After many months of anticipation, Publico finally opened its doors in the Delmar Loop. The designers of the restaurant completely transformed a former hair salon into a modern and artistic, yet comfortable space. As you walk in the front door, the wonderful smell of hickory and oak takes over your senses and you notice your eyes being drawn to the left side of the restaurant where several 3-D trees appear to emerge from the wall. There is a large bar in the middle of the restaurant and a kitchen in the back that is open to the dining area (which explains the great wood fire smell).
We arrived and were told that our table was not yet ready so we took a seat at the bar and ordered an original margarita and a mescal margarita. The mescal margarita differed from the original in that it is made with mezcal liquor instead tequila making it very smooth and more of a craft cocktail. I was starting to get frustrated after 40 minutes had passed from our reservation time but a table finally opened up and we were seated. Luckily, the long wait time was my only complaint of the night.
We were greeted by our lovely server, Sara, who was as upbeat and excited about the food as I was. I will warn you, Publico is not for those who shy away from bold flavors and aren’t willing to be open-minded. Although items such as lamb hearts and shredded duck gizzard are scattered about the menu, you will still find options such as guacamole, a wide variety of tacos, and grilled meats. We started with two small plates, the first being pinto beans. These flavorful beans were made with lamb drippings, mint, chives, queso fresco and were served in a metal cup with a masa cake on the side. The second dish was the cobia crudo served with ginger, lime, sweet potato, and truffle. The fish was incredibly fresh and it had a spicy kick which I really enjoyed.
I opted for street tacos for dinner. They are small, come two to an order, and are served with house-made corn tortillas. First up were the fish tacos. These took me completely by surprise as they are made with smoked white fish that, as the description suggests, pack a huge smoky flavor. They were topped with jalapeno cream cheese, cilantro, and crispy shallots which gave it the texture it needed. Next up were the Hongos tacos (Spanish for mushroom) topped with cucumber, radish, goat cheese crema, and huitlacoche. These were amazing, I just wish the shell had been a bit bigger to hold all of the filling. Publico’s tacos were fantastic and in my opinion, they are the first in St. Louis that stand up to Mission Taco. Based on the recommendation of our server, my husband ordered the pork shoulder seasoned with lime, sesame, and brown sugar. This lean cut of meat was seared and crisp on the outside and tender in the middle. His only disappointment was that the dish was served with nothing besides a lime wedge. We were thinking about ordering dessert but decided to go for a second order of Hongos tacos and we were not disappointed.
The restaurant really seems to be about options. The bar is large and comfortable enough to spend your evening having drinks and small plates or you can opt for a table to enjoy a more formal meal. The wide range of pricing allows you to have a less expensive meal of tacos or celebrate an occasion with larger plates. Unique menu items will push you out of your comfort zone if you are feeling adventurous but allow you to kick back with an appetizer if guacamole is what you prefer. Despite the 40 minute wait (with a reservation), I loved my experience at Publico and will definitely be back for more.