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A Foodie's Guide to Cheap Eats

How to save money and still feel like you splurged

A Foodie's Guide to Cheap Eats
Photo by Terry Brennan (5)

BARGAIN BITES

Craving steak but stuck with a hamburger budget? Just tap into the world of discount dining, and watch your dollars (and stomach) stretch. These dishes aren’t just a good value, they're damn tasty—well-worth rearranging your schedule for multiple happy hours and late-night trips.
 

Travail

Experiencing Travail’s 10-plus course tasting menu can feel like opening your mouth and walking into a flavor hurricane. It might begin with a marble of gel-encased gazpacho presented by a chef/server whose hair resembles the cotton candy you’ll later enjoy for dessert. The kitchen staff, led by Mike Brown and James Winberg, takes a playful approach to its innovative, tech-savvy cooking, from the pineapple Dippin’ Dots, to the foie-gras-and-Pop-Rocks lollipops, to the banana pudding that diners are instructed to feed to one another with baby spoons. One moment, a chef/server is swilling beer from a glass boot, cheered by the crowd; the next he’s playing gastronomical professor, deconstructing a plate of halibut and wild rice using a laser pointer. As the restaurant has matured, the kitchen’s daring combinations (beet salad with white-chocolate-covered blueberries?!) have become even more consistent. At $80 for two people (discounted to $70 on Thursdays for ladies, and $65 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), it’s the best dinner theater in town. • 4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, facebook.com/TravailKitchen
 

Barbette

There’s a reason why Barbette regulars frequent the restaurant’s happy hour year after year: the deals are as elegant as they are reliable. In addition to the drink specials (offered from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, plus 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday), select appetizers are discounted to $5 apiece. Snack with French sophistication on steamed mussels, fresh oysters, or liver pâté and Brie. And don’t forget a bowl of the city’s best-loved pommes frites. 1600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-827-5710, barbette.com
 

La Belle Vie

La Belle Vie isn’t a cheap date, but it is an extraordinary one. In the stately dining room, tasting menus tend to be reserved for special occasions: the five-course option runs $70 per person and the full chef’s menu is $85. But in the restaurant’s more relaxed lounge, diners can experience some of the very same dishes in the four-course tasting menu for $45. The kitchen staff, helmed by executive chef Tim McKee's protégée Mike DeCamp, works its precision-tuned magic on each small plate. For example, yellowtail jack is presented like a work of contemporary art, embellished with flecks of fresh chives, hoops of dried shallots, nubs of chorizo, and daubs of colorful sauces that enhance the fish with a bright, salty-sweet punch. And between the gratis gougères (cheese puffs), the amuse-bouche (a one-bite “mouth amuser”), and the plate of complementary post-dessert sweets, or mignardises—tiny, handmade chocolates, macarons, and such—diners are practically barraged with bonus bites. • 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440, labellevie.us
 

Bradstreet Craftshouse

The dimly lit digs of the Graves Hotel’s windowless first-floor lounge seems to stop time. How long have we been sitting here drinking? An hour? Five? But the craft-cocktail bar’s 601 Hour compels one to keep track of time, as Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to close, select drinks and sliders cost just $6.01. The beef mini-burgers are charming, though not as adventurous as the fried-chicken-and-bacon-stuffed waffle rounds. But the best choice is the mango-barbecue pulled-pork sliders topped with apple-jicama slaw. Bradstreet was an early adopter of the classic cocktail resurgence, so the bar’s drink list is compelling, though some of the 601 selections, such as the bourbon-based Sweet Lucy, can border on cloying. • 601 N. First Ave., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com
 

Bar La Grassa

Want to save money on a classy date? Try the substantial half-portion pastas at chef Isaac Becker’s trendy Bar La Grassa. Bypass the spendier crab-and-foie-gras-stuffed options, and you can indulge in a lovely bowl of bucatini with Bolognese, cavatelli with braised rabbit, or—the all-time favorite—gnocchi with cauliflower and orange, for less than $10. • 800 N. Washington Ave., Mpls., 612-333-3837, barlagrassa.com
 

