St. Louis' neighborhoods are gems in their own right: full of history, great people and, as far as Gut Check is concerned, fantastic food. Each week we'll take you into a specific neighborhood and point you in the direction of the best places to grab some bites.
Cherokee Street is the epicenter of Hispanic culture in St. Louis, and all sorts food-loving, fun-seeking folks will flock to it this weekend to partake in Cinco de Mayo festivities: The People's Joy Parade steps off at 1:11 p.m. on Saturday, May 4. But the restaurants and markets along Cherokee Street are worth celebrating all the time. Here are a few of our favorites.
Carniceria Latino Americana (2800 Cherokee Street; 314-773-1707) From its extensive collection of saints candles to phone cards to fresh peppers and produce, Carniceria Latino Americana lives up to its motto "Mexico Viva Aqui" by providing myriad goods and services that help make this neighborhood thrive. Head to the rear of the market and grab some Mexican street-food favorites or see what's filling the butcher's case. Prices are affordable, the staff is always ready to help and the patio is a great place to take in a soccer match, cerveza in hand.
See also: - 2008 Best of St. Louis: Best Mexican Market
Diana's Bakery (2843 Cherokee Street; 314-771-6959) You'd think that the grab-and-go nature of Diana's Bakery would rush customers in and out in no time, but quite the opposite is true. Sliding the cafeteria tray past all the fresh-baked bread, cakes, cookies and other desserts, you stop to admire the sheer volume of it all...and puzzle out what it might be (many of the goodies aren't labeled). The women who work there are happy to help, and they'd surely tell you to save room for its famous churros.
Garduño's Mexican Food (2737 Cherokee Street; 314-776-2315) The guacamole is an excellent indication of the attention that's paid to the simplest of dishes at Garduño's Mexican Food. The guac is a vibrant green and perfectly chunky; it practically begs for inclusion on every taco, tostada or burrito that crowds your plate. Likewise, the lightly battered and fried mojarra dorada (think tilapia) is served whole, tender and moist, with just enough crisp to the exterior. There's plenty to pick from at this slip of a place and nary a bad one in the bunch.
La Vallesana (2801 Cherokee Street; 314-776-4223) La Vallesana upgraded its digs last year from a tiny kitchen with a smattering of seats to a brand-new building complete with a large outdoor patio, but its mastery of all things Mexican remains. The tacos al pastor are a particularly good example: The interplay of the cilantro, onion and pineapple against the spicy pork results in perhaps its best-loved dish. Finish up with a dish of homemade ice cream or paletas, sweet Mexican popsicles made with fresh fruit.
Siete Luminarias (2818 Cherokee Street; 314-932-1333) Owned by brothers Ramon and Luis Garcia, colorful Siete Luminarias is a dazzling example of the depth and breadth of Mexican cuisine, from the gringo-approved staples such as tacos and enchiladas to more exotic fare including goat, lamb, beef lengua (tongue) or tender cabeza (beef head). It's perhaps the only place in town to score a pambazo, a Mexican torta of sorts, stuffed with your choice of meats and veggies and topped with chile sauce. Every meal starts with an order of homemade chips and salsa - they're free, but so good you'd gladly fork over money for them.
Taqueria el Bronco (2817 Cherokee Street; 314-762-0691) Without a doubt, there are bigger and splashier places to eat along Cherokee Street than Taqueria el Bronco: There's not much in the way of décor, and the couple of humble televisions are always tuned to a Spanish-language channel. But the taqueria fare is as good as any you'll find in town. Chips are on the house and are served with red and green salsa, but go ahead and spring a few bucks for the beautiful guacamole. The burritos, while not the foil-wrapped footballs we've come to expect from American chain restaurants, are a satisfying size, and the tacos are always crowd pleasers.
Taqueria el Torito (2753 Cherokee Street; 314-771-8648) Unlike many other eateries along Cherokee, not only is Taqueria el Torito spacious, it's also attached to a El Torito Market, a grocery that hawks everything from pinatas to spices to cowboy boots. The restaurant focuses on Michoacan cuisine, a region on Mexico's Pacific coast that's famed for its carnitas, and here, the deeply savory meat doesn't disappoint. Combination platters offer a little of everything, and during the week, El Torito's tequila bar offers $4 specials (wine, margs, well drinks) during happy hour.