Food & Drink

  • Best New Restaurant

    Chez Leon

    It certainly took a lot of Gaul to open up a restaurant like this in the Central West End. If you're not privileged enough to pop over to France on a regular basis, at least now you can stroll the Avenue Laclede whenever you feel like it and experience many of the same sights, sounds and smells you'd find a… More >>
  • Best Restaurant District

    Central West End

    Perhaps you recall sipping a sweet, bracing iced coffee as you studied the menu at a Thai place on South Grand. Or letting a tangle of onion rings cool as you shouted over the bleating saxophone at a joint in U. City. Maybe you remember tasting your first black truffles at a white-napped table in Clayton or downtown. Each part… More >>
  • Best Chef Tandem

    Jim Fiala and Cary McDowell, The Crossing

    Jim Fiala and Cary McDowell are seasoned craftsmen who can concoct an evening special in five minutes when they see what their fishmonger and produce supplier have brought them that morning. Give them, say, a whole bluefish, a few sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme, a side of bacon and an onion, and they'll whip up a superb bacon-wrapped grilled… More >>
  • Best Waitperson

    Jay Jackson, Delmar Restaurant & Lounge - CLOSED

    Jay Jackson -- this man could sell a plate of fried fleas. But he now manages and waits tables at the Delmar Restaurant & Lounge in the U. City Loop and instead handles carefully designed plates of culinary accomplishment. Jackson, a waiter and bartender for most of his life, has worked everywhere from underground rock & roll clubs in Los… More >>
  • Best Flapjacks

    South City Diner

    If you're looking for a pancake of pioneer proportions, you'd be hard pressed to match the plate-sized slabs from the grill of the South City Diner. For more than 60 years, the South City Diner has been a South St. Louis landmark. But in 1992, when Peter Spoto reopened it, the diner had been closed for three years. "It has… More >>
  • Best Breakfast

    First Watch

    For the breakfast connoisseur, a recently opened First Watch restaurant stands out like an oasis in the Sahara. True, St. Louis has no shortage of dining establishments that offer a decent breakfast, but there are few standouts here. Fans of a couple of the large national chains regularly form long lines outside those restaurants on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but… More >>
  • Best Luncheon Buffet

    St. Mary of Victories Church

    Attending the luncheon buffet at St. Mary's of Victories Church is like going to an urban parish picnic in the middle of the workday. Situated just south of the Arch, it has become popular with downtown workers -- lawyers, civil servants, judges and anyone else in search of home cooking. There's the inevitable comparison with St. Raymond's Maronite Church and… More >>
  • Best Mexican Breakfast

    Taqueria Azteca

    You can check and recheck the desayunos board at Taqueria Azteca for migas, which can rightly be considered the breakfast of the gods, but what you'll find is huevos è la Mexicana. Simplicity itself, the dish is practically elemental: eggs, scrambled with tomatoes, onions and peppers. Simple does not mean easy, though, which obviously it is not, because no one… More >>
  • Best Mexican-Restaurant Ambiance

    Tienda El Ranchito

    Most Mexican restaurants, including many that serve delicious food, look like little theme parks of Mexican culture. Hey, a few miniature sombreros and corny clay pots never hurt the mole sauce, so who cares, really? But if you want a genuinely Mexican environment as you eat your ceviche or lingua taco, washed down with horchata, then cross the river and… More >>
  • Best Guacamole

    Babalu's - CLOSED

    Guacamole is as controversial as politics, religion and barbecue. Purists favor the strapping California avocado over its puny Florida cousin. Dogmatists spurn creamy versions of the dish and endorse chunky ones. Rival factions quarrel about ingredients: Tomatoes or tomatillos? Serranos or jalapenos? Scallions or white onions? Curry or cumin? And cookbooks perpetuate loathsome perversions of the recipe, such as stirring… More >>
  • Best Fast-Food Mexican (and More)

    Del Taco - CLOSED

    Let's say your buddy says to you, "Hey, how 'bout some Del Taco for dinner?" Your response is: (a) "I never tried that before. That's like Taco Bell, huh?" (b) "No, I'm sorry, but I have a sensitive stomach and I'm only allowed to eat Mueslix with Lactaid." (c) "Hell, yes!" The answer is (c), for so many reasons. First of all, taste that chicken… More >>
  • Best Quesadilla

    Nachomama's

    You're young, spirited, full of life, lusting for laughter, love and -- above all -- lunch. In your heightened state of ardor, you sense that your heart's immortal thirst is too big for moderation -- you aspire to sticky fingers, to sumptuous calories from fat, to the sort of meal after which the only compulsory exercise is a nap. Oh… More >>
  • Best Grilled Fish

