The 2010 Hot List: Dining
200+ things we love about St. Louis
Compiling a list of the city’s top spots to eat, drink, dance, shop and play is no easy feat. And this year, we had an endless list of buzzworthy newcomers, rediscovered classics and established spots that have stepped it up a notch to choose from. Not that we’re complaining; in fact, we’ve never been more proud of our city’s restaurants, shops, clubs, gyms and cultural institutions. If we could write St. Louis a love song, it would go a little something like this.
We love St. louis because our restaurants and chefs are all about catering to the customers. Gone are the days of ordering only what’s on the menu. Today’s restaurants are all about giving the customers exactly what they want, and in many cases, what they need. Whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or just plain aversion, it seems no request is too far out there for our STL spots. They’re on a mission to make you feel like you’re the only one in the dining room and offer options that silence even the pickiest palates.
Best New Brunch spot for Locavores: Bixby’s This new restaurant inside the Missouri History Museum manages to preserve the past while boldly embracing the future. Sunday brunch offers a spectacular menu featuring local produce and products along with breathtaking views of the park. Forest Park, 314.361.7313.
Best New Menu Addition: Scape American Bistro Raw food fanatics enjoy the simple pleasures of superb flavor and enhanced nutrition. Scape’s raw bar features oysters, ceviche, sashimi and shrimp cocktail, while their new Raw & Vegetarian prix fixe menu includes an appetizer, salad and entree, like lasagna, for an uncomplicated $36. Central West End, 314.361.7227.
Best Budget-Friendly Option for Fine Dining: Niche Back by popular demand is Niche’s “3 for $35” menu: your choice of a small plate, entree and house-made dessert from their tantalizing menu. With numerous options in every category and a fresh, rotating menu, you can build endless tasting experiences. Benton Park, 314.773.7755.
Best Customer-First Concept: Pi If you build it, they will come. At least according to Pi owner Chris Sommers, who brilliantly tailored his three Pi locations to fit the neighborhood and the tastes of his customers. Pi brings the pleasure of great pizza to all by offering gluten-free pizza and beer options, as well as vegan meat and cheese alternatives, at their three neighborhood-centric locations in the Loop, Kirkwood and the Central West End. Multiple Locations, 314.367.4300.
Best Conscious Dining: Lucas Park Grille This Washington Avenue dining and nightlife destination has amplified its appeal by offering handcrafted dishes with an emphasis on fresh, local and natural ingredients—think trans-fat free, sustainable seafood, free-range chicken and hormone-free beef. Call it a hotspot with a conscience. Downtown, 314.241.7770.
Best Vegan Desserts: SweetArt Both bakery and art studio, SweetArt indulges all your senses. Their dedication to feeding your soul doesn’t stop with creating organic, local, hormone-free treats from scratch. They also offer 100% vegan versions of nearly all their 20+ cupcake flavors. Shaw, 314.771.4278.
Best New Restaurant (City): Brasserie by Niche The unpretentious yet undeniably impressive French country menu at Brasserie by Niche features impeccably prepared classic dishes such as onion soup, pâté, roasted chicken and steak frites at modest prices, served in a casual, neighborhood-y environment. Central West End, 314.454.0600.
Best New Restaurant (County): Table Three Embracing the quaint feel of Wildwood’s Town Center, Table Three captures modern American ambiance, where upscale food meets a casual attitude. Their menu is a relaxed approach to French cuisine, featuring tender meats, expert sauces and indulgent desserts. Wildwood, 636.458.4333.
Best New Cafe: Bittersweet Bakery This back-to-basics bakery brings you fresh cakes, pastries, quiches and daily lunch specials with a focus on exquisite technique. Indulge your sweet tooth with house-made ice creams and miniature versions of their delectable cakes and tarts. Benton Park, 314.771.3500.
Best New Bar and Grill: The Over/Under Sports Bar The Over/Under hedged its bet that beer-and-sports-loving St. Louisans would gather in crowds at an upscale sports bar featuring 37 large-screen TVs, cold beers and specialty cocktails and a semi-private patio with a 120-inch projector screen right on Washington Avenue. Downtown, 314.621.8881.
