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BONUS ISSUE • MARCH 8, 2020 •

STLTODAY.COM/STL100

Vicia

Bulrush

Indo

Savage Balkan Treat Box


MARCH 18, 2020 ST. LOUIS SCIENCE CENTER

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IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

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IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

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IAN FROEB’S STL 100 Visiting all 100? Get Ian’s advice wherever you are Use our interactive guide to find restaurants by cuisine, price range or location, or search for recent additions to discover a new favorite spot. stltoday.com/stl100 Indo

Michael and Tara Gallina, Vicia

Bulrush

Here’s a chance to taste for yourself Join us March 18 at the St. Louis Science Center for the Great Taste, our annual event featuring bites from nearly 50 restaurants listed in this guide.

Vicia

Edo and Loryn Nalic, Balkan Treat Box

stltoday.com/ourevents Logan Ely, Savage

Raise a glass to the next generation of St. Louis chefs The sixth annual edition of the STL 100 looks back on the decade that just ended, a thrilling 10 years for St. Louis dining. ❡ Chefs winning national recognition. The ongoing barbecue boom. The growth of food trucks and fast-casual dining. A new generation of ambitious young chefs. You will find all these developments and more represented in this list. ❡ You will also see the result of 2019’s stunning crop of debut restaurants, an influx that forced me to make the most difficult choices yet to form this list of the 100 most essential restaurants in St. Louis. ❡ So many compelling establishments have opened in recent years that this list can’t help but be incomplete. As ever, I look forward to broadening my scope and renewing my mission for next year’s edition. ❡ Until then, here is the STL 100 for 2020.

@ianfroeb

For starters ... ☛ The STL 100 is divided into the Top 25 and the Rest of the Best. There is no gap between No. 25 and whatever No. 26 would have been. ☛ Restaurants must have opened by Oct. 31, 2019, to be eligible for this edition. ☛ Pricing info is estimated per person based on dinner (when applicable).

OUR TEAM Gabe Hartwig editor, ghartwig@post-dispatch.com • Amy Bertrand Post-Dispatch features editor, abertrand@post-dispatch. com • Ian Froeb restaurant critic, ifroeb@post-dispatch.com • Norma Klingsick production editor, nklingsick@post-dispatch.com • Hillary Levin photo editor, hlevin@post-dispatch.com • Josh Renaud developer, jrenaud@post-dispatch.com • Donna Bischoff PostDispatch vice president of sales and marketing, dbischoff@post-dispatch.com • Emily Tintera event and sponsorship manager, etintera@ post-dispatch.com CONTACT US Advertise 314-340-8500, stltoday.com/advertise • Subscribe 314-340-8888, stltoday.com/subscribe • Write to us Go! Magazine, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 901 N. 10th St., St. Louis, MO 63101 COPYRIGHT 2020 Go! Magazine is published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Lee Enterprises. No part of Go! Magazine may be reproduced without prior written consent. For permissions requests, reprints, back issues and more information, call 314-340-8000, or visit stltoday.com/contact. ON THE COVER Post-Dispatch photos

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IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

■ Acero ■ Akar ■ Alta Calle ■ Annie Gunn’s ★ ■ Bait ■ Balkan Treat Box ★ ■ Bar Les Frères ■ Beast Craft BBQ Co. and Beast Butcher & Block ★ ■ The Bellwether ■ The Benevolent King ■ Billie-Jean ★ ■ Blues City Deli ■ Bogart’s Smokehouse ■ Brasserie by Niche ■ Bulrush ★ ■ Byrd & Barrel ■ Cafe Natasha’s ■ Cate Zone Chinese Cafe ■ Chao Baan ■ Cinder House ■ Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery ■ Cleveland-Heath ■ The Clover and the Bee ■ Cocina Latina ■ The Crossing ★ ■ Crown Candy Kitchen ■ The Curry Club ■ Edibles & Essentials ■ Elaia ★ ■ Elmwood ★ ■ El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery ■ Farmhaus ★ ■ Fork & Stix and Kiin Essentially Thai ■ Gioia’s Deli ■ Grace Meat + Three ★ ■ Guerrilla Street Food ■ Han Lao ■ I Fratellini ■ Indo ★ ■ J. Devoti Trattoria ★ ■ Jerk Soul ■ Juniper ■ J’s Pitaria ■ Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria ■ Knead Bakehouse + Provisions ■ Kounter Kulture ■ La Patisserie Chouquette ■ The Last Kitchen ■ La Tejana Taqueria ■ Lemmons by Grbic

■ Lona’s Lil Eats ★ ■ Louie ★ ■ Mac’s Local Eats ■ Mai Lee ■ Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience ■ Mayo Ketchup ■ Medina Mediterranean Grill ■ Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant ■ Mi Tierra Bonita ■ Morning Glory Diner ■ Nathaniel Reid Bakery ■ Nippon Tei and Ramen Tei ★ ■ Nixta ■ Nudo House ■ Olio ■ Olive + Oak ★ ■ Pappy’s Smokehouse ■ Pastaria ★ ■ Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. ■ Pie Guy Pizza ■ Pint Size Bakery ■ Pizza Head ■ Planter’s House ■ Polite Society ■ Private Kitchen and Soup Dumplings STL ★ ■ Rice Thai Bistro ■ Salt + Smoke ■ Sameem Afghan Restaurant ■ Sardella ★ ■ Savage ★ ■ Seoul Taco ■ Sides of Seoul ■ Sidney Street Café ★ ■ Sister Cities Cajun ■ Southwest Diner ■ The Stellar Hog ■ Stone Soup Cottage ★ ■ Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant ■ SweetArt ■ Taco Circus ■ Tai Ke ■ Taste ■ Tony’s ★ ■ Union Loafers ★ ■ Veritas ■ Vicia ★ ■ The Vine Mediterranean Cafe ■ VP Square ■ The Wood Shack ■ Yellowbelly

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P H O T O S : P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( I N D O ) ; H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( V I C I A , S AVA G E ) ; J . B . F O R B E S / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( B U L R U S H ) ; L A U R I E S K R I VA N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( B A L K A N T R E AT B O X )

Use this checklist to keep track of which places you’ve visited. Restaurants marked with a star are part of the Top 25.


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THE TOP 25 Vicia

1

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

If you know Vicia foremost for its vegetable-forward ethos, I understand. Chef Michael Gallina and his team work wonders with produce: a chicken-fried carrot that makes for a convincing faux Chicken McNugget (complete with honey-mustard sauce); a beet steak, grilled in beef fat and served with a beet bordelaise sauce that turns the root vegetable’s earthy sweetness into a compellingly meaty savor. Vicia isn’t the best restaurant only because of the kitchen’s vegetable prowess, though. At my most recent dinner there, seafood was the star — or, rather, seafood and vegetables, working in concert. A riff on cacio e pepe with luscious Maine peekytoe-crab meat and grilled cabbage. Crisp lettuce wraps that cradled plump, sweet diver scallops garnished with kimchi, pickled radish, buckwheat and a chile aioli.

To experience such a wide range of Vicia’s dishes, you don’t have to order the tasting menu. The Farmer’s Feast offers a family-style sampling of whatever the kitchen considers the day’s best snacks, main courses and sides. At $55 per person for a generous amount of food, it is a tremendous value and might be the best way to dine here. Vicia did end its lunch service recently, though with good reason. In November 2019, Michael and Tara Gallina opened Winslow’s Table in University City (in the

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Chicken fried carrots with honey mustard at Vicia former Winslow’s Home space), serving a more casual version of their food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 1 • OPENED 2017 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 4260 Forest Park Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-553-9239, viciarestaurant.com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Savage

2

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Chef Logan Ely’s Savage was already extraordinary when it opened in 2018. Using fermentation and preservation (among

other techniques), Ely built complex and deeply flavorful dishes from a larder of seafood and vegetables, the latter often of the underappreciated and underused variety. His tasting menus — laidback and smartly paced, even at the full 12-course length — made you appreciate yeast and mold as you elsewhere might revere prime beef and foie gras. When I returned for this year’s STL 100, I found Savage even more remarkable. Ely had refined one of my favorite dishes, warmed spot prawn and a sauce of its own roe, with a dash of green curry. He captured late autumn in a turkey-wheat flatbread with smoked-pumpkin

miso and both chicken and fish egg. He found the briny, earthy current through mussels, celery root and black-trumpet mushrooms. My return meal was all the more impressive for its lack of animal protein. I knew not to expect red meat, but (egg excepted) this time there wasn’t even any chicken. There is nothing else like Savage in St. Louis, and even at No. 2 on this list, I doubt Ely has reached his full potential yet.

A beet chiccarrone with a mousse of fermented potato and dried fish at Savage

P H O T O S : H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H

Gallina smoked the abductor muscles from those scallops and then used them in the XO sauce that helped season a bowl of pork-fat fried rice. So, really, pork, seafood and vegetables were the stars of the meal. Lots of pork: belly, jowl, coppa and a sausage fanned across one plate with sauerkraut and a pear puree.

LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 4 • OPENED 2018 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 2655 Ann Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-3548488, savagestl.com • HOURS Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday)

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THE TOP 25 Charred octopus with potatoes at Olive + Oak

Olive + Oak

5

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Shortly after this edition of the STL 100 is published, Webster Groves blockbuster Olive + Oak will move a block west to 216 West Lockwood Avenue. The new building is larger and will contain an event space as well as a satellite brewery and tasting room from Perennial Artisan Ales. Crucially, though, as coowner Mark Hinkle told me, the actual restaurant will retain its intimate vibe. “I’ve seen it happen too many times where you try to move or expand, and you know,

Indo

3

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, SEAFOOD, SUSHI, THAI

We long ago left behind the question “What should a great restaurant look like?” The more exciting question is “What can a great restaurant look like?” Nick Bognar — who last year crashed the STL 100’s Top 25 with his work at Nippon Tei (owned by his mother, Ann Bognar) — provides multiple answers at Indo, his debut restaurant. Indo can be a laid-back affair, small plates shared among friends. It can also be a tasting menu served by Bognar at the sushi counter, a meal that will require planning and money to secure a reservation — and roughly 2½ hours to experience. It can even be a fastcasual lunch. However

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you dine at Indo, you will encounter some of the most brilliant cooking and sublime sushi in St. Louis now or in any recent year. Bognar ages fish to maximize flavor and texture and then accents each piece of nigiri exactly as it demands. He dips into his family history for his grandmother’s larb recipe, here enlivened with lamb. He puts a bowl of freshly cooked rice, tricked out with Dungeness crab, on a fine-dining pedestal. Who knows what this decade holds for dining in St. Louis, but I am certain Bognar and Indo will be driving the conversation. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 1641D Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-899-9333, indo-stl.com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch TuesdaySaturday (closed Monday)

4

Stone Soup Cottage CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, FRENCH

No matter how many times I drive to Cottleville, turn off Highway N at the modestly marked entrance and follow the winding lane up the hill to Stone Soup Cottage, I don’t quite believe Carl and Nancy McConnell’s restaurant exists. It should be impossible, this beacon of four-star cuisine and unparalleled hospitality. My latest visit found Carl McConnell in a playful mood, larding a silken bisque of local pecans with a nugget of fried foie gras and gilding steak frites (housemade french fries included!) with shaved Burgundy truffles and

a cognac demi-glace. Visiting in winter, as the STL 100 inevitably leads me to do, I can appreciate McConnell’s savvy use of preserves (tomato and garlic sharpening pappardelle with roasted swordfish) and his greenhouses (a winter salad paired with a Maine lobster quiche). Stone Soup Cottage is an investment of time — the length of the meal and the advance preparation to make reservations — and money, but it repays both with dividends.

it just changes things,” Hinkle said. The new building aside, I wouldn’t change anything about Olive + Oak, where nothing seems out of reach for chef Jesse Mendica and her team, thanks to inspiration (a recent dish that recast tacos al pastor as a sort of chilaquiles with octopus) and impeccable technique (perfect oysters roasted or fried, the luscious cheddar grits that serve as the bed for espresso-rubbed beef tenderloin). LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 6 • OPENED 2016 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 102 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • MORE INFO 314-7361370, oliveandoakstl.com • HOURS Dinner daily

Winter garbure with Parisian gnocchi at Stone Soup Cottage

LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 2 • OPENED 2009 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 5809 State Highway N, Cottleville • MORE INFO 636244-2233, stonesoupcottage. com • HOURS Dinner Thursday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Wednesday)

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Short rib curry at Indo


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THE TOP 25 Roasted chicken with rapini and chicken jus at Louie

Sidney Street Café

6

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Kevin Nashan has nothing left to prove. For nearly two decades now, he has kept Sidney Street Café in the highest rank of St. Louis restaurants. He won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Midwest,” opened the popular and acclaimed Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. and established a second Peacemaker in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sidney Street could coast — and stepping into the Benton Park restaurant, you might feel as if it could be any evening from the past 10 years (if not longer ago) — but the kitchen is still pushing forward. A winter dinner here nodded to modern appetites (fluke crudo with pops of chile and salmon roe) and showcased singular thoughts (a contrast of beautifully bronzed scallops and a sour-potato vichyssoise). My meal was the chef’s tasting menu, five courses — a substantial beef-cheek dish among them — for $75, an outstanding high-end value. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 5 • OPENED 1985 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 2000 Sidney Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314771-5777, sidneystreetcafestl. com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

10

Louie

7

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, ITALIAN, PIZZA

If you visit Louie’s Instagram page, you will see many photos celebrating the staff of this 2-year-old restaurant. Birthday celebrations. Everyday celebrations. They are as compelling a reason to return to Louie as the food. Owner Matt McGuire is renowned in St. Louis for his hospitality, but that is too corporate a word for what he is building here. Call it a chosen family, one that just so happens to throw a hell of a dinner party. McGuire, chef Sean Turner and Louie’s team found a winning formula from the beginning: wood-fired pizzas, hearty pastas (Roman gnocco with pork ragu, béchamel and pecorino; chitarra with tomato, basil, chiles and ParmigianoReggiano), and among the best grilled pork chops and roasted chicken in town. They also know sometimes you need nothing more than great ingredients by themselves — a bowl of Castelvetrano olives, a plate of prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano — and great company. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 11 • OPENED 2017 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 706 DeMun Avenue, Clayton • MORE INFO 314300-8188, louiedemun.com • HOURS Dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

