Al Waha isn't simply the first Bedouin restaurant in St. Louis, or even, as the restaurant itself claims, the first in the entire Midwest, but one of very, very few in the entire United States. Many dishes will be familiar to fans of other Middle Eastern cuisines: hummus, of course; shawarma; kebabs. More intriguing is the "Al Waha Plate": ground beef in a tomato-pomegranate sauce that is probably unlike anything you've ever eaten before. The space used to house an Afghan restaurant, and several Afghan dishes remain, including the lamb and basmati rice dish qabelli palau. During the week, the place also offers a relaxed atmosphere for hookah lovers who don't necessarily need a party rocking crowd with their water pipe; but on weekends burlesque dancers draw quite a crowd. Plus, this smokery offers late-night cuisine on the cheap; most delicious Bedouin dishes here are less than $5-you can't get drive-thru food for that these days.
Ameristar St. Charles is a casino everyone can enjoy — from the blackjack diehard to the person who won't risk a nickel. Ameristar situates its tables and machines off the main concourse. Rather than walking into a sensory-deprivation tank of beeps and bings, guests walk into a sunny, airy streetscape lined with cafés and full-service restaurants — everything from pancakes to crab legs to the Vietnamese noodle soup mì hoành thánh. The entertainment's topnotch, too — particularly the national acts that drop by the gorgeous Bottleneck Blues Bar. A little more than a year ago, Ameristar completed more than $260 million in renovations; the hotel is totally updated (the rooms and spa are downright posh). If you can't find a way to win at Ameristar, odds are you're not trying.
Soccer may still be catching on in the rest of the country, but St. Louis has long been infatuated with the beautiful game. Amsterdam Tavern opened in 2008 on Tower Grove South's bustling row of bars and restaurants, and it's a stellar addition to the city's already impressive roster of soccer-friendly establishments. Unlike most other places, though, fútbol actually comes first at the Amsterdam. Scarves from dozens of European clubs decorate the walls (Arsenal and, of course, the Dutch club Ajax get the most prominent displays) along with memorabilia from Saint Louis University soccer and other historic local teams. The selection of draft and bottled beer is ample, and burger joint the Dam slings up the greasiest, most delicious burgers to accompany them just next door for patrons to enjoy barside. Best of all, the Amsterdam prohibits smoking inside the tiny bar, although smokers can puff to their lungs' delight on the massive outdoor patio. As for the other type of smoking that the city of Amsterdam is known for, the only homage is a badass picture of Bob Marley decked out in soccer gear.
Joining Baileys’ Chocolate Bar, Rooster and the Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar, Baileys’ Range is Dave Bailey’s most ambitious venture to date: He seeks to provide luxe-quality burgers in quantities usually associated with Five Guys or Smashburger. Made from locally sourced, grass-fed beef, the burgers are excellent, whether you order yours unadorned, with cheese or classed up with sautéed mushrooms and Taleggio or meated up with pulled pork. Patties made from lamb, bison, duck, chicken and vegetables are also available. The fries are topnotch, the shakes blended with super-creamy housemade ice cream.
Restaurateur Zoë Robinson Pidgeon and her go-to chef Ny Vongsaly have brought a touch of Paris chic to the tiny Clayton confines of their new venture, Bar Les Frères. Though the cuisine is resolutely old-school French, the vibe is fun and the décor (including sixteen pairs of deer antlers looming above the bar) downright funky. The brief menu includes such beloved classics as lobster bisque (brimming with actual lobster meat), duck confit and steak au poivre. The highlight might be the Toulouse-style pork sausages, aggressively seasoned: a perfect blend of pig, salt and spice.
Basso is Italian for low, and this restaurant is located in the cavernous basement of the Restaurant at the Cheshire. Part of the multimillion-dollar renovation of the Cheshire hotel on the western edge of the city, Basso boasts as its chef Patrick Connolly, a St. Louis native who made his name (including a James Beard Foundation award) in Boston and New York City before returning home. His menu is “Italian gastropub,” which in practice means excellent wood-fired pizzas and rustic pasta dishes. The “McDowell’s Golden Arcs,” with speck, delicata squash and Fontina, is a standout pizza. Among the pastas, try the mafalda, thin ribbons of pasta tossed with a beef and pork ragù, pecorino romano and breadcrumbs.
While operating Mr. Harry’s Canival Foods at the Ballwin storefront that now houses BBQ ASAP, Jim and Mary Randall took an interest in barbecue. They joined the competitive circuit and now have the trophies to prove their prowess – including third place in pulled pork at the 2012 edition of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (a.k.a. the “Super Bowl of Swine”). The pulled pork is excellent, but the brisket is the real draw, both thin slices from the flat end of the cut and the burnt ends. The latter are braised for several hours after being smoked and are fork-tender. Baby-back ribs, chicken and turkey are also available, but don’t neglect the house-smoked pastrami.
One of the more surreal dining experiences in St. Louis: a good ol' American bar and grill done up as a Disneyfied Bavarian beer hall, complete with waitresses costumed in fetching frocks a la Snow White. Part of the River City casino, the menu hits the basic goods, including tasty, oversized burgers, wings and ribs (ask for the sauce on the side). But there is also German fare, including a terrific rendition of the classic sauerbraten (here called "German Pot Roast"), tender braised beef over yummy spaetzle and braised red cabbage. Best of all, the friendly bartenders are skilled at a quick pour -- especially when the carnage you suffered at the craps table is written all over your face.
Nestled in the shadows of the A-B Brewery on the south end of Soulard, Big Daddy's offers a little bit of everything for the south city barfly. The downstairs bar features dj's spinning the latest jams every weekend and ice cold beers and tasty appetizers make it a great place to kick back a watch the game. But an inviting outdoor patio and second upstairs bar give the venue range and seasonal charm.
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