Ian Froeb's STL 100 (2018 archive)

Lona's Lil Eats

With each visit to Lona’s Lil Eats, I grow more amazed at what Lona Luo has accomplished here. Under the cover of a fast-casual, order-by-number restaurant in residential Fox Park, she has hooked St. Louis diners on her delicious and deeply personal cooking, food that draws on the traditions of her native village in China’s Yunnan province. And her technique is impeccable: smoked beef brisket and turkey to rival any barbecue joint’s; an array of vibrant sauces; her ability to balance intense chile heat with natural flavors in sides such as the village bamboo stew and spicy eggplant. Luo lacks a sleek kitchen, a modern dining room and a glossy press kit. She steps past those trivialities to claim her place as one of St. Louis’ best chefs.

Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)

Last year's ranking: No. 23

Opened: 2014

Must order: Smoked brisket wrap ($11.75)