Best Of 2023

Ivy Cafe.
Mabel Suen
Ivy Cafe.

14 North Meramec Avenue, Clayton

Once upon a time, the sea of office buildings in downtown Clayton was punctuated by mom-and-pop restaurants, boutiques and quaint cafes. Today, that indie spirit is getting more difficult to find as high-rises fill the county seat's landscape. Ivy Cafe, the darling eatery from friends and business partners Julie Keane and Ashley Morrison, stands as a counter to this trend — a small, from-scratch neighborhood spot where you can pop in for an artful tartine and a cup of tea prepared by someone who knows your name. But it's not just the vibe that makes Ivy Cafe so special. The daytime menu of tartines, quiches, salads, pastries and much more is one thrill after another thanks to Keane's culinary touch. Her sourdough, which is the base of the restaurant's numerous tartines, has such a delectable rustic feel that it grounds you; the locally sourced toppings (everything from fresh veggies to cheeses) and the fact that you are eating from a plate fired in a kiln by Keane herself add to the feeling that you are experiencing something in-the-soul real — and there's nothing more delicious than that. —Cheryl Baehr

Best of St. Louis 2023: Food & Drink

Best of St. Louis 2023: Food & Drink
Louie.
Louie.

706 De Mun Ave, Clayton; louiedemun.com

Louie has excellent pasta. Its Calabrian sausage and broccolini cavatelli, for instance, is so delicious there are nearly riots in the streets of DeMun when it goes away for the season. When peach season comes around, you see every table filled with gorgeous plates of the restaurant's signature prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, accented with the fruit. You can practically hear the city buzzing about it. Wood-fired pizzas are the standard of the form, while the Roman gnocchi with pork ragù and bechamel might be the most perfect comfort food in all of St. Louis. Whatever fish is served on any given day is bound to be a winning choice. The roasted chicken makes you understand how extraordinary a perfectly golden bird can be. Louie offers too many culinary delights to name, yet they still play a supporting role in the story of why this neighborhood gem is the best restaurant in town. Owner Matt McGuire, whose revered King Louie's was one of the most formative restaurants in creating the city's current vibrant dining scene, understands hospitality on a level that's almost superhuman. Even when Louie is buzzing at full capacity — which is basically every moment the doors are open — he has a way of making every single diner feel as if they are the most important person in the room. With server extraordinaire Jordan VanZandt by his side, McGuire approaches each evening as if he is welcoming guests to the best dinner party of their lives, and he does this night in and night out with an ease that seems like second nature. It gives a special energy to the space and makes you understand that Louie is iconic not because of any one thing but because of the way the combination of things makes you feel. And that feeling is what makes it truly remarkable. —Cheryl Baehr

The Famous Bar.
Eric Frazier
The Famous Bar.

5213 Chippewa Street

This 26-year-old North Hampton watering hole may not be the most trendy bar in town — but it's consistently the most fun. Whether you come to play pool, have a drink with a big rowdy group or just eavesdrop solo under the handsome tin ceiling, there's a joie de vivre in the air. The bloody marys are great, and the bar serves a mean martini, but the true strength of the Famous Bar is its expert straddling of various moods and vibes. It's not divey, and it's not fancy, though on the right day it can feel like both of those things. At heart, it's just a good neighborhood bar. So good, in fact, that it draws revelers from far beyond its neighborhood. Pull up a stool, and see the magic happen. —Sarah Fenske

’Ssipp.
’Ssipp.

2926 Cherokee Street

If you're somehow laboring under the delusion that St. Louis is old and frumpy, we'd recommend getting to 'Ssippi, stat. At this natural wine bar just west of the heart of Cherokee Street, the subway tiles are gleaming, the patio is hopping and the patrons have the multiracial Brooklyn-meets-Silver Lake casual-cool look perfected. Yes, the wines are interesting — we bet you'll have tried very few, if any, of them before visiting — and the draft cocktails we've tried more than hold up. But what makes 'Ssippi so refreshing is the energy. Everyone here seems happy in an effortless way, ready to try something new, interested in seeing where things go. It's a glimpse of the new St. Louis, and we love where it's heading. —Sarah Fenske

Nobu.
Courtesy photo
Nobu.

6253 Delmar Boulevard, University City; nobustl.com

Long before the wacky, over-the-top rolls of the early aughts took the St. Louis dining scene by storm, Nobu Kidera was doing sushi as god intended. A native of Japan who spent years honing his sushi craft in Hawaii, Kidera, his wife Taeko and their young son George came to St. Louis in the early 1980s and eventually opened their restaurant, Nobu's, in University City in 1987, first in a small storefront and a few years later in a much larger former IHOP. Nobu's thrived in that location for decades, until displacement from the new Costco development forced it to find new digs. There was a real question for a while as to whether the restaurant would come back, but it did — and in some ways, even stronger than ever. The new Nobu's, located in the Loop, feels more intimate than its previous incarnation, with Kidera holding court over the room from his small open kitchen. There, he quietly shows why he is a master of his craft, fastidiously preparing a dazzling spread of traditional Japanese dishes, including absolutely mindblowing sushi. Kidera offers his handiwork a la carte, but the best way to experience the restaurant is through its omakase chef's tasting, where he selects for diners an outstanding assortment of sashimi, nigiri and makimono. To sit at his table is to have the rare privilege of being in the presence of a true master. —Cheryl Baehr

Buzz's Hawaiian Grill.
Mabel Suen
Buzz's Hawaiian Grill.

