The Gut Check One Hundred is our accounting of the 100 dishes in St. Louis that you must eat right now. These are the best dishes at the newest restaurants and the newest dishes at the best restaurants. These are the 100 dishes that define St. Louis dining in 2013. Our list culminates this fall when the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis 2013 names the "Best Dish" of the year.
We're fortunate when a new restaurant introduces us to a new dish. Such was the case when Siete Luminarias (2818 Cherokee Street; 314-932-1333) opened in January of 2012. Here was the pambazo, a Mexican torta with the bread soaked in guajillo-chile sauce.
We're also fortunate when a new restaurant serves a dish we already know -- or think we know -- but it prepares it so well that it might as well be the first time we've eaten it. Siete Luminarias did that, too, with its Guanajuato-style carnitas ($9.99).
The immediate appeal of Siete Luminarias' carnitas is obvious. The exterior of each hunk of pork shoulder is crisp and deeply browned. The interior, after cooking for four hours, is so tender that you can pull the meat apart with your fingers. It's luscious with rendered fat and full of its own porcine flavor and a subtle undercurrent of sweetness.
Convinced that there must be some kind of mystery ingredient or other magical process involved, I called owner and executive chef Luis García to find out the secret of his recipe, which has passed down from his family in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. His grandfather, his uncles -- everyone back home uses this recipe.
"The total time is four hours," he says. "We use vegetable lard to cook the pork. Let it cook for two hours just with the lard, then we put a little bit of salt and water and let it cook for another hour. When the meat is almost done, we add some kind of juice, let it cook for one more hour."
Is it the unfashionable use of vegetable "lard"? Is it the suspiciously vague "some kind of juice" that García mentions? Is it the cumulative power of the tacos that I fashion from the carnitas and the other components on the plate: pork, jalapeño, avocado and pico de gallo all tucked inside the restaurant's terrific homemade corn tortillas?
Do I want to know how the magician does his tricks? No, I just want to eat more carnitas.
Is there a dish that you think belongs among the Gut Check One Hundred 2013? Let us know!
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