Special Issues » Restaurant Guide

RFT Readers' Favorite Restaurants in 2017

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Broadway Oyster Bar: readers' choice for best restaurant, best seafood and best Cajun/Creole. - PHOTO BY JON GITCHOFF
  • PHOTO BY JON GITCHOFF
  • Broadway Oyster Bar: readers' choice for best restaurant, best seafood and best Cajun/Creole.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT

SEAFOOD CAJUN/CREOLE

Broadway Oyster Bar

736 South Broadway, 314-621-8811

How beloved is Broadway Oyster Bar? Not only did it make our critic's list of "40 Restaurants We Love," but readers also voted it to the top of no less than three categories, including the big kahuna: best seafood, best Cajun/Creole and best restaurant. Phew! Here, you'll find marvelously quirky decor and live music seven nights a week. Broadway Oyster Bar first opened its doors more than 35 years ago, and recently underwent a renovation — it now boasts two patios that can be heated and covered in cold or rainy weather, all the better to handle the revelers and diners who regularly pack the place. It's a must-visit whether you're hungry for a taste of New Orleans or simply eager to let the good times roll. The seafood-heavy menu features Cajun and Creole dishes, including crab cakes, peel-and-eat shrimp, fried alligator, po' boys, fried crawfish tails, jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, and of course, oysters — fried, grilled and freshly shucked. Dining here isn't just a meal, it's an experience.

NEW RESTAURANT

Vista Ramen

2609 Cherokee Street, 314-797-8250

Unlike most chefs who've come to the ramen trend, Chris Bork didn't obsess over Japanese tradition. Sure, Bork studied the craft of ramen and familiarized himself with the original ways of doing things, but instead of trying to mimic, he took that knowledge as a jumping-off point for doing his own thing. It's why you'll see everything from the traditional-leaning Vista bowl to the Latin-inspired pozole — each one a celebration of the art of ramen. However, Bork's biggest departure from traditional ramen at Vista is the fact that the magnificent Cherokee Street restaurant he cooks for isn't a ramen shop at all. As good as the food in the bowls at Vista is, it's what Bork serves as small plates that's the most exciting part of dining here. Dishes lean Asian, but there are nods to everything from classical French to Mexican to the Mediterranean as well, sometimes on the same plate. His ability to combine flavors — 'nduja and orange marmalade; crab caramel; green curry and watermelon — results in tastes that are as intellectually stimulating as they are flavorful. Though he's at a restaurant where he could have been pigeonholed, Bork instead shows his full range as a chef. It's what makes Vista one of the most thrilling places to open in the last several years.

Kemoll's: readers' choice for most romantic. - COURTESY OF KEMOLL'S
  • COURTESY OF KEMOLL'S
  • Kemoll's: readers' choice for most romantic.

ROMANTIC RESTAURANT

Kemoll's

211 N. Broadway, 314-421-0555

For native St. Louisans, our relationship with the Arch is a lot like a marriage. Sure, there was a time when you looked at it lovingly, eager for a chance to get up close and personal. But over time, the novelty fades and you find yourself looking past it, confident in the knowledge that it's always going to be there. Then something shifts, and you suddenly find yourself looking at your love with fresh eyes. Maybe it's the elevator ride that takes you to Kemoll's dining room on the 40th floor of the Metropolitan Square Building that makes its grandeur smack you across the face. Maybe it's a porcelain dish of saffron and lobster risotto, or a platter of delectable fried artichoke hearts. Maybe it's the way the lights of downtown shine through the floor-to ceiling windows and dance across the polished glassware and elegant china. Whatever the reason, there's no chance you'll leave dinner at Kemoll's without falling in love with the icon of St. Louis' skyline — and in the process, with whomever is lucky enough to be dining with you, too.

