and bibimbap. I remember, if hazily, a tasty riff on the cheesesteak with bulgogi beef. I say hazily because when I return to O! Wing Plus, I can’t resist the wings, which remain St. Louis’ best, even if you demand “the best” must mean Buffalo sauce. Look beyond Buffalo sauce, though, and you will find a range of flavors both searing and, crucially, flavorful, from the brown sugar-tempered O’S Original sauce through the Thai Chile Lime and Hot Mama! to the no-joke Beast Mode. The key to each flavor is the wings themselves, fried crisp, juicy without being greasy, so nothing interferes with those sticky, spicy sauces.

Where 10094 Page Avenue, Overland • More info 314-395-0180; owingplus.comHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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O+O Pizza

Gnocchi at O+O Pizza 




I didn’t expect to find rigatoni with lobster in a vodka-cream sauce at O+O Pizza, so I had to order it. It wasn’t playful or subversive. There were knobs of buttery lobster and al dente rigatoni in a gilding but not cloying sauce, all of it sharpened with Calabrian chile and fresh basil. If the lobster rigatoni isn’t my favorite dish here, it proves again why this Webster Groves restaurant serves some of the best Italian food in the region — and why, obvious branding advantages aside, it doesn’t need to rely on the luster of its beloved parent restaurant, Olive + Oak, to succeed. Chef Mike Risk and his team take every dish seriously, from toasted ravioli and pasta in vodka sauce to deck-oven pizza (somehow perfectly crisped and with the exact chew you want from a pie this thin) to more creative fare like corzetti served with octopus and emblazoned with a custom-made octopus stamp.

Where 102 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • More info 314-721-5422; oandopizza.oohosp.comHours Dinner daily • Pricing $$-$$$

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Olio

Spinach burek plate with a hard-boiled egg and salad at Olio




Israeli • Mediterranean

On a chilly late-winter afternoon, the Israeli bruschetta at Olio snaps with a summery brightness, the small, lush tomatoes popping against garlicky toast. The dish is light but substantial: a combination most restaurants can’t achieve but one that defines so much of what has made Ben Poremba’s Olio essential for the past decade, a place where a spritz, a salad and the Jerusalem bagel with its side of pomegranate molasses is simultaneously a simple lunch and a feast. Already one of the best spots to sip away a warm summer evening, over the pandemic Olio transformed its patio into as secluded an oasis as you can imagine along busy Tower Grove Avenue. You’re mere feet from the traffic and pressure of the city, but for a couple of hours, at least, your spirit is light.

Where 1634 Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-932-1088; bengelina.com/olioHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $$-$$$

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Pappy's Smokehouse

A rack of ribs at Pappy’s Smokehouse 




I first reviewed Pappy’s Smokehouse when it opened in 2008 — five and nine years before my two children were born. When I dined there most recently, my kids were 9 and 5 years old. This was their introduction to the complete Pappy’s experience: waiting in a line to order down the restaurant’s hallway for half an hour or so on a busy weekend afternoon. Of all the return-to-dining scenes I’ve witnessed in the past three years, the Pappy’s line is among the most welcome. It has become a rite of passage in the 15 years since Mike Emerson and John Matthews founded the barbecue restaurant, and Matthews continues to shepherd Pappy’s today in its original midtown home and its newer St. Peters outpost. (If you’re at the latter, make sure to get the pork skins as a side.) The draw remains the Memphis-style pork ribs smoked over apple and cherry rub with a peppery, lightly herbal dry rub — though if my kids are any indication, the pulled pork and turkey are also still winners.

Where 3106 Olive Street • More info 314-535-4340; pappyssmokehouse.comHours 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday (or until sold out; closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $-$$

Where 5246 North Service Road, St. Peters • More info 636-244-5400; pappyssmokehouse.comHours 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (or until sold out; closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $-$$

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Parkmoor Drive-In

Buffalo-queso toasted ravioli at the Parkmoor Drive-In 




Nostalgia is a seductive option for restaurateurs. When Frank Romano opened the new Parkmoor Drive-In in 2020 in Webster Groves, he could have imitated the late restaurant’s beloved onion rings, slapped the King Burger label on any stack of patties and waited for reminiscing St. Louisans to descend. Instead, over the past three years, he has built a distinct identity for Parkmoor: The Next Generation, drawing on the undeniable appeal of crisp onion rings and double steak burgers with cheese but also on such modern bites as Buffalo-queso toasted ravioli (the best nontraditional T-ravs in town) and spicy fried chicken sandwiches. The gumbo is more than credible, and the best thing on the menu might be the fried shrimp po’boy. There are sno-balls for the kids and spiked sno-balls for you. That isn’t nostalgia; it’s what you make family memories from.

