Congratulations are in order! Levant, Medina Mediterranean Grill, Mission Taco Joint and Yellowbelly all made St. Louis Restaurant Critic Ian Froeb’s list of The Best Restaurants in St. Louis Right Now.
Now in its 5th year, the “STL 100” recognizes the 100 Best Restaurants in St. Louis.
St. Louis doesn’t lack for very good Syrian and, more broadly, very good Levantine restaurants. Ahmad Hameed’s own brother runs one of them, Ranoush in the Delmar Loop. Still, Hameed saw an opening for something different. At Levant, which took over the iconic Kopperman’s space in the Central West End last year, Levant serves the food he ate while growing up in Damascus: dawood basha, meatballs in a garlicky tomato sauce; bameh, an okra stew with beef; smoky freekeh with beef or chicken and a tart yogurt sauce. Those seeking more familiar fare — hummus, falafel, kebabs — will also be impressed. Hameed, whose culinary career includes time at a seven-star hotel in Abu Dhabi, is a chef with serious chops.Ian Froeb
Ibrahim Ead’s Medina Mediterranean Grill embodies some of the most important trends in contemporary dining. It’s a locally owned fast-casual operation. Its menu doesn’t sprawl but focuses on doing one dish — shawarma, beef and chicken — exceptionally well. And its menu also reflects Ead’s own experiences, growing up both here in St. Louis and in the Palestinian territories, with sandwiches such as the Summer in Dubai, a mashup of shawarma, chipotle-tahini sauce and pepper jack cheese. When Medina joined the STL 100 in 2016, I wrote it might be the “restaurant of the future.” The future is now — and here.Ian Froeb
Adam and Jason Tilford’s Mission Taco Joint continues its growth, with four locations in the St. Louis area and two outposts in Kansas City. The key to Mission’s success has been, first and foremost, the Tilfords’ appreciation of and respect for Mexican cuisine, as also displayed at their previous ventures Tortillaria and Milagro Modern Mexican. Specific to Mission, though, is the Tilfords’ personal connection to the food: This isn’t straight-up Mexican fare, but Mexican food as seen through the Tilfords’ native California. The food can both honor traditional recipes (the torta ahogada, the Yucatecan roasted pork) and not take itself too seriously (the Brah’rito, with carne asada, black beans and cheese as well as bacon and fries inside the burrito).Ian Froeb
The new seafood restaurant from Retreat Gastropub’s Travis Howard and Tim Wiggins in partnership with “Top Chef” alum Richard Blais was my most ambivalent dining experience of 2018. The Instagram-bait decor and such visually striking but functionally flawed dishes as a 2-pound hunk of tuna meat-glued to a beef bone pointed to the most tiresome of contemporary trends. But the brilliant flavors of the best dishes overseen by executive chef Kate Wagoner (raw oysters with frozen “pearls” of cocktail sauce; the Wu Tang Clams in a briny, spicy broth) paired with Wiggins’ rum-focused cocktails outshone the safer fare at many of last year’s other debuts. With my memories of these flavors still vivid, and knowing the standard for hospitality Howard established at Retreat and continues here, I’m bullish on Yellowbelly.Ian Froeb