Chino Latino

Middle age can be hard on one’s social schedule: it’s difficult to leave work before 7 p.m. to hit Chino Latino’s early happy hour, or to muster the energy for the late-night slot after 10 p.m. on weeknights. (Worse, a sense of maturity prevents one from participating in the restaurant’s obnoxious Sake Bomb ritual, which involves bandanas, shot glasses balanced on chopsticks, and pounding on the table!) Fortunately, on Sundays and Mondays, Chino’s happy hour runs from 4:30 p.m. till midnight in the bar and lounge, so you have plenty of time to order the braised barbecue pork shank, the guacamole-topped fried rice, and the famous French Toast of the Dead, which comes soaked in rum caramel and topped with banana coins. For a paltry $12, you’ll have a feast for two that’s far more satisfying than the frozen pizza and ramen of your youth. • 2916 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-824-7878, chinolatino.com
 

Gather

Last year, D’Amico’s Gather replaced Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21 in the Walker Art Center, bringing with it a cooking philosophy of pairing global flavors with local ingredients—for example, a short rib bánh mì with house-pickled vegetables. The restaurant is open just one night a week, to coincide with museum hours, and during Thursday happy hour (between 5 and 7 p.m.), the bánh mì and all the rest of the small plates are just $5 apiece. The discounted seasonal “cocktail of the moment” is best enjoyed on the lofted patio, which offers a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. And on the first Thursday of the month, a local guest chef—or culinary artist in residence, if you will—sends out a couple of signature small plates, free of charge. • Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-253-3410, gatherbydamico.com
 

The Lexington's Onion Rings

The Lexington

The Lexington, in all its windowless glory, is still making itself relevant after more than 75 years. With new owners, a new chef, an updated menu, and top-notch jazz in its Williamsburg Room, The Lex looks ready for the next generation of Saint Paulites in the know. Cozy up to the bar rail for happy hour (weekdays 3 to 6 p.m.), and order plates of onion rings big enough for four, burgers with fries, or the Lexington Green Beans, steamed and sauced in spiced vinaigrette, all offered for a mere $6 a plate. • 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-5878, thelexongrand.com
 

Masa

When you want a Mexican dining experience sans the foil wrappers and stacks of napkins needed to tackle a giant burrito, D’Amico’s Masa offers authentic, upscale fare with ambiance to spare. The airy, sun-drenched dining room attracts significant business clientele, but the 3-for-$10 lunch special requires as much cash as a meal at a scrappy, no-frills East Lake Street taquería. Create your own combo meal by choosing three small plates from a list that includes lush guacamole; crisp mango/jicama salad; tortilla soup; half-size tortas stuffed with roasted pork, skirt steak, or chicken breast; and a variety of tacos. The permutations are as tasty as they are endless. • 1070 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-6272, masa-restaurant.com
 

Aji Contemporary Japanese

Sushi chefs keep pace, rolling sushi nearly as fast as customers can eat it at Aji, one of the best new dining additions to downtown Hopkins. Raw-fish lovers, bring your self-control, because $19.50 is the only thing keeping you from heading back to the unlimited sushi and salad bar as many times as your stomach can handle. The rotating selection includes a variety of sushi rolls, nigiri, soba noodles, and kimchi. • 712 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-358-3558, ajicj.com
 

Prohibition & The Living Room

Between the sexy digs and the bull-size steaks being served at Manny’s, the W Hotel often feels like it’ll make your credit card crash harder than the stock market that brought down Wilbur Foshay, namesake of the historic tower. But during happy hour, from 5 to 7 p.m., Foshay’s former mahogany-lined boardroom (now the 27th floor Prohibition Bar) becomes an attainable indulgence. The $5 cocktails, which are also served in the first floor Living Room lounge, outshine their modest price: for example, the cucumber Collins with a floral splash of St. Germain, or the ginger liqueur with tart cherry juice. Ditto the $5 appetizers, which include adobo chicken sliders and shrimp nestled in a seaweed salad. • 821 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-215-3700, mannyssteakhouse.com/parasoleatthefoshay
 

 

