St. Louis' neighborhoods are gems in their own right: full of history, great people and, as far as Gut Check is concerned, fantastic food. Each week we'll take you into a specific neighborhood and point you in the direction of the best places to grab some bites.
Cherokee Street is the epicenter of Hispanic culture in St. Louis, and all sorts food-loving, fun-seeking folks will flock to it this weekend to partake in Cinco de Mayo festivities: The People's Joy Parade steps off at 1:11 p.m. on Saturday, May 4. But the restaurants and markets along Cherokee Street are worth celebrating all the time. Here are a few of our favorites.
Carniceria Latino Americana (2800 Cherokee Street; 314-773-1707) From its extensive collection of saints candles to phone cards to fresh peppers and produce, Carniceria Latino Americana lives up to its motto "Mexico Viva Aqui" by providing myriad goods and services that help make this neighborhood thrive. Head to the rear of the market and grab some Mexican street-food favorites or see what's filling the butcher's case. Prices are affordable, the staff is always ready to help and the patio is a great place to take in a soccer match, cerveza in hand.
See also: - 2008 Best of St. Louis: Best Mexican Market
Diana's Bakery (2843 Cherokee Street; 314-771-6959) You'd think that the grab-and-go nature of Diana's Bakery would rush customers in and out in no time, but quite the opposite is true. Sliding the cafeteria tray past all the fresh-baked bread, cakes, cookies and other desserts, you stop to admire the sheer volume of it all...and puzzle out what it might be (many of the goodies aren't labeled). The women who work there are happy to help, and they'd surely tell you to save room for its famous churros.
Garduño's Mexican Food (2737 Cherokee Street; 314-776-2315) The guacamole is an excellent indication of the attention that's paid to the simplest of dishes at Garduño's Mexican Food. The guac is a vibrant green and perfectly chunky; it practically begs for inclusion on every taco, tostada or burrito that crowds your plate. Likewise, the lightly battered and fried mojarra dorada (think tilapia) is served whole, tender and moist, with just enough crisp to the exterior. There's plenty to pick from at this slip of a place and nary a bad one in the bunch.
La Vallesana (2801 Cherokee Street; 314-776-4223) La Vallesana upgraded its digs last year from a tiny kitchen with a smattering of seats to a brand-new building complete with a large outdoor patio, but its mastery of all things Mexican remains. The tacos al pastor are a particularly good example: The interplay of the cilantro, onion and pineapple against the spicy pork results in perhaps its best-loved dish. Finish up with a dish of homemade ice cream or paletas, sweet Mexican popsicles made with fresh fruit.