Elaia

8

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Once again, change has come to Ben Poremba’s Elaia. When I visited for last year’s STL 100, Aaron Martinez was newly installed as executive chef, succeeding Ben Grupe, who in turn had done exceptional work at Poremba’s flagship for the previous two years. Now Poremba himself is back leading the flagship of his restaurant group. He is a thoughtful, nimble chef, as likely to draw from the cuisines of North Africa and Israel as from western European tradition. My dinner was luxurious (his own label of American sturgeon caviar, served with potato chips; salmon in uni butter), but also vegetableforward (grilled candy roaster squash with

Pljeskavica at Balkan Treat Box

Key West red shrimp poached in amba and green curry with fermented cabbage and seaweed salad at Elaia black-garlic lacquer) or uniquely Poremba (scallops and other seafood barely cooked in goat’s milk kefir with pistachio, pomegranate and Aleppo pepper). If my endorsement isn’t quite so full-throated as it has been in years past, after three years of chef changes, I am uncertain exactly

IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

what to expect next. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 3 • OPENED 2012 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 1634 Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-932-1088, elaiastl.com • HOURS Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday)

Balkan Treat Box

9

BOSNIAN, FOOD TRUCK, TURKISH

Balkan Treat Box isn’t the first St. Louis food truck to open a brickand-mortar location, nor did the truck need

a traditional storefront to earn local or national praise. Still, the restaurant Loryn and Edo Nalic opened last year in Webster Groves is a revelation. Loryn and her kitchen crew showcase an even greater range at the grill and wood-fired hearth, coaxing deep flavors from eggplant (patlidzan) and fish (balik ekmek) alongside the truck’s classic pide and cevapi. And the breads! From the somun cradling cevapi, patlidzan and balik ekmek to the flatbreads that are the base of the pide and the stunning lahmacun, Balkan Treat Box is as

great a bakery as it is a restaurant. Though a counter-service operation, it evinces greater warmth and hospitality than many fancier, table-service restaurants. Call Balkan Treat Box a new St. Louis classic — and, more vitally, a new way forward. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2016 (truck), 2019 (restaurant) • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 8103 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves • MORE INFO 314-733-5700, balkantreatbox.com • HOURS 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (or until sold out) Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday)

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Kampachi crudo with burned eggplant puree, marinated tomato and trout roe at Sidney Street Café


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THE TOP 25

Billie-Jean

10

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, LAOTIAN

Billie-Jean is the best of restaurateur Zoë Robinson and chef Ny Vongsaly’s three Wydown Boulevard collaborations, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. (You will find their other two restaurants, Bar Les Frères and I Fratellini, on this list.) Over BillieJean’s first two years, drawing on his lifetime of cooking, Vongsaly has built an entire menu of new signature dishes: coffee-rubbed beef carpaccio; the shrimppork dumpling soup with lemon grass and lime leaf; braised short ribs with citrus-horseradish gremolata. Billie-Jean also delivers terrific versions of familiar fare: pizza (on my last visit, a lovely salty-sweet-spicy arrangement of speck, squash and chiles) and grilled steak with fries. Robinson’s inimitable style — here, a boldly

12

stark array of blackon-white Motherwell prints and black-andwhite photographs — has created an ambience that, even by her standards, is unapologetically grownup, a reminder that dining out can still be, if only for an hour or two, an escape into a more glamorous life.

Braised short rib at Sardella

Elmwood

Bulrush

11

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, OZARK

Calling Rob Connoley’s Bulrush a restaurant is inadequate. It is an ongoing research project into Ozark foodways pre-1870. It is an agricultural rescue mission, attempting to grow crops long thought

12

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 9 • OPENED 2017 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 7610 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-797-8484, billiejeanstl.com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Bangs Island mussels at Elmwood

A hand pie filled with cherry mostarda at Bulrush lost (if anyone thought of them at all). It is a moral argument for zerowaste and rigorously local cooking. And it is, yes, a restaurant — a spectacular one at that, weaving history, local (often foraged) produce and modernist technique into a briskly paced tasting menu. Your experience will almost certainly differ from

mine this past summer, but you can expect surprising bites (a cattail pollen shell encasing a pop of strawberry amazake) and reimagined comforts (a traditional hand pie filled with stewed rhubarb, ricotta and acorn tamari). The tasting menu isn’t mandatory; Bulrush offers an a-lacarte bar menu and, new

IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

since my review last year, the “Chef’s Whim” menu, with shared dishes and drinks for two. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 3307 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-449-1208, bulrushstl.com • HOURS Dinner Thursday-Sunday (closed Monday-Wednesday)

No shorthand description can capture why Elmwood, from chef Adam Altnether and front-of-house maestro Chris Kelling, ranked among 2019’s best new restaurants and makes its STL 100 debut in the Top 25. Elmwood is strikingly modern in appearance, its entrance marked by a neon, coral-pink logo, its open kitchen dramatically framed behind a glass partition. Yet the kitchen’s engine is a coal-fired grill and oven, which gives Altnether’s cooking, even at its most complex, a primal appeal. His menu travels broadly to kindle interest in familiar fare, from St. Louis’ beloved pork steak (on my visits, served as a riff on Korean ssam) to baba

ghanoush (made with ember-roasted sweet potatoes) to mussels (brothless, fizzing with Sichuan peppercorns). Kelling keeps Elmwood moving with a lively but focused energy. Though a buzzy new spot, it feels as if it has already been operating at this high level for years. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 2704 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood • MORE INFO 314-261-4708, elmwoodstl. com • HOURS Dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

Sardella

13

BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, ITALIAN

I have enjoyed all of my visits to Sardella since Gerard Craft opened the Italian restaurant in late 2016 in place of his acclaimed flagship

Niche. This includes meals from inaugural executive chef Nick Blue and his successor, Ashley Shelton. Lately, though, under current executive chef Brian Moxey, with pasta specialist Giovanni Brex, I feel as if Sardella has found its true identity. Each touch is exactly right, whether the bold, briny doubling-down of accenting hamachi crudo with black olive and caper, or the bitter broccoli accent sharpening hearty beef short ribs over risotto in beef jus. Nothing I ate last year soothed me as much as Moxey’s straightforward Tuscan bread soup, a burst of tomato-basil summer freshness on a cold autumn evening. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 12 • OPENED 2016 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-773-7755, sardellastl. com • HOURS Dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday

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Roasted quail with cornbread stuffing and baby root vegetables at Billie-Jean


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THE TOP 25 Pork steak with braised collards and potato salad at Beast Butcher & Block

Roast beef with sweet potatoes, cornbread and collard greens at Grace Meat + Three

Beast Craft BBQ Co. and Beast Butcher & Block BARBECUE, BRUNCH

New Zealand lamb chops at the Crossing

The Crossing

14

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Consistent isn’t a sexy adjective, but when you have been operating at the Crossing’s level for more than 20 years — several lifetimes, in restaurant years — it is high praise indeed. Owner and executive chef Jim Fiala and, since 2017, chef Thu Rein Oo can do rustic tagliatelle

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in a Bolognese ragu and refined foie gras, delicate scallops and heady venison. The Crossing also benefits from a steady view of how a fine restaurant should operate. Rare among upscale restaurants on this list in our fast-casual age, it offers a proper sit-down lunch (an excellent not-smashed cheeseburger included). Even more remarkable is the consistency of the Crossing’s welcome. I can’t remember a visit when I didn’t see at least

one familiar face among the front-of-house staff. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 13 • OPENED 1998 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 7823 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-721-7375, thecrossing-stl.com • HOURS Dinner MondaySaturday, lunch Monday-Friday (closed Sunday)

Spicy cucumber salad at Lona’s Lil Eats

Lona’s Lil Eats

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CHINESE

Through the past decade and into the new one, chefs have been reckoning with the ascent of fast-casual dining and the demand for more casual dining in general. At Lona’s Lil Eats, Lona Luo has not only embraced the fast-casual model but also turned it to her advantage.

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Her menu gives diners an illusion of control. You can build your own version of Lona’s signature rice-paper wraps or choose from the menu of pre-selected options. (My play is No. 10, with Luo’s masterful smoked brisket and fiery sesame sauce.) Whatever you choose, you must engage with Luo’s cooking, which draws on the unique ingredients and traditions (Chinese, Thai and more) of her native hill-tribe community in China’s Yunnan province. As

smart as the fast-casual model is for Lona’s, I recommend sometimes lingering over a bowl of Luo’s Hill Tribe Soup and a cup of tea from Luo’s deeply personal selection sourced from friends and family. Together they are a tonic. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 15 • OPENED 2014 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 2199 California Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-925-8938, lonaslileats. com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

A relentless pursuit of perfection led David Sandusky to the summit of St. Louis barbecue. And that was before he and his wife, Meggan, opened Beast Butcher & Block last year in Forest Park Southeast’s Grove, expanding their reach from the original Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville. The new location offers the meats and sides that have made the original a sensation: the otherworldly brisket from Snake River Farms domestic wagyu and the merely incredible Double R Ranch brisket; basted pork belly and that whopper of a pork steak; fresh-cut fries, flour tortillas and Brussels sprouts larded with pork belly. At Beast Butcher & Block, though, Sandusky is pushing past the conventional notion of what a barbecue restaurant can or should be. The Skullery, a live-fire kitchen, hosts a terrific Sunday brunch (look for the smoked ham, among other meats) as well as ambitious tasting menus and collaborative dinners. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 22 • OPENED 2014 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE Beast Craft BBQ Co., 20 South Belt West, Belleville • MORE INFO 618-257-9000, beastcraftbbq.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily WHERE Beast Butcher & Block, 4156 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314944-6003, beastbbqstl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

17 Grace Meat + Three BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, FRIED CHICKEN, SOUTHERN

Who was St. Louis’ chef of the past decade? Rick Lewis merits strong consideration. He burst onto the scene at Quincy Street Bistro (owned by wife Elisa’s parents), where he found an exciting thread through everyday bar fare, Southern cuisine and St. Louis tradition. With the Pappy’s Smokehouse team, he opened Southern, focusing on Nashville hot chicken, though it was the sandwich menu that showcased Lewis’ range. Finally, he debuted his own restaurant, Grace Meat + Three, and here his talent has flourished. He has refined his signature fare (fried chicken, the fried-bologna sandwich) and introduced equally compelling dishes (slow-roasted brisket, ribs with a raw-sugar glaze). Lewis continues to develop new ideas. Last fall, he opened Grace Chicken + Fish, a walk-up window on the Tower Grove Avenue side of the restaurant that serves fried chicken, shrimp and more from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 16 • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 4270 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-533-2700, stlgrace.com • HOURS Dinner WednesdaySunday, lunch WednesdayFriday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday)

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P H O T O S : P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( T H E C R O S S I N G ) ; R O B E R T C O H E N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( L O N A’ S L I L E AT S ) ; P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( B E A S T B U T C H E R & B L O C K ) ; J E R R Y N A U N H E I M J R . ( G R A C E M E AT + T H R E E )

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THE TOP 25 BRUNCH, ITALIAN, PIZZA

I like when a restaurant serves bucatini. It suggests the kitchen is confident in the sauce that will not only coat each noodle but also find its way through each noodle’s narrow tube. At Pastaria, the confidence is earned. The bucatini all’Amatriciana is already a signature dish of Gerard Craft’s Italian restaurant. On a visit this January, a new (to me) dish of bucatini rigate in a garlicky lamb ragu punctuated by Calabrian chiles challenged the all’Amatriciana’s spot in my heart. Jai Kendall took over as Pastaria’s executive chef in 2019, and it is a credit to her and to the buoyancy of the restaurant’s approach to pastas and wood-fired pizzas that Pastaria is as fresh and exciting as when it opened eight years ago.

