Entries Tagged as 'Out'

Top Eleven Twin Cities Eats

Saturday, April 20, 2013

At the moment, there are exactly three-and-a-half million other things to think about besides food. Say, how Minnesotans are soldiers of winter, though that’s all I’m going to say about the weather. Comfort foods here are essential, and Minnesotans know what’s good. Big things on the food front have happened over the past couple of years, and I’d say our Twin Cities deserve a spot on America’s list of food destinations. As I wrap up my trip home, I wanted to part with a quick list of places worth checking out, places good enough to take a visiting friend. These haunts comfort in a way that goes beyond the food. Keep calm and carry on, Minnesota. You’ll be missed.

Eli’s East.

For thoughtful, delicious Midwest comfort food, great cocktails, and service that’s easy and unadorned, Eli’s fits the bill. Dishes to try: tempura walleye, cauliflower and beans, chop salad.

815 East Hennepin, Minneapolis

(612) 331-0031



My friend Niki is always hot on the next-big-thing when it comes to food, and she takes visitors to Borough. Best to go with adventurous diners, order a myriad, and get recommendations from the chef if you can as he or she brings food to your table. Less salt all around would be better, but that’s where my critique ends. The menu changes, and if octopus is included when you go, order it, if only to obliterate any misgivings you’ve had of how perfectly tender octopus texture can be.

730 North Washington Avenue, Minneapolis

(612) 354-3135


The Groveland Tap. 

Baby food, thirty-four tap beers, and an award-winning turkey burger are just some of the gems of The Groveland Tap’s menu. I go with my cousin, and she’s been going for years. Cozy and super family-friendly, it doesn’t get much more neighborly than this.

1834 Saint Clair Avenue, Saint Paul

(651) 699-5058



Go for the lunch special (usually a sandwich) and add a cup of the plantain dumpling soup. It’s my favorite restaurant in the Cities – the people who run the place are so nice, and even if the food sucked, I’d return. The food, however, is outstanding.

2851 Central Avenue Northeast, Minneapolis

(612) 788-1328


The Coffee Shop. 

I love the unassuming, come one, come all vibe of this Northeast java joint. Feels like everyone in the neighborhood does, too. With strong coffee, good cookies, and genuine Midwest hospitality, it’s the first place I choose when I need an energetic space to work or want the kind of afternoon pick-me-up only a local coffee shop can deliver.

2852 Johnson Street Northeast, Minneapolis

(612) 259-8478


Que Viet. 

People travel far and wide for Que Viet’s egg rolls, but I was lucky to grow up down the block. Fried to perfection and tightly-packed with minced pork and shreds of tender vegetables, these rolls hooked me years ago and keep me coming back whenever I’m in Minnesota.

2211 Johnson Street Northeast, Minneapolis

(612) 781-4744

Smack Shack.

When it comes to a sandwich Minnesota can be proud of, most of us think Juicy Lucy over Lobster Roll. Yet Smack Shack’s rolls and po’ boys have garnered such a following that they’ve recently expanded to bigger [and fancier] digs. Don’t go to relax. Go to be a part of the buzz, ideally at the bar, where an open seat is tough to come by. And whatever you do, don’t leave without tasting the lobster guacamole. That’s an order.

603 Washington Avenue North, Minneapolis

(612) 259-7288


Mojo Monkey. 

Righteous doughnuts, particularly the old fashioned kind. Closed Mondays.

1169 7th Street West, Saint Paul

(651) 224-0142


Red Savoy. 

For the best taste of Minnesota-style pizza, head to Red Savoy. That’s a pie with a thin crust and toppings blanketed in cheese, and always cut into squares. Go for the gold and try the sauerkraut and sausage.

421 7th Street East, Saint Paul

(651) 227-1437


The Bachelor Farmer.

Start with a drink from the progressive cocktail program, stay for the thoughtful and beautifully-plated food. It’s contemporary Nordic fare, and it’s excellent.