Republic

When the longtime Seven Corners student hangout Sgt. Preston’s became Republic, restaurateur Matty O’Reilly refreshed the place just as he had with the 318 and Aster cafés. He set a higher bar for budget-friendly bar fare by incorporating more premium ingredients and scratch-cooking techniques. Most of Republic’s menu items cost less than $10 and the craft beers are just as thrifty—Lift Bridge’s Farm Girl Saison, a locally brewed favorite, is regularly priced just $4 a pint. During the daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., the restaurant offers its Thousand Hills grass-fed beef or Wild Acres turkey burgers for a practically fast-food-priced $6. The patties are juicy, well-seasoned, and served with a side of mixed greens. To boot, Republic’s lovely patio is just as vast as its beverage list, and far more appealing than Five Guys’ peanut-shell–littered digs. • 221 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-338-6146, republicmn.com
 

Saffron

Last summer, Sameh and Saed Wadi retooled their five-year-old restaurant, Saffron, so its menu and space would be more accommodating to casual diners. Chef Sameh still specializes in flavors of the Middle East, but has introduced several new fusions, including housemade potato chips dipped in yogurt seasoned with za’tar. During happy hour (Monday through Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m.), the chips cost $3 and, for $8, Wadi offers another smart Arab-American combo, a “BLT” made with lamb bacon to accommodate religious dietary restrictions. • 123 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-746-5533, saffronmpls.com
 

Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar

Nearly all the sushi joints in town—Nami, Origami, Wasabi, Obento Ya, Fuji Ya, Tiger, among them—offer a buck or two off makizushi (a.k.a. sushi rolls) during happy hour. But Seven has one thing they don’t: a swank rooftop lounge. Skip the plastic-cup martinis, with their florescent hues and too-sweet synthetic Jolly Rancher fruit flavors, in favor of the discounted spicy tuna or real-crab California rolls. • 700 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-238-7770, 7mpls.com
 

Ristorante Luci

An intimate, dimly lit room accented with white tablecloths and a touch of nostalgia makes Ristorante Luci the definition of neighborhood Italian in St. Paul. The owners have updated the menu of the 23-year-old restaurant and offer a great Wednesday night deal. By choosing one dish from each of the four sections of the menu— appetizers, soups or salads, pasta, and entrée—for $40, two people can each have a four-course tasting meal. The kitchen has classics like pasta carbonara down pat, and the easy pace and family-run feel make for a great mid-week date night. Luci Ancora, Luci’s sister restaurant across the street, offers the same deal on Tuesday and Thursday nights. • 470 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-699-8258, ristoranteluci.com
 

Broders' Pasta Bar

More than 30 years ago, the Broder family opened its first restaurant on the corner of 50th and Penn in south Minneapolis. They’ve managed to keep the place feeling fresh with an updated menu and sharp décor, and state-of-the-art equipment, including an imported pasta machine in the kitchen and a wine-storage system in the center of the horseshoe-shaped bar. In summer, between 4:30 and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Broders' offers a date-night dinner for two with a choice of two select pastas, side salad, olives, and a half carafe of wine for $30. While all the pastas tend to be consistently excellent, it’s hard to resist anything smothered in Bolognese sauce. Options are limited, and so is the seating, so come prepared to order a drink and wait on the patio. • 5000 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-9202, broders.com
 

Chimborazo

Marcos Pinguil, Chimborazo’s chef-owner, has livened up an aging building on Central Avenue with a few coats of paint and some hearty Ecuadorian cuisine. Starchy vegetables such as yucca, potatoes, and plantains come fried or mashed, or made into pancakes and croquettes, and accompany salsas like aji criollo, a cilantro and chile purée. The pork sandwiches are sloppy and wonderful and come with fresh-cut fries. On Wednesday date nights, select two special entrées and a bottle of wine for $35. • 2851 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-788-1328, chimborazorestaurant.com
 

GREAT FOR GROUPS

Bayport BBQ

Bayport BBQ

Texas-style barbecue—dry-smoked meat, served by the pound, with sauce on the side—is as scarce as Stetsons in these parts. But Bayport BBQ is just such a destination for Southern scratch cooking and live blues music. The kitchen staff bakes all the bread, smokes the meat, and mixes the lemonade (which is served in Mason jars and can be spiked with a shot of cherry-infused white whiskey). The big metal serving trays fill up fast, between the brisket, hot links, creamed corn, and baked beans, so take your pecan pie to go. • 328 Fifth Ave. N., Bayport, 651-955-6337, bayportbbq.com
 

