BY IAN FROEB// OCTOBER 30, 2023 |
This year, the STL 100 is all the way back.
Here you will find a new list of 100 restaurants, many of which have returned from the 2022 edition — but not all. Back to dining full time, I spent more time exploring restaurants beyond my weekly review subjects than I ever had before. There were so many restaurants deserving of first-time inclusion that I had to make some difficult decisions.
I hope you will use this guide in the spirit in which I researched and wrote it: curiosity, excitement and hunger.
Where 6253 Delmar Boulevard, University City • More info 314-323-9147; nobustl.com • Hours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, reservations only (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$$
The storied career of sushi chef Noboru Kidera could have ended on a sour note. Nobu’s, his beloved University City restaurant, was forced to abandon its longtime home in a former IHOP due to the sprawling Costco-anchored development at Olive Boulevard and Interstate 170. Kidera did not retire. He and his family — wife Taeko, son George and George’s wife, Noi — relocated Nobu’s to the Delmar Loop and reimagined it as an omakase restaurant, with the now 74-year-old Kidera choosing what nigiri, sashimi and other Japanese dishes you eat. This “new” Nobu’s, which opened in October, is a revelation, even for longtime fans of Kidera’s work. In a modern, Japan-meets-Denmark space that relaxes you as soon as you arrive, your six-course omakase meal unfolds briskly but gracefully through composed dishes (raw salmon with tomato, radish sprouts and a yuzu-lime dressing), soulful chawanmushi, grilled fish, crisp tempura and, of course, impeccable nigiri. The six-course omakase dinner, available Friday and Saturday, is the signature Nobu’s experience, but the three- and four-course omakase meals are both also revelatory. Whichever omakase dinner you choose, do note that reservations are required.
Cate Zone Chinese Cafe
Where 8148 Olive Boulevard, University City • More info 314-738-9923 • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday) • Pricing $-$$
The past few years have transformed Olive Boulevard in University City. This crucible of small, often immigrant-owned restaurants has seen storefronts wiped off the map to make way for a sprawling new commercial development at Olive and Interstate 170. Add in the effect of the pandemic on the restaurant industry, and it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about this vital St. Louis neighborhood. Which is how Cate Zone Chinese Cafe, which not so long ago was one of the upstarts along Olive and which still radiates a youthful energy, has found itself among the neighborhood’s stalwarts. Cate Zone is small, but its menu is capacious. The restaurant essentially introduced St. Louis to the Dongbei cuisine of China’s northeast, also staked a claim to being one of its best Sichuan restaurants and, even if you aren’t interested in China’s regional cuisines, serves a sweet-and-sour pork to have you swear off your favorite restaurant forever.
Where 7930 Olive Boulevard, University City • More info 314-925-8711; bestspicy.com • Hours Lunch and dinner daily (closed Wednesday) • Pricing $$-$$$
I have never seen ChiliSpot anything less than bustling — not just its University City dining room but the entrance where bags of takeout wait to be picked up by delivery-app drivers. The problem isn’t finding a seat but seeing and smelling all the amazing dishes from ChiliSpot’s lengthy menu and figuring out what to order. On my latest visit, I ordered the Sichuan dish that is probably best known here in America, the kung pao chicken, and was rewarded with a version far more potent in its heat (not to mention ticklish Sichuan peppercorns) than any other I’ve tried. Every meal here has yielded a reward, even before the pandemic, when the restaurant operated under the name Sze Chuan Cuisine: fiery Chongqing chicken, cumin lamb, braised greens with black mushrooms and the luscious homemade tofu.
Salt + Smoke
Where 6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City • More info 314-727-0200; saltandsmokebbq.com • Hours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$
This year’s STL 100 features only four barbecue restaurants, the lowest total in the list’s eight editions. Is this a predictable correction to the barbecue boom that kicked off in earnest with the opening of Pappy’s Smokehouse in 2008 and kept on smoking through the following decade? Is it understandable given all the other kinds of restaurants demanding attention in our increasingly diverse dining scene? A little of both, probably. But also, crucially, given the sheer number of barbecue restaurants and the similarity among them, only the very best break through these days. Salt + Smoke has been among those best since it sliced its first fatty end of Texas-style brisket, with enough variety in its menu (the popovers, the burnt ends toasted ravioli) to make it more than just another barbecue joint, and the rare professionalism, courtesy of founder Tom Schmidt, to maintain its quality over multiple locations.