170 of the city's finest across a dozen categories
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1904 STEAK HOUSE
What if they built a steakhouse and nobody came? It happened to Jeff Ruby at River City Casino, but we doubt it will happen there again. The dining areas and bar at 1904 are thankfully unchanged from Ruby’s take and are just too spectacular to ignore. The menu’s the same as well: same spice-dusted, USDA Prime, dry-aged, bone-in filet; same 2-pound lobster. Go there now, before they elect to keep it the same for the third time. 777 River City Casino, 314-388-7630, rivercity.com.
show-me state showoff
The Fountain on Locust
Words rarely fail us—except when describing The Fountain on Locust—so we made one up: It’s full of “uniquities.” There’s a stunning 360-degree mural, audio clips of a restaurant serial called Soap Hospital, plus a scratch kitchen, ice-cream specialties, and a restroom voted “America’s Best.” By all means visit The Fountain with kids, friends, and visitors…because you’ll never adequately describe it. 3037 Locust, 314-535-7800, fountainonlocust.com.
Chocolate Cake, Tony’s
Tony’s role as St. Louis’ ultimate provider of luxurious comfort food provides a clue about our dessert pick. Save room after your lobster Albanello for the dark chocolate layer cake with homemade banana ice cream. Three layers and plenty of dense, bittersweet chocolate ganache are the perfect visual and gastronomic foil for the pale, winter sunlight–yellow ice cream. It’s a Platonic combination; you’ll never want banana bread without chocolate chips again. 410 Market, 314-231-7007, tonysstlouis.com.
Tutti Pizza, Anthonino’s Taverna
St. Louisans are finally becoming (a bit) more open-minded about pizza. Good. It means we can send them off to Anthonino’s on The Hill for a tutti pizza with shrimp, squid, clams, and scallops. The handmade crust contributes, but the shellfish, along with, yes, mozzarella, takes it over the top—even more so with a light brushing of the harissa pepper sauce that accompanies the falafel. 2225 Macklind, 314-773-4455, anthoninos.com.
Stadium Sports Bar and Grill
Not many foodstuffs can claim a transition from a throwaway to a commonplace item, while offering as many variations as Cher does costume changes in concert. And none better than the colossal-size wings served at the new Stadium Sports Bar and Grill, where the secret is marinating those jumbos before frying. The bedazzled Cher believed in “love after love”—we believed in love after our first skillet full of these wings. 999 N. Second, 314-881-7595, lumiereplace.com/Stadium-Sports-Bar-Grill.aspx.
Peel Wood Fired Pizza
Traditional Neapolitan pizza should be consumed immediately after its 90-second bake in a 900-degree oven. That’s the way it’s done at Peel in Edwardsville, Ill., located above a creek near one of the area’s many bike trails. Your reward is a nubby, blistered crust that’s equally crispy and chewy, plus creative salads, dozens of draft beers, and even some expertly blistered chicken wings. Peel convinced us that dining in for pizza can be—no, should be—a first-class dining experience. No delivery, no to-go orders—no problem. 921 S. Arbor Vitae, Edwardsville, Ill., 618-659-8561, peelpizza.com.
sandwich, downtown division
Tri-Tip Sandwich, The Over/Under Bar & Grill
Tri-tip, from the bottom sirloin of beef, appears at The Over/Under as a steak sandwich, slices grilled to order and topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a blue-cheese aioli, all of this on a French roll. Properly cooked, as it is here, tri-tip is tender, juicy, and flavorful. 911 Washington, 314-621-8881, overunderstl.com.
early dinner deal
Budget dining has become easier recently, thanks to recognition of the down economy. Evidence? The Red Bird Special at Duff’s: five choices of entrée, including a vegetarian option, served every day from 5 to 6:30 p.m. for $10. That succulent pork chop with a fruited mustard sauce isn’t lying there alone, either; these are full plates with sides. This gives new meaning to the idea of “happy hour.” Hungrier? A three-course prix fixe is $25 all evening. 392 N. Euclid, 314-361-0522, dineatduffs.com.
sandwich, central west end division
Mortadella Panini, Taste
Mortadella, the original bologna (made in the kitchen at Taste), fontina cheese, arugula, and a seriously garlicky aioli dance inside the thickly cut panini. Whether it comes with pistachios (as in Italian mortadella) or bits of preserved lemon, it’s an exciting sandwich. Just don’t ask us to decide which is better. 4584 Laclede, 314-361-1200, tastebarstl.com.