Fasika

Fasika’s $36.50 Ultimate Combination platter is best consumed when its presented, so plan on dining with at least two friends. The platter is as beautiful as the clothing worn by some of Fasika's East African clientele: a round injera bread is dotted, like an artist’s palette, with a rainbow of orange carrots, green lettuce, ochre cabbage, yellow lentils, white-cheese crumbles, and deep-purple beets. The scoops of meat stew, including Berbere-style chicken served with a hard-cooked egg, display a surprising range of flavor nuance, with their hot, dusty spice blends. • 510 N. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, 651-646-4747, fasika.com
 

Holy Land

The “small” version of the Sheik’s Dinner says it feeds three, but it can handily defeat four hungry eaters. The heart of the $34.95 meal is a platter laden with chicken, beef, and lamb kabobs, plus gyro meat, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves. The dinner also includes huge portions of rice, hummus, and Greek salad, plus pita bread, and a couple pieces of baklava—all of it delicious. There's more food than one person can comfortably carry, so if you're doing takeout, make sure to bring along an extra set of hands. • 2513 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-781-2627; 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-870-6104, holylandbrand.com
 

Mandarin Kitchen

Even amid tornadoes, thunderstorms, or blizzards, at 9:59 a.m. on weekends, Mandarin Kitchen draws an airport-security-length queue outside its strip mall digs. When the restaurant opens, a minute later, diners flow into the dining room fast as a current, dodging trolley carts, slow-moving grandmothers, and dumpling-plump babies until they fill every table. The dim sum snacks come fast and furious, so decisiveness is essential—or just bring the biggest group possible and order it all. Three people can stuff themselves for $40. • 8766 Lyndale Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-884-5356
 

DUELING DATE NIGHTS

Bryant-Lake Bowl vs. The Red Stag Supperclub

Restaurateur Kim Bartmann offers Cheap Date Night, two ways. Mondays at the Bryant-Lake Bowl are a local legend among the scruffily hip: two entrées, one bottle of wine or four tap beers, and a round of bowling costs just $28 per couple. The kitchen chooses the entrées and the drinks, so be sure to call ahead late Monday afternoon to inquire about the evening’s selections. If the entrée options include gnocchi with ramps and sweet corn or grass-fed braised beef short ribs, the deal’s a steal. If the choice is between the mixed-greens salad with fried goat cheese or the turkey wing with collards and polenta, you’re better off waiting till Tuesday at the Red Stag, where the crowd tends to skew slightly older and doesn’t spill as much beer. The Stag’s rotating $32-per-couple date-night menu often features slightly fancier plates, including the likes of bison pot roast and eggplant Parmesan. Modest portions leave room for the dessert that's offered in lieu of bowling. (Note: It may be easier to impress a date with your pronunciation of financier, than try to turn a baby split into a spare.) • Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825-3737, bryantlakebowl.com • The Red Stag, 509 First Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-767-7766, redstagsupperclub.com
 

 

FOOD TRUCKS

Two years ago, street food meant literally food in the street, like banana peels and spilled slushies. Today, food-truck traffic practically jams the streets of both downtowns, with Australian kebabs, mac 'n' cheese, a full-on bacon trolley, and not one, but two cupcake mobiles. Among the ever-expanding fleet, several notable Twin Cities chefs are cooking in trucks to offer office workers a quick, affordable taste of their talents.
 

Barrio

The Barrio mini-chain, which chef Tim McKee helped launch, serves authentic Mexican fare with fine-dining refinement. The restaurants’ spin-off food truck has been a test ground for deep-fried soft-shell crab tacos and tortas. No tequila-on-wheels, unfortunately. • barriotequila.com, @barrio_truck
 

World Street Kitchen

When Sameh Wadi, chef-owner of Saffron, took to the streets, he expanded the geographic bounds of his Middle Eastern/Mediterranean repertoire. The curried chicken fusion bánh mì is fantastic, but to really see Wadi cut loose, order the Yum Yum Rice Bowl. The dish has the catch-all quality of Korean bibimbap, offering a heap of rice topped with a choice of chicken, short rib, or crispy tofu and piled with garnishes. Fresh herbs and greenery (cilantro, basil, Chinese broccoli) balance the rich umami tidbits (fried onions, peanuts, shiitake mushroom), and the whole mess is laced together with an addictive, creamy-spicy “secret sauce” and the sticky golden yolk of a soft-cooked egg. • eatwsk.com, @eatwsk1
 

