The 50 Best Dishes in St. Louis
Plates for every taste and price point
Photograph by Steve Adams
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SLM last listed St. Louis’ best dishes exactly two years ago, in “The 35 Best Dishes in St. Louis.” Recently, though, there has been a proliferation of restaurants in the metro area, with 45 new ones in the last quarter of 2011—that’s a new restaurant (an independent one, mind you) opening every other day. As St. Louis has clearly upped its offerings, we figured we’d better as well. And so we present The 50 Best Dishes in St. Louis, scattered across various types of cuisine and price points, from basic chicken and dumplings to the oddly named “squirrel fish. —George Mahe
$10 and Under
Sugo’s Spaghetteria, $10
We’re all for truth in menu verbiage, but at Sugo’s we get sold short: “House-Made Lasagna $10” fails to mention that the serving takes two hands to serve, feeds two people, contains two kinds of meat (including a distinctive sausage made on The Hill) and two kinds of cheese (one being generous shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano), and the prized sugo comes from a woman with two names, Mary Rose Del Pietro. This is very good lasagna…considering the price, maybe too good. 10419 Clayton, 314-569-0400, sugoscucina.com.
Mad Tomato, $10
The menu’s description is bare-bones, but the Hunter’s Egg is anything but. Creamy polenta, earthy cannellini beans, savory pancetta, and bright tomatoes provide layered flavor and varied texture, while the richness of a perfectly poached egg unites the dish’s humble ingredients into a hearty, deeply satisfying whole. Rustic but elegant in its simplicity, this is Italian comfort food at its finest. 8000 Carondelet, 314-932-5733, madtomatostl.com.
Asiana Garden, market price
While it might be cool to combine a squirrel and fish, the dish’s name actually refers to a fish that’s scored and deep-fried, so it resembles Rocky’s bushy tail. The fish is sometimes a sea bass, sometimes something similar. The whole thing arrives sizzling, with a carmine sour-and-sweet sauce, layered in contrasting tastes—not the gloppy imitations to which we’re all too often subjected. It’s easily one of the region’s best dishes—and at 1,200 years old, it’s the most venerable on this list. 7930 Olive, 314-726-4049.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY DEWEESE
Grilled Steak Fajita Tacos
Nachomama’s, $2.49 per taco, $8.49 platter
We suspect the throngs of regulars who pile into Nachomama’s to order the grilled steak fajita tacos do so for the same reason we do: Unlike fast-food tacos, the steak inside those toasted flour tortillas tastes wonderfully of beef, rather than something steak-like. Granted, you’ll pay more, and—topped with cabbage—they’re not your standard-issue tacos. But if you try them drizzled with one of the house-made salsas, you’ll return, too, and probably sooner rather than later. 9643 Manchester, 314-961-9110, nachomamas-stl.com.
No. 54 Bánh Xèo
Mai Lee, $8.95
Are bánh xèo, the airy crepes, a relic of Vietnam’s years as a French colony? Who cares, when Mai Lee’s large, crisp-at-the-edges version holds pork and shrimp, bean sprouts and mung beans? Made from rice flour, they’re so light they practically rise above the plate; they’re simultaneously crunchy, soft, warm, and cool. Wrapping chunks in the offered leaf lettuce is optional, but a drib of garlicky fish sauce and a nibble of zesty cilantro are essential. Bánh xèo are often greasy; these are not. 8396 Musick Memorial, 314-645-2835, maileerestaurant.com.
Remember the skin of milk that you hated on pudding as a kid? Now imagine that skin was cheese instead, and you somehow managed to turn it inside out so the creamy cheese goodness below was encapsulated in a satchel of the highest-quality, freshest mozzarella you’ve ever tasted in your life. That just begins to scratch the surface of Truffles’ textbook example of the simple Italian classic called burrata. 9202 Clayton, 314-567-9100, todayattruffles.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KEVIN A. ROBERTS
Birria (Goat Stew)
Pueblo Nuevo, $9.95
With a platter of tortillas alongside, just the sight of this rich, russet bowl of stew is mouthwatering. It begins with a base of dried, roasted red peppers that provides a mildly spicy kick to the meaty broth. Grab a spoon—it gets better. Smoky and savory, the long-braised goat is reduced to moist shreds of tender, nearly sweet perfection. And a lime wedge adds a smack of citrus. (Think less Gruff, more delicious pot roast.) La cabra está exquisita. 7401 N. Lindbergh, 314-831-6885, pueblonuevostl.com.