sandwich, cherokee street division
The Cubano, El Torito
This Cubano isn’t Cuban, but Mexican, a torta jam-packed with ham, carnitas, chorizo, a hot dog–like sausage, cheese, avocado, and a fried egg. If you thought Crown Candy Kitchen paid cardiologists, you haven’t seen this immense, delightful creation. It’s utterly delicious. And amazingly, it doesn’t drip grease. 2753 Cherokee, 314-771-8648.
lunch with a view
Museums aren’t the first places that come to mind for business lunches. But Bixby’s is perfect: open every day, with comfortable chairs, a menu that touches various levels of formality, and food that’s tasty and beautifully presented. What else is needed? How about a view over Forest Park, which ranges from soothing to stunning, depending on the weather and season? As a bonus, the tab benefits one of our town’s great institutions. Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell, 314-361-7313, bixbys-mohistory.com.
Ciabatta, Bugatti’s Steak & Pasta
For many discerning diners, the bread service is a harbinger of the entire dining experience. At Bugatti’s, they will be dining well. An entire loaf of oh-so-airy, warm-from-the-oven house-made ciabatta is fanned onto a large oval platter. Alongside is a trio of accompaniments: olive tapenade, herb butter, and sun-dried tomato relish. One may be tempted to consume the whole loaf, but take our advice and hold back a wee morsel for the saffron-seafood broth beneath the butter-roasted sea bass. Ameristar Casino, 1 Ameristar, 636-940-4471, ameristar.com.
Combining the elegance of fine-dining fare with corner-bar ambience is no mean feat. Toasted ravioli here is stuffed with buttery chunks of lobster and served with a truffle-Parmesan dip. Tater tots are cradled in a cheesy, luxurious casserole. Meaty, tender veal cheeks are tossed with linguine. Basic ingredients, inventively dressed, are presented in an atmosphere that’s swank and sophisticated—but that still comes off like Sam Malone is running the place. 2961 Dougherty Ferry, 636-825-0600, tavernstl.com.
While being the best Cajun/Creole joint in Dardenne Prairie is like being the best bobsledder in Miami, the crawfish étouffée here is worth the drive. The creamy, smoky, caramel-colored roux over fluffy rice tastes like a spoonful of Mardi Gras. Studded with juicy, sweet crawfish tails and topped with a scatter of green-onion nibbles, it’s a meal that plays all the right notes on your New Orleans–lovin’ palate. 2698 Technology, O’Fallon, Mo., 636-561-8878, louisianacafeonline.com.
The best sushi? Easy: Nobu’s or Seki. Sushi Ai, though, deserves A-List attention because it affords diners the opportunity to sample a variety of sushi neta, or toppings, without mortgaging the house. The sushi’s made competently to order—you just request as much as you like (at lunch or dinner)—for an amazing price. Sample snapper. Try tuna. This is the place for a leisurely exploration of the delights of sushi. 12644 Dorsett, 314-205-8985, sushiaionline.com.
Ask for “Peruvian style” when you order the ceviche here. That whack of spice comes from aji, tiny peppers that, along with lemon and lime, onion and garlic, work their magic on chunks of sweet tilapia. It’s spicy. You’ll appreciate the knobby corn on the cob and baked sweet potato that cut the fire—and you’ll be craving more. Mango offers a unique glimpse into a wonderfully unusual cuisine. 1101 Lucas, 314-621-9993, mangoperu.com.
Table 52 at Kemoll’s
Sometimes you just want the best: the finest champagne, the most expensive piece of chocolate, and the best table in the house. It gets no better, and no loftier, than Table 52 at Kemoll’s. You’re 40 stories up, with a panorama of the Gateway Arch so spectacular it’d make a romantic out of Al Bundy. Put away that cellphone, sit back in a soft, leather chair…and maybe even order a bottle of the finest champagne. 211 N. Broadway, 314-421-0555, kemolls.com.
