Mom-and-Pop Shops Still Exist
You don't need to dine at a chain! Hannah shows you the great independently-owned restaurants in STL
October 4, 2017
If you are like me, a broke high school student, eating out is a rare occurrence. But when I do make the choice to sacrifice my gas money for a needed food outing with friends, I prefer to eat at family-owned restaurants.
While Mom-and-Pop Shops dwindle, I believe they offer the best food, service, and ambiance. At a local restaurant, your experience is unique to you; if you go to a chain, thousands of people across the country have just had your identical meal.
Besides the nature of the restaurant, eating at family owned businesses supports the local community. Mom-and-Pop Shops pay taxes that benefit local schools and programs. They are more willing to donate to charity organizations and host events. Several family-owned restaurants have even hosted events at South. Going to Olive Garden supports the corporate office in Orlando, Florida while going to a local restuarants supports the community of St. Louis.
Monsoon Vietnamese Bistro
Few restaurants lure people from the streets by smell alone. That being said, one of the iconic neon signs “Free Smells” displayed in nearly every Jimmy Johns needs to find a new home at Monsoon Vietnamese Bistro. The smell was so powerful that I noticed it even before my mom turned off the car.
Indicative of Mom-and-Pop shops, the inside was scattered with small tables and chairs. The family in front of us must have been regulars; they chatted familiarly with the host/waiter. My mom and I were starving, and the gnawing in our stomachs only grew with the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen.
We ordered shrimp spring rolls, $5, as a starter. Unlike the fo-Asian buffets that serve deep-fried rolls most people imagine, these spring rolls were fresh and crisp. Wrapped in thin rice-paper, the ingredients (shrimp, mint leaves, thai basil, noodles) were clearly visible. The dish included a thick soy-base sauce, great for dipping.
Entree selection was harder. Despite my well-educated palate, there were many things on the menu I had never eaten before. My mom chose a traditionally filled Vietnamese crepe, $12. Per the menu, Vietnamese crepes include a sizzling exterior with, “bean sprouts and onions served with lettuce, mints, and pickled carrot with lime sauce.” The meat filing was whole shrimp and sliced pork. The exterior was not a regular pancake-like dough that I was expecting; instead, the dough was thick, airy, and rich with onions cooked in. When dipped into a sweet garlic sauce, the crepe was phenomenal.
I chose a soup called Pho, a traditional Vietnamese broth, $10. Pho is an experience along with being a dish. A bowl of broth filled with thinly sliced meat (I chose beef), noodles, and green onions was brought to the table along with a plate of bean sprouts, mint, thai basil, cilantro, and jalapenos. A thick soy-base sauce and a chunky hot sauce is also provided. When you get all the components of the dish, you are suppose to add the raw vegetables and herbs into the steamy bowl of broth. Upon my first bite, I immediately knew where the amazing smell of the restaurant originated from, the broth. Simultaneously the flavors of cloves, star anise, and cinnamon stood out against the unmistakable savory bite of the beef. That one bowl of soup was one of the best dishes I have eaten in my entire life.
Without much resistance, my mom and I agreed to order dessert. The dessert of the day was “the most authentic Vietnamese dish on the menu,” according to our waiter. Named Bánh khoai mì, this dish was made with grated cassava (a flavorful root resembling ginger), coconut milk, and sugar. The texture was totally unexpected, thick and chewy and smooth. My mom said it reminded her of solid pudding. The cake was extremely different from American desserts. A lower sugar content allowed the flavors of cassava and coconut to be more prominent. I enjoyed the dish and recommend it to anyone wanting to try something completely different from normal American desserts.
Located across the street from Walmart at 14248 Manchester Rd #A, Ballwin, MO 63011, Monsoon Vietnamese Bistro is a must-visit for any food loving human. The restaurant easily became one of my mom and my favorites. We will definitely be going again.
Have you ever eaten Beef Stroganoff? Many people who have are under the false impression that it is an American dish, but in reality Beef Stroganoff is a staple of Russian cuisine.
Some people may be surprised to hear that a Russian restaurant exists in the St. Louis Area. Astoria Kabob House, located at 12949 Olive Arcade Plaza off Fee Road near the Happy China, is one of the only Russian restaurants in our area. The owner said that she opened Astoria to maintain Russian culture in St. Louis.
Last summer, my uncle got married to a woman who emigrated from Russia when she was sixteen. Their traditional Russian wedding reception was held at Astoria. Ever since the reception, I have been wanting to go back.
