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The 10 Best New St. Louis Restaurants of 2015 

The bone-in pork chop at  Público.

Mabel Suen

The bone-in pork chop at Público.

The highlights of St. Louis' 2015 dining scene have no obvious common thread. We feasted on Korean-style barbecue, Texas-style tacos and impromptu tasting menus served out of an abandoned Taco Bell by a Chinese chef. Last year, comfort food clearly dominated menus — but not so 2015.

Which may be what ends up defining the year after all. Granted, 2015 saw a coop full of new fried-chicken restaurants, but for the most part, chefs seemed to shake off their fascination with homey, Southern-style cooking. Though every restaurant on this list of the year's ten best new openings serves "comfort food" of a sort, they do so in ways that are personal rather than trendy or prescriptive. Chef Ma's steaming pot of fish stew only is like mac & cheese in that it reminds him of home.

See also: SLIDESHOW: St. Louis' 10 Best New Restaurants of 2015

The tilt away from comfort-food clichés also seems to signal the return of the classic American bistro, with no restaurant showing why it deserves a resurgence better than J. McArthur's. Perhaps the pendulum between the modernist cuisine of the early aughts and the "grandma fare" of the last two years is finally settling into that sweet spot somewhere in the middle, where menus are less about trends and more about classic flavors.

Then again, the forecast of hotly anticipated 2016 openings suggests we'll soon be drowning ourselves in ramen. Happy new year!

1. Público
6679 Delmar Blvd., University City; 314-833-5780
Mike Randolph's reputation certainly precedes him. The self-described restless chef opens and closes restaurants with the frequency and duration of a Taylor Swift relationship. The antics are certainly a point of discussion, but they tend to obscure an important fact: Mike Randolph is, unequivocally, a genius. His list of hits (was there ever a miss?) includes restaurants that define genres — Half & Half for breakfast, the Good Pie for Neapolitan pizza. And nowhere does he shine brighter than at his Latin American-inspired Público. St. Louis hasn't seen a restaurant that elevates this style of cooking to the level that's on display at Público. Really, the only comparison is something along the lines of Rick Bayless' revered Topolobampo in Chicago. Everything about Público is a revelation: the pinto beans slow cooked with lamb drippings and accented with mint, arepas that lie somewhere between cast-iron-skillet cornbread and homemade tortillas, a bone-in pork chop drenched in peach and habanero brown butter that melts in your mouth like sashimi. From start to finish, Público is perfection and proof that Randolph is the chef to watch in the St. Louis dining scene.

2. Reeds American Table
7322 Manchester Ave., Maplewood; 314-899-9821
Reeds American Table is one of the best restaurants to open in 2015. In other news, the sun rose today in the east and two plus two equals four. There was no question this place was destined to be an overwhelming success. Matthew Daughaday, who earned accolades as the executive chef at Taste, heads a dream team that includes wine genius Andrey Ivanov, pastry chef Summer Wright and general manager Nicki Ball — all of whom boast résumés that could single-handedly carry a restaurant. It's a "shock and awe" level of firepower that could quickly devolve into an intimidating experience. Instead, Daughaday and Co. have gone out of their way to create a welcoming atmosphere that makes you feel like a guest in someone's home — a home where the best beef cheeks you'll ever eat in your life are served over pillow-soft focaccia and paired with a $7 glass of house wine that rivals the town's more expensive pours.

3. Beast Craft BBQ
Belt Avenue West, Belleville, Illinois; 618-257-9000
If you're even half as sick of reading about barbecue as I am of writing about it, you'll understand why I almost passed on reviewing Beast Craft BBQ. Was there anything left to be said? Yes. Yes there was. Beast Craft BBQ's pork steak is the single best piece of barbecued meat you will eat in the region (I'm looking at you, Kansas City). Remove any thoughts of the thin, Maull's-covered pork steaks you scarf down with Busch beer and a game of washers. This (ahem) beast of a steak is more like a Delmonico rib eye, and it could just as easily be at home on the menu of an expensive chop house. A mild spice rub mingles with fat and char, forming a mouth-watering glaze on what is basically a composite of pulled pork that is so tender, you'll be mocked if you look for a knife. Pitmaster David Sandusky and crew prove that no matter how saturated a market is, there is always room for excellence.

Seared tuna with smoked eggplant caponata at Randolfi's. - MABEL SUEN
  • Mabel Suen
  • Seared tuna with smoked eggplant caponata at Randolfi's.

