Best Of 2019

The Flaming Wicked Prawns at Bait.
MABEL SUEN
The Flaming Wicked Prawns at Bait.

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 feast. A gigantic, 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.

Best of St. Louis 2019 Food & Drinks

Best of St. Louis 2019 Food & Drinks
Do not miss the fried chicken at Grace Meat + Three.
MABEL SUEN
Do not miss the fried chicken at Grace Meat + Three.

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.

Handmade noodle soup at Corner 17.
MABEL SUEN
Handmade noodle soup at Corner 17.

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.

Pide from Balkan Treat Box.
TOM HELLAUER
Pide from Balkan Treat Box.

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 devote 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 city'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.

Banh Mi So #1.
CHERYL BAEHR
Banh Mi So #1.

The trick to having a successful first (or third, or hundredth) meal 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 the 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 the restaurant has 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.

A full rack of ribs from BEAST Craft BBQ Co.
MABEL SUEN
A full rack of ribs from BEAST Craft BBQ Co.

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.

Billie-Jean.
MABEL SUEN
Billie-Jean.

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 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.

The Clover and the Bee
MABEL SUEN
The Clover and the Bee

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.

The Suze at Elmwood, created by Dave Greteman.
ELLEN PRINZI
The Suze at Elmwood, created by Dave Greteman.

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.