Best of St. Louis Food and Drink in 2019

Best Seafood

Bait
4239 Lindell Boulevard, 314-405-2797

As soon as a server walks out of the kitchen with Bait’s seafood boil, all eyes in the dining room turn to this stunning seafood feast. A giganti, bubbling cauldron of the sea’s bounty, this masterpiece is to Cajun seafood boils what the A5 Wagyu is to beef: pure and utter perfection . Chock-full of thick crab legs, plump jumbo shrimp, andouille sausage and potatoes so butter-soaked they may as well be a sponge, the marvelous dish dazzles at every turn — especially the caramelized bits of seasoning, browned butter and garlic that, when scraped off, serve as a mouthwatering tapenade you’d want to butter bread with. And this is only one of Bait’s impressive seafood dishes. At every turn, the Central West End restaurant impresses with dishes like a whole red snapper, fish and chips that could rival what’s served in the best English pub and “flaming” prawns served in a fiery bowl. Like all of Bait’s dishes, it’s a feast for the eyes, though it’s your palate that’s in for the real show.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” data-title=”

Best Seafood

Bait
4239 Lindell Boulevard, 314-405-2797

As soon as a server walks out of the kitchen with Bait’s seafood boil, all eyes in the dining room turn to this stunning seafood feast. A giganti, bubbling cauldron of the sea’s bounty, this masterpiece is to Cajun seafood boils what the A5 Wagyu is to beef: pure and utter perfection . Chock-full of thick crab legs, plump jumbo shrimp, andouille sausage and potatoes so butter-soaked they may as well be a sponge, the marvelous dish dazzles at every turn — especially the caramelized bits of seasoning, browned butter and garlic that, when scraped off, serve as a mouthwatering tapenade you’d want to butter bread with. And this is only one of Bait’s impressive seafood dishes. At every turn, the Central West End restaurant impresses with dishes like a whole red snapper, fish and chips that could rival what’s served in the best English pub and “flaming” prawns served in a fiery bowl. Like all of Bait’s dishes, it’s a feast for the eyes, though it’s your palate that’s in for the real show.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” itemprop=”image” />Mabel Suen” data-title=”

Best Burger

The Double Cheeseburger at the Midwestern
900 Spruce Street, 314-696-2573

When chef Ben Welch was coming up with the menu for the Midwestern, he took inspiration from the other restaurants in town that were doing the best versions of particular dishes, then ran what he found through his own culinary sensibilities. When it came to burgers, he had no shortage of inspiration to draw from, but what he came up with for the Midwestern is so extraordinary it’s in a class of its own. Made from dry-aged brisket, Welch’s burger has an intense, concentrated beef flavor with a backbeat of tangy funk that would make George Clinton shed a tear. The loosely ground meat is like a composite of the fatty brisket, wonderfully juicy and crispy around the edges; these little hunks of beef crumble off the side like bite-sized meat crunchies that could be a menu item themselves. And Welch doesn’t stop there. He tops this magnificent meaty delight with gooey pub cheese, mayonnaise-heavy fry sauce, tomato jam and pickles, and then nestles it all onto a potato bun. You can tell it’s glorious without even taking a bite — though how you could resist for more than a second is beyond comprehension.

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Best Brunch

The Clover and the Bee
100 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves; 314-942-1216

There’s something magical about dining at The Clover and the Bee. Maybe it’s the bright mural of flowers in the dining room, the comforting menu items or even just the restaurant’s name, a reference to an Emily Dickinson poem about following your dreams. Whatever the alchemy, it all coalesces into an experience like no other. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but its greatest joy is brunch, offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you prefer a sweet start to your day, the pearl sugar waffle is a must try, made in the hexagonal shape of a honeycomb. Savory fans, meanwhile, should opt for the stone-ground grits with white cheddar, farm eggs, herbs and tomato ragu with crusty bread.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” itemprop=”image” />Tom Hellauer” data-title=”

Best Food Truck

Balkan Treat Box
www.balkantreatbox.com

When Loryn Nalic fell in love with her husband, Edo, she also fell in love with the cuisine of his homeland, Bosnia. That passion for Balkan food turned into an all-consuming love affair — one that prompted Nalic to learn everything she could about the cuisine and devoted herself to being its ambassador. The product of that love is Balkan Treat Box, a food truck that has turned into a roving testament to the glory of Balkan-inspired food and culture. Out of this vibrant turquoise truck, the Nalics turn out not only some of the best food truck eats in town, but some of the town’s best food, period. The key is the wood-fired oven, which turns out glorious, char-blistered pide, or flatbread, that serves as the base for toppings like cheese, cevapi, brisket, döner kebab and a variety of Balkan condiments. One bite and you’ll realize why the Nalics have developed a devoted following and earned national acclaim in the process. These days, you can experience Balkan Treat Box at its new brick-and-mortar spot, but there’s something magical about eating this delicious food out of the truck where it all began.

