Housemade dumplings, a must-try at Lona's Li'l Eats.
When chef Kevin Nashan thinks back to 2003, the year he took over Sidney Street Cafe (2000 Sidney Street; 314-771-5777) from its original owners, he can't help but muse on how much has changed.
It's not just the format of his restaurant, which transitioned from a meat and potatoes spot to a bastion of modern American cuisine. It's the Benton Park neighborhood itself. Gone are the days when the area boasted a handful of restaurants and one local watering hole. Now Benton Park is a thriving culinary destination that angles for honors as one of St. Louis' hottest dining districts.
We asked Nashan for his picks for some of Benton Park's must-visit eateries — humbly, he didn't mention Sidney Street Cafe or Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. (1831 Sidney Street; 314-772-8858)
, though there's no question his two restaurants should be high on that list.
Instead, he gave us nine of his favorite places to dine when he's off the clock — plus one non-restaurant as a bonus. Clip, save and use this as your guide to explore the neighborhood and its surrounding environs.
1. Sump Coffee
3700 S. Jefferson Avenue; 314-412-5670
"I guess it's technically not Benton Park, but this is some of the best coffee in the world, right within our reach," Nashan says. "I'm a creature of habit, so I always get either an iced coffee or a cappuccino. I get it to-go, and then end up talking to Scott [Carey] until I finish it. That's really wasteful — I'll have to change that!"
2. Venice Cafe
1903 Pestalozzi Street; 314-772-5994
"I went to Saint Louis University in the 90s, and this was my old hangout," says Nashan of this Benton Park institution. "I just love going there to grab a beer."
3. Benton Park Cafe
1900 Arsenal Street; 314-771-7200
"This is such a fun spot for breakfast," Nashan says of the Benton Park mainstay that is perpetually packed on the weekends. "I get a breakfast sandwich."
4. Gus' Pretzels
1820 Arsenal Street; 314-664-4010
"They have three different variations of a hot-dog wrapped in a pretzel," Nashan explains. "You can either get a hot dog, a bratwurst or a salsiccia, which is like a spicy hot dog. It's delicious. Once a month we get a whole bunch and bring them to Sidney Street and Peacemaker for everyone."
5. Blues City Deli
2438 McNair Avenue; 314-773-8225
"Vince [Valenza] is great — he's done such wonderful things for the neighborhood," Nashan says. "He's always so accommodating and the food is consistent. I like a lot of his stuff, but the pork sandwich on a pretzel roll is hard to beat. This place has been such an anchor for the neighborhood."
6. Melo's Pizzeria
2438 McNair Avenue (rear); 314-833-4489
In the garage tucked just behind Blue's City Deli sits its sister concept, Melo's Pizzeria. Nashan thinks the year-old spot is quickly becoming a destination for authentic Neapolitan pies: "This is a new joint, really tiny and fun."
7. Ernesto's Wine Bar
2730 McNair Avenue; 314-664-4511
"This cool little wine bar opened not long after Gerard [Craft] opened Niche," recalls Nashan. "It's a great place to go for a glass of wine."
8. Frazer's Restaurant & Lounge
1811 Pestalozzi Street; 314-773-8646
"They do a great job with the patio here," Nashan says. "I like to go there for a beer and a snack. It's really done wonderful things for the neighborhood."
9. Lona's Lil' Eats
2199 California Avenue; 314-925-1888
Though technically in Fox Park, Nashan can't leave out one of his favorite spots in the blocks surrounding Benton Park. "This place is phenomenal," he says of the tiny restaurant's unique Asian soul food. "I eat here at least once a week."
10. R. Ege Antiques
1304 Sidney Street; 314-773-8500
"It's not a restaurant, but can I add R. Ege antiques to the list?" Nashan asks. "It's a fantastic shop — really the best in town. I've gotten so much there for Peacemaker."
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