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

Swordfish at Tony’s

Sake Toro Maki at Nippon Tei

Nippon Tei and Ramen Tei

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JAPANESE, SUSHI

LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 10 • OPENED 2012 • PRICING $15-$30 WHERE 7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-862-6603, eatpastaria.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday

New York strip steak with Ozark Forest mushroom Cabernet pan sauce at Annie Gunn’s

While the attention and excitement surrounding chef Nick Bognar’s meteoric rise has followed him to his ambitious new restaurant Indo, his influence remains strong at the restaurant his mother, Ann Bognar, opened in 2001. Nigiri sushi is the highlight of the menu he has developed since taking over as Nippon Tei’s executive chef in 2017. Look for fattier cuts, such as salmon toro. Better yet, look to the day’s nigiri specials or the nigiri omakase, the day’s five best pieces for $25. (Up from $18 last year but still a great value.) Meanwhile, the adjacent Ramen Tei, which the Bognars opened in 2015, has matured into a fine spot for a bowl of hearty tonkotsu ramen. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 7 • OPENED 2001 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE Nippon Tei, 14025 Manchester Road, St. Louis County • MORE INFO 636-3868999, nippon.teistl.com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch Tuesday-Friday (closed Monday) WHERE Ramen Tei, 14027 Manchester Road, St. Louis County • MORE INFO 636-386-8019, teistl.com/ ramen • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch TuesdaySaturday (closed Monday)

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IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

Annie Gunn’s

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CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, STEAKHOUSE

Walk into Chesterfield institution Annie Gunn’s after the past 10 tumultuous years in St. Louis dining, and you still had better have a reservation or be prepared to circle the bar, seeking that elusive empty seat (or, if the fates are smiling upon you, seats). Some appetites simply don’t wane, not when chef Lou Rook III is serving up chops, USDA prime steaks and two of the best burgers in town: the Classic (with slab bacon and mustardgrain aioli) and the even more luxe Chef Lou’s Burger (the restaurant’s signature ground-beef blend boosted with heritage pork). Glenn Bardgett’s expansive, nationally recognized wine list completes the dining experience, and the adjacent Smokehouse Market lets you take the Annie Gunn’s magic home. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 18 • OPENED 1990 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 16806 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield • MORE INFO 636-532-7684, anniegunns.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

Tony’s

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CLASSIC FINE DINING, ITALIAN

Tony’s said goodbye last year to its leader, Vince Bommarito Sr., who died in April at age 88. Bommarito turned a family spaghetti restaurant into the paragon of fine dining in St. Louis, a cocoon of privilege where your meal unfolds with tableside theatrics and military precision. Indeed, Tony’s has outlasted the style of dining it mastered, and how it will move forward after Bommarito’s death (and the departure in 2018 of his son Vince Jr. as executive chef) is one of the big questions looming over St. Louis dining. My most recent dinner was as elegant as ever. I made sure to order my favorite dishes: linguine with clams and pancetta followed by the showstopping beef tenderloin with foie gras in a port-wine demi-glace. My server asked if I wanted a glass of Barolo to pair with my beef tenderloin mere seconds before I was about to request exactly that. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 14 • OPENED 1946 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 410 Market Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-231-7007, tonysstlouis.com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

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P H O T O S : F I L E P H O T O ( PA S TA R I A ) ; J . B . F O R B E S / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( N I P P O N T E I ) ; H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( A N N I E G U N N ’ S ) ; P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( T O N Y ’ S )

Pastaria

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When George Garvin Brown sealed Bourbon in a bottle for the very first time, he did so knowing it would guarantee quality and consistency for Bourbon lovers everywhere. Five generations and nearly 150 years later, our family still watches over the production of every drop of Old Forester with that same care.

P L E A S E S I P R E S P O N S I B LY. | R E S P O N S I B I L I T Y. O R G Old Forester Kentucky StraightOBldouFrobroenstWerhKiseknytu, 4ck3y%S-tr5a7i.g5h%t BAolucr.bboynVWolhuimskey.,D4i3s%till-e5d7&.5%BotAtlecd. bbyyVOoldumFoer.eDsitsetrillDeidst&illeBroCttole.datbLyoOulidsvFiollre sinteKreDnitsuticlkleyr. COoL.DaFt OLoRuEiSsvTiEllRe ins Kaernetguisctkeyr.eOdLtDraFdOeRmEaSrTk.E© R i2s0a17reBgirsotwerne-dFotramdaenmDairskt.il©ler2s0. 1A7llBrrigohwtns-rFeosremravendD. istillers. All rights reserved.

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THE PALETTE OF BENRIACH. We source our eclectic cask collection from all over the world. From this colourful palette our master blender Rachel Barrie artfully combines bourbon, Oloroso sherry and virgin oak casks to create BenRiach 10 Year-Old, a rich Speyside single malt with an abundance of orchard fruits, luscious sweetness and toasted oak spice.

BenRiach. Exploring fla flavour since 1898. Savour with time, drink responsibly. The BenRiach is a registered trademark ©2019 BenRiach. All rights reserved. Scotch Whisky, 43% Alc By Vol. Imported to U.S by Brown Forman, Louisville, KY

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THE TOP 25 Clockwise from lower left: kale and garbanzo soup, little gem salad, dill potato salad, and ham and cheddar sandwich on rye at Union Loafers

Farmhaus

22

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Farmhaus looks more or less the same as it did when Kevin Willmann opened the restaurant a decade ago. Then he was a rising star, soon to be honored with a Food & Wine “best new chef” designation, among other accolades. On my most recent visit, the menus were presented as cheap photocopies, complete with fuzzy negative space along the edges. But the food was very good, if familiar. As you would expect at Farmhaus, Gulf seafood starred: grouper, first in cioppino with the spice and sweetness of fennel sausage, then as the feature over Parisian gnocchi in a savory anglaise. Duck breast, crisp skin and blushing meat, stood out on its sensible bed of oyster mushrooms and wheat-berry farrotto in a reduction of dark berries and red wine. I could have eaten a meal like this at Farmhaus 10 years ago, which is comforting but also makes me wonder how Willmann will approach this new decade. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 8 • OPENED 2010 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 3257 Ivanhoe Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-647-3800, farmhausrestaurant. com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

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Union Loafers

23

BAKERY & DESSERT, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, PIZZA, SANDWICHES

Few restaurants can claim one peak of the past decade’s vital dining developments. Sean Netzer and Ted Wilson’s Union Loafers can claim two. There is the artisan bread: the signature light-and-mild, the other sourdough loaves and the everyday yeasted baguettes — breads that take well to olive oil, butter or cheese but need nothing to showcase their complex flavors. And there is the pizza, a bridge between the Neapolitan style that dominated the first half of the decade and the New York style ascendant now, with a tangy, springy crust and nononsense arrangements of toppings (I’m partial to the pepperoni with Calabrian chiles). If Union Loafers’ lunch menu doesn’t neatly fit into a decade’s trends, it must settle for being one of St. Louis’ best lunches. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 23 • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 1629 Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-833-6111, unionloafers. com • HOURS Dinner TuesdaySaturday, lunch TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

24 Private Kitchen and Soup Dumplings STL CHINESE

Five years after Lawrence and Emily Chen opened Private Kitchen in University City, there is still nothing else like it in St. Louis. Not that you could replicate what the Chens have accomplished here: a reservations-only dinner that Lawrence cooks (from a menu you select when you make a reservation) and artistically plates while Emily looks after the tiny dining room. The cooking, generally drawn from Shanghai and the surrounding region, continues to stagger, whether the creation is new to you — for me, on my most recent visit, it was stupefyingly rich cherries stuffed with foie gras — or the soup dumplings, Peking duck or another of the dishes that, after five years, we can call Private Kitchen classics. Not in the mood for the full Private Kitchen experience? The Chens’ Soup Dumplings STL offers its namesake dish in the same shopping strip. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Private Kitchen: $30 and up; Soup Dumplings STL: Under $15

Special beef with black pepper, soy sauce and sugar at Private Kitchen

WHERE Private Kitchen, 8106 Olive Boulevard, University City • MORE INFO 314-989-0283, facebook.com/ privatekitchenstl • HOURS Dinner daily (closed Tuesday) WHERE Soup Dumplings STL, 8110 Olive Boulevard, University City • MORE INFO 314-445-4605,facebook. com/soupdumplingstl • HOURS 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (closed Tuesday)

IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

J. Devoti Trattoria

25

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, ITALIAN, PIZZA

Ravioli with ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, goat cheese, confit chicken, shishito peppers, zucchini, white wine and chive butter at J. Devoti Trattoria

Anthony Devoti’s decision to recast his acclaimed Five Bistro as the more casual J. Devoti Trattoria struck me as

smart when I reviewed the new restaurant two years ago. Why not open up Devoti’s cooking to a broader audience with pizza, a burger and a kids menu alongside his seasonally driven fare? When I returned to J. Devoti for this year’s list, the decision made even more sense. On this visit, the obligatory phone photo I took of my meal — a rack of lamb, an ideal medium-rare, with chanterelles and braised white beans — didn’t turn out great. Frustrated, I instead posted a text description on Instagram, concluding: “Eat at J. Devoti Trattoria, where ... Devoti & team aren’t flashy, they just know how to cook.” The sentiment received as many likes as any photo I shared on Instagram last year. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 21 • OPENED 2018 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 5100 Daggett Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-773-5553, jdevoti. com • HOURS Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday)

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P H O T O S : I A N F R O E B / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( FA R M H A U S ) ; J . B . F O R B E S / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( U N I O N L O A F E R S , P R I VAT E K I T C H E N ) ; S I D H A S T I N G S ( J . D E V O T I T R AT T O R I A )

Gulf grouper with Parisian gnocchi and a savory anglaise at Farmhaus


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THE REST OF THE BEST

AN ALPHABETICAL LISTING

Acero ITALIAN

Flaming Wicked Prawns at Bait

Los Cuatro tacos at Alta Calle

Alta Calle BRUNCH, MEXICAN

I didn’t expect to leave Alta Calle raving about black-bean hummus. The new Mexican restaurant on the Tower Grove South side of the South Grand strip features so many dishes worth touting. Shrimp, marinated in guajillochile sauce, folded into a cheese-shellacked tortilla with poblano crema and pineapple pico. Sous-vide, flashfried chicken in pipián mole verde. Even guacamole and queso, the former graced with mint, the latter drizzled with chive and redguajillo oils. Order all of that, but don’t skip the hummus, served with a verdant bounty of fresh and pickled vegetables and topped with fresh herbs, pico de gallo and queso fresco. Like the whole of Alta Calle — from sisters Veronica and Dulce Morales and Veronica’s son, Steve Suarez, the chef — it is rooted in familiar flavors but is arrestingly new.

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2007 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 7266 Manchester Road, Maplewood • MORE INFO 314-644-1790, acero-stl. com • HOURS Dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

Akar

Spaghetti alla chitarra at Acero

BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, MALAYSIAN

I do miss Hiro Asian Kitchen, the downtown west restaurant (and STL 100 mainstay) that Bernie Lee closed in 2019 after a six-year run, but I will take the trade that has given us Lee’s next venture, Akar. This compact Clayton restaurant bursts with Lee’s personality, from the decor (including light fixtures from Indonesia that Lee himself designed) to the menu, which draws from the Malaysia native’s life and travels. Akar’s fare is elegantly plated and unfolds in complex layers of bold but balanced flavors at both dinner (the day’s

22

Beef bibimbap at Akar fish over black rice with pickled pink peppercorns and capers in a curried shrimp bouillon) and more casual lunch (beef

bulgogi bibimbap with apple gochujang). LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $30 and up

WHERE 7641 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-553-9914, akarstl. com • HOURS Dinner TuesdaySaturday, lunch Tuesday-Friday, brunch Sunday (closed Monday)

IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 3131 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis •

Endive salad at Bar Les Frères MORE INFO 314-282-0840, altacallestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday (closed Monday)

Bait CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, SEAFOOD

Bait should have been a shoo-in for this year’s STL 100. The Central West End seafood restaurant from firsttime restaurateur Kalen Hodgest, chef Ceaira Jackson and general manager Misha K. Sampson was one of 2019’s stellar debuts. Jackson’s cooking was a revelation, often bold (a whole fried snapper with spicy aioli and three dipping sauces, prawns in a flaming beer-sherry broth), sometimes subtle (scallops with wine-braised pears over a parsnip puree) and always memorable. Sampson ensured a sophisticated but fun dining experience. Then, in January, Jackson

and Sampson left Bait. With no time to revisit the restaurant for this project, what to do? I have opted to pay tribute to Bait’s 2019, hoping Hodgest’s team will maintain the standard that Jackson and Sampson set while eagerly awaiting what Jackson and Sampson do next. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 4239 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-405-2797, baitstl. com • HOURS Dinner Wednesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Tuesday)

Bar Les Frères FRENCH

That Bar Les Frères, now in its eighth year, remains an excellent restaurant isn’t surprising. The powerhouse duo of restaurateur Zoë Robinson and chef Ny

Vongsaly develop smart concepts — here a tight menu of beloved French fare — and build strong teams to keep those concepts humming. Small menu changes feel seismic, and the annual chilly-weather return of the best-in-town cassoulet should be a civic holiday. (Honestly? I would feast on that crock of duck confit, pork belly and Toulouse sausage at the height of summer.) What is remarkable is how fresh Bar Les Frères still feels. With its balance of sophisticated, sexy vibe and quirky decor, it isn’t a gimmicky, Disney replica of a French restaurant but a halfremembered dream of one Paris night you’re eager to fall back into. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2012 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 7637 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-725-8880, barlesfreres.net • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

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P H O T O S : D AV I D C A R S O N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( A C E R O ) ; H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( A K A R , B A I T, A LTA C A L L E ) ; P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( B A R L E S F R È R E S )

Under the stewardship of chef de cuisine Andy Hirstein and general manager Adam Karl Gnau, Jim Fiala’s Acero can still surprise. Most recently, the menu tempted me away from not one but two go-to pastas — the renowned egg raviolo and the spaghetti alla chitarra in Amatriciana sauce — for a bowl of rye gnocchi and braised beef cheeks enlivened by lemon zest and parsley. In chilly weather, I can’t imagine a more satisfying dish. Acero delights whether you stick to your favorite dishes (the ethereal gnocco fritto with gossamer slices of prosciutto) or venture outside your comfort zone. As ever, Acero’s prix-fixe is a terrific value at $40 — and remains so even if a specific dish adds a supplement of a few dollars.


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Expires 08-31-20 STL100

With coupon. Any Suede or man-made fur garment cleaned & 1/30/16 STL100 STL100 finished. Expires 08-31-20

ST. CHARLES COUNTY

NO LIMIT!