Photo credit: Tom Hellauer” itemprop=”image” />Mabel Suen” data-title=”

Best Barbecue

BEAST Craft BBQ Co.
Multiple locations, including 20 South Belt West, Belleville; 618-257-9000

We’re spoiled with an embarrassment of barbecue riches in St. Louis, but until BEAST Craft BBQ Co. quietly hit the scene in 2014, it somehow didn’t feel like we had a uniquely St. Louis destination for quality ‘cue. Maybe that’s because pitmaster and owner David Sandusky focuses so much of his menu on St. Louis, from serving the best pork steaks in town to fall-off-the-bone pork spare ribs. The menu isn’t limited by geography or barbecue traditions, though, also serving smoked kielbasa, pulled pork and stacked burgers and sandwiches. Now with two locations in the St. Louis-area (the flagship in Belleville, Illinois, and an expanded satellite in The Grove), BEAST is poised to reach an even larger audience — and we’re all the better for it.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” itemprop=”image” />Ellen Prinzi” data-title=”

Best Bartender

Dave Greteman at Elmwood
2704 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-261-4708

Dave Greteman has worked at some of the best bars in town. He got his start at Sasha’s on Shaw and Handlebar before logging what he calls formative experience at Taste, followed by stints at Sardella and Parlor. Now the bar director at Elmwood, which opened in Maplewood in January, Greteman has used his experience and expertise to curate a nuanced and relevant yet thoroughly unpretentious bar program. Cocktails are offered in three strengths — full proof, low proof and zero proof — and feature buzzy ingredients like amaro and pisco without ever feeling overly trendy or highfalutin. Greteman’s zero-proof, non-alcoholic cocktails are especially creative and fun; order the orange-thyme-sumac-beet number to get a taste.

Photo credit: Ellen Prinzi” itemprop=”image” />Mabel Suen” data-title=”

Best Chinese

Corner 17
6623 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-2402

While we’ve all been focused on the clang (or lack thereof) of the controversial Loop Trolley, perhaps the most interesting story about the Delmar Loop is how it is quietly being remade into a hub of international cuisine that rivals South Grand or University City’s Chinatown. The anchor of that movement is six-year-old Corner 17, a noodle bar, bubble tea spot and bastion of authentic Chinese food that has become the hangout for the neighborhood’s sizeable international student population, as well as anyone who loves some of the best noodles this city has to offer. Those noodles — hand-pulled fresh in the restaurant — are what made the place famous, but when Corner 17 expanded a few years ago and added even more traditional dishes to its repertoire, it gave us even more reasons to love it. If you’ve had the mala tofu or the hong shao pork, you’ll be thankful the restaurant didn’t just stick to noodles, no matter how wonderful they are. Taken together, these magnificent dishes are quickly turning the spot into an institution and helping it define the new Delmar Loop.

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Best Italian

Louie
706 De Mun Avenue, Clayton; 314-300-8188

Although not yet quite two years old, Louie already feels like a St. Louis dining institution. That is entirely to the credit of owner Matt McGuire and his team, who understand the key role that warm, welcoming hospitality plays in any dining experience. The kitchen crew, led by executive chef Sean Turner, puts that same level of attention and care into every dish, including must-try favorites such as the Roman gnocco, roasted chicken and polenta. Louie’s seasonal specials shine just as bright; in the summer, regulars look forward to savoring the wood-fired cherry tomato, burrata and basil pizza and sweet corn ravioli, while the winter brings comforting bowls of tortellini en brodo and wood-roasted radicchio with green beans, almonds and shallots.

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Best Restaurant Service

Billie-Jean
7610 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-797-8484

The moment you walk into Billie-Jean, you know you are in a Zoë Robinson restaurant. It’s impossibly stylish, the aroma coming from the kitchen is intoxicating and the entire place has a lively energy that’s not always found in such upscale restaurants. However, if there is one mark of the Zoë Robinson experience that transcends all others, it’s surely the gracious hospitality that permeates every moment of the dining experience. At Billie-Jean, Robinson and her crew nail that perfect balance of being capable and knowledgeable while making you feel utterly relaxed. It’s like being taken care of by your best friend who happens to be the best server on the planet. Her crew will tell you that comes from the top — that Robinson is so great to work for, it makes them want to be better. Whatever she’s doing, it certainly works.