Best New Patio: The Terrace View Cafe This one-of-a-kind cafe in Citygarden serves delish dishes and cocktails in the ultimate al fresco experience. Take in the art and the air on their grand garden patio, or enjoy the view from inside the building’s all-window construction. Downtown, 314.436.8855.
Best New Addition to Downtown: Culinaria, A Schnucks Market Culinaria is exactly what downtown residents and employees have been waiting for. This urban market offers groceries, wine, spirits, prepared foods and mezzanine-level seating to meet with friends, grab a bite or stock up on the essentials. Downtown, 314.436.7694.
Best Restaurant Re-design: Miso on Meramec This popular sushi lounge is making room for future success by expanding to nearly twice its original size and adding additional seating and two bars. Elemental decor fuses wood, metal, stone and fiber elements, while new windows provide open-air dining. Clayton, 314.863.7888.
Best Steakhouse: Al’s Restaurant The iconic steakhouse is alive and well at Al’s. The business end of the sports crowd mingles with movers and shakers amidst plush ’70s decor, while expertly stuffed, sauced and prepared steak options are presented in the traditional oral menu. Downtown, 314.421.6399.
Best Traditional Dining: The Gardens at Malmaison A day trip to this St. Albans gem rewards you with an unparalleled dining experience. An unforgettable meal of Continental cuisine followed by a leisurely stroll through the gardens and manicured grounds becomes an experience to be savored. St. Albans, 636.458.0131.
Best Seafood: Oceano Bistro A fresh fish bistro is hard to come by in the Midwest. Yet Oceano masterfully combines the freshest catches of seafood with crisp local produce to create innovative cuisine that instantly transports you seaside. Clayton, 314.721.9400.
Best Surf & Turf Sports Bar: Mike Shannon’s Mike Shannon’s matches the best of the Midwest with fresh coastal cuisine. A prime selection of premium, aged beef includes a few organic, grass-fed options. For a lighter bite, try the tuna, lobster, sea bass, shrimp, salmon, or surf of the day. Downtown, 314.421.1540.
Best Ribs: Smoking Joe’s Bar-Be-Que The mouthwatering ribs at Smoking Joe’s are seasoned with a rockin’ rub, smoked to perfection and offered in fourth, half or full slabs for any sized appetite. Your choice of six house sides makes it a memorable meal. Downtown, 314.436.3876.
Best Sliders: Sub Zero Vodka Bar This ultra-cool sushi and burger bar offers the most eclectic slider menu in St. Louis. Mix and match your favorites from a number of choices: Classic, BBQ Bison, Lamburger, Meatball, Southwest Veggie, Turkey Burger or Kobe Beef. Of course, if any of this doesn’t satisfy your hunger, they have sushi on standby. Central West End, 314.367.1200.
Best Nostalgic Treats: The Fountain on Locust Starting with aged ice cream from a family-owned dairy, The Fountain treats you to soda fountain classics such as sundaes with house-made sauces and fresh whipped cream, as well as tall glasses of flavored malts accompanied by their tins. Midtown, 314.535.7800.
Best Pizza Restaurant: Katie’s Pizzeria Cafe If a craving strikes for exotic toppings—like prosciutto and apples or fennel sausage, pine nuts and leeks—this charming cafe can hook you up with hand-formed Neapolitan pizzas. Katie Lee has a knack for not only creating stellar pizza, but also an understatedly cool spot to hang seven days a week. Clayton, 314.727.8585.
Best Pizza at Midnight: Joanie’s Pizzeria Endless summer nights are fabulous … until you realize it’s almost midnight and your crew is starving. At the restaurant or at its to-go outlet, this pizzeria bakes up St. Louis-style pies until midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Soulard, 314.865.1994.
Best Themed Restaurant: Eclipse in Moonrise Hotel You have to dig a restaurant with cartoon ray guns and space-age decor, not to mention a rooftop bar with its own moon. Joe Edwards, we raise our classic cocktails to you for giving us a good time that’s out of this world! The Loop, 314.726.2222.