Where 220 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • More info 314-938-5554; theparkmoor.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $$

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Paul Manno's Restaurant

A rack of lamb at Paul Manno’s Restaurant




Classic fine dining • Italian

Please stop emailing me. Since the first STL 100 in 2015, no restaurant’s absence from the list has prompted more feedback than Paul Manno’s Restaurant in Chesterfield, which Paul and Concetta Manno opened in 1995 and is now in the hands of Paul Manno Jr. I offer no excuses for not considering Paul Manno’s sooner, but the past three years have given me ample time to consider which restaurants I haven’t given a fair shake, and this swanky shopping-plaza charmer tops the list. Consider me chastened — and stuffed to the gills with plump lobster ravioli, peppery spaghetti alla Amatriciana, lamb chops as fragrant as a wild hillside with oregano and the tremendous bone-in veal chop. You dine at Paul Manno’s for the ambience as well as the food, a Frank Sinatra-soundtracked whirl of happy voices and rolling carts, which even Paul Manno Jr. himself might park beside your table.

Where 75 Forum Shopping Center, Chesterfield • More info 314-878-1274; paulmannos.comHours Dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$$-$$$$

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Pie Hard

The Island pizza at Pie Hard Pizzeria 




Founded as a food truck, Pie Hard Pizzeria settled into a cozy storefront in downtown Waterloo in the early months of the pandemic. In the center of the dining room, Michael Pastor, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Megan, tends the wood-fired oven, feeding it locally sourced white oak and running it from 700 to 750 degrees. The resulting crust is nicely smoky and a little firmer than a Neapolitan pizza. The McClane is a classic pepperoni pie with a touch of roasted garlic, and Pastor smartly tweaks the Hawaiian pizza, here called the Island, with candied bacon, pickled pineapple and jalapeño. For Sunday brunch, Pie Hard completely transforms its menu, though here, too, pizza is the standout, with candied bacon, sausage gravy and a scrambled duck egg. The truck is gone, but Pie Hard will soon move again, just around the corner, to a shared space with the Pastors’ new cocktail bar, Night Fox.

Where 122 West Mill Street, Waterloo • More info 618-939-4273; piehardpizza.comHours Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) • Pricing $-$$

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Pizzeria da Gloria

A mushroom pizza with cremini and oyster mushrooms at Pizzeria da Gloria




Another scene from last year’s Great Taste event: Joe Kurowski, the owner and pizzaiolo of Pizzeria da Gloria, tossing dough in the air at the St. Louis Science Center and cooking pies in a portable oven rather than his Hill restaurant’s wood-fired hearth. The pizzas were still a hit. This wasn’t surprising: Kurowski stepped away from a career as a lawyer to pursue his passion for pizza, and Pizzeria da Gloria showcases a chef who considers the ubiquitous dish his vocation, not just another dish. He bakes his crust at a lower temperature and for a few minutes longer than a traditional Neapolitan pie. The result is thinner, though still tangy and airy, with some nice char and an underlying crispness. His menu is compact, with pairings that make sense when you see them on the menu (sausage and broccoli rabe) and blow your mind when you try them (eggplant and garlic chili oil).

Where 2024 Marconi Avenue • More info 314-833-3734; pizzeriadagloria.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$

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Ian Froeb's Top 100 - Planter's House

A Manhattan at Planter’s House 




I would never suggest separating the renowned Planter’s House cocktail program from executive chef Sam Boettler’s kitchen. However, if bitters, bottled-in-bond bourbon and all of the world’s other booze and accessories disappeared tomorrow, I would still recommend a visit to Planter’s House for dinner. Boettler’s menu speaks with a fluid French accent. On a recent visit, he served a fine, rich cassoulet with duck confit and housemade country sausage in a tomato broth that sparkled over the fatty meats. Over the years, though, he has impressed with his chile-braised lamb adobo (back on the menu), a duck-miso broth and, of course, the go-to burger with manchego cheese, chorizo jam and a serrano relish. And if you regularly visit Planter’s House for a drink from Ted Kilgore and Co.’s menu of cocktails, innovative and classic, here’s your reminder: There is more to eat here than snack mix — though Boettler’s Gochujang Chex Mix is tasty.