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Best Place to Dine Alone

Pie Guy Pizza
4189 Manchester Avenue, 314-899-0444

It’s closing time on a Friday night in The Grove, you’ve had one (or ten) too many drinks and you’re not quite ready to go home. If all that booze is making you crave carbs, or you just don’t want the party to end, head to Pie Guy Pizza for a slice. Fortunately for you, Pie Guy stays open until midnight Tuesday through Thursday and ‘til 3:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Owner Mitch Frost knew that late-night eats were needed in town when he opened Pie Guy last year, and boy was he right: The later the hour, the crazier the scene at Pie Guy’s walk-up window. Now no night out feels complete without grabbing a pepperoni or vegan pesto slice before calling a Lyft home.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” itemprop=”image” />Jay Hemphill” data-title=”

Best Chef

Rob Connoley of Bulrush
3307 Washington Boulevard, 314-449-1208

Rob Connoley is obsessive. It’s a character trait that made his long-awaited restaurant, Bulrush, take over three years to come to fruition. It’s why he’ll devote a tome’s worth of text to explaining his flatware and napkin decisions and why, once he decided to delve into Ozark cuisine, he went so far down the rabbit hole of research he was rummaging through boxes of handwritten notes from church ladies in the 1800s. However, that compulsion for perfection is also what has earned the entirely self-taught Connoley innumerable accolades and has resulted in what’s currently the most exciting restaurant in town. At Bulrush, Connoley has not just created a great restaurant; he (with the help of his right-hand man, Justin Bell) has resurrected a forgotten way of eating from a marginalized culture and is at the forefront of a movement to define what eating in this part of the country means. In this sense, Bulrush is more than a restaurant; it’s a testing ground for making us rethink what we eat from a man who is much more than a chef.

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Best Fried Chicken

Grace Meat + Three
4270 Manchester Avenue, 314-533-2700

Perfectly cooked fried chicken should have an airy and crispy outer breading with a solid crunch that gives way to juicy and flavorful meat. This is precisely the sort of fried chicken that has made chef Rick Lewis famous and exactly what you’ll find at Grace Meat + Three, the restaurant he operates with his wife, Elisa. The aptly named St. Lewis Fried Chicken is offered as a quarter, half or whole bird or as a plate of four wings or chicken tenders with house pickles (hot or original). Stop in for weekend brunch to try the fried chicken atop an heirloom corn waffle, or visit during happy hour for half off a fried chicken plate plus discounts on beer and cocktails.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” itemprop=”image” />Monica Mileur” data-title=”

Best Martini

The Gin Room
3200 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-3411

If you’re looking for the best Martini in town, that means you’re also looking for the best gin selection. Natasha Bahrami isn’t just St. Louis’ resident gin expert — she’s quickly becoming one of the most knowledgeable and voracious promoters of gin education in the country. Since opening The Gin Room inside her family’s restaurant, Cafe Natasha, in 2014, Bahrami has expanded her programming and offerings at the bar as well as her outreach to the local and national spirits communities. Several Martinis are offered at The Gin Room — including one made with pomegranate molasses, a nod to Cafe Natasha’s Persian roots — but purists will want the Right Perfect made with Right Gin, Dolin rouge and dry vermouths and Regan’s orange bitters.

Photo credit: Monica Mileur” itemprop=”image” />Ian Froeb” data-title=”

Best St. Louis Sandwich

The Hot Salami and Roast Beef from Gioia’s Deli
multiple locations including 1934 Macklind Avenue, 314-776-9410

By this time, everyone in St. Louis knows the glory of Gioia’s Deli’s hot salami. Heck, the decadent meaty wonder has a following even outside of our fair city considering that the restaurant won a James Beard America’s Classics award in 2017. It’s no wonder people are so enamored; the fatty, peppery, garlic-laden beef and pork sausage is an utter masterpiece so perfect, you wonder how anything but a little mustard and some crusty bread could make it better. Then, you have the hot salami and roast beef sandwich, which pairs the salami with thinly-shaved roast beef and gooey, Provel-covered garlic bread. The “goosh” from the buttery cheese bread smothers the beef and salami, wrapping them in creamy magnificence. It sounds like too much of a good thing, and it is. And that’s not a bad thing.

