“Fast-casual” is a relatively new term that describes restaurants somewhere between high-end and McDonald's — they don't offer full table service, but still focus on high quality food. Counter service is coupled with an ambiance that encourages more than a two-minute stay, while prices are typically lower than traditional restaurants. Many focus on a small, “choose-your-own” style menu that affords a high degree of customization and still allows for predictable kitchen restocking.
Fast-casual is definitely on the rise across St. Louis. You can currently get everything from good Asian food to excellent calzones, and no lesser luminary than the James Beard Award-winning Gerard Craft now has a fast-casual spot of his own, Porano Pasta
, in the works.
Here are our 10 favorite spots.
1. Guerrilla Street Food
3559 Arsenal Street, South Grand
A food truck for more than three years, Guerrilla Street Food now also has a brick-and-mortar home, and both are serving up home-made quality quickly and affordably. The Filipino menu features fan favorites such as “Aporkalypse Now!” (pork belly braised in brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, chilies, peanuts and tofu), the "Guerrilla Monsoon" (sausage, chilies, oyster mushrooms and garlic with Asian lime) and blue crab ceviche (Filipino blue crab, chilies, black sesame, cilantro, palm sugar and atchara served over sliced watermelon). Don’t forget to add a “Calamansi Cooler” – a house-made limeade made with the Asian limes known as calamansi, honey, fresh ginger and mint.
See also: A First Look at Guerilla Street Food's Brick and Mortar
2. Seoul Taco
6665 Delmar Blvd, the Delmar Loop
Also getting its start as a food truck in 2011, Seoul Taco now boasts a physical store front in the Delmar Loop, as well as in Columbia, Missouri. Chef and owner David Choi’s unique menu blends the unmistakable flavors of Koran barbecue with Mexican-style presentation for an approachable and fast meal. Here, tacos, quesadillas, burritos and nachos feature “Seoul sauce," kimchi fried rice, and Korean salad mix or gochujang pepper sauce with Korean-spiced steak, chicken, spicy pork or tofu. The banchan, or sides, feature full-on Korean flavors – kimchi slaw, OG kimchi, kimchi fried rice and pot stickers.
See also: A Look at the Korean Barbecue of Seoul Taco and Seoul Q
3. Sauce on the Side
411 North 8th Street, downtown, and 7810 Forsyth, Clayton
Devoted exclusively to made-to-order calzones (following the “do one thing well” mantra to the letter), Sauce on the Side has almost a cult following. Diners choose from an inspired list of flavor combinations, like the puttanesca (roasted chicken, onions, capers, green olives, garlic, roasted red peppers, feta, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic oil and spicy red sauce). Or you can create your own perfect calzone masterpiece. Salads, beer and wine are also available. All meals are served on plates with silverware, while servers refill drinks and bus tables – dining is quick and accompanied by great hospitality for a deliciously relaxing experience.
See also: A Look Inside Sauce on the Side's New Second Location in Clayton
270 North Skinker Boulevard, Skinker-DeBaliviere
Kayak’s is a calm oasis at the bustling intersection of Forest Park Parkway and Skinker Boulevard, with the Washington University campus across the street and Metrolink stop just underneath the street. Fresh, simple food and coffee is presented in a cozy, rustic mountain chalet-inspired setting with a substantial menu of sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, soups, salads, wraps, smoothies and breakfast items offered all day. Don’t forget the coffee – traditional, espresso, batch-brewed and hand-brewed.
5. Lona’s Lil Eats
2199 California Avenue, Fox Park
Begun as a food stand in 2008 at the Soulard Farmer’s Market, Lona's Lil Eats is now a full-fledged restaurant in Fox Park. The cuisine is described as “Asian cuisine with a soul-food flare” and features flavors from Lona’s birthplace in the Thai and Chinese melting pot that is the Yunnan province. Both the food stand and restaurant developed a unique menu built around available fresh ingredients, kitchen equipment on hand and customer desires. Each meal starts with a giant rice paper wrap, flour wrap or plate. A choice of protein is next – grilled chicken, pulled turkey, spicy tofu, grilled steak or stir-fried shrimp followed by rice, noodles or lettuce. The piece de resistance – the sauce, either lime-ginger peanut sauce, lemon grass pesto, Lona-Q (with ginger and red wine), smoked vinaigrette or spicy sesame.
See also: At Lona's Lil Eats, Huge Flavor from a Tiny Village in China
Turn the page for more fast-casual favorites.