    Bar Italia

    There are plenty of fish stories, but of those that pertain particularly to dinner, perhaps none is so poignant as that of the great Vatel, maître d'hôtel of Louis XIV's cousin, who in 1671 fell on his own sword when a seafood shipment failed to arrive in time for an important fê te. If the dish he'd planned to serve… More >>
  • Best Scrambled Tofu

    MoKaBe's Coffee House

    It's Sunday morning, and once again your thoughts drift fondly toward soy products. The media is swamped with reports of how this wunderbean prevents or alleviates practically any malady against which it is pitted, and you've been meaning to crank up your personal intake to the recommended "three servings a day" (whatever that is). But there's a small problem with… More >>
  • Best Coffeehouse

    Shaw's Coffee Ltd.

    "We're coffee fanatics," proclaims Walt Boyle, referring to himself and Gail Maher, co-owners of Shaw's Coffee Ltd. on the Hill. And what else would you expect from a pair of java junkies other than the richest, most savory cup this side of Bogota? In fact, the far wall is piled with burlap bags stamped with the names of exotic locations… More >>
  • Best Sweet-and-Sour Tofu

    Thai Café

    Probably the least advisable thing to do in an Asian restaurant is to order sweet-and-sour anything. And although this is the kind of hard-won wisdom that we don't often dispute, it's a rule proved by its exception, which in this case is the vegetarian pad sweet-and-sour at Thai Café. The experience is comfortably disorienting. The sauce is sufficiently reddish to… More >>
  • Best Moo Shu

    Shu Feng

    The secret's in the Chinese pancake: It has to be fresh. The frozen ones get all stiff and crumbly, and the true moo shu headz can spot them a mile away. They've got to be made with the right flour (rice) and should melt in your mouth. Shu Feng knows: They spread the thin, crê pe-esque pancake on a plate,… More >>
  • Best Use for a Lemon

    Dropped Into a Schlafly Hefeweizen, St. Louis Brewery and Tap Room

    You're thirsty. A beer would taste good right about now. Why not pop into the St. Louis Brewery and Tap Room and see what they have to tempt you? Hey, what's this crazy word? Hefeweizen? If it's half as much fun to drink as it is to say, you'll have hit the jackpot. The bartender draws the luxurious, cloudy golden liquid… More >>
  • Best Signature Dish

    Soufflés, Fio's La Fourchette

    A chef aspiring to invent a signature dish is like a speechwriter setting out to coin a hot political catchphrase: The effort is futile, because it's impossible to predict what will tickle the public's fancy. Instead, like Pokémon, SUVs and Survivor, a signature dish inexplicably captivates the fickle masses. Celebrity chefs become known as much for their trademark dishes as… More >>
  • Best Pad Thai

    The King & I

    Pad thai is Thailand's street food, a one-dish meal peddled on the sidewalks of Bangkok by kiosk vendors who season each order to the customer's liking. The Thai people eat it at any meal -- even breakfast -- washed down with tea, iced coffee, beer or lime juice. Ingredients in the dish vary, but two are integral: rice noodles, fettuccini-like… More >>
  • Best Beef Jerky

    Banh Mi So (Number One Sandwich)

    Gourmet beef jerky? This stuff is usually considered a guilty pleasure, if a pleasure at all. It might be better regarded as a compulsion, a weakness like salty potato chips and smoky coffee that overcomes people on long road trips. But take Grand Boulevard south almost to Meramec, and look on the west side of the street for the unassuming… More >>
  • Best Hummus

    Aesop's Cafe

    There are as many varieties of hummus as there are sun-lit villages in the Middle East and Mediterranean. At Aesop's Cafe, you get close to what must be the mother and father of all hummus. Prepared fresh every other morning by Mohamod Abadi, Sherry Rouhani or Mohsen Rouhani, this hummus is no appetizer tease, no runny beige spread. Served in… More >>
  • Best Underrated Italian

    Talayna's at the Park

    First of all, you will encounter a problem. Every single time we have eaten at Talayna's, there has been a problem. The waiter has no idea that our party was seated in his section 10 minutes ago, the drinks never arrive, the salads come out after the food, and so on. Yet the restaurant exerts a pull that draws plenty… More >>
  • Best Pizza

    Vito's

    Vito's is a pizzeria -- not a trendy, upscale bistro version thereof but the real thing: a place that takes pizza seriously but doesn't get too snooty about it. Takeout is popular, but we like to plop down in the dining area -- especially when The Simpsons is on the big-screen TV -- and take advantage of the fabulous service.… More >>
  • Best Place to Eat Junk Food