Excludes hand-finished shirts or blouses. Expires 01/28/2018 Expires 08-31-20 STL100

Expires 08-31-20 STL100

SAME DAY SERVICE

EACH

4237 S. State Rte. 159 (glen carbon) ...................................................... (618) 288-5276

WEST

10000 MAncheSTeR (glendale) ............................................................... (314) 2038 MckeLVey Rd. (north of dorsett) .................................................. (314) 8034 Big Bend (west of Murdoch) .......................................................... (314) 15372 MAncheSTeR (ellisville) ................................................................. (636) 14878 w. cLAyTon (At Baxter) .................................................................. (636) 8637 oLiVe STReeT Rd. (west of Mcknight Rd.) .................................... (314) 13960 MAncheSTeR Rd ............................................................................. (636) 11041 oLiVe STReeT (creve coeur) ......................................................... (314) 7501 deLMAR ............................................................................................... (314) 429 LAFAyeTTe cenTeR (Manchester) .................................................... (636)

NORTH

821-2373 878-4024 961-1373 227-9443 391-1275 567-6680 227-8299 872-9393 862-1313 527-8009

10655 ST. chARLeS Rock Rd ..................................................................... (314) 427-8661

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15

$

00 $ EACH

Expires 08-31-20 STL100

00 $ EACH

Expires 08-31-20 STL100

99 EACH

Expires 08-31-20 STL100

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

Scallop carpaccio at the Bellwether

The Bellwether

The Benevolent King

BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, ISRAELI, MEDITERRANEAN, MIDDLE EASTERN, MOROCCAN

The Bellwether posed an interesting question: When you have already established an acclaimed restaurant, how can you distinguish a new project not even a halfmile away? For the team behind now three-time STL 100 honoree Polite Society (owners Brian Schmitz and Jonathan Schoen, chef Thomas Futrell and beverage director Travis Hebrank), the answer was to look up — literally and metaphorically. The Bellwether occupies the second and third floors of the City Hospital power plant building (formerly Element restaurant), and both its space and Futrell’s cooking there are even more sophisticated than what Polite Society offers. Expect intriguing seafood (scallop carpaccio), elegant pasta (English pea ravioli) and big cuts of meat (pork steak with German potato salad and compressed cabbage). As at Polite Society, the menu also delivers fun snacks: fried oysters, lamb meatballs and togarashi-dusted fries. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 1419 Carroll Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314380-3086, thebellwetherstl. com • HOURS Dinner daily, brunch Sunday

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The Benevolent King is the most elastic of Ben Poremba’s restaurants. You could describe the fare as Moroccan or, more broadly, North African, or even more broadly, Mediterranean, with a definite Israeli influence. Your approach to this Maplewood nook can be elastic, too: a full meal or maybe a grazing selection of salatim (olives, the farmer’s cheese j’ben) and snacks (crisp Moroccan briouat, the hummus variation masabaha). With Poremba himself back at his flagship Elaia, chef de cuisine Anne Fosterling ably leads the tiny kitchen. My most recent dinner featured baba ghanoush popping with pepitas and pomegranate and a lamb-neck tagine, the lamb’s natural flavor deepened with black garlic and currants and served with fried almonds over Israeli couscous. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2018 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 7268 Manchester Road, Maplewood • MORE INFO 314-899-0440, thebenevolentking. com • HOURS Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Fried chicken skins at Byrd & Barrel

ribs, the pastrami and the pit-baked beans. These distinctive dishes prepared Bogart’s well for the past decade’s onslaught of new barbecue restaurants. Today, Bogart’s barbecue — the ribs and pastrami, the tri-tip and burnt ends — and the Bogart’s experience as a whole still stand apart.

Blues City Deli

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2011 • PRICING Under $30

Mike’s Spicy Beef N’ Cheddar at Blues City Deli

WHERE 1627 South Ninth Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-621-3107, bogartssmokehouse.com • HOURS 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. (or until sold out) Sunday-Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. (or until sold out) Wednesday-Saturday

DELI, SANDWICHES

This year’s STL 100 boasts two restaurants that are more than 100 years old: Crown Candy Kitchen and Gioia’s Deli. Who might make such a claim in the 2120 edition of the STL 100? (Assuming future St. Louisans are eating something other than soylent green?) Blues City Deli was built to last, with an expansive menu of excellent sandwiches in a cozy neighborhood spot with a bluesy soundtrack, all of it infused with owner Vince Valenza’s cheer. A tip: Yes, the selection of chips is difficult to resist, but when red beans and rice with andouille is available, it makes for an ideal side, especially for Blues City’s signature muffuletta. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2004 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 2438 McNair Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-773-8225, bluescitydeli.com • HOURS 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

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Brasserie by Niche BRUNCH, FRENCH

Bogart’s Smokehouse BARBECUE

Half-slab of ribs with prime rib sandwich and potato salad at Bogart’s Smokehouse

Cassoulet at Brasserie

When Bogart’s Smokehouse opened in 2011, it did so with two tremendous advantages: the rollicking, restaurantloving neighborhood of Soulard, and a dining public primed for barbecue by the blockbuster success of Bogart’s older sibling, Pappy’s Smokehouse. Even then, the Bogart’s team knew the restaurant couldn’t be a Pappy’s clone and set themselves apart with meats and sides that were terrific on their own merits, especially the apricot-glazed

In St. Louis, you shouldn’t take an excellent French restaurant for granted. I learned this the hard way with Franco, which I am still mourning four years after the end of its decadelong run. I learned it anew in 2019, when 808 Maison from former Franco chef Jon Dreja seemed destined for my list of the year’s best debuts — until it closed after only nine months. So I relished this year’s visit to Brasserie by Niche, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 but hasn’t succumbed to inertia. Classics can be revelations — recently, a perfect roasted chicken in an umami-bomb jus with shiitake mushrooms — and a seasonal special like roasted-carrot soup with pistachio granola,

pear and candied ginger seems timeless. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2009 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 4580 Laclede Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-454-0600, brasseriebyniche.com • HOURS Dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday

Byrd & Barrel FRIED CHICKEN

Popeye’s new friedchicken sandwich was the dish of 2019 nationally. (For the record, while I enjoy Popeye’s fried chicken, I haven’t managed to snag one of the sandwiches.) If nothing else, the craze served as a reminder that several St. Louis restaurants serve excellent fried-chicken sandwiches. Byrd & Barrel alone serves at least two of them: the signature Mother Clucker with caramelized onion, Provel “cheese wiz,” Red Hot Riplets and hot-pepper jelly; and the newer Down South, with pimento cheese, country ham, Tabasco aioli, slaw and pickles. These sandwiches are only one reason to return to Byrd & Barrel, where the Nugs rival the Mother Clucker as a must-order, and the skinny, crispy J.I.T.B. Tacos compete for your attention. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Last included in 2018 • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 3422 South Jefferson Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-875-9998, byrdandbarrel.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

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Dine out at over 100 local area restaurants across St. Louis on Thursday, April 30, 2020, and a percentage of your meal will be donated to Vivent Health and the work they do to provide care to people living with HIV in our community. VISIT DININGOUTFORLIFE.COM/STL FOR MORE INFO

National Sponsors

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Local Sponsors

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25


Cafe Natasha’s MIDDLE EASTERN, PERSIAN

Cafe Natasha’s is a cornerstone of the vibrant South Grand dining corridor. The Persian restaurant founded by Hamishe Bahrami and her late husband, Behshid, and now overseen by Hamishe and her daughter, Natasha Bahrami, is so essential to its neighborhood and the broader St. Louis dining scene that you might forget it isn’t the original location. From the original Little Kitchen to today, the Bahramis’ cooking has entwined itself in the fabric of St. Louis. Even for a newcomer to Cafe Natasha’s or Persian cuisine in general, a meal here — kebabs, ghormeh sabzi, fesenjoon, beef tongue in broth — feels like a homecoming. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 1983 (as the Little Kitchen) • PRICING Under $30

Feijoada at Cinder House

Fried whole fish with chili garlic sauce at Chao Baan

Beef shish kebab at Cafe Natasha’s

WHERE 3200 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-771-3411, cafenatasha.com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch ThursdaySunday (closed Wednesday)

Cate Zone Chinese Cafe CHINESE

If you wanted to introduce visitors to St. Louis’ breadth of regional Chinese restaurants, you could do worse than begin at Cate Zone Chinese Cafe. Here your guests will find a specific regional focus on northeastern Dongbei cuisine (sweetand-sour pork, sour cabbage with pork belly) and also dishes from other regions (Yangzhou fried rice, cumin lamb, Chengdu spicy chicken). The cooking is technically impressive, from the shattering crunch of the aforementioned sweet-and-sour pork to the precise seasoning of the curry broth

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Boulevard, University City • MORE INFO 314-7389923 • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)

Chao Baan

Szechuan boiling fish at Cate Zone Chinese Cafe with sliced rib-eye and enoki mushrooms. The only downside to beginning your tour of the area’s Chinese restaurants here? You and your guests might

THAI

be perfectly happy going nowhere else. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2016 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 8148 Olive

The new restaurant from the family behind South Grand Thai institution the King & I — Sue and Suchin Prapaisilp, with their adult son Shayn — is a deeply personal project. Chao Baan’s menu eschews the central-Thai template

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of many area Thai restaurants in favor of dishes from the country’s northeast (where Sue is from Loei province) and south (including Suchin’s native Yala province). Family-style dinners let you explore both regions, with such standout dishes as southern kua kling (ground beef stirfried in red-curry paste) and the northeastern khao tod nam sod (fried, chile-charged rice with cilantro, ginger, cured sausage, fish sauce and lime juice). A whole fried fish in a garlicchile sauce kissed with tamarind is the ideal centerpiece for a table you will crowd with food. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 4087 Chouteau Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-925-8250, chaobaanstl. com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Saturday

Cinder House BRAZILIAN, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, STEAKHOUSE

Gerard Craft has deepened the Brazilian connection at Cinder

House, the acclaimed chef’s collaboration with the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis. Craft credits his childhood nanny, the late Cecelia “Dia” Assuncao, as a major influence on his cooking, and Cinder House opened with pão de queijo, feijoada and other dishes from her native Brazil alongside steaks and chops. Now Craft has introduced Dia’s Room in the restaurant’s private dining room. The tasting menu from Craft and executive chef Josh Adams bridges Brazilian fare and the progressive cooking of Craft’s late flagship Niche. My dinner in January included stunning dishes: dryaged squab and confit squab leg in a tucupi broth; a version of feijoada with A5 wagyu beef, fermented-orange puree and an intensely savory beef jus; a riff on moqueca with prawn lacquered in fermentedchile vinegar and agave with lobster-coconut foam over a dende-onion soubise. I happened to visit on the first menu that Craft credits to the then-recently hired Adams, and the evolution of Dia’s Room under Adams’ direction will be

Buttermilk Black Berry, Kick Ass Chocolate and Gooey Butter Cake ice cream at Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery fascinating to observe. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2018 • PRICING $45 and up WHERE 999 North Second Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-881-5759, cinderhousestl. com • HOURS Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (Dia’s Room dinner Friday-Saturday by advance-purchase ticket)

Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery BAKERY & DESSERT

Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery doesn’t need a boost from the STL 100. If you love ice cream and haven’t yet discovered Tamara Keefe’s small-batch creations, both the traditional “nice” flavors and the alcohol-infused “naughty” varieties, I doubt whether you really do love ice cream. I could have written all this last year or the year before, too, but it is especially so

after Oprah Winfrey gave Clementine’s her coveted O List seal of approval in the November 2019 issue of her magazine. If that has further driven demand for Clementine’s, take some heart: Last year, Keefe opened a third storefront in Southampton, following the Lafayette Square original and the outpost in Clayton’s DeMun neighborhood. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1637 South 18th Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-701-7581, clementinescreamery.com • HOURS 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.11 p.m. Friday-Saturday WHERE 730 DeMun Avenue, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-7017581, clementinescreamery. com • HOURS 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.11 p.m. Friday-Saturday WHERE 4715 Macklind Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-701-7581, clementinescreamery.com • HOURS 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

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fritz’s now open!

FLORISSANT 1055 St. Catherine 314-839-4100 stltoday.com/stl100

ST. PETERS 506 Jungermann 636-928-2606

O’FALLON 2453 Hwy K 636-379-2799

WENTZVILLE W. Pearce Blvd @ I-70 636-639-8088

WEST COUNTY Hwy 141 & Big Bend 636-225-8737

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27


Pozole at Cleveland-Heath

ClevelandHeath BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Cleveland-Heath continues to evolve in the years since founders Jenny Cleveland and Eric “Ed” Heath sold the restaurant to current owners Kari and Keith McGinness. In 2019, Alex Henry became Cleveland-Heath’s executive chef. An alum of several acclaimed St. Louis restaurants, Henry might be best known for his time at Ben Poremba’s Nixta, where he overhauled the menu and was a semifinalist for the influential dining website Eater’s “Young Guns” awards. He is putting his touch on Cleveland-Heath’s menu — I enjoyed a new sandwich overstuffed with citrusy cochinita pibil — while retaining its general comfort-food vibe and such signature items as the pork chop with jalapeño-cheddar bread pudding. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 17 • OPENED 2011 • PRICING $30-$45 WHERE 106 North Main Street, Edwardsville • MORE INFO 618-307-4830, clevelandheath.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday

The Clover and the Bee BREAKFAST, BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, ITALIAN

When the Clover and the Bee opened in late 2017,

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it garnered attention mainly as the daytime counterpart to Olive + Oak, the Webster Groves blockbuster from owner Mark Hinkle and chef Jesse Mendica. Over the past year, the Clover and the Bee has also become one of St. Louis’ more intriguing Italian restaurants. At dinner, chef Mike Risk can find new life in oldschool veal Parmesan (a whopping bone-in chop over a tomato-basil fonduta) and gnocchi (served late last year with arugula, butternut squash and smoked pork belly in a cider-rosemary cream). Risk’s Italian cooking will gain a new showcase later in 2020, when it moves from the Clover and the Bee into the current home of Olive + Oak, which is in turn moving to a new space nearby.

