yaki ika (grilled squid) at sushi koi photo by david kovaluk

Nippon Tei chef Nick Bognar shares his 6 favorite St. Louis restaurants

Nick Bognar grew up working at his mother Ann Bognar’s restaurants, Nippon Tei and Tei Too, but eventually, he wanted to try his luck elsewhere. Bognar “polished off some of the rough edges” at Uchiko in Austin, then headed to Cincinnati, where he worked at Kaze, then the acclaimed E&O Kitchen as head sushi chef. After his mom saw what he was creating for other restaurants, she asked him to come home to Nippon Tei last year. 

nippon tei chef nick bognar // photo by david kovaluk

When he gets the chance to get out of the kitchen, Bognar is pretty particular about where he goes. “Good value is really important when it comes to restaurants,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be amazingly creative or original, as long as I can get a variety of things I can’t do at my house.”

1. Rice Thai Bistro
“It’s a tiny Thai place run by my aunt and uncle, Nina and Bryan Prapaisilpa,” said Bognar of this micro joint on the border of Ballwin. “It’s a two-person operation, but they’re making the best true-to-Thai food around.” His go-to order? The rad na, a noodle dish with slow-cooked beef and veggies.
14536 Manchester Road, Winchester, 636.220.1777, ricethaibistro.com

lengua tacos from el toluco taqueria & grocery // david kovaluk

2. El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery
Cherokee Street doesn’t have the authentic taco market cornered. “We have some pretty great taco shops in town, but this one stands up to any of them,” Bognar said. “They’re probably the best tacos in the county.” He recommends the lengua tacos or the massive tortas for those who are more than a bit peckish.
14234 Manchester Road, Manchester, 636.686.5444, Facebook: El Toluco Taqueria

3. Local Chef Kitchen*
Bognar particularly admires chef-owner Rob Uyemura’s locavore focus at this small West County eatery. “What he’s doing is so cool,” Bognar said. “Almost everything is local and sustainable. It’s a special place.” Because the menu changes so frequently, he puts himself in Uyemura’s hands when he visits. “I just ask Rob to make me food.”
15270 Manchester Road, Ballwin, 636.220.3212, Facebook: Local Chef Kitchen

4. Sauce On The Side 
Bognar hits The Grove location of this local calzone chain almost every week since it’s close to his home base. His calzone of choice is the Gonzo, a beast stuffed full of salami, dates, spinach and a trio of cheeses. “It always curbs my cravings.” 
4261 Manchester Blvd., St. Louis, 314.932.7800, sauceontheside.com

sushi koi // photo by david kovaluk

5. Sushi Koi 
“People always ask me where I go for sushi,” Bognar said. “This is it.” Continuing to keep it in the family, the CWE staple is run by Bognar’s aunt, Whitney Yoon. “They’re doing some kick-ass sushi here.” Additionally, Bognar said he’s partial to the yaki ika (grilled squid) on the hot apps list. 
4 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.367.2209, sushikoistl.com

6. Louie
“There’s such great value there, and everything is super tasty,” Bognar said. “I haven’t had a bad experience, and I just keep going back. You can tell they’re doing everything themselves, every day.” He’s especially fond of the pasta courses. “I just order all of the pastas on the menu when I go, and I have to get the plate of prosciutto. It’s insanely delicious and massive.”
706 Demun Ave., Clayton, 314.300.8188, louiedemun.com

Nippon Tei, 14025 Manchester Road, Ballwin, 636.386.8999, nippon.teistl.com

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

*Editor's Note: Rob Uyemura passed away on Feb. 12, 2020. Local Chef Kitchen remains open in Ballwin.