4 new places in St. Louis to try this February

1. Billie-Jean

7610 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, 314.797.8484, billiejeanstl.com

Zoe Robinson’s restaurants have long been at the top of every local gourmand’s go-to list, and her latest, Billie-Jean, looks to continue that tradition. Located just down the block from Robinson’s I Fratellini and Bar Les Frères, the exterior of Billie-Jean is a study in elegant understatement. Past the stealthy entrance is a bit of midtown Manhattan in St. Louis. The interior is rife with contrast – black and white, organic and industrial, frenetic and intimate – creating a vibrant, kinetic atmosphere. To complement this ambience, Robinson and her longtime collaborator, executive chef Ny Vongsaly, have put together a tight menu of dishes that deftly combine Asian and European influences, like a dumpling soup rife with tender mushrooms and redolent of lemongrass and lime leaf, a pan full of baked quail eggs and roasted tomatoes still on the vine and a whole roasted snapper topped with an herbal cilantro-lime leaf salsa verde.

2. Casa Juárez Mexican Town
12710 Dorsett Road, Maryland Heights, 314.317.9404, casajuarezstl.com

Spicy, cheesy, saucy Tex-Mex satisfies all our comfort cravings, and Casa Juárez is no exception. Already a packed restaurant on opening day, diners danced with a mariachi band and people waiting for a table were offered complimentary tequila shots to make the wait time fly by. Don’t let those shots stop you from ordering a margarita flight when you sit down: three margaritas made with different tequilas start things on the right foot. Pair that with chips, salsa and guacamole, and you could stop there. But the menu, like the space, is huge, ranging from fajitas served with super fresh house-made flour tortillas, to crispy-crunchy chimichangas. The enchiladas supremas won us over, mostly because we love a sampler plate and it offered four different enchiladas: chicken and mole, beef with red sauce, bean with cheese dip and a cheese enchilada with salsa verde. Or go for gourmet tacos like the tacos del norte with grilled chicken, chorizo and salsa verde or a classic al pastor. Just be prepared for a wait – and a friendly shot of tequila with your name on it.

3. Parm Pasta & Sandwich Co.
2619 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.833.3034, Facebook: Parm Pasta & Sandwich Co.

Next time you’re craving sweet Italian-American tomato sauce and piles of Provel for lunch, head to Cherokee Street instead of The Hill. Along with mostaccioli in meat sauce, Parm Pasta & Sandwich Co. offers a half-dozen Italian sandwiches to go that will completely ruin your afternoon plans. Mysteriously, there is no chicken Parmesan on the menu, but the eggplant Parmesan will satisfy any craving with loads of sauce, gooey cheese and the rich fried vegetable. The meatball sub was another favorite, with enormous, flavorful spheres of tender ground beef in that classic red sauce. You may not be able to finish a whole sandwich, but you’ll have a grand time trying.

4. Honey Pit Smokehouse
951 S. Kirkwood Road, Kirkwood, 314.698.2121, honeypitsmokehouse.com

Kirkwood finally has a barbecue restaurant to call its own. Honey Pit Smokehouse features the usual meaty suspects, all with telltale pink rings boasting time in the restaurant’s water smokers. According to owners Zach Fagas and father-and-son team Shane Mihaljevic and Shane Mihaljevic Jr., these devices use steam and smoke to keep meat extra tender. Honey Pit’s best work is found on the ribs that just barely cling to the bone, the turkey that stays moist and smoky long after slicing and the Louisiana hot links with a satisfying snap on the first bite. Whatever you choose, make sure you grab a side of seasoned, battered fries and light, slightly sweet cornbread muffins – both perfect vehicles for sopping up any leftover sauce.