50 North 2nd Avenue, Minneapolis

(612) 206-3920


World Street Kitchen.

Another mobile to brick-and-mortar expansion, WSK fuses global flavors with gusto in a way that might turn off the purist. But the team deserves praise for shaking up the MSP dining scene with their ambitious mission and enthusiastic menu. Dishes to try: lemongrass meatball lettuce wraps, short rib rice bowl, curried peanut butter cookie, mango and passionfruit lassi soft serve.

2743 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis




Over the weekend

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Beyond where to look for it on a map, I don’t know much about Bulgaria, though after last night, I also know that it has good Merlot. (Beyond the assertion that I like it, I also don’t know much about wine).

Over the weekend, I flirted with Bulgaria twice without intention. Last night I tasted its food in Itaewon, a district in Seoul that is equally loved and hated by Koreans and foreigners. Regardless of which camp you belong to, there’s no denying that Itaewon boasts a handful of damn good restaurants. It was Mike’s birthday, and we were celebrating. We ate a stack of cold, sliced zucchini that had been sautéed and coated with dill-flecked sour yogurt, red-centered beef tenderloin dressed up with a thin spread of mint jelly, pork meatballs and potatoes deliciously, unapologetically baked with enough cheese to make a grown man cry, and chicken filled with bacon, bathed in a bright tomato sauce, and affectionately named ‘The Pile Princess.’ We drank a fruity, dry red wine from Bulgaria, one of the only products that the restaurant imports from its birth country, and we didn’t leave until well after we realized that we were the only guests still there.

Today I heard music from a Bulgarian symphony with my friend, Helen. The men wore black, the women wore stage make-up, and the maestro expertly guided the visiting orchestra through a short list of classics while the spotlight made his bald patch even shinier. Bows danced across strings and fingers fluttered over keys as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. How many hours of collective practice were sitting up on that stage, I wondered. Enough to round out each individual sound into one perfectly functioning unit. Music, in the flesh, is as gratifying as a home cooked meal. And everything is better with wine.

to pho or not to pho?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My list of foods never to consume in the company of a person I might hope to see again is short. Some might say alarmingly so. Besides ribs, everything else is pretty much fair game.

That list doubled last weekend with the addition of rice noodle soups.  Here’s the story.

It had been awhile since I’d had a bowl of pho, but it’d been even longer since I’d gone on a first date. The day started late and lazily, but even so, it was the sort of day that called for a nap. A big, warming bowl of noodles steeped in savory broth for dinner sounded like a bulls-eye. Also, I miss cilantro like I miss a mammoth slice of thin crust pizza. In other words, pho on a first date was my idea. (I should add that I didn’t exactly realize it was a first date until the day after it happened. Good thing, because I would have been more nervous by epic proportions). I sent him a message and told him of my idea. I asked if he’d like to join me. He did, and before I knew it, I was knee-deep in unfamiliar territory, and I didn’t know what to do about it. So, I talked. I drank two beers. When dinner was over, I looked down at the table to survey our damage. My bowl was almost full with noodles and totally void of broth. His, a shallow pool of beef stock in the bottom of an otherwise empty bowl.

In my mind, the experience is always the same. A cart is wheeled over and a hot bowl is set in front of me. I lean in and let the steam hit my face first. Inhale deeply. Add the bean sprouts and sliced jalapeños and stir to soften. A bit of cilantro, but not all at once. I like to eat it fresh and while it’s still green. Drop dots of chili sauce evenly around the bowl. Gingerly dip a spoon into the bowl of broth and taste it for heat. Add more chili sauce sometimes, sometimes not. Pluck the right amount of slippery noodles from the bowl, bring them forward and nibble off one clean line with the grace of a gazelle. I should say, this is how I used to imagine it. In reality, after last weekend I discovered the difference between the way I eat pho alone and the way I eat it with someone sitting across from me, especially if the person happens to be quite attractive and a regular chopstick virtuoso. In my exaggerated reality, if it’s just me, I’m less of a graceful gazelle and more of a caged chimpanzee eating a banana for the first time in weeks.