Photo credit: Ian Froeb” itemprop=”image” />Katie Counts” data-title=”

Best Sushi/Poke

Indo
1641D Tower Grove Avenue, 314-899-9333

Nick Bognar has been making some of the best nigiri in town for awhile — and in 2019, he’s finally getting much-deserved attention for it. In March, just days after he was nominated for a coveted James Beard Rising Star award for his work at Nippon Tei, Bognar announced a concept of his own, Indo, which debuted in Botanical Heights in June. For the best nigiri experience in St. Louis, make a reservation at the chef’s counter, where you can watch Bognar work as you dine on single bites of A5 Wagyu beef, cured and marinated masaba and bluefin tuna. Every piece of nigiri is artfully plated, yet it’s the intense and balanced flavor and rich texture of each that forms lasting memories.

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Best Steak

The Dry-Aged, Bone-In Ribeye at Hamilton’s Urban Steakhouse & Bourbon Bar
2101 Chouteau Avenue, 314-241-2333

At Hamilton’s Urban Steakhouse & Bourbon Bar, the whopping 22-ounce dry-aged ribeye is served with a mound of flaming sea salt — a dramatic flourish considering the steak and salt come out on a wooden platter. It’s showy, indeed, but the scene stealer is the steak itself: A massive hunk of Iowa Premium Black Angus gilded with so much rendered fat it sparkles in the flame’s light. The meat is positively magical, but what pushes it over the edge is its rub, a secret blend concocted by owner Paul Hamilton that forms a coarse crust over every edge. There’s black peppery heat, but the spice is mitigated by salt, smoke and a hint of sweetness, a perfect balance that enhances the deep umami flavor of the beef without covering it up. A special pleasure when you bite into a little pocket of rub-covered beef and buttery fat; the experience is similar to the decadent enjoyment that comes from feasting on marrow, but better.

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Best Indian Restaurant

Himalayan Yeti
3515 South Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-354-8338

Fresh, high-quality ingredients and modern riffs on classic Nepalese and Indian specialties define the dining experience at Himalayan Yeti. Located in a former Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant, Himalayan Yeti doesn’t stand out from the sidewalk, and the sparse decor inside doesn’t inspire much more confidence, but never fear — it’s chef-owner Dipak Prasai’s cooking that you’re here for, and rest assured, it’s plenty impressive. Get a taste of Prasai’s talent with favorites like the lamb vindaloo, chicken tikka masala or samosas stuffed with lightly spiced potatoes, peas, chickpeas and dried fruit. Be sure to order the kulcha bread, filled with a mixture of herbs and onion, to soak up extra sauce.

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Best New Restaurant

Elmwood
704 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-261-4708

Much has been made about Elmwood’s Josper grill and oven — a piece of kitchen equipment so special it’s the only one of its kind in North America. What makes the Josper so unique is its restraint. It’s wood-fired, but clean-burning, primal, but controllable, resulting in flavors that are in perfect balance: char without bitterness, smoke that’s surprisingly gentle. In many ways, the Josper, in all of its beauty, is a microcosm for Elmwood. Owned by Niche alums Adam Altnether and Chris Kelling, this magnificent Maplewood spot has all of the makings of an ultra-fine-dining restaurant: sophisticated, flawlessly-executed dishes, magnificent design, a top-notch bar program and impeccable service. However, Altnether and Kelling manage to pull this off while still making the restaurant feel like the type of place you can roll into for a burger while wearing jeans. It’s nothing short of wizardry, and it’s the reason Elmwood has the sort of slow-burn staying power that has already put it on its way to becoming a St. Louis institution.

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Best Wine List

Oaked
1031 Lynch Street, 314-305-7517

When you are seated at Oaked, your hostess or server will present you with a leather-bound wine list so thick, you could use it as a booster seat to prop up your toddler. The list is shockingly comprehensive, thoughtfully put-together and, despite its size, the entire service staff can confidently guide you through tasting notes on even the most esoteric bottles. This alone would put Oaked in the upper echelon of St. Louis wine lists, but the fact that it offers every bottle — yes, every single bottle — by the glass is nothing short of mind-blowing. Not only does it allow you to indulge in a wine that might be otherwise out of your price range, it also gives you the freedom to drink out of your comfort zone and enjoy less familiar varietals without the investment of a full bottle. It’s an ambitious and commendable wine program that must be painstakingly managed by the team at Oaked, but it pays off in the form of an incomparable beverage experience that makes this the city’s premier wine destination.

