Lücha's Free-Spirited Take on Mexican Classics Struggles as Much as it Succeeds: Review

Asada taco (beef brisket with seared onion & salsa), Pescado taco (tempura style fish with a vinaigrette coleslaw and salsa verde), and Al Pastor taco (pulled pork, seared pineapple, Guajillo and Ancho chiles). | Jennifer Silverberg

(522 North Grand Boulevard; 314-833-9993)
11-1 a.m. Tues.-Sun. (Closed Mon.)

Owners Hugo Perez and Brian Schmitz have wanted to open a place like Lücha for years, but were always hesitant -- how would St. Louis restaurantgoers receive a Mexican restaurant that deviates from the typical rice-and-bean-platter model? When the Kota Wood Fire Grill space came available, the veteran business partners (previous ventures include the Grind and Sol) decided it was time to push diners beyond generic Mexican food and celebrate the authentic flavors and dishes of Perez's hometown, Mexico City.

Lücha, which means "struggle" in Spanish, bills itself as a "Mexican soul food" restaurant, though it's more contemporary in its styling than the name would suggest. As Schmitz explains, the goal is to take traditional dishes and update them using modern cooking techniques. Think Abuela's time-honored recipes meet a Cryovac machine.

See also: A Look Inside Lucha's New Mexican Soul Food Restaurant in Midtown

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Pimped Out Pickles Has Two New Locations and Two Holiday-Appropriate Pickle Flavors To Try

Categories: Eat This?!

Jessica Lussenhop
Owner Michelle Turner Latchison.

Last winter, St. Louis was introduced to Pimped Out Pickles, a one-of-a-kind picklery on Martin Luther King Drive that offered 60 different flavors, including hot-and-sweet, pineapple and even more exotic varieties like "Pimpjuice." But after four short months in business, owner and master pickler Michelle Latchison Turner had to close her doors. So she returned to her old tried-and-true sales method -- vending from a table.

That changed once again about two months ago, when Latchison and her sons were able to open not just one, but two new locations of Pimped Out Pickles: the first at 3109 Vandeventer Avenue and the second at 4213 Delmar Boulevard.

"We're trying to go national now," says Latchison, seated in the spacious commercial kitchen of the Delmar location.

See also: Pimped Out Pickles, Home of the "Haterade" and "Pimpjuice" Pickle, Open for Business

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The 10 Best Food Instagrams in St. Louis This Week: December 9 to 16

Categories: Food Porn

Raspberry Hanukkah Bismarcks from Vincent Van Doughnut. | Instagram/@vincentvandoughnut

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Instagram was practically made for pictures of food. Gut Check has rounded up our favorite foodie accounts in St. Louis, but there are so many cool photos every week, we wanted to share what St. Louis' best chefs, bartenders and eaters are Instagramming. If you see a good one, send it to us!

See also: The 10 Best Food Instagrams in St. Louis This Week: December 3 to 9

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Balaban's Wine Dinner Features Caymus Wines

Categories: Wine

Hawaiian big-eye tuna and diver scallop crudo with mango avocado relish and Meyer lemon balsamic vinaigrette, which was paired with the 2013 Conundrum White. | Nancy Stiles

Balaban's (1772 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield; 636-449-6700) is, of course, known for its wines, so it's pretty exciting when chef D. Scott Phillips creates a menu around the pairings. Often for wine dinners, the distributor comes in with the wines and the chef is forced to pair as best he can. For dinners like the one last weekend, which features Caymus Vinyeards wines, Phillips has a large selection of wines and can create something that is a true pairing. Warning: Delicious photos ahead.

See also: Chef Chat: D. Scott Phillips Is Balaban's Resident Artist

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Happy Hour at the King & I: Asian-Inspired Appetizers and More on South Grand

"Fresh rolls" at the King & I. | Photos by Mabel Suen
The Place: The King & I (3157 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-1777)

The Hours: Happy hour is offered Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m.

The Deals: Pick-two $5 or $8 appetizer combinations. "Happy hour for two" dinner packages are also available that include two drinks and two dinner items for $30-$35. Daily drink specials vary by day including $6 martinis, $5 signature cocktails, $2.50-$3.75 beer specials and $5-$8 sake specials.

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The Living Room Opens December 16 in Maplewood

The former Black Cat space. | Google Street View

The Living Room (2808 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-306-7626), a small-batch coffee roaster, opens its doors in the former Black Cat Theatre today. Art House Coffees started roasting out of yes, an art studio, about four years ago, but this time the focus will be on the coffee.

See also: The Living Room and Art House Coffees to Take Over Black Cat Theatre

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Walnut Grill Now Open in Ellisville

Walnut Grill is now open in the right side of the former Chevy's space. | Google Street View

Walnut Grill (1386 Clarkson/Clayton Center, Ellisville; 636-220-1717) is now open. The Pittsburgh-based restaurant filled the other half of the former Chevy's space; the other side is the Crafty Chameleon. Though it's technically a chain with four Pittsburgh-area locations, owner Eric Vogel has expanded his brother Kirk's original restaurant to St. Louis.

See also:

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Banter and Cocktails at the Gin Room

Categories: Booze

Travis Garner and Natasha Bahrami. | Courtesy of the Gin Room

The Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, is a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He's an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn't think those last two terms contradict each other.

Cocktail-mixing competitions have been popping up lately. They bring talented mixologists from some of St. Louis' best bars together to see who can come up with the best new drinks. Natasha Bahrami has started an event at the Gin Room at Café Natasha (3200 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-3411) to highlight St. Louis cocktail talent in a playful context. It's called Bartender Banter. "The concept behind the Bartender Banter series is to highlight the amazing talent in St. Louis, not from the bar they are working at, but independently to showcase the art and personality of each of these talented and rising bartenders and giving them a platform to creatively showcase their skills without restrictions," Bahrami explains.

See also: Learn to Make Tonic Water at Home at Natasha Bahrami's Gin Room

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Pie Oh My's Pumpkin-Maple Pecan Pie: A Slice of the Holiday Season

Categories: Sugar High

Welcome to Sugar High, a series devoted solely to spotlighting the best ways to sate a sweet tooth in St. Louis. We'll sample the best the city has to offer at restaurants, bakeries and holes-in-the-wall, and provide some insight on how these confections are made along the way.

Pie Oh My's pumpkin-maple pecan pie. | Photos by Mabel Suen
It's no surprise that the holidays are the busiest time of the year for shops like Pie Oh My (2719 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-704-4416). For Thanksgiving, owner Jane Callahan and her hardworking staff baked a total of 600 pies for special orders. For Christmas, Callahan came up with even more seasonal twists on her specialty pastries for folks to take home. In addition to traditional options -- including apple and chocolate-bourbon pecan -- pie lovers can find eggnog cream, cranberry cream cheese, and perhaps the most quintessential flavor combination of all: pumpkin-maple pecan pie.

See also: First Look: Pie Oh My

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The Best Food Events in St. Louis This Week: December 15 to 18

Categories: Events

All the cookies, please. | Matthias Rhomberg

Red alert: you've only got one more week to get your Christmas shopping done. But if you're looking to take a break and relax, there are several opportunities. There are many cooking classes going on this week, too, if you're looking to hone your skills before the relatives come to town. Continue on for our weekly recommendations.

See also: 5 More Local Holiday Gifts for the St. Louis Foodie

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