Photo by Roberto Rodriguez

La Vallesana

When I started planning the inaugural STL 100 in 2014, I assumed La Vallesana would be on it. Since 2003, Hilario Vargas’ taqueria had been the highlight of Cherokee Street’s strong roster of traditional Mexican restaurants. But my research visits felt off. Not terrible; just flat. Had the restaurant’s ambitious expansion — literally rebuilt from scratch into a much bigger space, with a menu that now included such non-Mexican fare as gyros — diminished it? I made it a point to come back to La Vallesana for this year’s list and found it back to its form, with excellent tacos and tortas, especially my longtime favorite here, the tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple). And La Vallesana’s ice cream and paletas (Mexican popsicles) are St. Louis treasures.

Last year's ranking: New

Opened: 2003

Must order: Taco al pastor ($1.99)