Smack Shack Lobster Roll

Smack Shack

Josh Thoma, Tim McKee’s onetime business partner, brought the Twin Cities its first great lobster roll. The East Coast staple is nearly impossible to find in these parts, and the one served at Smack Shack is an impressive introduction: the briny pink-and-white meat arrives mostly unadorned, bursting between two slices of griddled Texas toast. Lobster prices have risen since the truck’s launch—sandwiches now cost $13—but it still beats trying to chase the creatures Annie Hall–style into the pot. • smack-shack.com, @smack_shack
 

Gastrotruck

Chef Stephen Trojahn, who formerly inhabited the fine-dining universe of Cosmos, launched his solo career in a mobile gastropub. His Gastrotruck specializes in gourmet sandwiches, which are stuffed with the likes of meatloaf, smoked pork belly, or black-bean patties, and garnished with housemade ketchup and mustard, pickled vegetables, and hot sauces. The grass-fed beef-brisket sandwich possesses all the pro’s culinary touches: the meat is tenderized in a rich, malty beer braise and topped with arugula and horseradish sauce. • gastrotruck.mobi, @gastrotruck
 

Chef Shack

Bison meat isn’t for amateurs. It’s easily overcooked, which turns it dry and tough. But the Chef Shack staff—led by Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson, two fine-dining veterans—serves perfectly juicy bison burgers that are piled to jaw-straining heights with lettuce, tomato, fried egg, and cheese. The Shack is best known for its mini-donuts (made with organic ingredients and Indian spices), but the rotating menu includes everything from tongue tacos to beet ice cream. • chefshack.org, @chefshack1
 

128 Mobile Café

When St. Paul’s beloved 128 Café went mobile, it created a dangerous scenario: barbecue addicts could have the restaurant’s famed ribs come directly to them. Though 128 doesn’t specialize in Southern cuisine, its command of the baby-back rib is unmatched. The meat on the rack is flecked with crispy black char, but the bites between the bones are pillowy and tender. And the spunky barbecue sauce adds just the right punch—it’s sweet and acidic, laced with pepper and smoke. The truck also offers salads and sandwiches, but the ribs are tough to resist. Cash only. • 128cafe.net, @128cafe
 

TAKEOUT

You are what you eat. And if you order the same pizza from the same place every time you don't want to cook dinner, guess what that makes you? Boring. Get yourself out of a takeout rut with these Thai joints, sub shops, and taquerías that have opened within the last couple of years.
 

Ipotli

Ipotli’s cobbled-together, skyway-level digs won’t compel one to linger, but the two-entrée combination—vegetable korma, chicken curry, chana masala, and chicken tikka masala are among the choices—comes with rice and bread for less than $10 and transports easily to a cubicle desk. Tandoori chicken on rice is oddly, yet deliciously, topped like a taco salad, with corn, lettuce, and shredded cheese. For an extra dollar or two, pair it with an earthy-sweet chai tea or a mango yogurt shake. • 601 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-605-8242, ipotli.com
 

Krungthep Thai

St. Paul’s legendary Bangkok Thai Deli recently opened a Minneapolis location, Krungthep Thai, on Eat Street. It’s not as glamorous as some of its Uptown competitors, but the prices at those Hennepin/Lake restaurants reflect their more upscale ambiance—and when it comes to takeout, why bother? At Krungthep, an order of fragrant green curry and pad Thai topped with a protein “combo” (pork, chicken, and shrimp) costs less than $20. Total. Just remember that, as with its sister restaurant, Krungthep’s spice levels aren’t plotted on the typical Minnesota curve. If you usually ask for medium, you probably want to start with mild. • 2523 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-874-7721
 

