Mo-Mex Meals

Pùblico spices up Latin fare with creative use of local ingredients.

By Barbara E. Stefano 
Photography by Kim Dillon 



If you go to Pùblico expecting Chef Mike Randolph to play it straight, check your expectations at the door. While the University City Latin food diner stays faithful to the spirit of Central American cuisine, it leans heavily enough on fresh, regional ingredients to keep diehard locavores happy and clean of conscience—and always pleasantly surprised.

Randolph, the man behind Half & Half in Clayton and Randolfi’s in U City, rides the crest of the taqueria wave in St. Louis County, bringing hungry foodies all the splashy flavors of limes, chilies and agave nectar they crave. But more important than cornerstone ingredients is cooking method.

“I’m excited about the wood-fire hearth! I can’t overestimate the importance of cooking with wood,” says Randolph. “It’s not a gimmick—it’s vital. We use Missouri oak; it’s more sustainable and we love the flavor.”

That flavor is all over signature Pùblico dishes like duck encocado, grilled flank steak and pork ribs, as well as the from-scratch tacos. They’re all crafted to offer a genuine taste of Latin cuisine, and customers can’t get enough of them. But watch Chef Randolph’s shifting menu closely, and delicious deviations begin to emerge.

“It’s not completely authentic. Conceptually, it’s pretty true, but I try to look at [Latin cooking] as a philosophy rather than a straight replication. I try as much as possible to use local ingredients and think, ‘How can we treat these philosophically the same as we would in Peru?’ Because that’s what humble cooking is about—elevating what’s available to you. So you take a philosophy of a region and replicate that here.”

Gobble up perennially popular guacamole arepas or transport your taste buds with authentic tacos and barbacoa, but don’t rule out some creative uses of seasonal Missouri bounty. Randolph’s menu may revolve around morels in April, and then morph again in summer when strawberries are in their prime. Ceviche with lime and green strawberry? It may not be on everyone’s lips in Lima, but anything’s possible in The Lou

The Pùblico cooking school demo on Wednesday, June 8, will include three savory dishes inspired by the flavors of Central America, at AUTCOhome from 6:30-8:30 p.m. For reservations, call 636-230-9640 ext. 27 or email [email protected].