Where 1000 Mississippi Avenue • More info 314-696-2603; plantershousestl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Sabroso Cocina Mexicana

Quesabirria at Sabroso Cocina Mexicana 




Laid off as the culinary director of Mission Taco Joint in the darkest days of the pandemic, chef Miguel Pintor with his wife, Brandin Maddock, opened Sabroso Cocina Mexicana in a quirky St. Ann shopping plaza that lacks much shopping. Pintor has been working toward Sabroso his entire life, really. His mother has operated a taco cart in Mexico City for 40 years. Pintor himself ranges across Mexican cuisine at Sabroso, from quesabirria to cochinita pibil. That latter dish of citrusy slow-roasted pork is Pintor’s signature, however you order it (plate, burrito, panucho), but his talent is as deep as his menu is broad. Order with confidence from the selection of tacos and huaraches. The carnitas was my favorite taco at Sabroso, though you can’t go wrong with the al pastor — Pintor’s mother’s recipe — as your meat of choice.

Where 11146 Old St. Charles Road, St. Ann • More info 314-918-5037; stlsabroso.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Salt + Smoke

Deviled eggs with bacon at Salt + Smoke




This year’s STL 100 features only four barbecue restaurants, the lowest total in the list’s eight editions. Is this a predictable correction to the barbecue boom that kicked off in earnest with the opening of Pappy’s Smokehouse in 2008 and kept on smoking through the following decade? Is it understandable given all the other kinds of restaurants demanding attention in our increasingly diverse dining scene? A little of both, probably. But also, crucially, given the sheer number of barbecue restaurants and the similarity among them, only the very best break through these days. Salt + Smoke has been among those best since it sliced its first fatty end of Texas-style brisket, with enough variety in its menu (the popovers, the burnt ends toasted ravioli) to make it more than just another barbecue joint, and the rare professionalism, courtesy of founder Tom Schmidt, to maintain its quality over multiple locations.

Where 6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City • More info 314-727-0200; saltandsmokebbq.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

Where 5625 Hampton Avenue • More info 314-727-0200; saltandsmokebbq.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

Where 501 South Main Street, St. Charles • More info 314-727-0200; saltandsmokebbq.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

Where 501 Clark Avenue • More info 314-727-0200; saltandsmokebbq.comHours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$

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Sameem Afghan Restaurant

Chicken karahi at Sameem Afghan Restaurant 




The whole point of restaurant criticism is that you describe someone else’s food, but I can’t do better than the story Sameem Afghan Restaurant co-owner Fahime Mohammad told me last year when I interviewed him about his involvement with the Festival of Nations. At the 2019 festival, an elderly man and woman walked past the booth where Mohammad was serving Afghan food. The man looked like he was having an asthma attack. Soon, the woman returned to Mohammad’s booth and told him the “amazing” aroma of his food had stopped her husband’s asthma attack. I would consult your doctor before you seek asthma treatment at Sameem, which Mohammad and his family have made a mainstay of the Grove, but a meal of pakowra with green chutney, eggplant boorani and the heat of either the chicken karahi or the lamb shank with biryani rice should cure what ails your soul.

Where 4341 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-534-9500; sameems.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Shorty's Smokehouse

Brisket platter at Shorty’s Smokehouse 




The brisket alone compels a visit to Shorty’s Smokehouse, which Anthony Hassler and Brandon Bauza opened in 2019 in the historic City Hotel building in downtown Waterloo. Smoked over hickory and sliced thick to order, it showcases the still all too rare combination of peppery bark and brawny beef luscious with fat. Try the rest of Shorty’s smoked meats, and you will understand the restaurant demands a visit for some of the metro area’s best barbecue: turkey infused with steamed butter; pulled pork finished with a dousing of its own juices; a snappy, feisty jalapeño-cheddar hot link. The sides are no slouch — both the potato chips and pork rinds are made in-house — and on Mondays, Shorty’s turns its brisket trimmings into top-notch smash burgers. Hassler calls his and Bauza’s ‘cue “Monroe County-style,” and I agree: There’s nothing else like it.

