Twice in short order last year, Nick Bognar blew my mind with a piece of salmon toro, the fish’s fatty belly meat. The first piece, brushed with nikiri (sweet soy sauce) and topped with grated wasabi root, was like butter churned from the essence of the ocean. The second, briefly torched and garnished with lemon zest, was as luscious as medium-rare rib-eye. I could list additional revelatory pieces of nigiri sushi Bognar has served at Nippon Tei, but these blurbs can be only so long. Over the past year, the 27-year-old Bognar has taken the reins of the restaurant his mother, Ann Bognar, founded in 2001, and his dedication to quality product, proper aging and inspired accents has made Nippon Tei St. Louis’ most exciting sushi restaurant — and one of its most exciting restaurants, period. You can splurge here (especially when Bognar hosts one of his ticketed Omakase dinners), but he also offers the day’s five best pieces of nigiri sushi for $18.
Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)
Last year's ranking: New this year