Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this Gut Check series, we are chewing our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. To see hundreds more winners and finalists and download the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis mobile app, visit our Best of St. Louis homepage.
The quest for "real" tapas in St. Louis is a daunting -- but not impossible -- one. While Spain's twisting, mysterious streets are home to many a gastronomic wonder, St. Louis is seeing a steady increase in restaurants that pay homage to this lovely, languid way of eating a meal. Here are nine places worth exploring, one delicious morsel at a time.
BARcelona (34 North Central Avenue, Clayton; 314-863-9909)
Love tapas but can't afford the trip to Spain for the real deal? Solution: Pack your bags and head to BARcelona in Clayton. BARcelona takes tapas seriously, with an extensive menu of traditional, tasty treats. All the favorites make an appearance including a cheese plate, tortilla española, jamón Serrano, calamari and more. BARcelona offers something for every palate with seafood, chicken and albóndigas among the choices, as well as yummy pinxtos (tapas on a stick). The warm environment gets even warmer after a few glasses of sangria to wash it all down.
Guido's Pizzeria & Tapas (5046 Shaw Avenue; 314-771-4900)
The Carretero family's tapas cred begins with their roots in Madrid. Thankfully for St. Louis, they have brought that cred stateside and, more specifically, to the Hill neighborhood. At Guido's Pizzeria and Tapas diners get authentic, delicious tapas without the en vogue pretensions of typical "tapas bars." Cold tapas selections include jamón Serrano and Spanish olives, while hot tapas offer calamares a la plancha (charbroiled squid), patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce), albóndigas and empadillas (puff pastry filled with either chicken or tuna) to name a few.
Modesto (5257 Shaw Avenue; 314-772-8272)
While the Hill neighborhood may be famous for its Italian cuisine and culture, Modesto's Spanish cuisine provides a pretty convincing case for the western part of the Mediterranean. Along with meats, cheeses and paella, Modesto serves a variety of tapas. And we're not talking the generic "small plates" -- we mean tapas in the true Spanish style. Here guests will find tortilla española, patatas dos salsas and grilled eggplant rolls with Iberico cheese and herb picada among the dishes. For those on a budget, come during happy hour for drink specials as well as pinxtos (very small bites), which cost from 25 cents to $1.50 and include a veal and pork meatball, grilled shrimp and a chorizo-stuffed date.
Mojo Tapas Restaurant & Bar (3117 South Grand Boulevard; 314-865-0500)
Mojo, which opened in April 2010 on South Grand Boulevard, offers its own take on tapas. Sure, you'll find calamari, but at Mojo it's flash-fried and served with a chile-lime aioli. You bet, there's sausage too, but here it's grilled chorizo, andouille and Italian sausages served with a pineapple chutney. Other stylish takes on tapas include curried edamame hummus with lavash crackers and a baked sea scallop gratin. The influences for Mojo's kitchen come from all over the globe, where a gorgeous plate of seared ahi can be served alongside a warm baked goat cheese with a spicy Creole sauce or tasty little Korean-style barbecue rib sliders. Mojos also brings it all back home with a plate of St. Louis' own Billy Goat Chips presented with your choice of aioli for dipping.
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