The next night, I went back to the same restaurant for what had become a sure-fire method of personal restoration a long time ago. And as it usually went whenever I’d gone out for pho in the past, I was alone.

The cart was wheeled over and the bowl set down in front of me. I inhaled, and I started to picture the absurd. Bean sprouts sticking from both corners of my mouth. Noodles hanging like a swinging curtain from my front teeth. Chopsticks catapulting involuntarily from my hands to the other side of the room. Was that really what I was afraid of? How did I know that I was about to enjoy that bowl of pho so much more than the one I’d attempted to eat the night before? I can’t think of a better way to catch up or to get to know someone than to eat together. When I realized that a food I love to eat regularly is one I’d rather eat alone, it made me think about what exactly it does for me that my favorite pastime of breaking bread with friends or strangers cannot.

Five years ago, I had never eaten alone outside of my apartment or an airport. Now, I’ve developed a ritual that I look forward to with no one’s company but my own. And that could very well change. For now, I think I’ll keep it just for me.

Comida Colombiana

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I have to pay homage to the food of Colombia, and I really want to do it properly.  It is my belief that a large part of any culture is shaped by its food and the traditions that envelop it, and by a landslide, my favorite way to get to know a new place is through my taste buds.  I want to know what the people are growing, cooking, and eating.  Five weeks is the longest I’ve spent in one country outside of the U.S., which really, when you think about it, is not a ton of time.  One hour is also not a lot of time to write a a comprehensive post on the topic, but it’s all I’ve got before I get to join my beautiful cousin, Tippy, who flew all the way from Minneapolis so that we could spend a week discovering Peru together.  So let’s get this thing going, shall we?


I adore a good soup, and I had many memorable sopas in Colombia.  At Verdeo, a vegetarian spot near Parque Poblado, I had celery and potato soup in a light, steamy, beany broth.  Simple, clean, rejuvenating.  Don’t pass through Medellin without a lunch at Verdeo.

In Santa Fe Antioquia, we ate liquid carrot cream of a shockingly bright orange color.  Normally, I prefer soup of a piping hot temperature, but this one was cooled to tepid, and it was stunning.  We had asparagus blended to the consistency of liquid velvet, finished with a swirl of cream, at Jardin Botanico.  A swirl of cream is the holy grail of soup accoutrement, in my book.  Judging by its prevalence, I’ve got a feeling Colombians have a similar affection.

Mondongo, a traditional Colombian stew made lush from diced pieces of tripe, is garnished with sliced sweet banana.  I know this isn’t the most appetizing sounding marriage of flavors (was it the stomach lining that threw you off?)  but I am telling you, it is hypnotic.  And cazuela, made with soft brown beans, chicharron (fried pork rinds), diced avocado, and corn, and topped with a mound of fried potato strings.  But my favorite was the ajiaco:  a soup of tender, thinly shredded chicken and three (or four?) types of potatoes, distinctively flecked with a weedy herb called guasca, and pooled around a short cob of corn, the kind with big, charming, knobby kernels.  The accompanying garnishes took this soup over the edge, for me.  You take a spoon to a halved avocado, dropping curls of buttery green into the soup before you finish the whole thing off with a drizzle of cream and a smattering of capers the size of olives.  This dish was so good, it made me laugh the first time I tried it.  Don’t you love when that happens?

(the photo below is the antithesis of a justifying visual, but it’s the best I’ve got – I settled for mediocrity, I know it, but I did it because I was distracted by its aroma – the start of a new, lifelong infatuation).