Where 121 South Main Street, Waterloo • More info 618-939-7665; shortyssmokehouse.comHours Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday, smash-burger lunch Monday (closed Tuesday) • Pricing $-$$

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Sides of Seoul restaurant

Kimchi jjigae at Sides of Seoul 




The pandemic forced most restaurants to improve their takeout game. Sides of Seoul went much further. The Lee family (Terry; his mother, Mimi; and his sister and brother-in-law Youni and Frankl Cho) removed the dining tables from their small Overland storefront and went takeout-only, which Sides of Seoul remains today. Crucially, they did so without sacrificing the appeal of their Korean fare. Granted, such go-to dishes as the spicy tuna kimbop and the rice bowl with spicy pork and glass noodles are takeout-friendly by nature, but my most vivid memory of pre-pandemic Sides of Seoul is a bowl of kimchi jjigae furiously bubbling at my table. The kimchi, pork and tofu stew might not be bubbling after you bring it home, but it will be ferociously flavorful, with the heat and fermented zest of the restaurant’s signature cabbage kimchi.

Where 10084 Page Avenue, Overland • More info 314-942-8940; sos-sides-of-seoul-korean-take-out.business.site • Hours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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Sister Cities Cajun

Seafood gumbo at Sister Cities Cajun




I have caught my white whale, the dish that eluded me for years, at Sister Cities Cajun: the smoked loinback ribs, which are now finally a regular menu item at Pamela Melton and Travis Parfait’s Marine Villa restaurant. Why obsess over ribs when there are so many excellent smoked ribs already available in St. Louis? Well, Sister Cities Cajun might not be a barbecue restaurant, per se, but Parfait knows how to smoke meat. Sister Cities’ signature dishes, both here and at its original location in Dutchtown, have included the exceptional, spicy dry-rubbed chicken wings and the Dirty Chick, smoked chicken over dirty rice smothered with Parfait’s nonsmoked masterpiece, seafood gumbo. The ribs earn their place in the Sister Cities pantheon, meaty, spicy and tender — but not too tender. Now that I’ve found the ribs, I can’t help but notice another dish I haven’t tried. Low Country Cioppinio?

Where 3550 South Broadway • More info 314-405-0447; sistercitiescajun.comHours Lunch and dinner Thursday-Monday (closes at 6 p.m. Sunday-Monday, closed Tuesday-Wednesday) • Pricing $-$$

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Songbird Cafe

Lox on a sesame seed bialy at Songbird 




I can finally tell you that Songbird looks as good as its food tastes. The Forest Park Southeast cafe hadn’t opened its dining room yet when I reviewed it in June 2021, which was the basis for its inclusion in last year’s STL 100. The snug dining room — pastel green walls, hardwood floor, warm light — exudes calm. I can’t prove Songbird’s exceptional bialy with lox tastes even better eaten from a plate than out of a takeout container, but, you know, it just does. I wouldn’t dare call this house-cured lox on a sesame-seed bialy Songbird’s signature dish when it shares a menu with the Combo bacon-egg-cheese sandwich with honey and sea salt that Songbird co-founders Chris Meyer and Mike Miller years ago made an icon of the Tower Grove Farmers Market experience. Give me a few more visits to the dining room, though, and I just might.

Where 4476 Chouteau Avenue • More info 314-781-4344; songbirdstl.comHours Breakfast and lunch Monday and Thursday-Sunday (closed Tuesday-Wednesday) • Pricing $

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Southwest Diner

Torta with barbacoa at Southwest Diner 




As if coming back from the worst days of the pandemic weren’t challenging enough, Southwest Diner in Ellendale suffered extensive flooding during last summer’s historic rainstorm. Owners Jonathan Jones and Anna Seidel and their staff cleaned up, saw Southwest hit by more flooding, cleaned up again and finally, thankfully reopened. Is irreplaceable too strong a word? Since 2012, Southwest has been the place to go in St. Louis for a taste of New Mexico and the broader Southwest: a green chile smash burger; posole and pork adovada dusky with red chile; sui generis creations like barbacoa fries. On my latest visit, I ordered the barbacoa as a torta instead, overstuffed just as you want it to be, tangy with guacamole and lit up with jalapeño and a smoky chipotle mayo.

