Photo by Roberto Rodriguez



I struggled to decide where Público should rank in this list. Yes, Mike Randolph’s self-styled Latin-American-inspired cantina was, by far, the best restaurant to open in St. Louis last year, and it was a semifinalist for best new restaurant nationwide at this year’s James Beard Awards. But it’s not yet 1 year old as I write this, and the always restless Randolph is still tinkering with his approach, pushing Público in new directions. I hesitate to mention dishes that I love — the sweetbreads with pineapple and habanero, the hidago arepa, the pescado blanco taco — in case they vanish from the menu. But just now, as I wrote “pushing Público in new directions,” I remembered again just how important this restaurant is. It’s the capstone for one of St. Louis’ most talented chefs, who after opening the Good Pie in 2008 brimmed with ideas but couldn’t find the right vehicle for them. It marries his ambition, intellect and playfulness to hearth-fired soulfulness. Randolph’s cooking here is dynamic, borderless and personal, and it comes at a time when the St. Louis restaurant scene, while as strong overall as it’s ever been, has retreated to a position of safety — of comfort food and fast-casual, barbecue and fried chicken. Público isn’t safe. It is vital. It belongs right here.

Last year's ranking: New

Opened: 2015

Must order: Higado arepa ($10)