Ian Froeb's STL 100

Lona's Lil Eats

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Through the past decade and into the new one, chefs have been reckoning with the ascent of fast-casual dining and the demand for more casual dining in general. At Lona's Lil Eats, Lona Luo has not only embraced the fast-casual model but also turned it to her advantage. Her menu gives diners an illusion of control. You can build your own version of Lona's signature rice-paper wraps or choose from the menu of pre-selected options. (My play is No. 10, with Luo's masterful smoked brisket and fiery sesame sauce.) Whatever you choose, you must engage with Luo's cooking, which draws on the unique ingredients and traditions (Chinese, Thai and more) of her native hill-tribe community in China's Yunnan province. As smart as the fast-casual model is for Lona's, I recommend sometimes lingering over a bowl of Luo's Hill Tribe Soup and a cup of tea from Luo's deeply personal selection sourced from friends and family. Together they are a tonic.

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

Last year's ranking: No. 15

Opened: 2014

Many St. Louis-area restaurants are closed or limiting their dining options during the coronavirus pandemic.