    Barnes-Jewish Hospital (BJH South) Cafeteria

    Your favorite Uncle George just got wheeled off to the OR, and you're keenly aware of his -- and your own -- mortality. Balling up soggy Kleenex, you trudge down to the hospital cafeteria to while away the nine-hour open-heart surgery. Luckily, the cafeteria's the only destination in the complex nobody needs a map to find. Step off the elevator… More >>
  • Best Cheap Eats

    Hodak's

    With the most expensive item on the menu, a steak dinner, costing $8.45, Hodak's is the place to go if you're hungry and near-broke. It's cheaper than most fast-food joints, plus they sell beer. And the service is excellent. You never have to wait more than a few minutes for your order to arrive. A cheeseburger and fries cost $3.… More >>
  • Best Fast Food

    Steak n' Shake

    Odd that we can think of Steak n' Shake as fast food but not, say, Applebee's. It must be the drive-through window and the emphasis on burgers, shakes and fries -- it can't be the quality of the food, because Steak n' Shake kicks every kind of ass. Takhomasak if you must, but dining in is advised. Gotta love those… More >>
  • Best-Looking Fast-Food Joint

    Del Taco - CLOSED

    Is anyone else disappointed with the way this new millennium is shaping up? C'mon, it's A.D. 2000! Where are the floating cities? Where are the flying cars? Where are the shiny silver unitards? Where are the damn robots? Science fiction promised us a brave new world, but we're still stuck with the same crappy one from last century. But take… More >>
  • Best White Castle Decor

    Collinsville, Ill.

    Admit it. You've gone to White Castle more than once in your life. You love those little bits of ... meat, right? Part of the joy of downing a bunch of White Castles is the hint of illicitness involved. This is not a real meal; it's a quick fix, a temporary desertion of all you know about nutrition and health.… More >>
  • Best Liquor Store

    Corral Liquors

    The independent liquor store is a fading remnant of the past, but don't go to Corral Liquors out of nostalgia. On Nameoki, a mile or so north of the gargantuan smelts of Granite City Steel, a sign announces the largest supermarket of liquor in metro St. Louis. That it apparently is. Corral stocks 2,000 different wines, more than 500 microbrews,… More >>
  • Best Store to Buy Wine

    Wine Merchant

    There's no more daunting experience to a wine novice than entering a quality wine store. It's hard to fake your way through the process of picking out a wine, and the snobs can spot you a mile away as your eyes dart helplessly around the room. Face it -- you need the help of an expert, but the wine-store clerk… More >>
  • Best Winery

    Mount Pleasant Winery

    Because atmosphere, accessibility to the metro area, amenities and quality of product are all important criteria on our winery scorecard, we just don't think you can beat the experience at Mount Pleasant in Augusta, Mo. (5634 High St., 636-482-4419). There's the charming estate and rolling vineyards; the range of live music; the mystery dinners and the superstar culinary events like… More >>
  • Best Hotel-Lobby Bar

    Stratford Hotel

    When patrons first enter the Hilltop Lounge, just off the lobby of the Stratford Hotel in Alton, Ill., their eyes are immediately pulled toward the six large murals of stampeding buffalo, runaway wagon trains and wild-eyed cowboys riding wild-eyed broncs. No pastoral scenes, these -- in fact, they're rather violent and grotesque in some cases. Handpainted sometime in the 1940s… More >>
  • Best Peach Daiquiri

    Kinder's Restaurant

    To find the best peach daiquiri, you must cross many rivers: the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Illinois. Take the best route: Follow Highway 367 north, over the new chiffon-yellow suspension bridge, down into Alton, Ill., then north up the Great River Road to the Brussels free ferry over the Illinois River. On the peninsula, follow the bikers and boat trailers… More >>
  • Best Place to Buy Coffee

    Kaldi's Coffee House & Market Bakery

    Kaldi's, a one-of-a-kind coffeehouse in the DeMun neighborhood, roasts its own coffee daily at a location at 21st Street and Washington Avenue downtown -- and what a difference it makes! Bring a pound home, whole-bean or ground, and you may end up lingering near the pot for hours. Owners Howard Learner and Suzanne Langlois (a former RFT staff writer) opened… More >>
  • Best Late-Night Cafe

    Coffee House - CLOSED

    The Coffee House is probably the most no-bullshit social destination in the bi-state area. There's a vibe there that's just down-to-earth -- not fake or rowdy or snotty or even too jubilant, just quiet and friendly. There are a couple of pool tables and trivia machines and dartboards, and plenty of ashtrays. The coffee is good, and you can buy… More >>
  • Best Grocery Store