Photo credit: BTP BY ALISON” itemprop=”image” />Cheryl Baehr” data-title=”

Best Spot for Omnivores and Vegetarians to Eat Together

Banh Mi So #1
4071 South Grand Boulevard, 314-353-0545

The trick to having a successful first (or third, or hundredth) date with someone who eats like you don’t is to pick a place where neither of you is at a disadvantage. Banh Mi So #1 represents the absolute ideal for this situation. Not only is their menu stocked with richly delicious fare, but everyone can agree that spring rolls don’t need meat to be perfect — and (as advertised in neon) their fried mung bean version truly is the best in town. It can be hard to find veggie pho, but they have both a beef and a vegetarian version that are matched for deeply satisfying flavor. And for every savory cut of pork or beef, there is an equally delightful and complex vegan option — the tofu curry noodle soup, for instance, or the banh xeo chay, scrumptious pan-fried crepes made with tofu and jicama. But the real reason to bring your meat-eating friend here is to make sure they order the Joe B., a miracle of marinated vegetarian beef laid inside a flaky, pillowy French baguette that will leave anyone of any stripe desperate for an encore serving. It’s a banh mi well worth switching sides for.

Photo credit: Cheryl Baehr” itemprop=”image” />Chelsea Neuling” data-title=”

Best Place for Day Drinking

Form Skybar
705 Olive Street, 314-241-4300

There are plenty of worse backdrops for drinking in St. Louis than the downtown skyline, and at Form Skybar, the Old Courthouse and all her neighbors are available to gaze in full panoramic. The rooftop restaurant and bar opened inside Hotel Saint Louis in March and is named for famous architect Louis Sullivan and his philosophy that form follows function. Personally, we follow the philosophy that sweeping skyline views are best appreciated before sunset, so we prefer to stop in Form early. (Also, doesn’t day drinking just feel more deserved when it’s happening in classy digs?) Classic and signature cocktails are all priced at $12 a pop, and a selection of wine, beer and non-alcoholic cocktails are also offered.

Photo credit: Chelsea Neuling” itemprop=”image” />Kevin Korinek” data-title=”

Best Coffeehouse

Meshuggah Café
6269 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-726-5662

Back in the day — specifically, back in the grungy, burgundy hair dye, Dr. Martens, flannel shirt, clove cigarette-fueled ’90s — Meshuggah Café was a dingy, smoky spot on a little side street off the Delmar Loop where poets, chess players and everyone in between formed an almost comically quintessential band of coffeehouse misfits. Jen Kaslow knew this Meshuggah, and when she bought the café from its longtime owner, she vowed to keep its identity intact. In the past four years since she’s owned the place, she’s done just that, maintaining its indie spirit even as she’s instituted some much-needed updates (hooray for all of those electrical outlets!). Even more importantly, she’s kept the house coffee the same — a roasty, strong-as-hell Americano that regulars made her swear she’d never change. Close your eyes and sip, and you’ll swear you can hear the Singles soundtrack somewhere in the background.

Photo credit: Kevin Korinek” itemprop=”image” />Jennifer Silverberg” data-title=”

Best Mexican Restaurant

Mi Tierra Bonita
3203 Collinsville Road, Fairmont City, Illinois; 618-271-7311

In 2018, Mi Tierra Tienda y Taqueria in Fairmont City, Illinois relocated — but diners needn’t go far to find it, as Mi Tierra Bonita is located just next door to the original. Mi Tierra first hit the local food scene radar in 2013, when then Riverfront Times food critic Ian Froeb lauded menus items such as the barbacoa taco and the torta milanesa, a sandwich stacked with paper-thin steak that’s been coated in breadcrumbs and fried to crispy perfection. At Mi Tierra Bonita, the expanded dining room means that even more lucky customers can congregate over those beloved menu items as well as chicken mole, fajitas and chimichangas.

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Best Pizza (St. Louis-Style)

Nick and Elena’s Pizzeria
3007 Woodson Road, Overland; 314-427-6566

At Nick and Elena’s Pizzeria, the employees wear shirts warning their customers that there are “real Italians working in the kitchen” and to expect the sort of passionate outpourings – and accompanying curse words – that can happen when you put a bunch of Sicilians together in front of a pizza oven. Even if they operated in monastic silence, however, you’d know that this Overland old-school pizzeria is the real deal. Nick and Elena’s St. Louis-style pizzas are perfection of the form, a cracker-thin crust that somehow manages to stay crisp, even at the typically flimsy, STL-style middle. This allows the pizza to hold up to whatever toppings and cheesy goo you decide to pile on top of it. And that goo! Nick and Elena’s Provel and sweet tomato sauce amalgamation is balanced into near-equal parts to its more like a rich sauce. Never mind the noise in the kitchen; this pizza will leave you speechless.

