Ian Froeb’s STL 100 lists his picks for the top restaurants in St. Louis. Here, we highlight the taco joints and Mexican restaurants from that list.
El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery • Mexican, Tacos
A 20-year veteran of St. Louis kitchens, Fausto Pizarro had always wanted a restaurant of his own. His wife, Maggie, had always wanted her own shop. The couple realized their dreams together when they opened El Toluco Taqueria & Grocery in 2016 (store first, restaurant a few months later) in a shared space set back from the busy Manchester Road-Highway 141 interchange in Manchester. If no longer a “hidden” gem — among El Toluco’s plaudits, it’s now a four-time STL 100 honoree — the restaurant can still stagger even regular customers with the sheer size of its tortas, not to mention the vibrant flavors. (Each tops your choice of meat with both ham and queso de puerco and both queso fresco and Oaxaca cheese along with all the usual garnishes.) For the tortas and tacos alike, Pizarro and kitchen assistants Marcelo and Cruz Salazar dazzle with their takes on al pastor pork, lengua, lamb barbacoa and more.
📍 Where 14234 Manchester Road, Manchester • More info 636-686-5444; eltolucotaqueria.com • Hours 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday (restaurant closed Sunday-Monday; grocery store open Monday-Saturday) • Pricing $
The torta carnitas. Photo by Morgan Timms, Post-Dispatch
La Tejana Taqueria • Mexican
I have welcomed the recent popularity of birria tacos with beef, but the trend brought a bittersweet note. I have known only two area restaurants to serve the stew birria with goat — one of which closed during the pandemic, Pueblo Nuevo in Hazelwood. (The other is Tienda el Ranchito in Fairmont City.) Thankfully, the best goat soup in STL is still available. It isn’t birria: the consome de borrego at La Tejana Taqueria, a golden elixir of the meat’s rich, grassy, slightly funky flavor, garnished as you like with cilantro, onion, jalapeño and lime. It wasn’t soup weather when I finally made it back to Brenda and Rich Garcia’s Bridgeton gem. I didn’t care, and I also ordered tacos from La Tejana’s many appealing options (e.g., al pastor, cabeza). The Garcias have made their restaurant and related businesses into a community hub. They have also built a family legacy. Their son runs Locoz Tacos in Tower Grove South, where you’ll find the best carne asada tacos in town.
📍 Where 3149 North Lindbergh Boulevard, Bridgeton • More info 314-291-8500; latejanastl.com • Hours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $
Tacos al pastor. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch
Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience • Mexican
When Angel Jimenez-Gutiérrez and his mother, María Gutiérrez Molina, opened Malinche Mexican Culinary Experience in 2019 in Ellisville, they veered away from the format that defines most Mexican restaurants in St. Louis — even their own prior effort, the very good Señor Pique. Instead, they presented a selection of small plates, one of which might follow a question (what is the chimichanga, exactly?), another a family ritual (a stop at a subway tamale vendor on a trip out of Mexico City), all of them to irresistible ends. When I returned this year, Jimenez-Gutiérrez and Gutiérrez Molina had reinvigorated the menu with many newer dishes, each distinguished by vibrant flavors seamlessly brought together on the plate: molito verde, pieces of tender pork loin in a complex mole verde garnished with pepitas; campechanos, the restaurant’s signature beef arrachera (formerly served with bone marrow) with longaniza in a taco with both an inner corn-tortilla and outer griddled-cheese shell. Within its narrow shopping-plaza storefront, Malinche remains St. Louis’ most compelling Mexican restaurant.
📍 Where 15939 Manchester Road, Ellisville • More info 636-220-8514; malinchestl.com • Hours Dinner Monday-Saturday (closed Sunday) • Pricing $$
Del Trompo. Post-Dispatch photo
Nixta • Mexican
Ben Poremba’s Nixta has followed a fascinating, if not exactly linear, path from its late-2016 debut to today. Celebrated for its initial approach under Poremba and chef Tello Carreon — alongside effusive local praise, the Mexican restaurant was one of Bon Appétit’s 10 best restaurants in the country in 2017 — Nixta then took a detour to the Yucatán with chef Alex Henry before eventually winding back to something like its original form. Under Poremba and chef Juana Caballero, the kitchen sends out such signature dishes as chicken in mole negro, the octopus with salsa macha and spit-roasted tacos al pastor with pineapple folded confidently into single tortillas. On a recent visit, the highlight was a tostada with the gentle sweetness of fresh avocado and the initial bright pop and lingering oceanic sting of smoked trout roe. One consistent Nixta strength I haven’t given enough attention is the beverage program, which can even fashion a refreshing but elegant daiquiri from tequila.