    Gewinner's Market

    If you suffer from sensory overload, hypothermia near the dairy aisle or incapacitating panic attacks in those big, fluorescently lit, glaringly tiled grocery stores like Schnucks, try Gewinner's Market in Dogtown. It's a four-aisle, single-checkout-lane business owned and operated by the Gewinner family since 1967. It's got a terrific fresh-meat section and a lunchtime barbecue menu that lures the blue-collar… More >>
  • Best Supermarket Checkers

    Schnucks on the Hill

    The Schnucks on the Hill (5055 Arsenal St., 314-771-5008) soaks up the aroma of good food and goodwill that defines its famous location. The checkers push all the right buttons. Each is different in the way he or she negotiates the endless promenade of groceries that advances like a food army that won't give up. And when an item won't… More >>
  • Best Ethnic Food Store

    Jay International Food Co./Global Foods Market

    Because both of these markets -- Jay's and Global -- are owned by members of the same family, we're treating them as, well, identical cousins and bestowing the "best" mantle on them jointly. Whereas Global adores a minuet, smoked sturgeon Russe and crê pes Suzette, our Jay's store likes to rock & roll and its produce makes us lose control… More >>
  • Best Soulard Market Produce

    Kruse Gardens

    In one familial permutation or another, the Kruses may or may not have the longest continued run at the Soulard Market, with a lineage that can be traced to Arlene Kruse's grandparents. It seems that's a tough claim to verify, but it's of little consequence in sorting the best from the better. Kruse Gardens, of Columbia, Ill., has the best… More >>
  • Best Health-Food Store

    Natural Way

    Going down Aisle 7, your eyes dart from left to right, marking the presence of the enemy, its sodium and processing and preservatives. At the butcher's counter, you spot nitrate traces, antibiotics and steroids; in produce, the pesticides wait to poison you; in dairy lurk growth hormones and fat and other critters' genes. Shaken, you slip out the back and… More >>
  • Best Place to See Celebrities Out of Their Element

    Wild Oats Community Market, Ladue

    America's founding fathers may have outlawed the ranks of nobility in this country, but that technicality has not stopped the common man from creating a distinctly American version of the peerage: celebrities. Celebrities are the U.S.A.'s No. 1 export, a burden on the working class we all willingly support. That "living wage" thing sounds like some sort of welfare scam,… More >>
  • Best Bakery

    Lake Forest Pastry Shop

    At Lake Forest Pastry Shop, even gooey butter isn't enough. They make deep butter coffee cakes, gooey butter on top of an all-butter pound cake, and it sits on the shelf, heavy and happy, next to Paradise -- which Lake Forest invented. "We're the only ones that can make it," a sixtyish lady in a blue-striped apron explains over her… More >>
  • Best Doughnuts

    Krispy Kreme

    At Krispy Kreme, it's almost always time to make the doughnuts. And when it is, they're more than happy to let you know with their neon "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign. If you happen to be passing by when it lights up -- or perhaps just lurking outside waiting for it to happen -- you can stop in for a special… More >>
  • Best Ice Creamery

    Bobby's Frozen Custard

    Plopped in a former cornfield in the drowsy hamlet of Maryville, Ill., Bobby's Frozen Custard seems an unlikely candidate for St. Louis' Best Ice Creamery, but its intense blue-and-pink neon and gleaming stainless steel act as a magnetically attractive light during the summer's hottest spells, drawing more than 1,000 customers daily. On the busiest nights, a platoon of up to… More >>
  • Best Cookies

    Dad's Cookie Co.

    With its glass display cases and marble counters, this cookie store is a trip back in time. Dad's Cookie Co. has been at the same South St. Louis location since 1938, when Henry Renz Sr., a baker, bought the franchise from Carpenter's Ice Cream on Goodfellow Avenue. The business is now run by a third generation of the Renz family.… More >>
  • Best Candy

    Crown Candy Kitchen

    This North St. Louis institution, which boasts that it is the oldest soda fountain in the city, packs a crowd at lunchtime for its milkshakes and malts and standard luncheon menu of roast beef, BLTs, chili dogs and other sandwich fare. Crown Candy Kitchen was opened in 1913 by two Greeks who brought their confectionery skills to America, and the… More >>
  • Best Place to Buy Chocolate

    Cost Plus World Market

    If you've been to Germany, you may have seen her on supermarket shelves. You may have also spotted her on the knitted hat of Austrian Alpine skier Hermann Maier. Now, after years of only being marketed in Europe, you can find the purple Milka cow at Cost Plus World Market. Although the store sells Lindt from Switzerland, Perugina from Italy… More >>

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