Best Burger: Burger Bar Choose beef. Or turkey. Or buffalo. Or veggies. Choose your bun. Choose your toppings. Choose your sides. Or choose one of Chef Hubert Keller’s burger creations. Then choose a mini-milkshake to wash it down. Your wish is their command. Downtown, 314.621.9593.
Best Romantic: Mihalis Chophouse They say the best way to a man’s heart is his stomach, and these chops will get you there. But for a woman? It’s an elegant steakhouse with an onyx bar, white tablecloths, candles and smooth live music. Dogtown, 314.333.3301.
Best Special-Occasion Dining: Tony’s If it’s a big deal, it’s going down at Tony’s. From celebrity sightings, to multiple-carat proposals to major business negotiations, those who expect the best find it here. Classic dishes are prepared with precision and presented with elegant flair. Downtown, 314.231.7007.
Best Sandwiches: Lester’s Sports Bar & Grill With a sandwich menu dressed to impress, you can choose from a number of overstuffed New York deli sandwiches and traditional favorites piled high with salty cured meats, fresh toppings, and zippy sauces. Or try their house-smoked barbecue as a sandwich. Ladue, 314.994.0055.
Best Bar Food: Sportsman’s Park Restaurant The secret ingredient in this popular bar’s food is experience. After 36 years, they have perfected the spice mix in their Black Angus burgers, as well as their house-brewed hot sauce recipe. Also try the house-made turkey chili and chicken strips. Ladue, 314.991.3381.
Best See-And-Be-Seen Sports Bar: Joe Buck’s Downtown
The colossal arched windows and stylish rooftop garden of this renovated, upscale sports bar set the scene for stunning views of Downtown, as well as provide a picturesque backdrop for its A-list gatherings and fashionable charity events. Downtown, 314.436.0394.
Best Revamped Concept: Molly’s in Soulard An old favorite gets a new look with the help of consulting chef Eric Brenner and a touch of Old New Orleans charm. Tuck into the French-Creole-NOLA-influenced menu then cool off with a chilled drink on the dog-friendly garden patio. Soulard, 314.241.6200.
Best Sushi: Chi Sushi Chi gives off good energy by using fresh, simple ingredients in their never-ending menu of rolls, sashimi and nigiri served up in modest fashion (for modest prices, as well) in their narrow dining room with a sensibility straight out of Tokyo. Central West End, 314.367.2209.
Best Spring Rolls: OR Smoothie & Cafe How does OR make an everyday Vietnamese dish like spring rolls stand out? They start with fresh, all-organic ingredients and then take it a step further by offering four delicious varieties—vegan, shrimp, tuna or salmon—with a savory sidekick sauce. Central West End, 314.367.8883.
Best Desserts: Kota Wood Fire Grill This Cajun-influenced restaurant complements its spicy menu with a collection of sweet, satisfying desserts. Milkshakes come in creative sweet tooth combinations, as well as liquor-infused versions. And melt-in-your-mouth bread pudding is topped with a rich, buttery caramel sauce. Midtown, 314.535.5577.
Best Menu: Herbie’s Vintage 72 To build a stellar menu, Herbie’s started with a few Balaban’s classics (think Beef Wellington, escargot and smoked trout pancakes) and added contemporary dishes that incorporate French, Asian and American flavors and techniques, plus a notable rotating oyster selection. Central West End, 314.769.9595.
Best Casual Date Spot: Soulard’s Impressing your date doesn’t have to break the bank. The secret to this restaurant’s longtime success is offering gourmet fare at reasonable prices. So go ahead, splurge on the bread pudding with whisky sauce. You’ve earned it. Soulard, 314.241.7956.
Best Cafe: Cafe Ventana Technically, a cafe is “a place people go to eat.” As delicious as its food is, this cafe is so much more—coffeehouse for university students, lunch for gourmet gurus and those with a serious sweet tooth; don’t get us started about their mouthwatering beignets. Midtown, 314.531.7500.
Best Business Lunch: Sage Urban American Grill Impress your business buddies or boss by taking them to this understatedly elegant Soulard spot. Inspired by seasons and locally-driven, the menu screams delicious from every angle, from the Gus’ warm pretzels appetizer to the Asian peanut chicken wrap to the Cajun shrimp and crab bisque. And cap your meal by ordering their signature sweet shots, mini desserts that leave you satisfied and your dining guest happy. Soulard, 314.256.1203.
