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If you've never tried plantains, this small Nicaraguan restaurant is a great place to start. Fritanga offers three plantain preparations: thin, crisp tajadas; slightly thicker and less crisp tostones; and soft, sweet maduros. Tajadas, especially, might give French fries a run for their side-dish money. All three pair well with the restaurant's meat-intensive entrées. Charbroiled beef tenderloin (churrasco nica) comes with a flavorful chimicurri sauce and a devilishly hot pico de gallo, while charbroiled pork tenderloin accents dusky achiote seasoning with a bracingly tart note of citrus. Carne desmenuzada, a very thick stew of beef and vegetables has the richness of sauerbraten; a dash of pico de gallo makes the flavor explode.
The nonstop creative mind of Bill Christman -- the man behind those whimsical sculptures at the City Museum -- helped to fill Maya Café with offbeat artworks. There's a large deck out back, complete with the whimsical addition of a real antique fishing boat, making Maya Café the only place in landlocked Maplewood where you can drink a margarita on a boat. Owner Jay Schober has created a restaurant to match the decor, with pan-Latin cuisine just as varied. Far from simply a Mexican restaurant, Maya Café offers a plethora of dishes that span Central and South America, not to mention Spain. Specials have included shrimp with coconut milk (from Brazil), banana leaf-wrapped tamales (Colombia) and flank steak with fried plantains, topped with a fried egg (Venezuela). Maya Café features live music on the weekends and house-made margaritas that are so good you'll want a pitcher to yourself.
The Cardinals slugger's namesake restaurant might not have Hall of Fame credentials, but it's a fine place to catch a ballgame and have a bite to eat. You'll find plenty of standard bar-and-grill fare - burgers, sandwiches, steaks and seafood - but these dishes are prepared well, with a high-end flourish here and there. And unlike at most athlete-owned restaurants, you actually get a glimpse of your hero's personality. Albert and Dee Dee Pujols' favorite dishes include hearty arroz con pollo and jerk-seasoned chicken wings served with a fantastic pineapple-jalapeño chutney.
CLOSED A big, bold pan-Latin restaurant with a breathtaking design, clockwork service and dishes that are always satisfying, often excellent. The best dishes play with the contrast between savory and sharp - beef tenderloin served with succulent langostino tails in a bright garlic sauce; adobo-seasoned chicken perked up with a "ceviche" of avocado and corn - not to mention the subtle interplay between sweet and earthy in the crab-spinach enchiladas. The wine list features an impressive array of South American wines, including a section devoted to malbec, and desserts are worth saving room for - an important point to remember, considering the generous entrée portions.
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