Every fall, just as leaves are beginning to burst with color, Diablitos Cantina is turning over new leaves of its own. With its proximity to the St. Louis University campus, the Midtown cantina’s executive chef Wil Pelly, along with chefs Ricardo Vargas and Ed Mosley, introduces new flavors that new and returning students regularly consume in a bid to fuel their frenzied study.

“They know when they come in they can experience something different,” Pelly says. “About 10 percent of the menu changes in the fall.”

This fall, it’s the addition of fresh street tacos with distinct comfort food and bar food slants. The El Taco Gringo heaps fried chicken breast, mashed potatoes, roasted corn and a hearty drizzle of country gravy onto a flour tortilla. “It’s like Sunday dinner all rolled into a taco.”

If tavern cuisine is more your speed, a buffalo chicken taco offers the crispy chick in a spicy wing sauce with a cooling avocado ranch, while fans of Diablitos’ sister restaurant, Hendricks BBQ, can enjoy the popular smoked brisket in the form of a chimichanga drenched in queso blanco.

Pelly is also wise to rely on the brain trust under Diablitos’ entire roof: Anyone and everyone, from the servers to the bar back, is welcome to contribute concoctions to the annual experimental fall menu. “If the dishwasher wants to create a special, he can,” Pelly says. “They know what they like and they know what people are eating.”

The collaborative spirit spawned a surprise hit last year: head cheese. A whole roasted hog went into the effort. Diners grabbed up the smoky pork dish faster than they could serve it up. Two days into the special, Pelly was sold out. “I was shocked it did so well,” he says. “It’s a labor-intensive thing to do, but I could see us doing it again.”

When customers aren’t pouncing on the seasonal specials, they’re pouring in for the highly affordable dailies: Monday $1 tacos; Tuesday tamales; a different Chef’s Whim every Wednesday and Thursday; and half-off apps on “Fryday.” Plus, on Thursday nights (9pm to 12:30am), Diablitos turns the place over to 18-and-up partiers to dance the night away to DJ-spun tunes. (The staff serves chips and salsa, and otherwise largely steps out of the way.)

Business hours are Mon. to Fri. from 11am to 10pm, Sat. 11am to 10pm and Sun. 11am to 9pm.

Diablitos Cantina, 3761 Laclede Ave., Midtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.644.4430, diablitoscantina.com


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