Up and Comers
I love the excitement of eating at a restaurant I haven't been to before. I usually have at least some idea of what to expect, but it isn't until I walk through the door that it all starts coming together. I take in the decor, the music, the smell. I pay attention to how the servers and bartenders dress and talk to the customers. I love seeing how the food is plated. Every restaurant, whether it's an upscale affair or a dive bar, has a personality. This past year—2015—has been a good year for new restaurants in St. Louis, I think. I've compiled 12 of my favorites below, ranging from a hole in the wall taco stand to a Niche alum's Maplewood hot spot. Okay, some of these aren't new this year, but you probably don't even know that a place called El Morelia Supermercado even exists, do you?
And, by the way, just because something is new doesn't mean that it deserves mountains of praise. I will not bullshit you and tell you something that sucks is good. I don't want you going to *restaurant* then tweeting at me that it blew and I duped you.
When something is good, I want you to know about it and I want you to get your ass there pronto. All 5 of the hidden gems I wrote about last year have continued to kill it this year. Hell, I'm not even sure most of them could be considered 'hidden' anymore. If you haven't tried all the places on the list below, you best get to work.
El Morelia Supermercado
Located at 270 and St. Charles Rock Road, El Morelia is probably out of the way for most people, but don't let that turn you off from going! The supermarket itself is the largest Mexican grocery in St. Louis, a labyrinth of spices and ingredients you never see anywhere else, plus a badass butchery and bakery. More importantly, they have a weekend taco stand that will absolutely wreck most of the other tacos in St. Louis.
There's a huge variety available each week, but the spit-roasted al pastor, a sweet and smoky pork, is king. After you pick up your tacos, you go to the table covered in fresh toppings and salsas, load'em up, then feast.
St. Louis Korean Bakery
In my eating adventures, there have been 3 bakeries in St. Louis that have really blown me away: Pint Sized, La Patisserie Chouquette, and St. Louis Korean Bakery (aka Kim Dokwon, Kim's Bakery). I'm guessing you've heard of the first two, but you probably aren't too familiar with Kim's. Tucked away in a strip mall on the border of Creve Coeur and Chesterfield, Kim and her team are making a MASSIVE array of treats, ranging from cookies to ornate cakes like you see above. Almost all her treats have an Asian spin.
I recommend trying the matcha cake, the fistball (Korean bread pudding ball), and one of the filled buns, like the lemon cream or red bean.
Picking favorites is never easy, but at this point, I think I would give Tai Ke the award for my favorite new Chinese restaurant of 2015—and this was a good year for new Chinese spots. The restaurant is bright and clean, the staff is friendly, and the food has been consistently solid.
Tai Ke is St. Louis' only Taiwanese restaurant, which means we're getting some dishes that weren't previously available, including Taiwanese "hot dogs" with sticky rice, and some that are just better versions than other restaurants around, like their Three Cup chicken. I'm hoping we'll see more of the famed Taiwanese street snacks grace their menu in 2016.
Another solid addition to the Olive Boulevard Chinese restaurant scene is Jia Xiang. I don't know that it actually opened in 2015, but it's certainly been renovated in the last year. When I first visited, the menu was only in Chinese, so we ordered by pointing at other tables and letting the waiter pick for us.
The food is on point. Dishes come out looking simple—braised duck, charred eggplant—but are immensely flavorful. My whole family was awed by the eggplant, specifically, with its wonderful wok hei. The food is primarily Shanghaiese, though it lacks the extreme sweetness you'll find at Private Kitchen.
Byrd & Barrel
2015 was a huge year for fried chicken in St. Louis, for better or worse—better because it's one of life's greatest treats, worse because we're all going to become obese—with my two favorite additions going to Byrd & Barrel and Southern. Even though they're both fried chicken focused, they're different in pretty much every way.
I like Byrd for its thick, dark breading, and their use of fried chicken in a variety of dishes, ranging from a fried liver banh mi to their take on a red curry. They also have a hot dog inside a pickle, deep fried in corndog batter.
It should come as a surprise to no one that a restaurant captained by Ricky Lewis and Mike Emerson would be 1) delicious, 2) packed to the gills every single day. Southern's fried chicken is probably my favorite in town, with thin-yet-crispy breading that withstands the hot chicken oils like a champ. Every bite sends my eyes rolling into the back of my head. Even if spicy food isn't your thing, you can get the chicken unsauced or with the surprisingly great General Tso's.
Southern also offers a large selection of sandwiches and sides, including their newest addition: a double cheeseburger with pickles, onions, and pimento cheese.
Reeds American Table
When a talent like Matt Daughaday announces he's opening his own restaurant with a team of some of St. Louis' best front and back of house staff, people get excited. I was ecstatic—Reeds was easily my most anticipated restaurant of 2015.
The restaurant is barely 4 months old, but it's done nothing but impress me so far. Summery dishes like a corn and bay scallop risotto won me over right away, but his winter selections, like a hearty, warming lamb stew have kept me coming back. I can't wait to see where they're at a year from now.
7322 Manchester Rd St. Louis, MO 63143
If I could pick any restaurant in St. Louis to be closer to my house, it would be Pizzeoli. Scott Sandler's passion project, a vegetarian Neapolitan pizza restaurant, instantly jumped to the top tier of St. Louis pizza options. The crust—beautiful. The tomato sauce—simplicity at its finest. The toppings—high quality that you can taste.
Whether Sandler would admit to it or not, I think he holds the keys to another local pizza chain. I'm hoping that in 2016, we'll see an announcement about a 2nd location (very close to my house).
It was love at first bite for me at Publico. Southwestern and South American spices are some of my favorites, and anything cooked over a wood-fire gets me salivating. Both the food and drink menus are in constant motion, with the culinary and bar teams both trying new things all the time.
The smoked white fish and al pastor tacos are must-try dishes, but you're unlikely to go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu. I hope that Publico inspires other chefs to keep pushing boundaries and to build more wood-fire hearths.
David Choi and his crew opened up a Korean BBQ joint that looks like something straight off the streets of Seoul or Singapore. Sure, there are other places for K-BBQ in St. Louis, but how many of them are serving high quality meat in a chic modern industrial setting? None.
If you're going to K-BBQ, do it right. You go to Seoul Q, order way more meat than one should ever eat in one sitting, and load up on soju. Eat, drink, and then Uber home. A real champion would go for the $26 all-you-can-eat late night option.
Guerrilla Street Food
I'm all about Asian fusion done right, and in my book, Guerrilla Street Food is nailing it. Most Americans are unfamiliar with the vinegar and soy-heavy Filipino cuisine, but Brian Hardesty and Joel Crespo have created a menu that serves as a great introduction.
If you're going to the brick and mortar shop instead of the food truck, you need to try whatever restaurant-only dishes they're serving that day. My current favorite is the Iron Manok, which is their fried chicken platter topped with Filipino sauces and sauteed veggies.