Red and golden oven-roasted beets in a fall salad at Edibles & Essentials

Heart Stopping BLT with a chocolate malt at Crown Candy Kitchen

A rice dish at the Curry Club tourists alike and steal a few minutes of pleasure. Maybe that means the bacon feast of the Heart Stopping BLT. Or maybe it is a single scoop of the black-cherry ice cream, velvety with butterfat. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 1913 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1401 St. Louis Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314621-9650, crowncandykitchen. net • HOURS 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday)

Three-cheese cauliflower soup at the Clover and the Bee

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING $15-$45

Crown Candy Kitchen

WHERE 100 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves • MORE INFO 314-9421216, thecloverandthebee. com • HOURS Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Wednesday-Sunday

Cocina Latina COLOMBIAN, CUBAN, PERUVIAN

When Maritza Rios came to St. Louis County from New York City two decades ago, the Peruvian native wanted to open a South American restaurant. She wasn’t sure the county was ready for it, though, so she opened a Mexican restaurant instead. In 2019, she

BAKERY & DESSERT, SANDWICHES

Marinated beef heart on skewers at Cocina Latina

finally realized her dream at Cocina Latina in the Central West End, and you will wish you had already been eating her Peruvian, Colombian and other South American dishes for the past 20 years. The Peruvian dishes are the highlight: ceviche electric with lime juice and ají limo chiles; ají de gallina, brilliant with the yellow of ají amarillo chiles;

classic lomo saltado and pollo a la brasa. Look beyond Peru, and you will be rewarded with Colombian empanadas and Cuban ropa vieja. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 508 North Euclid Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-696-2294, facebook. com/cocinaslatina • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

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When talking about Crown Candy Kitchen, I struggle not to focus on the outsize examples. The Heart Stopping BLT. The infamous challenge to drink five malts in 30 minutes — or, for that matter, the challenge to finish just one malt. The irascible online persona of owner Andy Karandzieff. I try to remember that — like its fellow centenarian on the STL 100, Gioia’s Deli — Crown Candy Kitchen remains an everyday restaurant, where you squeeze yourself into a booth in proximity to fellow St. Louisans and

The Curry Club INDIAN

The Curry Club, which opened in late 2018 in Chesterfield, differs from many Indian restaurants in St. Louis in two ways: It has adopted the fast-casual model, and its menu focuses on southern Indian fare. (The Curry Club’s five cofounders are all natives of the state of Andhra Pradesh.) The lunch combo, a remarkable deal, lets diners choose two curries from the selection on display with rice and naan. The signature Club Curry, potent with cloves and chiles, was my favorite of these curries, but I

will return here as often for the dosa, made to order by a cook to one side of the counter and available with a range of fillings (onion, chilicheese, Mysore masala). The menu broadens somewhat at dinner and on weekends. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2018 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1635 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield • MORE INFO 636-778-7777, stlcurryclub. com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (opens at 9 a.m. SaturdaySunday, closed Monday)

Edibles & Essentials BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Edibles & Essentials changed its format late last year, dropping lunch to focus on dinner (and Saturday brunch). Lunch regulars should adjust their schedules but not

their expectations. Prior to the change, chef Matt Borchardt was confident enough in the appeal of his cooking to offer the same menu at lunch and dinner — and with good reason. My most recent lunch here — tender, Creole-spiced catfish with saffron rice and an Old Bay remoulade; chicken roulade with serrano ham and manchego in romesco sauce — would have been impressive in a more formal dinner setting. Edibles & Essentials’ signature fries remain on the menu (and are available from the Essentially Fries food truck), and two other staples, banh mi tacos and fried ribs, are served at brunch. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 5815 Hampton Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-328-2300, ediblesandessentials.com • HOURS Dinner TuesdaySaturday, brunch Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

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THE REST OF THE BEST El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery

V E R I T A S

experience an unparalleled commitment to casual fine dining

Torta carnitas at El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery

wednesday – saturday new fine dining menu each week dinner starting at 5:30p happy hour in the mustard bar 3.30p – 6:00p saturday & sunday brunch 10.00a - 2.00p

P H O T O S : P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( E L T O L U C O TA Q U E R I A & G R O C E R Y ) ; R O B E R T C O H E N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( F O R K & S T I X ) ; H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( G I O I A’ S D E L I )

MEXICAN

Somewhere out there is the reader who recommended I try El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery. I have lost the email. I spend hours perusing online listings and driving around town, keeping an eye out for new spots, but El Toluco had eluded me. (In my defense, it is difficult to spot from the main road.) On one of my first visits, the children of owners Fausto and Maggie Pizarro had set up a horchata stand outside, and I suspected the reader had sent me somewhere special. I am not sure what tipped me from expectation to certainty — Fausto’s al pastor pork or luscious lamb barbacoa or the comically overstuffed, porky tortas — but El Toluco is now an essential stop. Reader, whoever and wherever you are, thanks.

636.227.6800

15860 fountain plaza • ellisville, mo 63017 veritasgateway.com

Happy Hour Mon.-Fri. 2:30 pm - 5:30 pm Hung Leh Curry at Fork & Stix

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2016 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 14234 Manchester Road, Manchester • MORE INFO 636-686-5444, eltolucotaqueria.com • HOURS 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. WednesdayThursday, 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday (restaurant closed Monday, grocery open daily)

Fork & Stix and Kiin Essentially Thai THAI

If you asked me to name a “dish of the decade” for St. Louis, I would be tempted by the khao soi at Fork & Stix. The dish of egg noodles and chicken in a curry broth with red onion and pickled mustard greens put Phatcharin Wanna’s tiny stltoday.com/stl100

Chicken salad sandwich at Gioia’s Deli Delmar Loop restaurant on the map, which in turn introduced many St. Louis diners to the other northern Thai fare that Fork & Stix serves: hung lay curry, sai oua, naam prik nuum. (It has since opened a second location downtown, Kiin Essentially Thai.) Fork & Stix was a forerunner of one of the past decade’s most important dining developments, as more chefs looked to regional or otherwise more specifically defined cuisines instead of conforming to Western ideas about what any one cuisine “is.” LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED Fork & Stix: 2012; Kiin Essentially Thai:

2018 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE Fork & Stix, 549 Rosedale Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-863-5572, forknstix.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday) WHERE Kiin Essentially Thai, 550 North Seventh Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-2411989, forknstix.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

Gioia’s Deli DELI, FOOD TRUCK, ITALIAN, SANDWICHES

Uniquely among St. Louis’ legacy restaurants, Gioia’s Deli has found a way into the contemporary-dining

conversation. Or, really, ways: launching a food truck, hyping a “secret” menu, collaborating with Dogtown Pizza on a retail frozen pie featuring Gioia’s signature hot salami. All of this is smart marketing on the part of owner Alex Donley, but I would go further and say that what Gioia’s has done in recent years — not least, adding locations downtown and in Creve Coeur — is essential to its continued success. Gioia’s hot salami is one of the great St. Louis foods, and for Donley and his team and diners alike, the restaurant should be an evolving concern, not a museum piece. Underpinning all of this, of course, is Donley’s most important contribution to the century-plus Gioia’s tradition. Wherever and however you order the hot salami, it is as perfect as ever.

106 N. Main St. • Edwardsville 618.307.4830 clevelandheath.com Serving Brunch Saturday & Sundays 10am-1pm

Mon–Thu 11am–10pm, Fri 11am–11pm, Sat 10am–11pm, Sun 10am-8pm First Come - First Serve (No reservations)

Cocina Latina Peruvian Food

• Wine • Tropical Cocktails 508 N EUCLID AVE. St. Louis, Missouri 63108

(314) 696-2294

www.cocinalatinastl.com & cocinaslatina

cocinaslatina

#cocinalatinastl

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 1918 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1934 Macklind Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-776-9410, gioiasdeli.com • HOURS 10 a.m.-4 p.m. MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

Home of tHe original giant rice PaPer WraP

WHERE 903 Pine Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-776-9410, gioiasdeli. com • HOURS 10:30 a.m.2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday (closed Saturday-Sunday)

You have exceeded our wildest dreams. thank you so much St louisans!

WHERE 623 North New Ballas Road, Creve Coeur • MORE INFO 314-776-9410, gioiasdeli.com • HOURS 10 a.m.-4 p.m. MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

2119 california 63104

314-925-8938

lonaslileats.com

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THE REST OF THE BEST

Flying Pig at Guerrilla Street Food

Guerrilla Street Food A tough 2019 led Joel Crespo and Brian Hardesty to close the Tower Grove East and Maryland Heights locations of Guerrilla Street Food and, as of this writing, to look for another restaurant to take over the lease of the Delmar Loop location. Crespo and Hardesty plan to continue with Guerrilla Street Food’s new Webster Groves location and the counter inside 2nd Shift Brewing’s tasting room on the Hill; they hope to maintain the Delmar location as long as they can and return the food truck to service in the spring. Guerrilla Street Food disappearing altogether would be a tremendous blow to St. Louis’ dining scene, not least for the loss of its delicious Filipino and Filipino-inspired cuisine. But Crespo and Hardesty’s project has also been key in showing how a food truck and a fast-casual restaurant can help shape a decade of dining — and in proving that a casual format doesn’t limit the quality and inventiveness of a restaurant’s food. LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 25 • OPENED 2011 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 6120 Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-226-9786, guerrillastreetfood.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday (closed

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Spaghetti with lobster tail, butter, garlic and shallots at I Fratellini

Khao poon at Han Lao Monday-Tuesday); check social media for truck availability

Jerk Soul

WHERE 2nd Shift Brewing, 1601 Sublette Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-669-9143, guerrillastreetfood.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, 1-6 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday) WHERE 43 South Old Orchard Avenue, Webster Groves • MORE INFO 314-2742528, guerrillastreetfood. com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Han Lao LAOTIAN, THAI

Thom Chantharasy was 4 when he came to the United States as a refugee from Laos. He was thinking of his own children when he opened Han Lao, St. Louis’ first Lao restaurant. “I grew up eating (Lao food),” he told me in November 2018. “I wanted to get my kids eating it more often.” At Han Lao you will find dishes both soothing (khao piak sen, chicken and rice noodles in chicken broth), and incandescent (thum muk huong, smashed green papaya with fish sauce,

CARIBBEAN

Layered house salad at J’s Pitaria shrimp paste and lime juice). I will return most often for the Lao sausage with jeow bong and a side of sticky rice and for nam khao, crisp pieces of fried rice seasoned with coconut and redcurry paste with fresh herbs, dried chiles and nam noo (pickled pork). LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2018 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 1250 Strassner Drive, Brentwood • MORE INFO 314-932-1354, hanlaostl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

I Fratellini ITALIAN

I Fratellini is the original

of restaurateur Zoë Robinson and chef Ny Vongsaly’s three Wydown Boulevard collaborations, though this is no longer the best way to think of it. It is their Italian restaurant, though this is also a less helpful descriptor than you might think. If their newest venture, Billie-Jean, is their forward-looking restaurant of the moment and Bar Les Frères the romantic Parisian dream, I Fratellini is the racy indulgence: the pasta a little more buttery than you know is good for you; the grilled duck breast in a sauce of both cherries and red wine; the tomato broth for steamed mussels, with the spice of ‘nduja and the licorice sweetness of fennel pollen, you can’t help but sop up with bread.

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Asher’s Oxtail with coconut rice and Caribbean cabbage at Jerk Soul

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2001 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 7624 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton • MORE INFO 314-727-7901, ifratellini. com • HOURS Dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

J’s Pitaria BOSNIAN, MEDITERRANEAN

Josi and Zamir Jahic opened a second location of J’s Pitaria late last year in south St. Louis County. It

features an expanded menu of the Bosnian and more broadly Mediterranean fare the Jahics introduced at the original restaurant in Bevo Mill. Those new options must wait till next year’s STL 100 for a fair critical appraisal. In the meantime, I still enthusiastically recommend the signature dishes from the original location: the rolled pita stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach or potato and sold by the pound (my tip: Order more than you think you

want); Turkish lahmacun; and the stellar doner kebab served in J’s housemade somun. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 5003 Gravois Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-339-5319, jspitaria. com • HOURS 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday) WHERE 91 Concord Plaza, St. Louis County • MORE INFO 314-270-8005, jspitaria.com • HOURS 11 a.m.-8 p.m. TuesdaySaturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday)

Jerk Soul is a carryoutonly restaurant, which turns an order of its signature jerk chicken into a kind of game. Can you make it back to your home or office before tearing open the takeout container? Can you make it back to your car? The chicken is a juicy, smoky marvel. The sauce suffuses you with warming spices and chiles’ fruity flavor and pungent heat. Jerk chicken appears across Zahra Spencer and Telie Woods’ smart menu, which features both traditional Caribbean fare (saltfish, braised oxtails) and riffs (jerkchicken pizza and tacos). The duo doesn’t neglect the meat-averse, with jerk jackfruit available in several dishes. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2018 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 2016 Salisbury Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-601-3871, jerksoul.com • HOURS Noon-8 p.m. SundayFriday (closed Saturday)

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Korean barbecue chicken rice bowl at Kounter Kulture

Juniper CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, FRIED CHICKEN, SOUTHERN

John Perkins’ Juniper has been a mainstay of the STL 100 since the inaugural edition in 2015, and I already had his fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and other Southern dishes ticketed for a return engagement this year when late news broke. Matthew Daughaday, whose Reeds American Table (No. 20 on last year’s list) closed in July 2019, is now Juniper’s executive chef. “Probably every restaurateur says this, but we’re always in the business of trying to be the best version of ourselves we can be,” Perkins told me. “I think Matt certainly is bringing a level of expectation and quality that’s really going to push us forward.” I am in no hurry to begin working on next year’s edition of the STL 100, but I know which returning honoree I am most intrigued to visit again.

Knead Bakehouse + Provisions BAKERY & DESSERT, SANDWICHES

WHERE 4101 Laclede Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-329-7696, junipereats. com • HOURS Dinner MondaySaturday, lunch Tuesday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday

BRUNCH, ITALIAN, PIZZA

Over the past year, I happened to eat at both the original Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria in Rock Hill and the newer location of Katie and Ted Collier’s restaurant in Town and Country, so I can vouch for a quality meal at both places. I can also vouch for the pasta as well as the pizza. The bucatini in black-garlic butter with pancetta, Swiss chard, pecorino and an egg that I ate there this past winter was one of the best pasta dishes I ate all year, deeply savory with a beguiling tangy-sweet

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LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2013 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1626 Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-932-7935, simonefaure.com • HOURS 9 a.m.-2 p.m. TuesdayFriday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Pimento cheese dip at Juniper

LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 24 • OPENED 2013 • PRICING $15-$45

Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria

of macarons or a single chocolate-chip cookie.

