#1: Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts at Home

Ian Froeb
Roast chicken with potatoes and Brussels sprouts (and bacon) in my home kitchen
Blame Cracker.

My girlfriend and I were grad students at the University of Iowa when we came down to St. Louis to see the band play at Mississippi Nights. Something about the city grabbed us. The architecture. The different neighborhoods. The overall vibe as we explored the Central West End and South Grand, Soulard and the Loop.


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St. Louis

#2: The "Pork Duo" at Niche

Ian Froeb
The night I planned to propose to my girlfriend, I took her to dinner at Niche first. I was pretty sure she'd say yes, but I didn't want to leave anything to chance. That should tell you all you need to know about the esteem in which I hold Gerard Craft's restaurant.

I've dined at Niche many times since then, and I doubt the menu has been the same twice -- as is appropriate, given that Craft and his able crew follow both the seasons and their own whims.

As a general rule, though, I always look first to the current pork selection(s). Whether it's the pork shank pappardelle that first put the restaurant on the radar of Food & Wine magazine -- and which is back on the menu now -- or a St. Louis-convention-challenging fried pig's head, Niche knows how to prepare every last bit of a pig.

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#3: The Bread Pudding at Harvest

Kholood Eid
The bread pudding at Harvest
I've had many great meals at Harvest, both under the ownership of Steven Gontram, when Nick Miller was the executive chef, and more recently, with Miller as the owner and Brendan Noonan running the kitchen.

In fact, on my last visit, a few weeks ago, I had an amuse that was one of the better dishes I've eaten all year: a single raviolo filled with a quail egg and ricotta, topped with turkey-liver mousse, served over a grilled scallion in a garlic-chive butter.

Whatever I order at Harvest, I always, always conclude with the bread pudding. It's a legendary dish -- and deservedly so.

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#4: The Ribs at Pappy's Smokehouse

Ian Froeb
Half a slab of the ribs (with baked beans and sweet-potato fries) at Pappy's Smokehouse
I spent the past week stuck in my house with a sprained ankle. I hobbled around on crutches. I didn't eat very well. The most strenuous activity I undertook was opening a new browser window on my laptop.

Today, I was able to abandon the crutches for a sturdy and oh-so-discreet support stirrup. The first place -- the only place -- I wanted to eat once I was free to leave the house?

Pappy's Smokehouse.

That it was high time for the beloved barbecue joint's appearance on this list was just a happy coincidence.

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#5: The Applewood-Smoked Duck Breast at Sidney Street Café

Ian Froeb
The applewood-smoked duck at Sidney Street Café
Sidney Street Café owner and executive chef Kevin Nashan was a semifinalist in the "Best Chef: Midwest" category of this year's James Beard Awards. About damn time. Nashan -- the reigning Riverfront Times "Best Local Chef" -- is as deserving of national notice as any St. Louis chef. His passion for food and those who grow, raise and prepare it shines through during even the briefest conversation with him -- and is made manifest at the restaurant that he has run for the better part of a decade, a place where a seat at the bar for a meal by yourself (as a certain restaurant critic might have done recently) can become a special occasion.

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#6: Beef Tenderloin with Foie Gras and a Port Wine Demi-Glace at Tony's

Image via
Foie gras, one of the three key ingredient's in Tony's stellar dish
I have a nickname for this dish. It's profane and has no place in a discussion of a restaurant as classy as Tony's. Suffice to say, the nickname expresses in two succinct words what I imagine this dish would say, if it could, to every single trend-humping "composition" of lobster foam and tweezer-applied microgreens.

Let's just pretend those two words are, "I'm delicious!"

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#7: Dry-Aged Steak at Prime 1000

Jennifer Silverberg
A dry-aged New York strip steak at Prime 1000
I love steak. Steakhouses, not so much. The fussy atmosphere. The menu that hasn't changed since the restaurant opened. Paying à la carte for a freaking baked potato.

Sometimes, though, a steakhouse comes along that either reinvigorates the tired old formula through sheer quality -- the lamentably short-lived Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse at River City Casino, for example -- or by giving it a thoroughly modern makeover.

Prime 1000, from the attractive loft-district décor to the dry-aging chamber that you see almost as soon as you enter the restaurant, belongs to the latter category. Yet for all its contemporary touches, the steaks are still the star.

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#8: Tajadas con Queso at Fritanga

Ian Froeb
Tajadas con queso at Fritanga
You can order three different kinds of plantains at Fritanga, which has been dishing out terrific Nicaraguan food since 2007: tostones (fried twice), maduros (pan-fried, thick, sweet, very ripe) and tajadas (fried, thin, crisp, unripe). Of these, tajadas are my favorite, and my favorite way to enjoy them is an order of tajadas con queso.

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#9: Kumamoto Oysters at DeMun Oyster Bar

Jennifer Silverberg
Oysters on the half shell at DeMun Oyster Bar
DeMun Oyster Bar is an unexpected late entry in this list. Late because the restaurant opened near the end of last year. (My review appears only this week.) Unexpected for two reasons. First, because a raw oyster isn't really a "dish": there is no recipe, no cooking, no composition except for its arrangement atop a bed of ice.

Second, because if you'd asked me a couple of weeks ago if oysters would make this list, my response would have been, "Hell, no."

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#10: Tacos al Pastor at La Vallesana

Ian Froeb
Tacos al pastor at La Vallesana
Over the past few years, nothing on the St. Louis food scene has fascinated or delighted me as much as the growing number and popularity of taquerias. While of late my passion for tacos and tortas has brought me to the communities near the airport, my heart will always belong to Cherokee Street -- and, specifically, to the tacos al pastor at La Vallesana.

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