Best Wine Menu: SLeeK Wine geeks claim they read restaurants’ wine lists like novels. Much as we love the visible wine library at SleeK, we appreciate the option of delegating the choice of grape, vintage and region to the librarian, er, sommelier. Downtown, 314.621.9590.
Best Tapas: BARcelona If St. Louis could have a so-called “original” tapas restaurant, it would be this Clayton hotspot. The small plates menu features big Spanish flavors and the martinis and cocktails are as bold as the colorful decor. Sure, many places have followed foot— but why would you want to go anywhere else? Clayton, 314.863.9909.
Best Late-Night Noshing: Mosaic Lounge The cuisine on this lounge menu shouldn’t really be considered bar food. Sure, there are burgers and fries. The burgers are short ribs with maple-smoked white Cheddar. The fries are truffled frites. From there the menu flits around the globe, with delectable results. Downtown, 314.621.6001.
Best Brunch: Benton Park Cafe Wake up hungry for something different? How about a breakfast pizza with four kinds of meat? An egg burrito with dill sour cream and salsa? Even the classics will leave you salivating. And, of course, there are bloody marys and spiked coffee. Benton Park, 314.771.7200
Best Healthy Noshing: Local Harvest Cafe In keeping with the style of the grocer that launched it, this eatery serves local food in biodegradable containers, keeps an eye out for organics and urges its customers to recycle as they leave, with full stomachs and satisfied hearts. Morganford, 314.772.8815.
Best Breakfast: Crepes, etc. The name is true: The crepes deserve top billing, but without the rest of the menu— buttermilk-pecan waffles, chocolate pancakes, corned beef hash—this would not be such a great place to break the overnight fast. CWE, 314.367.2200.
Best Rolls: Drunken Fish Some quick tips on this longtime sushi nightspot: The menu offers maki rolls, or makimono, in three types: classic, signature and simple. Some are hand-rolled; others are shaped with bamboo mats. Some are Japanese; others are Americanized. All are ultra-fresh and delicious. CWE, 314.367.4222.
Best Mid-Day Meal for Your Money: Audi K’s Mad Dog, Hound Dog, Junkyard Dog—just some of the two dozen hot dog variations on the menu. Cucumber topping a hot dog may take some salesmanship, but not cream topping a New Orleans shaved ice. Mmmm…snow in summer. CWE, 314.361.0270.
Best Group Dining: IceKitchen Gather for a drink in the see-and-be-seen lounge up front, then migrate back into the private rooms for a fusion feast. The small plates are perfect for group grazing while hashing out a plan for the rest of the evening. Westport, 314.542.2000.
Best Coffeehouse: The Mud House If your daily coffee stop is for actual coffee, get your fix at this cafe on Cherokee. The first-roasted Mississippi Mud beans will wake you up enough to enjoy the breakfast menu or, if you must, get to work on time. Benton Park, 314.776.6599.
Best All-In-One Destination: RiverCity Restaurants South County’s new casino has the expected eateries—an expansive buffet, a burger grill, an American comfort food cafe—plus the 1904 Beerhouse, boasting its own house brew on tap, and the first Missouri location of the Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse chain. South County, 888.578.7289.
Best Gluten-Free: The Pasta House Co. This local chain responded courageously to the awkward fact that its main menu item, pasta, was a no-go for those with gluten allergies or intolerance. Its specialized menu offers everything from classic mostaccioli to the famous house salads. Multiple locations, pastahouse.com.
Best View: Cielo The Arch pops into view from many rooftop patios, but the one on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons is special. Surrounded by the luxury of Cielo’s outdoor tables as the sun sets behind the skyscrapers, real life feels light years away. Downtown, 314.881.2105.
Best Mexican: Chuy Arzola’s The original Dogtown destination reopened and relocated to the Coronado building under new ownership—and we couldn’t be happier. It serves its famous fare of enchiladas, tacos, burritos, fajitas and more. A sunken patio the length of the restaurant is the prime place to sip margaritas in the sun. Midtown, 314.644.4430.