Tacos al pastor at La Tejana Taqueria

Coppa pizza at Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria note. Nearly as stunning was the appetizer that preceded the bucatini: Alaskan spot prawns finished in ‘nduja butter served on toast with orange labneh, Calabrese peppers, cilantro and smoked sea salt.

Egg sausage cheese sandwich on a brioche bun at Knead Bakehouse + Provisions

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2013 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 9568 Manchester Road, Rock Hill • MORE INFO 314-942-6555, katiespizzaandpasta.com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday WHERE 14171 Clayton Road, Town and Country • MORE INFO 636-220-3238, katiespizzaandpasta.com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday

Strawberry chouquette at La Patisserie Chouquette

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Knead Bakehouse + Provisions opened in late 2017, making it a younger member of last decade’s artisanal-bakery boom. Owners AJ and Kirsten Brown had already been selling their breads at farmers markets for a few years, though, and Knead debuted with the poise of an established business. The cafe excels at savory fare (sandwiches, toasts, soups) as well as sweet, though the sweets tend to stick in my mind. On my initial visits, it was the best cinnamon roll I have eaten; more recently, it was the Black Forest Donut, plump with its filling of not-toosugary cherry jam and topped with chocolate glaze, milk crumb and a maraschino cherry. Knead’s heart remains its Rustic Loaf, a tangy sourdough bread with a true wheat flavor. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 3467 Hampton

Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-376-4361, kneadbakehouse.com • HOURS 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. SaturdaySunday (closed Monday)

Kounter Kulture CHINESE, JAPANESE, KOREAN, PAN-ASIAN, THAI, VIETNAMESE

Among the lessons learned over the past decade: Chefs no longer need a traditional restaurant to reach an audience, and diners don’t always want a restaurant experience to accompany the restaurant food they are craving. Christine Meyer and Mike Miller’s Kounter Kulture, a carryout-only restaurant that is in turn an extension of the duo’s Tower Grove Farmers Market stall, strikes me as a smart way to navigate this new reality. While convenient (especially if you call ahead with your order), Meyer and Miller never sacrifice the quality of their ingredients or attention to how their dishes look, even inside the takeout containers. Most importantly, the food — khao soi, bibimbap and gyudon

are among the usual highlights — showcases excellent cooking and respect for the cuisines from which the dishes are drawn. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2012 (as Kitchen Kulture) • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 3825 Watson Road, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314781-4344, kounterkulturestl. com • HOURS 4:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

La Patisserie Chouquette BAKERY & DESSERT

I suppose it would be a cliché to call Simone Faure’s La Patisserie Chouquette magical. Fine. Of all the bakeries that have opened in St. Louis over the past decade, Chouquette is the most improbable. As in, I can’t believe you or I can walk in off the street and buy one of Faure’s exquisite desserts. We should have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone very rich. In fact, it is affordable and deserved to treat yourself to Faure’s croissants and éclairs, an assortment

La Tejana Taqueria MEXICAN

Preparing this sixth edition of the STL 100, I found narrowing the field of potential candidates to the final 100 as excruciating as ever — maybe more so, given the sheer number of excellent new restaurants that have opened in recent years. Qualities that help keep an established restaurant on the list: consistency, of course, but also at least one dish that I think the STL 100 would be poorer without. For over a decade, Antonio and Brenda Garcia have made their Bridgeton restaurant a destination for tacos, carnitas and other Mexican fare, and you will need to work hard to convince me there is a better soup in St. Louis than their consomé de borrego, the essence of goat as if gilded with gold. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2008 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 3149 North Lindbergh Boulevard, Bridgeton • MORE INFO 314-291-8500, latejanastl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

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THE REST OF THE BEST The Last Kitchen

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Duck breast at the Last Kitchen

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Boudin balls with creole honey mustard at Mac’s Local Eats

WHERE 1501 Washington Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-390-2500, thelasthotelstl. com • HOURS Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

BOSNIAN, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

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Sausage flatbread at Lemmons by Grbic

LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING $15 and up

Lemmons by Grbic

549 Rosedale Ave., St. Louis, MO 63112

st

A great hotel shouldn’t just be for tourists. In a dense, urban setting, it should also be an essential civic space. The new Last Hotel in the former International Shoe Co. building in downtown west seems to understand this. The stunning lobby doesn’t offer another perfunctory hotel restaurant and bar; it invites you into a showcase for rising star Evy Swoboda, former chef de cuisine of Pastaria. At the Last Kitchen, Swoboda impresses with casual bar fare (plump toasted ravioli with boudin, the signature smoked and fried Buffalou Chicken Bites), wood-fired pizzas and more formal dinner plates (on my visits, the highlight was a dry-aged duck breast over smoked-mushroom spaetzle). The kitchen also provides bites for the hotel’s rooftop bar.

Be

P H O T O S : L A U R I E S K R I VA N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( T H E L A S T K I T C H E N ) ; J E R R Y N A U N H E I M J R . ( L E M M O N S B Y G R B I C ) ; P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( M A C ’ S L O C A L E AT S )

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, PIZZA

American upbringing. Executive chef Senada has already introduced several essential St. Louis dishes: the fiery rakija-glazed wings, the half-beef-and-half-bacon burger, the flatbread with cevapi and kajmak. My most recent visit featured some exciting newer fare, including a hearty winter pasta of black-pepper cresta and Polish sausage with the bite of sauerkraut and the campfire essence of smoked paprika. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $30

WHERE 5800 Gravois Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-899-9898, lemmonsrestaurant.com • HOURS Dinner TuesdaySaturday, lunch Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Mac’s Local Eats BAR & GRILL, BURGERS

Mac’s Local Eats has moved from its original home inside Tamm Avenue Bar in Dogtown to a bigger space in

the new Bluewood Brewing in Benton Park. You might need a moment to adjust to the change in scale and decor. When the new location opened in September, owner Chris “Mac” McKenzie told me: “It’s really weird, I’m not going to lie. There were, like, seven to eight people on the clock on Saturday, and we weren’t running into each other.” Once you bite into Mac’s signature burger, though, you will feel right at home. The skinny patties are still a marvel of engineering, both lacy with grill char and packed with dry-aged-beef flavor. Stack ’em high.

RED WING SHOE STORE 136 SOUTH COUNTY CENTERWAY 314-845-7473

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LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1821 Cherokee Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-479-8155, macslocaleats. com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday)

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Doro wat with lentils, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and bread at Meskerem Ethiopian Cuisine

Crispy salt-and-pepper calamari at Mai Lee

Burrito with beans, lettuce, tomato and jalapeños at Mi Tierra Bonita Fittingly, the Meskerem Combo platter brings beef and vegetarian dishes together atop the restaurant’s injera. St. Louis doesn’t boast a robust array of Ethiopian or other eastern African restaurants, but for over a decade now we have been fortunate to have Atsede Wondem and Henok Gerbi’s Meskerem. Summer in Dubai sandwich at Medina Mediterranean Grill Del Trompo at Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience

Mai Lee CHINESE, VIETNAMESE

What more do I — or any other food writer — need to tell you about Mai Lee? You know the story. The Trans come to St. Louis as refugees from Vietnam. Lee Tran opens a Chinese restaurant and gradually introduces Vietnamese dishes. Mai Lee becomes a hit and not only survives but thrives after moving to an unlikely new home on the ground floor of a parking garage behind a big-box shopping plaza. The food remains topnotch: soups, noodles and stir-fries, meat and seafood, Vietnamese and Chinese. Mai Lee’s success helps the next generation, Lee Tran’s son Qui, introduce a pho and ramen restaurant, Nudo House. Yes, the Trans’ story is as American as the Constitution. Now, to take a big slurp of Mai Lee’s signature pho broth and check the national news. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 1985 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 8396 Musick Memorial Drive, Brentwood • MORE INFO 314-645-2835, maileestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

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PRICING Under $30

Mayo Ketchup CUBAN, DOMINICAN, PUERTO RICAN

Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience MEXICAN

The name Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience might be a mouthful, but it is fitting for the new restaurant from the family behind the late Señor Pique, led by Angel JimenezGutiérrez and his mother, María Gutiérrez Molina. Dishes here unfold as family histories: a fried bean tamale like those Jimenez-Gutiérrez would buy from a subway vendor on the way to visit his grandmother; a

Jibarito sandwich at Mayo Ketchup fish taco inspired by the fried-fish vendors his father would take him to see in the Tacuba area of Mexico City; a soup that nods to street corn but also to the popcorn seasonings at Mexico City movie theaters. The dishes are delicious without context, but inviting a conversation with Malinche’s staff about any or all of what

you order turns a visit here into a memorable, yes, experience. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 15939 Manchester Road, Ellisville • MORE INFO 636-220-8514, malinchestl. com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Tuesday)

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After pop-up events and a residency at Alpha Brewing Co., Mandy “Plantain Girl” Estrella has found a permanent home for her cooking at Mayo Ketchup in Lafayette Square. The counter-service restaurant focuses on the fare of Puerto Rico (hence the name, the beloved Puerto Rican condiment, served here in regular and spicy versions), the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Estrella’s cooking showcases attention to detail (traditional Cuban bread, with lard in the dough, for the Cuban sandwich) and layered flavors (the pernil, forktender and slow-roasted pork seasoned with citrus, oregano and cumin over arroz con gandules). As you would expect from Estrella’s nickname, plantains appear across the menu: appetizers, sides and garnishes with maduros or tostones, the planks of twice-fried green plantain for the jibarito sandwich. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 •

WHERE 2001 Park Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314696-2699, plantaingirl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closes at 5 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday)

Medina Mediterranean Grill

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2007 • PRICING Under $30

melting pot — whatever you call it, it persists. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1327 Washington Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-241-1356, medinagrill.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily (closes at 5 p.m. Sunday) WHERE 5 Maryland Plaza, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314240-5301, medinagrill.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily (closes at 5 p.m. Sunday)

MIDDLE EASTERN, SANDWICHES

In my ideal St. Louis, Medina Mediterranean Grill would be as common as Bread Co. Ibrahim Ead’s fast-casual concept was fine-tuned from the outset: excellent beef or chicken shawarma tucked into a pita (the Original Palestine) or served over salad; in a sandwich with pepper jack cheese, tomato and a chipotle tahini (the Summer in Dubai); or with onion, roasted red pepper, provolone and a pesto tahini (the Juicy Jerusalem). The key to Medina’s success is that, for all its fast-casual trappings, it is a deeply personal restaurant, bringing together Ead’s upbringing in St. Louis and in his family’s native Palestine. Mashup culture, fusion, the

Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant ETHIOPIAN

I can think of few other establishments on this list besides Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant that I would recommend as avidly to meat lovers and vegetarians alike. This South Grand staple offers an impressive, diverse slate of beef dishes, from raw kitfo to berbere-seasoned tibs wat to the dried beef of kwanta firfir. Meskerem’s vegetarian entrees display a similar variety of choices, including lentils, chickpeas and collard greens (miser, shiro and gomen wat, respectively).

WHERE 3210 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-772-4442, meskeremstl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

Mi Tierra Bonita MEXICAN

Whenever a good restaurant expands or relocates, you worry it will lose some of its charm or the quality will fall off as the kitchen struggles to keep up with larger crowds or a bigger menu. In 2018, Juan Sanchez relocated tiny Mi Tierra Tienda y Taqueria a very short distance but expanded it from a tiny taqueria into a sprawling restaurant with a bar and, on one visit last year, a mariachi band serenading tables. The menu ranges widely now, but the soul of the original location persists in the tacos and especially the staggeringly good mole de olla with its guajillo-infused broth. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2018 (expansion) • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 3203 Collinsville Road, Fairmont City • MORE INFO 618-271-7311 • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

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THE REST OF THE BEST Spinach burek plate with a hardboiled egg and salad at Olio

Morning Glory Diner BREAKFAST, DINER

Not every rising-star chef needs a multimilliondollar buildout and multicourse tasting menu. The St. Louis dining scene benefits from updated versions of classic formats, too. Ari Ellis wanted to open a diner, so she did. Diners hold a nostalgic appeal for her, and there is also a practical aspect, she told me last year: “You can always get breakfast in a diner.” Morning Glory Diner shines equally at breakfast and lunch. Standouts from the breakfast menu include buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy and johnny cakes with fried chicken. This is a diner, so of course there is a griddled burger for lunch. Be sure to ask if there is any freshbaked pie available. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING Under $15

Chicken and johnny cakes at Morning Glory Diner

Shrimp spring rolls at Nudo House

Sambava-chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut cake at Nathaniel Reid Bakery

WHERE 2609 Cherokee Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-376-4018, facebook. com/morningglorydinerstl • HOURS 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday)

Sikil pak at Nixta

BAKERY & DESSERT, SANDWICHES

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Nixta BRUNCH, MEXICAN

Nathaniel Reid Bakery The St. Louis baking scene is in a far better place now than it was at the beginning of the past decade. The idea of a Nathaniel Reid Bakery in every neighborhood doesn’t seem so farfetched. OK, not literally the Nathaniel Reid Bakery. There is only one Nathaniel Reid, a singular talent and James Beard Awards semifinalist for outstanding baker whose signature pastries you view as you might a collection of Fabergé eggs. Nathaniel Reid Bakery isn’t a museum, though. It is an everyday bakery, where you can

A rack of ribs at Pappy’s Smokehouse

grab a coffee and a croissant or a sandwich and a cookie — though you might pause your morning routine to marvel at the croissant’s lamination. And you might as well grab the Amber or another of Reid’s pastries for later. They are portioned

and priced for you. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2016 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 11243 Manchester Road, Kirkwood • MORE INFO 314-858-1019, nrbakery. com • HOURS 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (closed Sunday)

For the fourth consecutive year, I have included Ben Poremba’s Nixta among the STL 100. For the fourth consecutive year, I am writing about a different Mexican restaurant. I exaggerate, but only slightly. After showcasing the brilliant, personal cooking of inaugural chef Tello Carreon and the thorough, impressive transformation undertaken by his successor, Alex Henry, Nixta last year teetered between its established excellence and a muddle of ideas and flavors. This year, under new chef de cuisine Dakota Williams, Nixta has found its footing again. The luster and dried-fruitlike depth of flavor has returned to the chicken in mole negro, and I have discovered a new favorite: a potato-leek soup prickly with chorizo and smoky with leek ash.