The Anchor Fish & Chips

A line stretches out the door at the always-packed Anchor Fish & Chips. Groups grumble and try to decide who will check in with the host to find how long they’ll have to wait. You smugly saunter past the crowds, up to the front of the line, and smile at the host, who is telling others the wait is still an hour, as she hands you a bag, neatly packed, with fish 'n' chips, shepherd’s pie, and a side of mushy peas. The fried Alaskan cod will suffer a bit in transit, so you might as well succumb to temptation and devour it before you get to the car. • 302 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-676-1300, theanchorfishandchips.com
 

Mozza Mia

Parasole restaurant group’s first pizza joint, Mozza Mia, offers gourmet pies, plus a few extra perks you won’t find at other local pizzerias, including silky, house-made mozzarella and a full bar. The Quattro Stagioni, or “four seasons,” is one of the kitchen’s signatures. Artichokes, onions, mushrooms, and Cotto ham divide the pie into four quadrants, with a sunny-side-up egg cracked squarely in the middle. If the restaurant is slammed with Edina cinema patrons, get your order to go. And sample the housemade limoncello while you wait. • 3910 W. 50th St., Edina 952-288-2882, mozzamia.com
 

Sosa Foods

Minneapolis-made mofongo on Minnehaha—say that five times fast! Or instead, go order some at Sosa Foods. Puerto Rico’s unofficial dish is a plantain mash that arrives mounded and fried, served with a rich broth, or “juice,” and sides of either shrimp or pork. Sandwiches like the tripleta, a mix of pastrami, ham, and turkey served on a long roll, come hot off the griddle laden with onions and shaved lettuce. The family-run eatery is housed in a convenience store and has limited seating, so call ahead for takeout. • 3909 Minnehaha Ave. Mpls., 612-728-9644, sosafoods.comcastbiz.net
 

On’s Thai Kitchen

On Khumchaya, who formerly headed the kitchen at her sister’s famed Bangkok Thai Deli in St. Paul, went and opened her own restaurant on the opposite end of St. Paul’s University Avenue. All the staples—pad Thai, spring rolls, curries—are reliably delicious. But On’s point of differentiation is her command of home-style dishes that aren’t often seen on local menus: the spiced meat salad, nam thok; the seafood custard, hu mok; Dungeness crab stir-fried with scrambled egg and yellow curry; and deep-fried pork belly with Chinese broccoli. (If you dine inhouse, the whole tilapia, which comes steamed or fried, is great for sharing.) • 1613 University Ave. W., St. Paul 651-644-1444, onskitchen.com
 

 

Las Teresitas

Las Teresitas' homestyle Mexican fare rises above its modest, mismatched setting, as the restaurant represents the comeback of Gaspar Perez, founder of the now-shuttered Tacos Morelos chain. Petite tacos, priced just $1.60 apiece, are filled with every sort of meat including beef suadero (brisket), lengua (tongue), and cabeza (head). Fresh guacamole costs $3.50, and chicken mole, made from scratch, is $9.95. Every order is best supplemented from the restaurant’s salsa bar, which offers the best and broadest selection in town: roasted serranos with garlic, tomato chipotle, pico de gallo, and chile de arbol among them. • 5748 34th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-727-1783, lasteresita.com
 

Sonora Grill

Sonora Grill, in the Midtown Global Market, makes a strong case for expanding your burrito-taco-enchilada repertoire to include more dishes native to its namesake state, including pinchos (skewered meats), caramelos (tacos with cheese), and bocadillos (slow-cooked Latin-style meats served sandwich-style). Another favorite: the Sonora-style hot dog, in which a housemade wiener is wrapped in bacon and topped with turkey chorizo, sautéed onions, tomato, and cilantro aioli. Take that, Chicago! • Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St., Suite 126, Mpls., 612-871-1900
 

:D-Spot

:D-Spot chef-owner Darin Koch makes great wings, some of which you have to earn the right to try. Specifically, the sepukku wings: “Some people are not ready for the heat,” he says, explaining that the wings are named after an ancient Japanese disembowelment ritual (of course). The sepukku are made with the world’s hottest peppers, the Moruga, and if you want to try them, you’ll have to go through six other rounds of wings, in ascending order of heat, to prove your fire-eating mettle. The sepukku’s “euphoric buzz”—his phrase—stays with you for three days. “You don’t get your name on the wall, there’s no plaque,” Koch says. “You do it for the love or you don’t do it.” • 705 Century Ave. N. Suite B, Maplewood, 651-730-7768, eatatdspot.com
 