Rooster Hill Farm and Gift Emporium
Sure, on a per-ounce basis, gasoline is now more expensive than Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. But consider: cream of potato and leek soup. A flaky-crusted chicken pot pie. Chocolate-pecan-bourbon pie. All served in a century-old farmhouse with more rustic charm than a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving special. It’s worth the trip to Fults, Ill., to Rooster Hill Farm, a truly A-List dining destination, but note: This farm serves lunch only, except on weekends, when service ends at 7 p.m. 4162 Wetlzer, Fults, Ill., 618-458-6226, roosterhillfarmandgifts.com.
The Gyro Company
A tiny deli surrounded by cemeteries, The Gyro Company makes you appreciate still being upright and taking nourishment. In this case, that’s in the form of spectacular gyros and equally good doner kebabs, with slabs of savory pressed meat, tomatoes, lettuce, and sweet onions, all slathered in lip-smacking tzatziki. Whether the mix is folded in a chewy pita or—the doner version—a yeasty Bosnian flatbread, this immaculate, family-run joint serves it perfectly. 7240 Gravois, 314-832-2563.
memorable main course
Southern Fried Chicken, Monarch
More black-tie than black-skillet, Monarch doesn’t seem right for it, but some of the city’s best fried chicken is here. A light flour-and-cornmeal coating gives a crispy, sweet golden crust to a generous portion of fried fowl. That fine balance between crunchy without and tender-juicy within is hard to do with a deep fryer, let alone in the skillet. Mashed potatoes and gravy provide the essential, sublime side. 7401 Manchester, 314-644-3995, monarchrestaurant.com.
It’s classy, romantic, decidedly upscale, great anytime—but few St. Louis eateries are a better celebration destination than Bistro 1130. Its lamb chops, with a fragrant goat-cheese crust, are perfect to commemorate (finally) that graduation. Anniversaries are splendidly spent over a platter of creamy, asparagus-studded risotto. Still in the mood to celebrate? Try the sautéed veal. This is a refreshingly formal atmosphere combined with superb French cooking. 1130 Town & Country Crossing, 636-394-1130, bistro1130.com.
Addie’s Thai House
The Massaman version at Addie’s, lustrously gold and supple with coconut milk, is probably the most delectably authentic Thai curry in town. Coriander, cumin, turmeric—spices flirt on the palate. Try the traditional beef option. Along with a tom yum goong that gets the balance of galangal and lemongrass correct, this is superb Thai cuisine prepared to deliciously exacting standards. 13441 Olive, 314-469-1660, addiesthaihouse.com.
Match a glass of light, fruity Xarmant Arabako Txakolina with a golden-brown croquette of salt cod sitting in a pool of lemon-scented aioli, and you’re as close to small-plate perfection as you’re ever likely to be. Tapas, the original small plates, are uniformly delightful here: the buñuelos de bacalao are a glorious, salty, crunchy, and moist reminder that gastronomically at least, size does not matter. 5257 Shaw, 314-772-8272, modestotapas.com.
A staple at any Indian restaurant, the lunch buffet is elevated to an art at Mayuri. It’s a massive, multihued smorgasbord whose authenticity is clear on first viewing (or even better, first deep inhalation), its uncommon delights including pakodas, paruppu podi, chole poori, and idli, while the mango lassi is a crowd-favorite meal-ender. Be warned, though: Spicy here means just that. 12513 Olive, 314-576-7272, mayuri.com.
unsung kitchen staffer
Lou Rook Jr.
The regulars call him Papa, as in “What’s Papa’s soup today?” Lou Rook III—Annie Gunn’s executive chef, technically his dad’s boss—dubs him “our version of the Soup Nazi.” He’s in the kitchen five days a week at 6:30 a.m., expertly cutting filets, strips, and rib-eyes for dinner that night. He’s septuagenarian Lou Rook Jr., and if we’re all lucky, he’s not retiring anytime soon. As his son says, “The man’s irreplaceable.” 16806 Chesterfield Airport, 636-532-7684, smokehousemarket.com.
How is it that a pizza chain provides the smoothest, most delightful service in town? Dewey’s regional manager David Justice doesn’t hire based on experience, doesn’t hire only clones of himself, and doesn’t ask prospects yes-or-no questions. Should a stellar personality show through on the written application, though, you start tomorrow. Four metro locations, 314-726-3434, deweyspizza.com.
