The next time you’re at a metro-east strip mall, don’t turn your nose up at the restaurant that sits next door to a supermarket or laundromat.
Serious foodies know that some of the best restaurants in the country share a wall with another business. In a Los Angeles Times article, strip mall restaurants were described as treasures hidden in plain sight.
“It’s no secret that the city’s strip malls have long been strongholds for splendid, affordable, traditional ethnic restaurant(s),” contributing writer Sam Lubell said. “But now they’re home to edgy, ultracreative establishments, a new generation of dining inspired by an eclectic range of traditions.”
Strip mall restaurants around the metro-east have served hungry customers for decades. From Italian and Chinese to breakfast and barbecue, check out this list of places to go. In some cases, you can pick up your weekly groceries, then dine and relax next door.
This Italian restaurant has locations in O’Fallon, Edwardsville and Springfield. Every location shares a wall with another business, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re inside. At Bella Milano’s Edwardsville location, 1063 S. State Route 157, the restaurant’s outdoor space feels like a Persian garden with modern light fixtures, sleek patio furniture and lush green topiary. You might forget you’re at a strip mall. Inside, the restaurant serves classic Italian favorites, from chicken parmigiana to Bella Milano’s signature dish — Pasta Three Way.
Wing & China
It’s easy to pass this place if you’re leery of Chinese take-out restaurants. But locals can’t enough of the wings at Wing & China. Located at 9 Bellevue Park Plaza, the restaurant has a four out of five-star rating online. Yelp reviewers approve of the place. “My new favorite place to get Chinese food in the west end of Belleville, also my new favorite place to get chicken tenders in the west end of Belleville,” a Yelper wrote. “We tried the sweet and sour chicken, the garlic chicken, the teriyaki chicken tenders, fries, and crab rangoon. Everything tasted great. The staff is very friendly too.”
Named “best tacos in Fairview Heights” by Yelp this Mexican restaurant is serving up authentic tamales and tacos. The restaurant, located at 335 Market Place in Fairview Heights, is owned by Manny Olvera of O’Fallon. He emigrated from Mexico to California with his family as a child and later moved to Illinois, graduating from O’Fallon Township High School in 2002. Olvera’s menu might make you fall in love with strip mall restaurants. The restaurant also serves classic lime margaritas.
The Egg & I
In the mood for brunch? Head to The Egg & I in O’Fallon. This restaurant sits next to a Global Brew Tap House & Lounge and Bella Milano’s O’Fallon location. Try the signature Cambridge Skillet while you’re there. The dish is served with an English muffin and features smoked ham, crisp bacon and hollandaise sauce on a bed of seasoned ranch potatoes with cheddar jack cheese and two eggs any style. The restaurant, located at 455 D Regency Park, also has juice bar. If you’re feeling adventurous try the kale cooler. The drink features kale, Fuji apple, cucumber and lemon.
Wasabi Sushi Bar
If you looking for a good deal on sushi, head to Wasabi at 6530 N. Illinois St. in Fairview Heights. Every sushi roll on the menu is $6 from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday nights. The restaurant shares a wall with a jewelry store, so if you’re in the mood for diamonds after you eat head next door. Try the Mt. Fuji roll while you are there. The specialty roll features deep fried lobster tail, avocado and sweet chili sauce wrapped in soy paper. Yum.
Big Baby Q and Smokehouse
Up for a short road trip? Named one the “hottest new restaurants in St. Louis” by Eater.com in 2016, this barbecue joint in Maryland Heights, Missouri is about 45 minutes from Belleville. But it’s totally worth the drive, according to the team at Eater.com. “Big Baby Q and Smokehouse is the critical darling and has made a small, dowdy strip mall in the northwest suburb of Maryland Heights a culinary destination,” the website said. Insider tip: Don’t go on a Saturday. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday. You’ll find it at 11658 Dorsett Road.