4. Randolfi's
6665 Delmar Blvd., University City; 314-899-9221
The Year of Mike Randolph continues with Randolfi's, his homage to the red-and-white-checked tablecloth dining that dominated the Italian restaurant scene in the 1970s and '80s. Randolph insists he is running an approachable, family-friendly dining establishment at Randolfi's — and he is, inasmuch as you can explain to your seven-year-old that sweetbreads are not a type of doughnut. Really, Randolfi's is more evocative than a literal throwback. Veal parmesan is there, but it presents as sweetbreads tossed in tart tomato sauce with funky cheese. Oysters Rockefeller is replaced with "Oysters Randolfi," with prosciutto in place of bacon, fennel in place of Pernod. You'll find the accessible stuff too, like spaghetti and meatballs, but it is elevated so far past the "red or white sauce" routine that dominates Midwestern Italian dining that it comes off as much more sophisticated. And for those who lamented the Good Pie closing to make room for Randolfi's, rest assured — the pizza is still there, and it is every bit as tasty.

5. J McArthur's
3500 Watson Road; 314-353-9463
What's most refreshing about J McArthur's — aside from the impeccable hospitality on display — is that it shows how a well-executed American bistro can still be relevant in today's dining climate. Over the past few hyper-specialized, food-obsessed years, the type of solid, seasonal American cuisine on display at this south-city gem seemed to have gone out of fashion, but chef Ben McArthur is bringing it back by focusing on classic flavors and impeccable preparations. He reminds us why chefs began pairing butternut squash with scallops or sweet potatoes with pork. After all, those combinations bring out the best of both components. Yet he does so even while honoring today's ethos — a utilization of local ingredients, a commitment to seasonality. He's not breaking the mold here. Instead, he reminds us why it was forged in the first place.

6. Chef Ma's Chinese Gourmet
2336 Woodson Road, Overland; 314-395-8797
Who would have thought that a former Taco Bell in the Middle of Overland would house one of the year's most exciting concepts? At first glance, Chef Ma's Chinese Gourmet could be mistaken for just another Americanized Chinese restaurant. Inside this bare-bones spot, however, you'll find a bastion of authentic Chinese cooking personally prepared and served by a veteran chef who has cooked all over Asia. Ma's specialty is his impromptu tasting menu — a treat he is eager to serve so long as you are willing to let him run the show. Doing so opens the door to a feast filled with pumpkin shrimp, twice-cooked pork and a fish stew filled with exotic vegetables. Sure, you'll find the other stuff too — the Mongolian beef, the crab Rangoon — and it's all done impeccably and from scratch. But really, there is only one way to go at Chef Ma's: Let him take the lead.

Hot Chicken plate with Southern greens and Hoppin' John. - MABEL SUEN
  • Mabel Suen
  • Hot Chicken plate with Southern greens and Hoppin' John.

7. Southern
3108 Olive Street; 314-531-4668
The "Clucking Hot" fried chicken at Rick Lewis' midtown spot Southern starts out with a tingly burn on the lips. It's mildly sweet, and the chicken it coats is so juicy and crisp you don't notice the heat creeping up on you. Beads of sweat start to form, but you are so enraptured by the nuance of flavors not typically present in such spicy food that you don't realize what's happening. By the time the burn wallops you with a shocking blow, you are so hooked you don't care. Is this an abusive culinary relationship? Probably, but it's one you hope will never ends.

8. Union Loafers
1629 Tower Grove Ave.; 314-833-6111
Man cannot live by bread alone, but Union Loafers sure makes you want to try. The Botanical Heights café and bakery showcases the bread making prowess of Ted Wilson, best known for his time spent perfecting the pizza dough at the Good Pie. There is much more to Union Loaders than its bread, though. Brian Lagerstrom, formerly of Niche, has crafted a simple menu that uses Wilson's naturally fermented bread as a canvass for everything from roasted pork to a shockingly good PB&J. General manager Sean Netzer says that the trio wasn't looking to do anything too far out — just simple food that they love to eat. Clearly, they are not alone. 

9. Seoul Q
6665 Delmar Blvd. #100A, University City; 314-925-8452
Korean barbecue had its St. Louis breakthrough moment this year with the opening of Seoul Q. Owned  by David Choi of Seoul Taco fame, the restaurant makes it clear why Korean barbecue has been so hot on the coasts — and makes us more than a little irked that it took so long to get here. The restaurant offers appetizers and hot pots, but there's no question that the reason to go here is to sample the tabletop-style cooking — especially those "LA-Style" short ribs which are the restaurant's version of the glorious galbi. Korean food is decidedly on-trend, but Seoul Q makes us hope this is no passing fad.

10. Taco Circus
4258 Schiller Place; 314-808-2050
People must have looked at Christian Ethridge and Mikey Carrasco like they were crazy when they packed up and left boomtown Austin, Texas, for St. Louis with the goal of opening a Tex-Mex taco joint. Now, as people line up to get a taste of their homemade breakfast tacos, they're getting the last laugh. The brightly colored Bevo Mill spot is cheap and fast, but Ethridge and Carrasco approach their food as if they were cooking in a fine-dining restaurant. Sausage is homemade, meat is locally sourced and humanely raised, and everything is made to order right in front of you. The pair wanted to open a place that was a love song to the taco joints of their youth, and we are happy to sing along.

See also: SLIDESHOW: St. Louis' 10 Best New Restaurants of 2015

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