Where 6803 Southwest Avenue • More info 314-260-7244; southwestdinerstl.comHours Breakfast and lunch daily (closed Tuesday) • Pricing $

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Station No. 3

A Crispy Chick’n sandwich at Station No. 3 




Fittingly, Station No. 3 in Benton Park is the third restaurant from chef Natasha Kwan and her husband, Rick Roloff. The number three also suggests a third path between the plant-based cooking of the couple’s first restaurant, Frida’s Deli, and their second venture, Diego’s Cantina, where chicken, fish and cheese are all on the menu. Station No. 3 is flexitarian: Most dishes are 100% vegan, but a few meat items (a turkey burger, a fish sandwich, a smoked-turkey sandwich) are available for those who partake. In truth, this omnivore found himself seduced by the vegan fare, especially the best fried faux-chicken sandwich I’ve encountered. Bar food is Kwan’s primary inspiration: mozzarella sticks, popcorn chicken, nachos and the like, all delicious even when you’re not totally convinced by the imitation meat or cheese.

Where 1956 Utah Street • More info 314-925-8883; station3stl.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Friday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant

Musakhan at Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant




Mediterranean • Middle Eastern

Begin your meal at Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant in the Grove with a cup of the curried lentil soup. As the menu reminds you, this is complimentary only at lunch if you get a main course as well; at dinner, go ahead and spend the extra $3.95. The soup’s warming spice never fails to soothe whatever stress I bring to a meal here. Since chef Jenar Mohammed opened Sultan four years ago with her husband, Akram Saeed, and their family, the restaurant has brought a studied elegance to its bustling neighborhood. A refugee from the Kurdistan region of Iraq in the 1980s, Mohammed serves Kurdish fare as well as dishes she has taught herself from throughout the region. Highlights include hummus and baba ganoush (the latter among St. Louis’ best), Palestinian musakhan fragrant with sumac, and the signature Sultan Pilau with lamb, rice, nuts and raisins inside a phyllo crust.

Where 4200 Manchester Avenue • More info 314-390-2020; sultan-stl.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Sweet Art

Southwest veggie burger with kale salad at SweetArt




The best part of SweetArt’s Instagram account — aside from the Reels showcasing owner Reine Keis’ baked goods and savory fare — is the recurring joke among the hashtags Keis uses. At her Shaw restaurant, Keis reminds us, #EverythingIsVegan, #YESeverything. You will need the reminder when you indulge yourself in one of SweetArt’s cupcakes, Big Momma cinnamon rolls and other baked goods. It would be unbelievable if Keis hadn’t started a line of plant-based cake and frosting mixes, Love + Magic, to let you try to approximate her alchemy — try and approximate being the key words. Keis’ savory breakfast and lunch fare sometimes seeks to imitate animal proteins (the replacement egg and sausage on the Grandpa Bill’s Biswich biscuit sandwich, crispy “chicken” sandwiches), but her signature Sweet Burger doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a warmly spiced, delicious mélange of vegan ingredients.

Where 2203 South 39th Street • More info 314-771-4278; sweetartstl.comHours 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday) • Pricing $

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Taberu

A sushi platter for two by Taberu




Alongside Nick Bognar of Indo and Noboru Kidera and his family at the relocated Nobu’s, Heidi Hamamura is transforming how St. Louis eats sushi. Hamamura doesn’t run a restaurant, however, but a catering operation called Taberu. She can deliver a sushi platter to your door, or she can cater your party or event. The care evident in each piece of nigiri and maki in your platter, from the texture of the rice to the edible gold that might accent a few pieces of toro, puts most sushi restaurants that don’t have to transport your dinner in a car to shame. (For transparency’s sake, for this STL 100 cycle, I experienced sushi and other dishes by Hamamura, assisted by her father and legendary St. Louis sushi chef, Naomi, at a dinner a friend catered.)

Where Catering and delivery service • More info instagram.com/taberu_stlPricing $$$$, contact via Instagram for availability and cost

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Tacos La Jefa

Beef tacos at Tacos La Jefa




It isn’t fair, really. On a recent visit to Tacos La Jefa, the birria specialist inside the Urban Eats incubator in Dutchtown, the menu featured a special: tacos al pastor. What’s more, this was a really, really good taco al pastor, the strips of pork striped with char but still tender under their crusts, the pineapple bits popping with warm juice. A sluice of the fiery house salsa, and I was in heaven. And I still had St. Louis’ best birria taco left to eat. Since its debut on last year’s STL 100, Tacos La Jefa has relocated to a more prominent position inside Urban Eats, directly across the seating area from the front door. This, in turn, means a more prominent position for the portrait of Tacos La Jefa’s late founder, Heriberta Amescua.