Retro is so often bracketed by air quotes; Mama Josephine’s retro is the real, unadulterated deal. While you might detect Granny’s decorating tastes in this cozy eatery’s floral-print curtains or gewgawy wall adornments, most of that nostalgia takes place on the plates, from the “Meat Loaf Mama’s Way” to the pan-fried chicken to the eight-layer lasagna, so homey it’s served in a bowl. And yes, Mama Josephine watches over it all…in portraiture. 4000 Shaw, 314-771-4001, mamajosephines.com.
restaurant to frequent since the smoking ban
The Bleeding Deacon
The Bleeding Deacon’s a dive bar with a great chef. Such an improbable juxtaposition has served the establishment well, drawing curious gourmands and serious beer swillers, with just one problem—foodies hate cigarette smoke more than barflies hate foodies. The ban has now resolved this conundrum, allowing all five senses to revel in the meatloaf sliders, butter burgers, grilled-cheese sandwiches, and bacon-flavored brownies topped with bacon ice cream. 4123 Chippewa, 314-772-1813, bleedingdeaconstl.com.
Restaurant Dream Team
Daniel Espinoza, 1111 Mississippi
When was the last time you found the recitation of nightly specials interesting? Never, except when it comes from Daniel Espinoza, in his ninth year at 1111 Mississippi. He’s soft-spoken but deliberate, he’ll change cadence, he pauses, he stops—the guy’s engaging. You may even ask him to repeat the specials, not because you didn’t understand, but just to hear how someone can make the routine so…pleasant. 1111 Mississippi, 314-241-9999, 1111-m.com.
Arlene Maminta Browne, Robust
Most restaurants fail miserably at marketing themselves. Most. Along with husband (and sommelier) Stanley Browne, Arlene is slaying it in Webster Groves at Robust due to her omnipresence in and mastery of all forms of social media. Promotions like “Cinco de Vino” and “Name the Unnamed Dessert” seem especially brilliant given their paltry promotional costs. Are you listening (correction, tweeting), fellow restaurateurs? 227 W. Lockwood, 314-963-0033, robustwinebar.com.
Brooke Curtis,The Tavern Kitchen & Bar
How many restaurateurs show up on their day off just to say hello to a party? Curtis supplies the first kind word, the final farewell, and on her visit to your table, plenty of heartfelt words in between. A well-run restaurant is usually a busy restaurant. So have you seen the crowds at The Tavern? 2961 Dougherty Ferry, Ste. 101, 636-825-0600, tavernstl.com.
Wes Johnson, Salt
Enthusiastic, talented, approachable, likable…a chef need not possess all these traits to become noteworthy, but in this Midwestern town—and judging from the apparent success of Salt, Johnson’s latest venture—it’s as good a combination as his local pork–and–fennel meatballs with blackberry jam. No surprise that he hails from Buffalo, Mo., population 3,500. 4356 Lindell, 314-932-5787, enjoysalt.com.
Jake Hafner,The Civil Life Brewing Company
He’s so down-to-earth that you won’t feel silly asking him what a cicerone is (psst, it’s a beer sommelier). The gregarious former owner of 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar plans to open soon The Civil Life brewery, specializing in “session” beers, low-alcohol brews to enjoy socially with friends. We predict he’ll have many. 3714 Holt, thecivillifebrewingcompany.com.
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You’ll swear there’s no way to polish off that mountain of crisp, house-made matchsticks. Trust us—you’ll eat every nub. 427 S. Kirkwood, 314-822-5440, cafeprovencal.com.
410 Market, 314-231-7007, saucemagazine.com/tonys
Boathouse Forest Park
6101 Government, 314-367-2224, boathouseforestpark.com
Blues City Deli
2438 McNair, 314-773-8225, bluescitydeli.com
World’s Fair Donuts
1904 S. Vandeventer, 314-776-9975
McGurk’s Irish Pub and Garden
1200 Russell, 314-776-8309, mcgurks.com
Multiple locations, 314-727-6633, restaurantpi.com
Sidney Street Café
2000 Sidney, 314-771-5777, sidneystreetcafe.com
Unique Dining Experience
Crown Candy Kitchen
1401 St. Louis, 314-621-9650, crowncandykitchen.net
33 N. Sarah, 314-535-5100, terrene-stlouis.com