Photo credit: screengrab via Google Maps” itemprop=”image” />RFT Archives” data-title=”

Best Doughnuts

Old Town Donuts
508 New Florissant Road, Florissant; 314-831-0907

Even the most casual doughnut-eater knows that the key to a good one is to get it fresh out of the fryer. Sure, no one’s going to turn down a doughnut that’s been in the case for a few hours — or even a day-old if times are tough enough. Through some feat of magic, Old Town Donuts manages to create this effect no matter what point in the day you enjoy one of its yeasty treats — an especially difficult task considering the place is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Old Town runs three shifts a day, so every few hours, you’re getting one fresh from the fryer, fluffy, airy and glistening with enough grease to make it decadent without so much as to punch you in the gut. But what’s even more shocking is that, even the next day, these glorious glazed beauties are as good as the fresh ones at other stores around town. Not that you could ever wait so long before gobbling an entire dozen of these masterpieces.

Photo credit: RFT Archives” itemprop=”image” />Jennifer Silverberg” data-title=”

Best-Kept Secret

Korean Fried Chicken Wings at O! Wing Plus
10094 Page Avenue, Overland; 314-395-0180

At first glance, you are likely to think that O! Wing Plus is simply a knock-off of any of the number of generic wing joints around town; it’s humble, strip-mall location makes it look like the sort of place you’d grab some limp, hot-bar-style Buffalo wings with a handful of ranch packets. However, once you take the leap and step inside this Overland chicken spot, it becomes abundantly clear that you are in for so much more than basic Super Bowl fare. Owned by the Song family, O! Wing Plus serves chicken wings and strips that may not be officially called Korean fried chicken, but they are definitely in that genre. The secret to their success is the chicken’s shockingly crispy exterior, a breading that retains every ounce of its crunch even when tossed in sauce. And the sauce! The restaurant offers several to choose from, like the fiery Beast Mode, the Thai Chile Lime and the signature O’s Original, a chile-infused brown sugar glaze that has the perfect balance of heat and subtle sweetness. Bring an order of these beauties to your gathering, and you’ll be the toast of the night — that is, if you can refrain from gobbling them all down en route.

Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg” itemprop=”image” />Madelaine Azar
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Best Margarita

Lily’s Mexican Restaurant
4601 South Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-352-1894

Some things never change, and fortunately for us, that includes the Lily’s Special Margarita at Lily’s Mexican Restaurant. Ten years ago the Riverfront Times named it the best marg in town, and after some extensive research, we’re happy to report that it’s still very much deserving of this distinction. Maybe it deserves it even more today, considering that the quality has never wavered and that the prices are still incredibly affordable ($7.50 for a “small” and $13.50 for a “large,” which is roughly the size of the sun). Like the home-style Mexican eats served here by the Esparza family, the margs don’t just hit the spot — they make memories that will last, if not a lifetime, at least hopefully another ten years.

Photo credit: Madelaine Azar
” itemprop=”image” />Mabel Suen” data-title=”

Best Restaurant to Die in 2019

Reeds American Table
7322 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-899-9821

When it opened in September 2015, Reeds American Table had a team so stellar it was almost blinding. First and foremost, there was chef-owner Matthew Daughaday, a talented cook who made his name running the kitchen at Gerard Craft’s Taste. So well-respected by his peers, in fact, that he had the city’s most talented restaurant professionals eager to work for him: Andrey Ivanov, a now-master sommelier and one of St. Louis’ premier wine professionals; Summer Wright, a pastry chef whose resume includes working for Daniel Boulud; Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, who joined the team after it opened and has gone on to become one of the city’s most respected sommeliers — the list goes on and on. That industry firepower was not wasted: Reeds went on to become that perfect balance of upscale restaurant and neighborhood eatery and had an air of approachability that was shocking considering all of its talent. It’s closure this past July came as a surprise to the city’s dining community; the only thing that tempers its loss is knowing that this is not the last we will hear of Daughaday and his impressive crew.

Photo credit: Mabel Suen” itemprop=”image” />Kholood Eid” data-title=”

Best All-Purpose Vegetarian Restaurant

SweetArt
2203 South 39th Street, 314-771-4278

One secret that could stand to be less secret is this one: Vegan desserts are often even more delicious than their counterparts, especially when we’re talking cupcakes. At SweetArt, where the glass case is full of both dairy and dairy-free delectables, the proof will leave you weak in the knees. But first: lunch. SweetArt is all about indulging the senses, so whether you order the southwest burger with its pile of onion rings, the banh mi sandwich’s lemongrass-sesame tofu on hoagie or the “church basement plate” full of chik’n fried cauliflower, mackin’ cheese, black-eyed peas, greens and a sweet potato-pecan biscuit, you can have a vegan meal that makes you feel glad to be alive. Recently they introduced their own entry in the chicken sandwich wars, immediately ending the Popeyes v. Chik-Fil-A debate with a single bite: SweetArt brings the flavor that no fast food chain could ever catch up to.