Best Mediterranean: Aya Sofia St. Louis’ only Turkish restaurant has perfected the balance of their many exotic ingredients to bring out multiple rich flavors in every bite. Be sure to share the cold and hot meze (small plates) and be there for the belly dancing. South City, 314.645.9919.
Best Greek: Momos Avgolemono soup, traditional lamb gyros and mezes like stuffed grape leaves and spanikopita. Maybe they should have named this taverna for the seductive Greek Sirens, because it’s certainly alluring. And that’s just the food. The belly dancers are a bonus. University City, 314.863.3511.
Best Italian: Lorenzo’s Trattoria Amidst a world-famous neighborhood of traditional Italian fare, Lorenzo’s stands out with their contemporary take on Northern Italian cuisine. Be sure to try the authentic house-made gnocchi and risottos, as well as the much-raved-about osso buco. The Hill, 314.773.2223.
Best South American: Mango The Peruvian menu has always been deliciously authentic. Now that Mango’s second location is in the heart of a nightlife district, the latenight Latin vibe feels so real you may start wondering where you put your passport. Downtown, 314.621.9993.
Best Thai: Basil Spice Thai Cuisine If your knowledge begins and ends with pad thai, this is the place to expand it. Move on to dishes like tom yum goong (hot and sour soup with shrimp) or paneng curry, and soon you’ll be savoring filet of whole trout. South Grand, 314.776.1530.
We love St. Louis because we love to support our local businesses. If only there were a word like “locavore” to describe someone who not only ate food grown within a short distance, but wore local clothes, planted local flowers and washed with local soap. There may not be one word to describe this person, but turns out, St. Louis has plenty of places where a locavore can shop, eat and play.
Best Spot to Score Local Designers: NV Showroom Boutique Lots of boutiques are passionate about stocking one-of-a-kind items, but this one’s just as passionate about linking Midwest designers to new markets for their clothes, shoes and accessories, both in the store and on the runway. Downtown, 314.932.5382.
Best Spot to Support Local Goods: Local Harvest Grocery Want to know how much this shop has spent stocking its shelves with foods and goodies from local producers? It’s posted online: nearly $500,000 (at last count) for meat, fish, veggies, milk, cheese, chocolate, soap, beer, coffee and more. Tower Grove, 314.865.5260.
Best Local Farm: New Roots Urban Farm Feeding bodies and spirits is a lofty goal, one these farmers accomplish by getting their hands dirty. Their garden produces hundreds of pounds of produce a year, some to sell, some to donate back to the community. North St. Louis, newrootsurbanfarm.org.
Best Farmers’ Market: Sappington This grocery store is the first in the area to be owned by a farmers’ cooperative, which means it has a huge stake in linking local, sustainable farmers with St. Louis consumers, more and more of whom are searching out natural foods. Sappington, 314.843.7848.
Best Farm-to-Fork Destination: Cafe Osage Bowood Farm’s plants come from its greenhouse in Clarksville, but much of the produce it serves in the cafe travels an even shorter distance—across the street. Come summer, gardeners continually bring in baskets of fresh vegetables or herbs from the roof. Central West End, 314.454.6868.
Best Locally Sourced Menu: Terrene It’s not that we don’t trust restaurants when they say they buy local, but we like it when they name names: free-range geese from Sassafras Valley Farm, chops from Ozark Mountain Pork Co-op and mushrooms from Ozark Forest. Central West End, 314.535.5100.
Best CSA: Winslow’s Home and Farm Because farming’s unpredictable, community-supported agriculture can be a tough row to hoe. Hybrid models like this one, where more than one farm supplies a cooperative or retail store, may be the wave of the future. And the restaurant is irresistible. University City, 314.725.7559.
New Root’s Urban Farm
Bixby’s Roasted Beef Tenderloin with a Norton Cabernet demi glaze.
The patio at Cielo.
Bixby’s Berry pound cake topped with chantilly cream, candied orange zest, ginger snaps and local chocolate mint.
The patio at Cielo.
New Root’s Urban Farm
New Root’s Urban Farm
Molly’s in Soulard
Photo credit: By Jennifer Silverberg