John Perkins’ Juniper has matured from a pop-up concept called A Good Man Is Hard to Find into one of St. Louis’ most consistently excellent restaurants. Perkins has not blindly followed the craze for Southern cuisine that has gripped the restaurant industry in recent years. Instead, he’s thoughtfully explored its many traditions, from the expected favorites (fried chicken, shrimp and grits) to such lesser-known regional specialties as tamales from the Mississippi Delta. The touches of a thoughtful, creative chef aren’t showy, but they are vital to Juniper’s success: the use of nearly forgotten, newly resurgent traditional ingredients like benne seeds; global flourishes like the fish-sauce caramel with the chicken-and-waffles appetizer. Juniper is the sort of restaurant where, even if you don’t intend to share plates, you end up passing everything around anyway — though if you kept the entire basket of four different breads to yourself, I wouldn’t blame you.
Hours: Dinner Monday-Saturday
Last year's ranking: No. 14
Must order: Shrimp-n-Grits ($23)