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2016 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 1621 Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-899-9000, nixtastl. com • HOURS Dinner TuesdaySunday, lunch Tuesday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday)

Nudo House JAPANESE, VIETNAMESE

The past decade’s anticipated ramen boom in St. Louis ended up more like a ramen boomlet, if even that. (If I am touchy on the subject, it’s because I am still mourning gonetoo-soon Vista Ramen.) Call it whatever you like, at least the boom-thatwasn’t brought us MarieAnne Velasco and Qui Tran’s Nudo House. Here you will find excellent tonkotsu, chicken paitan and mushroom ramen. (Unsurprisingly, given that Tran and his family run the iconic Vietnamese restaurant Mai Lee, you will find

excellent pho, too.) I tend toward the spicy ramen, either the chile-enhanced O’Miso Spicy broth or, lately, the ‘Nduja Bomb, tonkotsu with ‘nduja salume from Salume Beddu. If not a boomlet, Nudo House now boasts two locations, the second of which opened in 2019 in the Delmar Loop. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 11423 Olive Boulevard, St. Louis County • MORE INFO 314-274-8046, nudohousestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner MondaySaturday (closed Sunday) WHERE 6105 Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-370-6970, nudohousestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

Olio CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, ISRAELI, MEDITERRANEAN

The transformation of the intersection of Tower Grove and McRee avenues into one of St. Louis’ most exciting dining addresses began in 2012 with Ben Poremba’s Elaia and Olio.

Elaia is the high-end flagship, but Olio — more casual, open every day, suitable for a full meal or cocktails and snacks — has been the cornerstone of this intersection’s development. Some reasons for Olio’s success (cocktails, dishes like the King of Kings hummus) have been there from the beginning, while others (the bread program) have developed over time. They have made Olio a vital part of its neighborhood and St. Louis dining, a place that — while retaining its roots in Israeli and more broadly Mediterranean cuisine — still feels special over many visits. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2012 • PRICING $15-$30 WHERE 1634 Tower Grove Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-932-1088, oliostl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

last year, bringing together the past decade’s two most prominent trends and thus creating a singularity that will destroy us all. Seriously, though, Pappy’s Rolling Smoke speaks to the competitive nature of the St. Louis barbecue scene. “We’ve never done another Pappy’s store,” co-owner John Matthews told me. “(The truck) gives us a little more ability to market our product.” I much prefer a Pappy’s truck to a second location. As the number of barbecue restaurants in St. Louis has continued to grow, Pappy’s has remained in the highest rank thanks to a focused effort: consistently excellent product (the pork ribs above all else) and a welcoming dining experience. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2008 • PRICING Under $30

Pappy’s Smokehouse BARBECUE

Barbecue godhead Pappy’s Smokehouse launched a food truck

WHERE 3106 Olive Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314535-4340, pappysmokehouse. com • HOURS 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (or until sold out) MondaySaturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (or until sold out) Sunday

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A whole lobster basket at Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.

Shrimp and grits at Polite Society

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. A slice of sausage pizza at Pie Guy Pizza

SEAFOOD

Kevin Nashan’s Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. anticipated by a few years St. Louis diners’ burgeoning demand for seafood boils. Peacemaker, though, thrives outside the seafood-boil boom. Its range is greater: Not only does it offer lobster, crab and other boils, but it also can go upscale (seafood towers and white-sturgeon caviar) and everyday (po’boys and maybe the best seafood deal in town, the $9 fried-clam roll). What I always come back to at Peacemaker are the large wall photographs of the restaurant’s seafood purveyors. Nashan’s concept is savvy, of course (as evidenced by its expansion into Tulsa, Oklahoma), but it is rooted in a love for seafood, its traditional roles in American cuisine and the people who bring it to us — a love always apparent on the plate. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2014 • PRICING $15-$45 WHERE 1831 Sidney Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314772-8858, peacemakerstl. com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday (opens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday)

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French onion burger on a challah bun at Planter’s House

Mini oatmeal cream pies at Pint Size Bakery

Pie Guy Pizza PIZZA

Pie Guy Pizza is a charming name for a pizzeria, with an everyperson quality befitting a restaurant open until 3:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. What are we going to eat this late? A slice from the Pie Guy, of course. The name is also sneakily audacious: When it comes to pizza, this guy here is the guy. And owner Mitch Frost is making a strong claim to being one of St. Louis’ top pie guys. His New York-style crust and sauce are top-notch, the former a hand-tossed dough (imported Caputo flour and sourdough starter) that has been cold-fermented for

A sausage and green pepper pizza at Pizza Head

three days. Add cheese and quality toppings (especially sausage made with pork from Such and Such Farm), and Pie Guy will be your guy at hours regular and not. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2018 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 4189 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-899-0444, pieguystl. com • HOURS 4:30-midnight Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Wednesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Pint Size Bakery BAKERY & DESSERT

When Pint Size Bakery opened in 2012, one

of the first of the past decade’s bumper crop of artisanal bakeries, it was also a marvel of creative efficiency, turning out consistently excellent baked goods in a space charitably described as studio apartment-size. (See for yourself at fellow STL 100 honoree Kounter Kulture, the original Pint Size location’s current occupant.) A move in 2016 to bigger digs nearby didn’t alter the Pint Size aesthetic, which founder Christy Augustin has described as “punk-rock grandma.” She, co-owner Nancy Boehm and their team turn out everyday treats sweet (crumb cakes, cookies, oatmeal cream pies) and savory (quiche, a BLT muffin), each the miniature miracle Pint Size itself once was. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2012 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 3133 Watson Road,

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St. Louis • MORE INFO 314645-7142, pintsizebakery.com • HOURS 7 a.m.-4 p.m. TuesdayFriday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

a breezy tang — and uncompromising in his vegetarian ethos. I don’t mind ordering the plant-based pepperoni or sausage; I also no longer notice the difference.

Pizza Head

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $30

PIZZA, VEGETARIAN

One slice of Pizza Head pizza is a good-size meal; two slices is a feast. Two slices and a pint of domestic beer costs about $8 to $10, depending on your cheese and topping preferences, which ranks among the best values on the STL 100. This is a little-d democratic pizzeria, open every day, no-frills in its design, priced to fill you up. (Yes, a whole pie can cost over $20; it should also easily feed a family of four.) Yet it is also clearly the vision of Scott Sandler, an eager student of breadmaking — here his New York-style crust is firm but springy, with

WHERE 3196 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-266-5400, pizzahead.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

Planter’s House CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Yes, the STL 100 is about restaurants. As I wrote in last year’s edition, Planter’s House belongs on the list for chef Sam Boettler’s cooking here (on a recent visit, duck breast and egg noodles in a deeply savory duck-miso broth). Still, I must applaud what

co-owner and cocktail whiz Ted Kilgore and his bar team do, not only mixing excellent drinks both classic and of their own creation but also introducing entirely new themed menus now and then. As I write this, that theme is “Arrested Development,” and the Mr. Manager is a callback to one of the sitcom’s (many, many) jokes and a great cocktail even if you have never seen an episode: tequila, pistachio orgeat and banana liqueur brightened by grapefruit and lime, with the lingering spice of mole bitters. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2013 • PRICING $30-$45 WHERE 1000 Mississippi Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-696-2603, plantershousestl.com • HOURS Dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

Polite Society BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

The team behind Polite Society (owners Brian Schmitz and Jonathan Schoen, chef Thomas Futrell and beverage director Travis Hebrank) opened the Bellwether last year. The new restaurant is meant to be more of a destination than Polite Society, and its ambiance is more sophisticated. But when I returned to Polite Society after reviewing the Bellwether, I saw a baseline for excellence — a reason why Polite Society, a neighborhood restaurant, is a destination itself. With Daniel Sammons as chef de cuisine, Polite Society continues to turn out polished comfort fare: wings, shrimp and grits, and, new to me on my recent visit, pork belly over sweet-potato biscuits. There is also synergy between the two restaurants, with Polite Society serving bison short ribs braised in red wine over pasta from the Bellwether. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 1923 Park Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314325-2553, politesocietystl. com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday

stltoday.com/stl100

P H OTO S : C H R I ST I A N G O O D E N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( P E AC E M A K E R LO B ST E R & C R A B CO. ) ; CO LT E R P E T E R S O N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( P I E G U Y ) ; J O N G I TC H O F F ( P I N T S I Z E BA K E RY ) ; L AU R I E S K R I VA N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( P I Z Z A H E A D, P O L I T E S O C I E T Y ) ; H I L L A RY L EV I N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( P L A N T E R’S H O U S E )

THE REST OF THE BEST


P H O T O S : R O B E R T C O H E N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( R I C E T H A I ) ; C H R I S T I A N G O O D E N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( S A LT + S M O K E ) ; F I L E P H O T O ( S A M E E M ) ; H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( S E O U L TA C O ) ; S I D H A S T I N G S ( S I D E S O F S E O U L ) ; L A U R I E S K R I VA N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( S I S T E R C I T I E S )

THE REST OF THE BEST A taco sampler with beef, chicken and pork at Seoul Taco

Rice Thai Bistro THAI

This marks the fifth consecutive STL 100 appearance for Bryan and Nina Prapaisilpa’s Rice Thai Bistro, and if you haven’t yet ventured to this tiny storefront in a little Winchester shopping plaza (using the term plaza loosely here), I am liable to take you there myself. The Prapaisilpas’ menu isn’t expansive and generally follows the template many other area Thai restaurants do, but the curries (the green especially) are both more balanced and more vibrant with aromatics and chiles, and the pad kee mao is punchier. The no-frills exterior notwithstanding, Rice Thai Bistro offers a warm, familial vibe that enhances the dining experience: Both Prapaisilpas are likely to be right there in the kitchen, and Bryan often makes his way through the dining room.

Crab Rangoon at Rice Thai Bistro

Fried jalapeño and cheddar bologna sandwich at Salt + Smoke

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2005 (original location), 2012 (current location) • PRICING Under $30

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2014 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 14536 Manchester Road, Winchester • MORE INFO 636-220-1777, ricethaibistro.net • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

Salt + Smoke

Sameem Afghan Restaurant

Sambosas at Sameem Afghan Restaurant

AFGHAN

BARBECUE

The past year has seen Salt + Smoke double its footprint, with locations opening in St. Charles and the Central West End. The barbecue restaurant isn’t finished growing, either. In 2020, Salt + Smoke will open in the new One Cardinal Way residential tower at Ballpark Village. We have passed the point where St. Louis’ barbecue boom alone can explain this rapid expansion. Salt + Smoke is thriving because it delivers consistently excellent barbecue from pitmaster stltoday.com/stl100

biryani. (For a brilliant extra accent to your dish, request the spicy green chutney that accompanies the sambosas.) However long the Grove remains a restaurant hot spot, Sameem is built to last: The Mohammads first introduced the restaurant in Tower Grove South in 2005.

Haley Riley — brisket above all else, but don’t overlook the pork ribs and pulled chicken — as well as top-notch sides, sauces and appetizers. Add the table-service model that makes dining here more like an experience than a cafeteria line, and even in St. Louis’ crowded barbecue field, Salt + Smoke stands out as unique and essential.

Boulevard, University City • MORE INFO 314-727-0200, saltandsmokestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2014 • PRICING Under $30

WHERE 392 North Euclid Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-727-0200, saltandsmokestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

WHERE 6525 Delmar

WHERE 5625 Hampton Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-727-0200, saltandsmokestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily WHERE 501 South Main Street, St. Charles • MORE INFO 314-727-0200, saltandsmokestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

Forest Park Southeast’s Grove is St. Louis’ most exciting restaurant district right now. This year, it claims seven STL 100 honorees, with several other restaurants orbiting the list. Of those seven, six have opened just in the last couple of years. Sameem Afghan Restaurant, on the other hand, has been helping to make the Grove a dining destination since 2012. Brothers Fahime and Qayum Mohammad and Qayum’s wife, Sitara, impress with straightforward beef and chicken kebabs and the more complex spicing of the beef curry and lamb

WHERE 4341 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-534-9500, sameems.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

Seoul Taco

dumplings and the Gogi & Waffles, a stoner’s dream of sweet-potato waffle fries with queso blanco and the tangy house Seoul Sauce, kimchi, green onions and beef bulgogi. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2011 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City • MORE INFO 314-863-1148, seoultaco.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily WHERE 46 Four Seasons Shopping Center, Chesterfield • MORE INFO 314-548-6868, seoultaco.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily WHERE 4099 Chouteau Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-925-8101, seoultaco.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

Sides of Seoul KOREAN

FOOD TRUCK, KOREAN, MEXICAN

David Choi’s Seoul Taco, one of the original St. Louis food trucks, continues to grow. A new storefront has opened in Forest Park Southeast’s Grove, joining the truck and brick-andmortar locations here (the Delmar Loop and Chesterfield) and elsewhere (Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago). I am on record in previous editions of the STL 100 as a fierce partisan of the burrito with kimchi fried rice and spicy pork. On recent visits, though, I have opened myself up to other delights, among them the meaty pork

Sides of Seoul is another local, independent, fastcasual restaurant worth your attention, but that doesn’t capture exactly why this Overland Korean restaurant is special. Sides of Seoul hits the expected fast-casual marks — affordability and convenience — but the Lee family does so while taking the sort of pains you might not notice during a quick meal: fermenting kimchi for the kimchi jjigae or one of the banchan accompanying your beef bulgogi, spending three days preparing the ox-bone stock for seolleongtang. Not every dish at Sides of Seoul requires so much

BiBim Bop at Sides of Seoul

Smoked wings at Sister Cities Cajun

labor, but each — soups and stews, gimbap, rice bowls — is the product of a kitchen that, while fast and casual, is no mere assembly line. LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2018 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 10084 Page Avenue, Overland • MORE INFO 314942-8940, facebook.com/ sidesofseoulfoods • HOURS 11 a.m.-8 p.m. MondaySaturday (closed Sunday)

Sister Cities Cajun CAJUN/CREOLE

Over seven years and two locations, I have eaten my way through the menu of Pamela Melton and Travis Parfait’s Sister Cities Cajun. Well, most of the way through. I can’t seem to nab an order of the smoked

ribs, a Saturday special. This STL 100 cycle, on a Saturday, I arrived too early in the day. Instead, I ate Parfait’s smoked pork steak, which between its tender meat and depth of piggy, smoky flavor would do most barbecue restaurants in town proud. So I can add the pork steak to Sister Cities’ musteats, alongside the dry-rubbed smoked wings, the gumbo brimming with seafood, the jambalaya and the Dirty Chix (smoked chicken thighs covered in the aforementioned seafood gumbo). Next year, I swear: the ribs. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2013 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 3550 South Broadway, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-4050447, sistercitiescajun. com • HOURS Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

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the Willie Nelson with grilled skirt steak, or the Chippewa with porksteak carnitas — might be the best introduction to Taco Circus. But don’t overlook the St. Cecelia plate (huevos rancheros) and other breakfast dishes. New to the Southwest Garden location are excellent housemade flour tortillas.