Where Urban Eats, 3301 Meramec Street • More info facebook.com/tacoslajefastlHours Lunch Tuesday and Thursday-Sunday (closed Monday and Wednesday) • Pricing $

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Tai Ke Shabu Shabu

Pineapple fried shrimp at Tai Ke Shabu Shabu




Tai Ke added Shabu Shabu to its name when it relocated from University City to Olivette a couple of years ago, and the counter where you sit if you want to order one of the Taiwanese restaurant’s hot pots is prominent inside its dining room. Still, I find it hard not to think of Tai Ke Shabu Shabu as plain old Tai Ke and to return to the dishes that made its original location a sensation. At my most recent meal, that meant cushy steamed bao filled with collapsing braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens and a scattering of peanut crumbs, from the menu’s selection of Taiwanese Street Snacks. (You could build an entire meal from these snacks if you like.) Pickled mustard greens are also the essential accent in the one dish that rivals the Taiwanese popcorn chicken as a must-order here: beef noodle soup with chopstick-tender beef-shank meat.

Where 9626 Olive Boulevard, Olivette • More info 314-801-8411; taikeshabushabu.comHours Lunch and dinner daily (closed Tuesday) • Pricing $$

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Taqueria Morita

Eggplant barbacoa tacos at Taqueria Morita




One of the two STL 100 honorees Take Root Hospitality opened last year, Taqueria Morita transforms the pavilion outside Tara and Michael Gallina’s Central West End flagship Vicia into a dining destination in its own right. Take Root partner and culinary director Aaron Martinez oversees a compact menu of tacos and other Mexican dishes that honor Vicia’s seasonal, technique-driven aesthetic. The best dish I ate there in late summer featured eggplant roasted at a low temperature, smoked, marinated and grilled to order: barbacoa. But Taqueria Morita is much more casual than Vicia or Take Root’s other 2022 debut, Bistro La Floraison. You line up to order, sit outside and can feast on fried fish tacos so good you’ll swear you’re in Baja California, not Cortex. After a winter residency at Take Root’s University City restaurant Winslow’s Table, Taqueria Morita is slated to return to Vicia with additional covered seating on April 12.

Where 4260 Forest Park Avenue (outside Vicia) • More info 314-553-9239; taqueriamorita.comHours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (starting April 12) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Terror Tacos

Birria tacos at Terror Tacos 




Terror Tacos, the vegan Tex-Mex restaurant along South Grand Boulevard’s commercial corridor in Tower Grove South, changed how I interview restaurant owners. From now on, whenever I’m unsure exactly how to describe the color of a wall or other detail, I ask. When I did so at Terror Tacos, assuming the answer would be fuchsia, owner Brian Roash told me it was in fact a custom color called Terror Pink. Those small details add up at Terror Tacos, where Roash and his brother Bradley Roach (the last names are spelled differently) have built a total experience from death metal, trippy decor and vegan tacos, burritos and more dishes that have won over this omnivore’s heart. First-time visitors should start with the birria made from convincingly seasoned seitan, excellent as tacos with the obligatory (vegan) consommé or as stuffed into one of Terror Tacos’ oversized burritos.

Where 3191 South Grand Boulevard • More info 314-260-9996; terrortacos.comHours Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $

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Melanie Meyer, owner and chef at Tiny Chef in south St. Louis, grew up in rural Missouri after being adopted from South Korea at a young age. 

Colter Peterson



Melanie Meyer of Tiny Chef, the walk-up Korean restaurant in the Silver Ballroom in Bevo Mill, has written the next chapter of her remarkable story. When I spoke to Meyer for last year’s STL 100, she was planning to visit her biological mother and other family members in South Korea. An adoptee raised in the United States, Meyer had tracked them down over the previous year. Since then, she has visited her Korean family twice, documenting the journey on social media. On her return from a second trip, you could see the impact in a practical way: a weekend special of her Umma’s Comfort Stew, with Korean sweet potato-starch noodles, Korean radish and seaweed and more in a nourishing broth all the more remarkable for being vegan friendly. (I did add chicken and an egg.) Meyer’s specials are a compelling reason to return to Tiny Chef frequently, though her standard menu of Korean street tacos and her bibimbap with spicy-sweet Dragon Sauce are more than reason enough to visit.