📍 Where 1621 Tower Grove Avenue • More info 314-899-9000; bengelina.com/nixta • Hours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $$$
Smoked trout roe tostada. Photo by Ian Froeb, Post-Dispatch
Sureste • Mexican
Alex Henry first drew attention as the second executive chef of Ben Poremba’s Nixta. A native of Mérida, Mexico, Henry brought the cuisine of the Yucatán to that Mexican restaurant’s already acclaimed menu. Later, I noticed some Yucatecan touches during his time as executive chef of Cleveland-Heath, though he mainly kept that Edwardsville restaurant on its upscale-comfort-food track. In October 2021, Henry opened his debut restaurant inside the Food Hall at City Foundry: Sureste, a marvel of Yucatecan food and, as often as possible, locally sourced ingredients. Henry serves citrusy cochinita pibil, turkey in a smoky, earthy burnt-chile sauce, and other vibrantly flavored dishes in bowls with freshly made corn tortillas on the side (tacos guisado), or stuffed with the toasted baby lima bean and ground pepita dish toksel in a crispy Mayan-style fried roll (pibihua) or atop bean-filled tostadas (panuchos). Sureste also impresses with its seafood, especially ceviche and shrimp in a lime juice-based green aguachile as refreshing in its tartness as it is searing in its chile heat.
📍 Where Food Hall at City Foundry, 3730 Foundry Way • More info cityfoundrystl.com/directory/sur-este • Hours Lunch and dinner daily (closed Tuesday) • Pricing $
Ceviche. Photo by Michael B. Thomas
Tacos La Jefa • Mexican, Tacos
A portrait of Heriberta Amescua now overlooks the cramped back corner Tacos La Jefa occupies inside Urban Eats. Since September 2020, diners have thronged the Dutchtown food incubator for the weekend pop-ups featuring Amescua’s beef birria. They order it as a platter in takeout clamshells wobbly with the heft of meat, rice and beans. They order it especially as quesabirria, birria and cheese folded into a tortilla tinged the dusky sunset red of the consommé in which the beef is cooked. During the birria boom of recent years, the consommé served alongside the tacos is how you can separate keepers from pretenders, and Tacos La Jefa’s is the best in town, prickly with chiles and spices, so rich that it is somehow simultaneously velvety and sticky. Opening the pop-up was the next step toward Amescua’s dream of a restaurant. The native of Guadalajara, Mexico, had already cultivated a fanbase for her cooking at area Hispanic festivals and pop-up events in her own backyard. She died in April 2021, but under her portrait and in her spirit, her family works to continue her legacy.
📍 Where Urban Eats, 3301 Meramec Street • More info facebook.com/tacoslajefastl • Hours Lunch Saturday; check Facebook or instagram.com/tacoslajefastl for additional/changed services • Pricing $
Quesabirria tacos. Photo by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch
Taqueria Durango • Mexican, Tacos
When a fire gutted Taqueria Durango in early March 2020, St. Louis restaurants rallied around the Overland mainstay. Brian Hardesty of Guerrilla Street Food organized a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $14,000 for owners Miguel and Isadora Lopez. The arrival of COVID-19 scuttled plans for a follow-up fundraising event, but only months later, it was the Lopez family helping those in need, distributing donations outside their shuttered restaurant during the first pandemic summer. Both stories say more about Taqueria Durango’s importance to the community than anything a restaurant critic can offer. For what it’s worth, though, Taqueria Durango’s reopening in June 2021 inspired me to eat inside a restaurant for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. The menu has added the lately inescapable duo of quesabirria and consommé to such signature dishes as the wide variety of tacos, the chori pollo and the torta ahogada. The birria is welcome, but Taqueria Durango doesn’t need to follow trends to thrive. This is a restaurant built — and rebuilt — to last.
📍 Where 10238 Page Avenue, Overland • More info 314-429-1113; facebook.com/taqueriadurangosaintlouis • Hours Lunch and dinner daily • Pricing $-$$
Chori pollo, grilled chicken breast topped with Mexican sausage and cheese. Post-Dispatch photo
Terror Tacos • Mexican, Tacos, Tex-Mex, Vegan, Vegetarian
A mural inside Terror Tacos features what I described in my 2021 review as “the Grinch crossed with a jalapeño rising out of a taco that is also a nightmare sun.” I repeat myself here in part because words fail otherwise, in part because this mural kind of conveys the experience of eating at this Tower Grove South vegan Tex-Mex restaurant inspired by death metal, skateboarding and horror movies. Owner Brian Roash painted the mural. His brother and co-owner, Bradley Roach, is the chef. (They spell their last names differently.) The menu’s fourth-meal approach can be outrageous. Witness the Behemoth: a hard-shell taco wrapped in a bean- and (vegan) cheese-loaded soft tortilla, which is in turn wrapped in a pita with guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños. The food rocks without exception, Behemoth included, from housemade seitan that can play the role of birria, carne asada (the Carnage Asada burrito) or chorizo (the Citrus Mistress taco) to nachos smothered in chipotle “cheese,” a marvel made from pulverized oats.
📍 Where 3191 South Grand Boulevard • More info 314-290-9996; terrortacos.com • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday) • Pricing $
The Behemoth. Post-Dispatch photo
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