Photo credit: Kholood Eid” itemprop=”image” />Ellen Prinzi” data-title=”

Best New Bar

Yellowbelly
4659 Lindell Boulevard, 314-449-1509

Tim Wiggins is so talented, he could make pond water into a wonderful libation. Put rum in front of him, however, and the results are utterly transcendent. The acclaimed barman used his favorite spirit as the jumping off point for Yellowbelly, the Central West End bar and restaurant he co-owns with Travis Howard. The pair knew they wanted to do a “sea and spirits” style concept, but they resisted defining that as a kitschy, throwback Tiki bar. Instead, they created a stunningly modern restaurant with nods to the Pacific islands without being a caricature. Yellowbelly’s bar is so special not just because of Wiggins’ cocktail prowess — and it’s certainly there on full display — but because it pushes guests to rethink what a rum-based cocktail can be. Of course, you’ll find wonderful, balanced versions of the classic Tiki drinks, but Wiggins has also created a selection of “new school” cocktails that show the spirit’s striking range. Enjoy one of these in this stylish, airy setting and you’ll understand his love of rum — and will develop an affection for it of your own.

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Best Taco

Taco Circus
4940 Southwest Avenue, 314-899-0061

It’s been a big year for Taco Circus: In September, the beloved Tex-Mex spot relocated from its original home in Bevo Mill to Southwest Garden. The new digs aren’t the only change: Taco Circus now serves an expanded menu, but don’t worry, all the fan favorites are still offered. We especially love the Chippewa taco, filled with pork steak, carnitas, avocado, cilantro and onion. As at the flagship location, the housemade salsas are a highlight, including the fiery salsa verde and milder red chile; to get a taste, try the Mother of All Tacos, which packs brisket from Stellar Hog with bacon, refried beans, a sunny-side-up egg, queso and salsa into one extra-large flour tortilla.

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Best Desserts

The Chocolate Pig
4220 Duncan Avenue, 314-272-3230

The Chocolate Pig is located inside the Cortex Innovation District, a fact that determines not just its address but the spirit in which it approaches its desserts. Not content to be the standard “cake and pie” sort of place, the restaurant is a bona fide dessert destination with sweet treats that evoke familiar flavors but are artfully presented to push the limits of what pastry can be. Though the restaurant’s opening pastry chef, the talented Tyler Davis, has left, his impact on the dessert menu remains in offerings such as the signature Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb, a stunning, softball-sized sphere of dark chocolate surrounded by peanut butter crumbles and freeze-dried berries. The dish is served with a warm berry sauce that, when poured over the chocolate, melts the exterior layer to reveal a silken peanut butter mousse with more cookie crumbles and berries inside. It’s as dramatic as it is delicious.

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Best Bar

Frazer’s Restaurant & Lounge
1811 Pestalozzi Street, 314-773-8646

In the midst of St. Louis’ über cool craft cocktail spots and Stag-slinging vintage dives, the bar at Frazer’s Restaurant & Lounge sits as that cool, quintessential neighborhood spot. Frazer’s surprises with a positively solid bar program that is every bit as good as the bigger names in town, yet somehow remains slightly under-the-radar. Since taking over the beverage side of the ship about five years ago, Terry Oliver has quietly transformed Frazer’s from a solid neighborhood restaurant into the insider’s place to go for some of the best drinks in town. Oliver’s extensive cocktail list belies the work of a master barman, but just as impressive as these sophisticated ingredient combinations is that you can sit at the bar, order an Old Fashioned, and know it’s going to be the best Old Fashioned of your life. That quiet confidence is what makes the place so special.

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Best Frozen Treat

The Taco & Ice Cream Joint
2738 Cherokee Street, 314-224-5799

For both kids and the young at heart, stepping inside The Taco & Ice Cream Joint feels like sensory overload. Equal parts taqueria and ice cream shop, this Cherokee Street staple excels at both of these specialties. Opt for a classic cup or cone, and then pause to appreciate the myriad ice cream flavors on offer, ranging from avocado and cucumber with chile powder to blackberry and bubblegum. One of our personal favorites is the chocolate de abuelita, which riffs on spicy Mexican hot chocolate to delightful results. The shop stocks more than ice cream to satisfy sweet tooths: Don’t miss the candy-colored paletas, chocolate-covered frozen bananas or a towering banana split.