Green chile enchiladas at Southwest Diner

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Last included in 2016 • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $30

Braised beef noodle soup at Tai Ke

Southwest Diner

Mexican Flag Burrito at Taco Circus

Brisket sandwich at the Stellar Hog

BREAKFAST, DINER, SOUTHWESTERN

When Southwest Diner opened in 2012, the New Mexican restaurant already looked and felt like an established neighborhood spot. Crowds soon descended, especially on weekends. Owners Jonathan Jones and Anna Sidel haven’t taken the popularity for granted, and from year to year, my appreciation for the cooking here has only grown. The greenchile cheeseburger has transformed into one of the best of St. Louis’ skinnier, lacy-edged burgers, a distinction for which there is some competition these days. From carne adovada, posole and other signature dishes to seemingly slight but actually ingenious fare such as faux Tater Tots made from stoneground grits, cheese and jalapeño, Southwest Diner hasn’t simply fulfilled its neighborhoodspot promise — it has transcended it. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2012 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 6803 Southwest Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-260-7244, southwestdinerstl.com • HOURS 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

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The vegan Maine Event chocolate chunk cookie at SweetArt

gluten-free and vegan varieties included, all arrayed at the front counter to tempt you. Don’t skip right to dessert, though. Bayoc can also cook. Her most famous non-dessert creation is her vegan burger patty, which has been satisfying the meat-averse and vegancurious since before the burgers Impossible and Beyond came along. She also fashions a tasty chicken sandwich from Chik’n-brand faux chicken, and her coconutcurry lentil soup is a balm of warming spices. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2008 • PRICING Under $15

The Stellar Hog BARBECUE, BRUNCH

Now more than a decade old, the great St. Louis barbecue boom continues to produce new restaurants. In terms of quality, though, there has been a leveling off. I can name plenty of restaurants with good barbecue. Great barbecue that compels me to return? The list is brief. The Stellar Hog, Alex Cupp’s restaurant on the Bevo Mill-Holly Hills line, compels me to return. Here you will find two of the best smoked meats in town: beef brisket (coffee- and spice-rubbed, smoked for 14 hours) and corned beef brisket (a weeklong brine and then a 14-hour smoke). That is enough to set the Stellar Hog apart, but Cupp also

Chicken biryani at Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant delivers excellent pork ribs and pulled pork, the latter with just the right zing of vinegar. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2016 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 5623 Leona Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314481-8448, thestellarhog. com • HOURS 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (bar only open Monday, closed Tuesday)

Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant MEDITERRANEAN, MIDDLE EASTERN

Few restaurants brought me as much happiness in 2019 as Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant, from the complimentary bowl of curried lentil soup that

IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

begins a meal to the strong Turkish coffee and square of Turkish delight that make for a perfect final course. Chef Jenar Mohammed, a native of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, draws from family history and recipes from the broader region for a menu united by her impressive technique. Lamb is a standout — a shank cooked with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper; the signature Sultan pilau, with lamb-shank meat, rice, raisins, carrots and nuts in a phyllo shell — but Mohammed also impresses with eggplant (baba ghanoush or with beef in the ali naza kebab) and chicken (biryani, saffron curry, musakhan). At Sultan, Mohammed and her family impress, period.

LAST YEAR’S RANKING New • OPENED 2019 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 4200 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-390-2020, sultan-stl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

SweetArt BAKERY & DESSERT, BREAKFAST, SANDWICHES, VEGAN, VEGETARIAN

You are either a cook or a baker, the conventional wisdom says — an intuitive improviser or a stickler for ratios and recipes. Conventional wisdom should check out the Shaw bakery, restaurant and art gallery SweetArt. Reine Bayoc can bake: cupcakes, cookies and other sweet pleasures,

WHERE 2203 South 39th Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-771-4278, sweetartstl. com • HOURS 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (closed Sunday)

Taco Circus MEXICAN, TEX-MEX

When Taco Circus last appeared on the STL 100 in 2016, it was a scrappy Tex-Mex restaurant punching above its weight in a cramped Bevo Mill space. This past fall, Austin, Texas, native Christian Ethridge relocated his restaurant to bigger digs with a more polished appearance, but Taco Circus’ soul is unchanged, with generous servings of TexMex fare distinguished by thoughtful but unshowy technique. The oversize Kingshighway Tacos —

WHERE 4940 Southwest Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-899-0061, tacocircus.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

Tai Ke TAIWANESE

For the better part of five years, Tai Ke has shown that there is a strong demand for Taiwanese cuisine in St. Louis — and that, thanks to social media, a small location hidden from the main road won’t keep diners away. I have lately gravitated toward the spicier dishes on the menu: Taiwanese popcorn chicken and the Traditional StirFry (ground pork with fermented black beans, chiles and chives). But Tai Ke’s range is expansive, from the street snacks (gua bao or the exceptionally juicy fried-chicken cutlet) to soups (braised beef noodle, clear clam) to such sizzling dishes as the signature threecup chicken and hakka stir-fry. The potential redevelopment of the Olive BoulevardInterstate 170 interchange continues to cast a shadow. Tai Ke needs to do nothing more to prove itself an essential St. Louis restaurant. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2015 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 8604 Olive Boulevard, University City • MORE INFO 314801-8894, taikestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily (closed Tuesday)

stltoday.com/stl100

P H OTO S : P O ST- D I S PATC H ( S O U T H W E ST D I N E R ) ; C H R I ST I A N G O O D E N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( ST E L L A R H O G ) ; H I L L A RY L EV I N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( S U LTA N M E D I T E R R A N E A N , SW E E TA RT, TACO C I R C U S ) ; DAV I D C A R S O N / P O ST- D I S PATC H ( TA I K E )

THE REST OF THE BEST


P H O T O S : H I L L A R Y L E V I N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( TA S T E ) ; L E X I B R O W N I N G / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( V E R I TA S ) ; L A U R I E S K R I VA N / P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( V I N E ) ; S I D H A S T I N G S ( V P S Q U A R E ) ; J E R R Y N A U N H E I M J R . ( W O O D S H A C K ) ; P O S T- D I S PAT C H ( Y E L L O W B E L LY )

THE REST OF THE BEST

Pork burger with cheddar, bacon and french fries at Taste

Taste CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

Gerard Craft had only recently named Matt Wynn executive chef of Taste when I visited the small-plates restaurant for the 2019 edition of the STL 100. I was impressed then. A year later, Wynn’s cooking has given Taste an energy I last saw here when Matthew Daughaday was executive chef. Vegetable dishes are a particular strength: last year (and still on the menu on my most recent visit) carrots cooked in bacon fat; this year barbecue-spiced Brussels sprouts with pickled red onion and sunflower granola over a butternut-squash puree. Wynn also knows when to hold back, serving wild-boar meatballs in nothing more than a red gravy, with Union Loafers bread to sop up the soulful sauce. As always, the cocktail menu offers bold but thoughtfully balanced creations. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2009 • PRICING $15-$45 WHERE 4584 Laclede Avenue, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-361-1200, tastebarstl. com • HOURS Dinner daily

Veritas BRUNCH, CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN

A dish from Veritas chef Mathis Stitt is a high-wire act. Even now, knowing he will pull off the trick, I read his next menu and wonder how. Kingklip, a firm white fish, is perfectly pan-roasted — a given — and then stltoday.com/stl100

1862 sandwich at the Wood Shack set with beets, orange segments, pickled onion, radish slivers, grilled bacon and pistachio over both lemon hummus and chive oil. All of this should be too much, but the dish balances tart and earthy, sweet and smoky, spring and winter. Over the years I have been dining here, Stitt and his team have approached delicate fish and rustic pasta, Sunday brunch and burgers at the bar, with the same enthusiasm. Stitt’s fine-dining menu may no longer be a secret, but it is always a thrill.

Wu-Tang Clams at Yellowbelly

Pan-roasted kingklip at Veritas

Lentil soup at the Vine Mediterranean Cafe

LAST YEAR’S RANKING No. 19 • OPENED 2004 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 15860 Fountain Plaza, Ellisville • MORE INFO 636-227-6800, veritasgateway.com • HOURS Dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday)

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2018 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 3611 Juniata Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-833-4838, facebook. com/vpsquarestl • HOURS Lunch and dinner TuesdaySunday (closed Monday)

The Vine Mediterranean Cafe

VP Square

LEBANESE, MIDDLE EASTERN

I have been dining at the Vine Mediterranean Cafe for a decade now, and I don’t think the cooking by Ali Mohsen and his team has ever been better. Lately, I have been obsessed with the beef shawarma, which shows the tenderness and depth of flavor you usually associate with braised meat, and also the chicken shatta, marinated, char-broiled and cut with a piquant sauce of tomato, garlic, jalapeño and herbs. The lunch menu, featuring falafel, shawarma, kebab and other sandwiches,

in town, and his kimchi ramyun is even better than his ramen. I haven’t seen a more generous or appealing poke bowl in town than VP Square’s, and no one serves a dish quite like Pham’s VP Fried Rice Special, with smoked bacon, barbecue chicken, Chinese sausage and a potent kimchi kick.

CHINESE, JAPANESE, KOREAN, PAN-ASIAN, THAI, VIETNAMESE

VP Fried Rice Special at VP Square is a tremendous value, and the Vine’s attention to small pleasures — the day’s fresh-baked pita that accompanies the hummus, the warming curry note in the lentil soup — remains one of its greatest charms.

LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2009 • PRICING Under $30 WHERE 3171 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-776-0991, thevinestl.com • HOURS Lunch and dinner daily

I might recommend VP Square as a restaurant perfect for groups with varied desires. Here chef Duncan Pham offers ramen and hot pots, bibimbap and fried rice, bright poke bowls and hearty Vietnamese beef stew. What I want to do, though, is recommend VP Square even if you or your group harbor a hankering for just one of these dishes or anything else on Pham’s menu. His ramen can hold its own against any other bowl

The Wood Shack BARBECUE, SANDWICHES

I mention elsewhere in this year’s STL 100 that I have noticed a leveling off in quality among St. Louis’ many barbecue restaurants. This isn’t a problem — good barbecue is good barbecue — but fewer places stand out. Among those that do is sandwich shop the Wood Shack. Its menu features smoked meats you won’t find anywhere else (hickory- and mulberry-smoked prime

rib, served with bonemarrow aioli, charred onions, arugula and blue-cheese cream on the Soulard Primer) and those that can hold their own against more traditional barbecue restaurants (mesquiteand pecan-smoked pork butt, pecan-smoked chicken). The peppered pastrami, a rare miss for me when I reviewed the Wood Shack in 2017, is now dialed in, zippy and meaty. Stop by on a Friday, when you can order it as a Reuben. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2017 • PRICING Under $15 WHERE 1862 South 10th Street, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-833-4770, thewoodshacksoulard. com • HOURS 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Yellowbelly CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN, SEAFOOD

Travis Howard and Tim Wiggins keep working. Not content with one Central West End hot spot in Retreat Gastropub, in 2018 they opened the more ambitious Yellowbelly,

featuring visually dazzling and often delicious seafood dishes and a rum-focused beverage program from cocktail expert Wiggins. When I returned to Yellowbelly in late 2019, Howard and Wiggins and executive chef Ben Tulin had tightened Yellowbelly’s menu, ditching the overthe-top large-format fare, though not the focus on big flavors. I enjoyed one of my favorite dishes from my 2018 visits, the spicy, briny Wu-Tang Clams, and a lovely piece of barramundi with warm, Moroccan-inspired seasoning. Howard and Wiggins haven’t stopped working. This winter, aware of national trends, they tried a deliveryonly “ghost kitchen” concept called Soupboi out of Yellowbelly. LAST YEAR’S RANKING Rest of the Best • OPENED 2018 • PRICING $30 and up WHERE 4659 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis • MORE INFO 314-499-1509, yellowbellystl.com • HOURS Dinner daily, lunch WednesdayFriday, brunch Saturday-Sunday

IAN FROEB’S STL 100 GO! MAGAZINE • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • 03.08.20

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