3457 Magnolia Avenue, buzzshawaiiangrill.com

The surprisingly wide-ranging menu at Buzz's Hawaiian Grill includes everything from lumpia to slow-cooked pig to Hawaiian-style poke bowls (served with both rice and luxuriously creamy macaroni salad) to chili to Korean-style ribs to loco moco, the Hawaiian delicacy involving rice, hamburger, a fried egg and brown gravy. In short, there's something for everyone here, and it's all pretty darn delicious and served swiftly to boot. Owner Thomas "Buzz" Moore lived in Hawaii for many years, and his affinity for the culture shines through in an eatery that is respectful, not kitschy. You can get your food to-go or enjoy it on-site, with a half-dozen tables inside and expansive patios both facing the street and tucked behind the restaurant. Thirsty? In addition to the juices and sodas on offer at Buzz's, you're welcome to get a drink at the neighboring Tick Tock Tavern. —Sarah Fenske

Quarrelsome Coffee.
Jessica Rogen
Quarrelsome Coffee.

33 North Sarah Street, quarrelsome.coffee

If you've ever thought that your coffee would taste better if it just had a little more science behind it, Quarrelsome Coffee is for you. If you've never thought that — it's OK that you're normal — we promise that you'll still like this Central West End coffeehouse. It's the brainchild of Mark Schwarz, owner and CEO of Omega Yeast, who is using yeast strains developed for brewing to ferment beans sourced from Costa Rica or Nicaragua. It's a process that helps impart unique flavors, one that coffee program manager Connor James believes will make for excellent cuppings, a coffee taste-test process. Quarrelsome also carries more traditionally produced beans for espresso drinks, baked goods and some merch. It's all located in the former Block home, which has been given a beautiful modern renovation. All in all, it's a great spot to try something new or simply work or meet with friends in the large, light-drenched space. —Jessica Rogen

Wright's Tavern.
Mabel Suen
Wright's Tavern.

7624 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; wrightswydown.com

When you put together two of the most talented veterans to grace the St. Louis restaurant scene, it's bound to be magic, and that's the only word to describe the flawless Wright's Tavern. Together, restaurateur Matt McGuire, of the famed King Louie's and current hotspot Louie, and chef Cary McDowell, of New York's Daniel and St. Louis' the Crossing and Pi Pizzeria, have created nothing short of a masterpiece in Wright's. A neighborhood steakhouse in its form, Wright's is in substance a celebration of beloved classic dishes that shows why they came to capture our hearts. A Caesar salad, for instance, reminds you of why you fell in love with Caesar salads in the first place, with zesty, anchovy-laden dressing, crisp romaine and a blizzard of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Onion rings are a case study in texture, and fries are positively extraordinary, the result of a highly involved process that yields thick strips with a golden brown exterior and an interior as soft as mashed potatoes. The crab cake is as good as those offered on the Chesapeake Bay, a roast-beef sandwich is so delicious it brings a tear to the eye, and steaks are so perfectly grilled they should be the standard upon which all cooks rely on to hit the right temperatures. But it's not only the culinary standards that make Wright's such an essential part of the St. Louis dining scene. McGuire is unrivaled in his ability to make every guest feel like a VIP, and he instills that level of commitment in his servers. The result is a masterful experience, from the moment you walk through the door until the moment you step out of it, filled with incredible food, the joy of having been pampered and the bliss that comes from having experienced dining that's as good as it gets. —Cheryl Baehr

Seedz Cafe.
Andy Paulissen
Seedz Cafe.

6344 South Rosebury Avenue, Clayton; seedzcafe.com

When you eat a plant-based diet, there's a lot of tension involved in dining out. There's the basic fear: Will this seemingly vegetarian dish secretly have meat in it? And then there's the rest. If you're doing it for health, you want a spot that isn't sneaking in a ton of junk, however tasty. If you're looking for a break from your uber-healthy diet, you want a place that is delicious and not overtly virtuous. Maybe you want to convince your friends that being a vegetarian or a vegan is not only great for the planet and your body, but actually tastes good, and they could totally do it, too. So, basically, it's hard to find a restaurant! Luckily, Seedz Cafe in DeMun addresses all of those concerns by serving up food that tastes great and is healthful but totally works if you want something approximating a burger and fries. Co-owner Cara Moon Schloss told the RFT in January that was the whole point: "We wanted to create a space where you didn't feel like you were going to a health-food restaurant, where the food was just naturally healthy, but it was also kind of a cool place to go have dinner on a date or even have a cocktail." —Jessica Rogen

Jack Nolen’s.
Mabel Suen
Jack Nolen’s.

2501 South Ninth Street, jacknolens.com

Let's face it: You rarely go to Soulard for the food. Sure, there are some great places to grab a bite — Mission Taco Joint, Eat Crow and Bogart's among them. But the neighborhood's party-hearty vibe tends to lend itself to a focus on drinking. What you consume to soak it all up is incidental. That's not true at Jack Nolen's, which may look like the quintessential south city bar (exposed brick, handsome wood bar, low-key patio, baseball on TV) but has food worth seeking out. That includes not only great fries (loaded or un-) and picnic-style sides such as potato salad and deviled eggs, but also some of the best sliders we've eaten in recent memory. The kitchen shapes four-ounce beef patties from a hand-ground mix of chuck, brisket and shortribs, grills them with melted cheese and serves them on the same soft potato bun deployed at Shake Shack. It's a singularly good bun. You can opt for a single, double or triple, with complimentary toppings. Try the house-made Style sauce or go spicy with the Fire. Not into meat? No Impossible burger here, but they do make a mean pesto grilled cheese. —Sarah Fenske