margherita pizza from noto photo by greg rannells

St. Louis' Best New Restaurants of 2020

The Best New Restaurants list is traditionally the subject of months of impassioned argument at Sauce Magazine. Each of us enters the process with our own sense of which restaurants are best, but after spending countless weeks sharing meals and debating feverishly, we compile a ranked list we all agree on.

As per usual, our debates this year revolved around which restaurants most effectively executed an ambitious menu, which provided the most graceful service, which spots we couldn’t wait to return to. But this year also brought new philosophical issues that we’d never dealt with before, like how to safely undertake this process and how to measure what success looks like in an industry where it feels like simply remaining open for service deserves the highest accolades. More than anything, we wondered, what does going out to eat mean in 2020?

When the Cares Act passed in March, it offered temporary relief, but it did not save St. Louis restaurants. With the $120 billion Restaurants Act stalled in the Senate, it is hard to predict when relief will reach the hands of St. Louis’ independent hospitality community. Meanwhile, as Covid-19 cases surged this fall, local governments issued further mandates to restaurants limiting hours and modes of service.

In our ongoing coronavirus coverage, we’ve asked restaurant owners and employees to share their hardships with readers. Some are fed up with following the rules, some are doing everything they can to adapt and survive, and some have closed permanently. But all of them have tried to do their best, as have we. And in contemplating our own role in covering the St. Louis dining sphere in 2020, the highest service we feel we can offer is to continue doing what we’ve always done: serving our readership with honest recommendations about restaurants we believe you will love.

Some restaurants were long awaited, like Tempus, while others were newcomers to the scene, like Love At First Bite. What all 10 have in common is that they make delicious food that is meaningful, memorable and leaves us hungry for more. It feels right to celebrate them and share them with you, our readers. We hope you enjoy.

No. 1 The Lucky Accomplice

Chef Logan Ely has figured out how to take dishes we know and elevate them to a highly ambitious place that barely feels like fine dining. The Lucky Accomplice, our Best New Restaurant of 2020, is sophisticated but approachable. This restaurant offers seriously creative food and drinks that could only have come from this team, at this restaurant, in this moment. 

No. 2 Noto Italian Restaurant

In St. Peters, on the side of what feels like a highway, lies Noto Italian Restaurant, the hidden gem of the Best New Restaurants list. When you try the food, you can feel that this family operation has harnessed something special, making it a restaurant you cannot help but return to. 

No. 3 Perennial on Lockwood

By partnering with the teams behind Olive + Oak and Perennial Artisan Ales in a beautiful new space in downtown Webster Groves, Perennial on Lockwood has taken the best of both brands and produced a formidable new identity: an inviting, modern brewpub full of magical food and dapper charm. 

No. 4 Chiang Mai

There are no trendy cocktails, slickly designed dining spaces or “innovated” fusion menu items at Chiang Mai, the building blocks you might pessimistically assume make up these end-of-year best-of lists. Its strength is skillfully prepared northern Thai cuisine that isn’t interested in compromising itself to be easy – and we’re ready to learn.

No. 5 Nomad

While the pastrami is the standout item, it’s hardly the only great thing at Nomad. Chef Tommy Andrew’s well-rounded menu balances reliable excellence with surprising pops of creativity and innovation.

No. 6 Winslow's Table

What’s ultimately so impressive about Winslow’s Table is how it succeeds in honoring the Winslow’s Home tradition and culture while bringing just the right number of fresh ideas into the mix. Between its dynamic menu, awesome produce and prepared foods market, and fantastic pastry program, this concept is a slam dunk by any standard. 

No. 7 Lazy Tiger

Lazy Tiger may be small in stature but everything about it, from decor to flavor, is styled for maximal effect. That the experience is so cohesive is a testament to an ownership with razor sharp vision and a staff skillful enough to wrangle many strong pieces into a harmonious whole.

No. 8 Tempus

Led by James Beard nominated chef-operator Ben Grupe, Tempus is a serious restaurant full of radiant ideas, surgical execution and, most importantly, delicious food. 

No. 9 Original J's

When Mike and Liz Randolph opened Original J’s last November, diners found many of the flavors Mike first explored at his high-concept, pan-Latin restaurant Publico applied to fit a Tex-Mex-meets-barbecue theme. The menu is constantly evolving, whether because they’re adapting or just experimenting. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next. 

No. 10 Love at First Bite

After a career of cooking in other people’s kitchens, Love at First Bite’s executive chef and co-owner Jason Lamont is putting his twist on dishes we love. Nestled behind a modest storefront on an unassuming block of St. Charles Rock Road, Love at First Bite is the kind of place you root for, the kind of place that wants to make a small corner in St. Louis its very own by doing something that’s uniquely itself. Try it and you’ll find, like us, that you love it at first bite. 

Read more about our Best New Restaurants in the December issue.