CHINESE

Wonton King

8116 Olive Boulevard, University City; 314-567-9997

If you walk into a Chinese restaurant and hear Cantonese coming from a bunch of regulars, you know you've struck gold as far as the food is concerned. This is the scene at University City's Wonton King, as diners flock to the restaurant for its authentic Hong Kong-style cuisine. But even if this is your first time dining here, don't be shy. William Huynh and his wife Ling make sure that, whether you've been here twenty times or twice, you are welcomed like an honored guest in their home. Together, they ooze a hospitality that is typically associated with white-tablecloth restaurants — and they serve food that is deserving of such accolades as well. Huynh is a master of flavor, approaching his cuisine like a scientist. The results show in multi-layered dishes that reveal something new in each bite. Dim sum is a "must" here; what it lacks in breadth it makes up for in quality. And no one's Peking duck is better than Wonton King's — the bird is so large and plump, it will make you shake your head at anything else being passed off as such. The place is packed, and you'll often have to wait for a table during dim sum hours, but once you taste Huynh's delicious food, you'll understand why.

MIDDLE EASTERN

Ranoush

6501 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-726-6874

Forget the spare tables, bare walls and refrigerated display cases at many Middle Eastern spots around town. Our readers' choice for favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, Ranoush, isn't just a feast for the mouth, but also the eyes. Striking murals adorn the walls, ornate hookahs and tapestries lend an exotic air, and large windows face the street parade on Delmar — making it that rare spot where the view is as good as the food. And the food is quite good. Opened by Syrian immigrants in 2009, Ranoush has outlasted many Loop competitors by providing top-quality meze, or appetizers, and expertly grilled meats. The RFT's critic called the lamb shish kebab "a carnivore's dream," and that remains just as true today as eight years ago.

Cunetto House of Pasta: readers' choice for best Italian. - PHOTO BY ERIC FRAZIER
  • PHOTO BY ERIC FRAZIER
  • Cunetto House of Pasta: readers' choice for best Italian.

ITALIAN

Cunetto House of Pasta

5453 Magnolia Avenue, 314-781-1135

Visiting Cunetto House of Pasta on the Hill is a bit like stepping back in time; it hasn't changed much since opening in 1972. But there's comfort in knowing what to expect: a big St. Louis-style Italian salad, enormous portions of pasta swimming in flavorful sauces and hearty Italian entrees. Cunetto's traditional comfort foods are served in a traditional dining room — no Edison bulbs in faux-industrial chandeliers here. But you'll need to arrive early or be prepared to wait in the bar area where patrons are always packed like sardines. Despite — or maybe because of? — the lack of what's supposedly "hip" and "modern," people line up around the block for Cunetto's down-home Italian cuisine.

IRISH/ENGLISH/SCOTTISH

Scottish Arms

8 South Sarah Street, 314-535-0551

When you walk through the door of the Scottish Arms, you get the feeling you've left the Central West End behind and are entering, Narnia-style, a pub in the British Isles. Its interior features an ornate pressed tin ceiling and lots of dark wood, with a bar offering beers on tap from numerous Scottish, British and St. Louis breweries. The menu changes seasonally and features dishes made with ingredients from sustainable local farms, many that you can't find elsewhere in town, like Scotch eggs, haggis fritters, shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, and Cornish pasty. You can sample Scottish fare at brunch, too, with dishes like the "Highland Hangover" (Scotch egg, forfar bridies, smoked salmon and home fries). Of course, it wouldn't be a true pub without a cocktail and spirits menu, and the one here includes an enormous selection of whisky. It's no wonder that readers named it their favorite in St. Louis even in a crowded category.

INDIAN

Haveli

9720 Page Avenue, Overland; 314-423-7300

Years ago, the space now occupied by Haveli Indian Restaurant used to be a Shoney's. In fact, if you look at the floor in the center of the dining room, you can still see the outline of the old salad bar. These days, there is still an all-you-can-eat buffet, but rather than iceberg and ranch dressing, it's filled with some of the best Indian food you can get this side of Kolkata. Haveli hews to the standard Indian restaurant playbook with tandoori chicken and lamb, various curries and vindaloos, and vegan and vegetarian dishes, including channa masala and saag paneer. However, there is nothing ordinary about Haveli's flavors. Its chefs have the ability to play with aromatic spices that only comes with a mastery of Indian cooking. Dishes like vindaloo, so often filled with one-dimensional spice, are here a symphony of flavor thanks to their well-trained hands. As exciting as the food is at Haveli, readers also love the pleasant customer service, with servers who greet you as if you are a guest in their home. It's a breath of fresh air that fills this former chain burger joint.

