If there is one thing this terrible pandemic has taught us — besides the fact that our president* is a semi-sentient garbage fire — it's how much dining out means to us. A once joyful activity, the simple act of sitting in a restaurant and feeling the passion of those who bring the dining experience to life seems like a beautiful memory that we wonder whether we will get to relive.

Times are fraught, uncertain and downright sad in the world as a whole; the restaurant industry is at the center of such sentiment, having been impacted terribly since March by the COVID-19 outbreak. As such, it feels odd to celebrate anything, especially when balancing the notion of wanting to help an industry in serious trouble against the reality that, to curb the spread of this terrible virus, perhaps dining out is not the best thing to do.

This balance has guided our coverage of the St Louis food scene over the past seven-plus months, and it's in the front of our minds as we put together the 2020 Best of St. Louis Food and Drink. We've chosen to view this issue as a celebration of the bright spots in an otherwise dark time, and, happily, it wasn't hard to find them. However, for every winner, we asked ourselves a series of questions: Do we feel comfortable that the establishment is doing its best to navigate the health and safety challenges the pandemic presents for both its patrons and staff? Would we feel safe patronizing the winner? Do we think that the winner grasps the gravity of the current situation and understands the shifted dining landscape in such a way that it informs every decision they make?

There is a pall over this year's Best of St. Louis, for sure, but there's also a joy in watching the unbreakable spirits of each and every one of these winners as they refuse to give up, no matter how difficult the times. That we can still have such moments of joy courtesy of their dedication is the hope we need to get us through.

Cheryl Baehr