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Best Pizza (Non-St. Louis Style)

Union Loafers
1629 Tower Grove Avenue, 314-833-6111

Great pizza starts with quality crust, and of course, the bakers at Union Loafers know a thing or two about perfecting different types of dough. When baked in the same ovens used to make its excellent breads, Neapolitan-style pizzas come out with a blistered, lightly charred crust with a mouth-watering chew. Must-try pies include the spinach, bacon, garlic, lemon, grana padano and mozzarella as well as the spicy pepperoni with Calabrian chiles, herbs, tomato, grana padano and mozzarella. Pizza is only served for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and can be paired with a range of beers and wines, as it should be.

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Best Thai

Thai Table
7403 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-449-6919

Natthinee “Joy” Teerakawanid has been cooking in Thai restaurants since she moved to the U.S. six years ago, but she never felt she was making actual Thai food — at least not the traditional recipes she’d learned to cook from her grandmother. Longing for an authentic taste of her homeland, Teerakawanid decided to branch out on her own and opened Thai Table in Maplewood in October 2018. Though the names of the dishes at Thai Table might read like those you’d find in other Thai restaurants around town, what differentiates them is their nuance and depth of flavor. Here, pad Thai is not the red, sticky-sweet platter of noodles so often peddled but is instead an umami-bomb of soy and fish sauces with just a whisper of sweetness. Her curries, like the magnificent lemongrass-spiked massaman beef of Panang curry are outstanding. However, if there is one must-try dish, it’s the nam tok beef, a thrilling platter of tender, char-kissed flank steak electrified by lime juice.

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Best Greek

The Greek Kitchen
343 South Kirkwood Road, #101, Kirkwood; 314-462-9112

You can’t get the Greek Kitchen’s famous lamb shanks every night of the week. After all, these marinated, fall-off-the-bone beauties take two days to prepare. While this may seem disappointing on its face, it’s actually a good thing because it allows you to branch out and try Lisa Nichols’ shockingly good Greek cooking. Nichols, together with co-owner Joe Kandel, serves the real deal — Greek food so good you’ll think you’ve somehow stepped through one of its paintings of the mother country and landed smack-dab in Santorini. Her spanakopita and pastitsio are otherworldly, and even a simple gyro is anything but thanks to its tender ground beef and lamb and rich tzatziki. It’s so good it will almost make you forget those lamb shanks. Almost.

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Best Gay Bar

Grey Fox Pub
3503 South Spring Avenue, 314-772-2150

Stepping inside Grey Fox Pub in Tower Grove South, your first impression is likely that it resembles so many other bars in south city. Neon beer signs frame the large wooden bar, where regulars are sipping Budweisers and rail drinks. Yet just walk to the back of the bar, enter the theater and you’ll find the real party. Draped in red velvet, this is the Grey Fox Cabaret, where, every Friday and Saturday night, former Miss Gay Missouri America Jade Sinclair hosts the show La Cage Aux Foxes drag show, featuring a rotating cast of versatile and talented performers. The theater hosts other drag shows throughout the week plus special events, but no matter what ensemble you’re there to see, you’re in for a rollicking night filled with great music and even better performances.

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Best Chicken Wings

Frisco Barroom
8110 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-455-1090

If you think you don’t like chicken wings, the ones coming out of the kitchen at Frisco Barroom in Webster Groves are sure to change your mind. To wit: On a recent visit with friends — if you can even call them that! — who don’t care for wings, the ones at Frisco were such a hit that a pal remarked, “Do all chicken wings taste this good?” The simple answer is no, they do not. What sets Frisco’s wings apart is twofold: They are grilled instead of fried, achieving a pleasing smokiness and char on the outside that brings out the pepper and spice in their seasoning, and they are then served with either Buffalo sauce or a Peruvian green pepper sauce on the side.

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Best Meat Market

Wenneman Meat Co.
7415 State Route 15, St. Libory, Illinois; 618-768-4328

In an age when foodborne-illness recalls feel more perfunctory than panic-inducing, it’s especially important to know where your food comes from. At family-run Wenneman Meat Co., a processing plant and butcher shop in St. Libory, Illinois, livestock is sourced from local farms and humanely slaughtered on-site. Founded in 1927, Wenneman has been a trusted name in southern Illinois for almost a century, and word has spread to St. Louis, with chefs and pitmasters across town sourcing its quality beef and pork. Wenneman products are sold in local markets across St. Louis, but the best selection and experience can be had at the retail shop in St. Libory, where the meat case is filled with quality cuts, flavored sausages, charcuterie and more.

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