LuLu's: readers' choice for best vegetarian. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • LuLu's: readers' choice for best vegetarian.

VEGETARIAN

Lulu's Local Eatery

3201 South Grand Avenue, 314-300-8215

Lulu's Local Eatery is many a St. Louis vegetarian's happy place. Much of their menu is vegan, and all of it is both vegetarian and delicious. Lulu's started as a food truck and expanded to a brick-and-mortar on South Grand in 2014. Owners Robert Tucker and Lauren Loomis work with local farmers to provide the highest quality, freshest ingredients to their customers. They're thoughtful of customers' dietary needs; soy-free and gluten-free items are noted on their menu. Inventive offerings include buffalo cauliflower bites, sweet potato falafel and bánh mì tacos. Wash it all down with a local craft beer under the string lights on the charming patio and see why readers named it their favorite vegetarian spot in the city.

THAI

King and I

3155 South Grand Avenue, 314-771-1777

Many think of King and I as St. Louis' essential Thai restaurant: It's been serving up flavorful dishes since 1980 and claims to be the city's first Thai restaurant. Located on South Grand, it features several dining rooms (both of which got a striking remodel in recent years) and a small carry-out area. The large menu showcases the cuisine of central Thailand, from curry to stir-fry to the requisite pad Thai. Signature dishes include Thai fajitas, the chef's special red curry duck and the four kings of Thailand: shrimp, beef, chicken and pork stir-fried in a medley of red bell peppers, onions and carrots, and glazed with a roasted chili sauce.

OUTDOOR DINING

John D. McGurk's

1200 Russell Boulevard, 314-776-8309

John D. McGurk's Irish Pub is popular for its Irish beers and music, and perhaps most of all for its sprawling patio. With two bars, wrought-iron tables, a charming fountain and even a small waterfall, the rustic brick-lined spot invites year-round drinking (to make that possible in this four-seasoned city, some areas are covered and heated when the weather calls for it). It's the perfect backdrop to enjoy the fine beer of Ireland, Guinness, and St. Louis classics like toasted ravioli — or fish and chips, if you prefer. Come join the party.

The Gramophone: readers' favorite fast-casual. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • The Gramophone: readers' favorite fast-casual.

FAST-CASUAL

The Gramophone

4243 Manchester Avenue, 314-531-5700

While simple in concept, the sandwich can be challenging to execute well. There's the meat-to-cheese ratio to consider. Condiments can easily swing from insignificant to overwhelming. Bread — the critical foundation of the entire enterprise — can be too tough, too thin or too boring. Fortunately, the folks at the Gramophone have sandwiches down. At this bar-turned-fast-casual-hangout, quality ingredients are perfectly proportioned, sauces and condiments are applied with a skilled hand, and the style of bread always suits the type of sandwich. But there's also a next-level artfulness to sandwich-making that's unlocked with every Gramophone creation. The condiments and spreads are inspired — we're talking red wine aioli, Cholula mayo and spicy jalapeño-cilantro sauce, to name just a few —and the variety and originality in these sandwiches makes them infinitely satisfying. Want chips on your sandwich, so you don't have to crunch on them separately? Done. Pescatarian or vegetarian? No problem. Interested in all of the meats? The Gramophone's got you covered there as well. Yummy soups and sides — and local brews — perfectly complete the menu.

GREEK/MEDITERRANEAN

Olympia Kebob House and Taverna

1543 McCausland Avenue, 314-781-1299

Many Greek restaurants have a celebratory vibe, what with the flaming cheese and the potent ouzo and all, but Olympia Kebob House and Taverna outshines every one of them. Cozy inside, with a great patio outside, this longtime St. Louis classic offers diners so much more than just crave-able fried kasseri — but, nevertheless, you should always treat yourself to this appetizer to start. From there, move on to Olympia's gyros, which are as fantastically filling as the burgers. (If you're having a hard time deciding between the two, try the gyro burger for a meat-stravaganza.) Greek staples like kebobs, dolmades, hummus and spanakopita also are reliably scrumptious, and the béchamel-covered pastitsio and moussaka elevate comfort food to nearly mythological levels. Opa!

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