I made this trip with my parents and recurring foodie friend Emma. The service was excellent; our waitress was extremely knowledgeable about all of the menu options, and she was exceptionally friendly. We started off dinner with an appetizer called Pelmeni which are beef dumplings with dill served with sour cream. The dumplings were small and chewy and mouthwateringly delicious. Emma and I order beef stroganoff as our entrees. The dish looked different then I was expecting; the pasta was angel hair, the sauce was thick and dark, and the piece of beef were large yet cooked perfectly. Even though the dish was very rich and slightly too greasy, they flavors were exceptional and I ate the whole thing. My mom ordered cabbage rolls that were leaves of cabbage stuffed with beef and rice. The rolls were soft and the rice was a nice texture contrast to the steamed cabbage. My dad ordered a dish called Chicken Kiev which we learned from our waitress is the most iconic Russian dish. It was a fried chicken breast stuffed with a butter, dill filling. Dill is a heavily used spice in Russian cuisine. The herb made the chicken light despite the fried exterior and the chicken was completemented by roasted potatoes.
Astoria is a prime example of a well run family-owned business and I recommend it to everyone looking for a different kind of restaurant for a night out.
There are dozens of Thai restaurants in the St. Louis County area. It can be impossible to choose which place would be the best to eat at, but I have just made your decision really easy: Manee Thai.
Located at 481 Lafayette Center off Manchester and Baxter near the Dierbergs, Manee Thai looks like any Thai restaurant from the outside. But when you walk in, the artwork and lighting make the environment different, fun, and authentic. All of the servers are extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the food they serve. When I ate at Manee Thai my server’s name was Neon, and her name along with her quality of service, made her instantly likeable.
I decided to order Massaman Curry and a side of Roti, and my foodie friend Emma from Kirkwood High School ordered Tom Kah and a side of spring rolls. My meal was 15 dollars and Emma’s was 10 dollars. Massaman curry is a relatively mild Thai dish made with chicken or beef, potatoes, onions, and a fish sauce curry paste over rice. The potatoes and onions absorbed all the flavor of the curry, and every bite was hearty and rich. Tom Kah is a spicy and sour coconut soup served with chicken or tofu. The soup is made with ginger, lemongrass, mushrooms, lime, basil, and cilantro. Emma’s bowl of soup was steamy and spicy but extremely refreshing. The food was so delicious neither of us had any leftovers.
Tanee Meeboon, the owner of Manee Thai, opened the restaurant with his wife and brother-in-law in 2009. His youngest daughter is a graduate of South High. He said that his family worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade before they decided to open their own restaurant.
“We faced many challenges as a family owned business due to the management of employees, which also includes our son and daughter. We work together and function as a team, but to create that type of environment, it took a while before everything fell into place. I’ve also learned that flexibility and caring for employees personally improves the work environment and morale of the restaurant,” said Meeboon.
I love Mexican food. During Spring Break freshman year, I went on a mission trip to El Paso, TX, a city right on the U.S. Mexico border, with my church. While we were there, we built a house for woman and her son’s family. Everyday we were at the worksite, she provided us with authentic Mexican meals. They were some of the best meals I have ever eaten.
My experience in El Paso has made me a picky Mexican food consumer. I rarely go to Mexican restaurants because finding authentic cuisine can be to do in St. Louis, Missouri. However, at my last family outing, we went to Azteca Mexican restaurant, located at 34 Western Plaza off Gravois Road by Swing-A-Round Fun Town and Sky Zone Trampoline Park. The inside is bright and colorful, and we were immediately seated.
Our waitress brought us tortilla chips and salsa which was surprisingly spicy. Entrees arrived incredibly soon after we ordered. My entree was called Enchiladas Azteca, a $12 dish including three shrimp Enchiladas, Spanish rice, refried beans, and guacamole. The enchiladas were smothered in a creamy, rich cheese sauce. The shrimp were cooked well and wrapped in corn tortillas. My favorite part of the dish was the guacamole which was spicy and fresh. The portion was huge and took home enough for a second meal.
My mom ordered the Azteca Sampler which costs $13. This dish included a chalupa, chile relleno, taco, an enchilada, a burrito, a tamale, rice and refried beans. She also had took home leftovers. My mom loves tamales, and the one she ate at Azteca was one of her favorites.
Everything we ate at Azteca was flavorful, authentic, and delicious. I definitely recommend this restuarant to anyone looking for delicious Mexican food, and I know that I will be eating there again.