Where The Silver Ballroom, 4701 Morganford Road • More info 314-832-9223; facebook.com/tinychefstl; instagram.com/tinychefstlHours Dinner Monday and Friday-Sunday (closed Tuesday-Thursday) • Pricing $

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Anthony's Bar

Burger with cheddar, served with fries, at Anthony’s Bar




Classic fine dining • Italian

If you have yet to visit Tony’s dazzling, now almost 2-year-old home in Clayton — well, I get it. There’s been a pandemic, after all, and for many diners, Tony’s is the definition of a special-occasion splurge. Or maybe Tony’s old-school ways, even dressed up in new digs, just aren’t for you. Whatever your reason, don’t forget — as I often do when writing this list — that Tony’s is really two restaurants in one, the fine-dining institution and the more casual Anthony’s Bar, located above Tony’s. The same kitchen that turns out Tony’s legendary lobster albanello and beef tenderloin with foie gras will prepare your salad, sandwich or burger. And if you still question the old-school approach, consider Anthony’s burger, a lovely example of the tavern style, charry, cooked to the proper temperature and topped with a scoop of pub cheddar.

Where Tony’s, 105 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton • More info 314-231-7007; tonysstlouis.comHours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$$

Where Anthony’s Bar, 105 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton • More info 314-231-7007; tonysstlouis.comHours Dinner Monday-Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$

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Union Loafers

A Bistro Beef sandwich at Union Loafers




At long last, Union Loafers owners Sean Netzer and Ted Wilson have opened their bagel shop, Bagel Union. If the crowds I’ve seen outside the Webster Groves storefront on the weekend are any indication, anticipation for the project has only grown over the past few years. Bagel Union opened after the cutoff date for this year’s STL 100, so I must comfort myself with Union Loafers’ pizza instead: crust with the crispness and chewiness of a great New York City slice and the toppings you expect in a Neapolitan-inspired restaurant, pepperoni and Calabrian chile or spinach, bacon, garlic and lemon. Between Union Loafers’ pizza and breads, not to mention the sandwiches that use those breads as their base, I should have more than enough carbs to tide me over until it’s time to visit Bagel Union.

Where 1629 Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-833-6111; unionloafers.comHours Lunch Tuesday-Sunday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$

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Veritas

Pan-roasted king klip at Veritas




Veritas has never conformed to any easy description: a wine shop and specialty market that houses a restaurant, where chef Mathis Stitt turns out a weekly fine-dining menu to compete with any in the metro area. Yet Stitt can also plate a great burger, among other more casual dishes, and on my most recent visit to the spacious Ellisville storefront, I was reminded that he is a chef who treats brunch seriously, not as an obligation. Stitt’s shrimp and grits showed his usual hallmarks of precise technique — precisely cooked shrimp, not a millisecond overdone; creamy but not soupy grits — and inspired additions, here preserved lemon and a red-eye “crumble” in addition to Creole barbecue sauce. Sorting through Veritas’ menus online can be somewhat bewildering. The crispy cornbread with bacon jam and whipped butter I ordered at brunch is also on the Classics menu, which can be ordered alongside the fine-dining menu. Just go to the restaurant and trust Stitt.

Where 15860 Fountain Plaza, Ellisville • More info 636-227-6800; veritasgateway.com • Hours Dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday; store hours vary) • Pricing $$-$$$

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Westchester

French onion soup at Westchester 




Westchester, which opened at the beginning of January 2022 in one of Chesterfield’s many shopping plazas, aims to be several different things at once. Most obviously, it features upscale, seasonally driven fare from executive chef and co-owner Matthew Glickert: morels with fettuccini in a heady truffle-cream sauce, say, or golden-brown halibut dabbed with a spring-onion butter. It also wants to provide such familiar comforts as French onion soup and steak. Does Westchester also want to be the spot where you treat yourself to lunch or a bite at the bar after work? Glickert’s burger, fried bologna sandwich and hoisin-seasoned smoked, fried pork belly make that argument. Westchester also hopes you’ll stop in for a glass of wine. Bryan Herr, partners with Glickert and John Cowling, previously owned the wine and whiskey bar Naked Vine. Unlike many restaurants with similar ambitions, Westchester succeeds in all of these facets and feels more accomplished than its year-plus age would suggest.

Where 127 Chesterfield Towne Center, Chesterfield • More info 636-778-0635; westchesterstl.comHours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$-$$$$

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STL 100: Cuisines index