Welcome to EAT THIS CITY , your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
This week we are hopping on a replica paddlewheeler and cruising up the Mississippi River to take a look at an iconic 630-foot arch. Yep, that’s right, it’s time to check out the food scene in St. Louis, Missouri with David Choi, the founder of Seoul Taco, the food truck turned fast casual restaurant. There are brick-and-mortar locations in St. Louis; Columbia, MO; Champaign, IL; and Chicago. A fun fusion menu heavy on tacos, burritos, nachos, and gogi bowls is a hit with his customer base.
“Having the tie with young professionals and students alike, they’re looking for something fast and affordable, and we do both,” he says. “I know I’m not the first one to bring a Korean BBQ taco anywhere, but I really take pride in my recipes, and my family’s Korean barbecue, and I think we do it really well.”
Website Feast also appreciates what he is doing, calling Seoul Taco a must visit in St. Louis. The recipes, which Choi developed with inspiration from family, were called the best of each culture.
“I incorporated certain elements I like from my grandma and flavor profiles from my mom into my marinades, but the interpretation you get at Seoul Taco is really my own,” Choi says, adding with a laugh: “We each think ours is the best though.”
Now, let’s turn from that amazing kimchi fried rice to some other tasty culinary standouts in St. Louis. David Choi, lead the way!
My favorite pizza at Pastaria is the Salume Beddu Nduja – although all of them are really good. I love basically any kind of spicy food, and Pastaria gets it just right. The crust is a perfect balance of crispy and soft – I don’t like my pizza too bready. I want to focus on the delicious toppings. Not surprisingly, Pastaria is known for their organic pasta, of which they have a number of delicious dishes. You can’t really go wrong there.
Sometimes the best food comes from the most unassuming of spots. Pueblo Solis is located in a tiny strip mall, but they have some of the best tacos I’ve had in St. Louis. Their Mexican cuisine is authentic and spicy – just the way I like it. You can get four tacos along with rice and beans for only $10, which I think is a great deal. They also do a great chips and salsa and their margaritas are awesome.
Qui Tran has his hand in two different cuisines each executed just as good as if not better than anywhere else I’ve tried. His two concepts are Mai Lee, a Vietnamese and Chineese restaurant, and Nudo (a spin-off of the word noodle), which is a fast-casual Ramen and Pho shop. Whenever people ask me for recommendations of Asian food in St.Louis, I always suggest one of those spots. I am a big fan of pho, which Qui Tran does exquisitely. He also makes a calamari dish that is off the chain.
Surprisingly enough, St. Louis has the highest Bosnian population per capita in the United States. There is a food truck that is killing it with Bosnian cuisine: Balken Treat Box. She has a Wood-Fired Oven in the truck where she makes her own flatbread which she stuffs with wood-fired meat and ajvar, which is a spicy roasted red pepper relish. I love the contrast between the meat and spicy relish. It’s really delicious and unique.
I really love Nathaniel Reid’s bakery because of his extensive selection of treats. Basically, any kind of pasty you could think of, he makes. His macaroons are truly incredible, which is impressive given the challenge it is to make them. Chef Reid is an award-winning pastry chef and we are lucky to have him in St. Louis. Many of his pastries are European, but each one of them is unique.
James Beard award winner Kevin Nashan has one of the best restaurants in St. Louis: Sidney Street Café. It’s actually located in an old storefront, which they restored to a beautiful space. Everything I have eaten there is delicious. Sidney Street Café is definitely the best of the best of fine dining in St. Louis. Nashan also has a wildly popular Seafood Joint called the Peacemaker which has an amazing oyster bar!
Rick Lewis, former founder of Southern Hot Chicken, recently opened his new restaurant: Grace Meat + Three. You pick your smoked protein and 3 sides on a tray and you are good to go! His food is some of the best barbeque I have tried in my life. And that is saying something, because I think St. Louis’ BBQ is already some of the best in the business. Lewis is already known for his killer fried chicken and I had been having serious withdrawals of his cooking since his departure from Southern Hot Chicken. Watch out for the smoked turkey leg – I think that could be the fan favorite there.
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We’re all crushing hard on the new roasted carrot sandwich! 🥕 layered between our house baked focaccia bread with vegetable top pesto, spicy marinated arugula, and whipped goat cheese. Available on our lunch menu as a part of our pick any 2 for $11 or 3 for $14! #vegetablesandwich #eatyourveggies #powerfood #lunch
I love meat, so I don’t normally eat vegetarian meals, but I will always make an exception for Vicia. The menu is very veggie-forward, with a few non-vegetarian dishes. I have to say, Vicia has some of the best carrots I’ve ever had. They’re usually grilled in beef fat (but you can ask for the vegetarian version) and they are incredibly flavorful. The carrots are actually served as a family-style main dish, but I could probably eat the whole thing myself.
On those rare mornings where I don’t sleep late into the day, my go-to brunch spot is Half & Half. They have a really customizable menu with really great sweet and savory options. If I’m getting brunch, I’m going big, and Half & Half has these doughnuts that are to die for. They also have rotating specials, which they announce through social media.
Iconic Food of the City
Most people would say that the iconic food of St. Louis is barbeque, which I love, but when it comes to truly legendary restaurants, it has to be Gioia’s Deli. Gioia’s Deli has been around for almost 100 years and just won the 2017 James Beard America’s Classics award. The restaurant the oldest family-owned business in the rich historic Italian Neighborhood “The Hill”. They serve some of the best Italian sandwiches anyone can buy anywhere! I recommend the Porknado filled with hot salami, ham, bacon toasted on Garlic Cheese bread.
Odd Culinary Experience
Square1 Project is a pop-up from Logan Ely. He has 12 seats and does a tasting menu that is so well executed and equally tasteful. He focuses on using what is typically wasted and scraped in kitchens and incorporating them in his dishes. He is only open 2 days a week and you have to reserve your seat via Twitter or Instagram. He comes from having experience in being a part of some of the greatest kitchens in the country including Blue Hill NYC, Pass Provisions Houston and French Laundry. The dude really knows his stuff.
I’m a big drive-thru guy. I love being able to get a delicious meal without even having to leave my car. Yes, McDonald’s is definitely my favorite and most frequently-visited fast food spot. I think the Big Mac is so good that I almost don’t even feel guilty about eating it. I probably get fast food at least once a week. I love it.
It might be unusual, but after a crazy night I always crave Asian food. Mandarin House has all of the amazing Chinese dishes that I love in huge portions. There is no better hangover cure than a large order of lo mien or General Tso’s chicken.
Thank you, David Choi, for taking us on a culinary tour of St. Louis!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Napa Valley, Asheville, Charleston, Columbus, Kailua-Kona, Monterey, San Antonio, Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!