Ajiacos y Mandangoes is the place to get good Ajiaco in Medellin.  I went once with my new friend Esther.  We sat for two hours and shared two bowls of soup.  We were the last of the lunch rush remaining, probably because everyone else had to get back to work.  As we were on our way out the door, we spotted a carrot cake resting patiently on a ledge with only a couple of slices missing.  So we ordered a piece to share, sat back down, and stayed for another thirty minutes.  Esther is 79 years old, but she didn’t look a day over 60.  She was visiting her son who is teaching English in Medellin.  We talked a lot about Richard Simmons.  Hell, if his videos are one of the tricks to staying effortlessly vibrant, like Esther, sign me up yesterday.


On the coast, you eat fish.  To not is to cheat yourself.  Most always, fish is served whole, with coconut rice, citrus, salad, and patacones (green plaintains pounded flat and fried until crisp skinned but still soft on the inside).

Never have I ever tasted such seafood.

Or met such fishermen.


Tipicos are usually had for lunch.  Filling and easy on the wallet, tipicos consist of a meat, such as beef, chicken, or chicharron, white rice, a salad of cabbage or avocado, and a soft-yoked fried egg.  Sometimes with chorizo, sometimes with french fries, but always, always with an arepa and a fried banana.  A staple combination plate for Colombian people, and a must-try for any visitor.


A kaleidoscopic array of shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.  Oh my, the fruits of Colombia.  Mora (blackberry) is blended with vanilla ice cream, comes in yogurt and is a jelly filling at Dunkin Donuts in Medellin.  Maracuya, a fruit that, once cut open, spills out a seed-filled liquid to be eaten with a spoon, seeds and all.  The juice is sour but addictive.  I had a piece of cheesecake glazed with maracuya seeds.  My god.  It was beautiful, but you’ll have to trust my word because we ate it all before I could snap a photo of it.   Imagine a custard-colored, thick square slab with a consistency like flan, glazed with a delicate veil of flat black maracuya seeds.  Brilliant.

And the juices made from these fruits.  So fresh, so healthful.  This was banana papaya.

This woman, Maria, has a stand directly across from the Alpujarra stop of the Medellin metro.  She makes the most incredible strawberry juice.  She’ll pull up a plastic chair for you, encourage you to sit, and refill your glass to the brim.  If you take the metro to El Parque de los Pies Descalzos, you’ll walk past her.  Do yourself a favor and stop for  a juice on the way.

I loved to cherry pick a new fruit eat time I visited the market.  I picked up a rustic beauty called a tamarillo, or tomate de arbol, one day.  Shaped like an egg and dusty-skinned like a plum, I fell for it at first site.  At home, I pressed a knife lengthwise into it, expecting to make contact with a pit.  But the knife slid cleanly through, and in the center was a hook of black seeds.  The taste and texture was like a tomato, just much more sour.  Maybe I chose one that wasn’t ripe – I really don’t know, but I didn’t love it.  However, I’ve found a good amount of tamarillo enthusiasm online.  If available in Argentina, I’m going to experiment with some salsas and sauces made of tamarillo.  Kyle, Agustina, and Natasha, I hope you’re up for some taste testing.


In Cartagena, women would walk the streets and beaches with baskets of fruit and desserts, often balanced on their heads.  I ate fried coconut bars (like rice crispy bars, but entirely of coconut – swoon)  and tamarind balls rolled in sugar.  I told you earlier about the taffy on a stick.  And arequipe, a popular milk caramel, is very often eaten on its own with a spoon.  Mary Jo hit the jackpot when she poured arequipe over ice cream and dotted the whole thing with a miniature tamarind ball.  The tart, spiky flavor of the tamarind with the smooth sweetness of the arequipe and the chilled, vanilla cream was something I am not going to quickly forget.

Okay, there is more to say but my time is officially up.  It’s noon and the sun is out.  The bar is open.  The pisco is flowing.  And by the way, it was as hard to say goodbye to Mary Jo as ever.  We had the greatest five weeks of traveling together, and I’ll cherish the time for the rest of my days.  Thanks for everything, MJ.  See you soon.