Jalsa

Jalsa Indian Fast Food sits in the back corner of a large and busy Indian grocery store. Most dishes are inspired from the food carts and roadside food stalls of hectic Indian markets. Try the authentic snacks, or chaat, like the savory fried-potato cake smothered in a spicy and piquant sauce. The mashed-potato sandwich and lentil-and-rice pancakes make Jalsa a good destination for vegetarians. And while you’re there, dive into the grocery store’s bulk-food isle for an education in chivda, a popular curry snack that might be considered the Chex Party Mix of India. • 855 45th Ave. NE, Hilltop, 763-951-2285, jalsamn.com
 

Pizzeria Lola

Pizzeria Lola

The pineapple pizza of your youth—the one you rejected due to its combination of soggy canned fruit and limp Canadian bacon—redeems itself at Pizzeria Lola. When Ann Kim selects higher quality ingredients and bakes them onto a tender-crisp crust, sweet-salty bliss ensues. Lola’s dining room is as appealing as its pies, but there’s often a lengthy wait for a table as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Takeout orders are accepted Monday through Thursday, and their only drawback is missing out on the luscious housemade soft-serve. • 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com
 

Zen Box Izakaya

Zen Box opened last year as a Japanese style pub: a place to hang out, enjoy some snacks, and socialize. Takeout was not a part of that concept, but the crowds made their desires known, and now everything on the vast menu, with the exception of ramen and happy-hour specials, is offered boxed and bagged. When you’re on the run and you need octopus balls—that is, spheres of octopus battered and fried, served with barbecue sauce and bonito flakes—now you know where to go. • 602 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-3936, zenboxizakaya.com
 

Uchu

Peruvian cuisine has shown up on the national radar as hot cuisine for 2012 due in large part to bright flavors and sauces made from the new “it” pepper: aji amarillo, a yellow chili with medium heat and tangy fruitiness. But it’s hard to come by in the Twin Cities, outside of Uchu, a sparse dining room only recently converted from a Pancheros. It’s a small operation, so you’ll often find chef-owner Jorge Armando Sarmiento walking the dining room, checking in with guests, and then dashing back to the open kitchen to prepare the meals. Try specialties like chicha, a soft drink made from purple corn, or choose from four varieties of ceviche. • 4130 Berkshire Ln. N., Plymouth, 763-577-3744, uchuperu.com
 

Hmong Village

Filled with a long line of food-stall style restaurants, produce stands, and merchandise vendors, Hmong Village is the Hmong population’s answer to big-box retail. It’s Southeast Asia’s version of Super Target: You might come for a bowl of noodle soup, spicy papaya salad, or rich Hmong sausage, but you’ll find yourself leaving with an armful of herbs and greens, baby mangoes, or handmade garden tools, too. • 1001 Johnson Pkwy., St. Paul, 651-771-7886
 

iPho by Saigon

Last year, things were not looking good for Saigon, one of University Avenue’s best-loved Vietnamese eateries. They stopped taking credit cards. Their hours and menu selections became more sporadic. And then they closed their doors. But the restaurant has recently been reborn as iPho by Saigon, under the guidance of the original owner’s younger brother, with a fresh coat of paint, a new manager, and a few new menu items. Despite the new name’s emphasis on soup, the eatery still offers one of the best-made bánh mì in town—the sandwiches are assembled on order, using fresh bread made in their kitchen bakery daily. Favorites include the new roast beef and fried fish versions. And carryout sandwiches come four for the price of three. • 704 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-225-8751
 

Pairings Food and Wine Market

Pairings encourages customers to purchase beverages in its retail wine market, and then bring them into the adjacent counter-service restaurant to enjoy them with a meal at no extra cost. The straightforward menu has surprisingly fun options, including duck confit pizza, and “angry” burgers with roasted jalapeños. Choose from among the listed items or select toppings for customizable pizzas, pastas, and salads. Shop the wine store, and ask the staff for wine-paring advice while the restaurant staff packages your takeout order. • 6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka, 952-426-0522, pairingsfoodandwine.com
 

El Taco Riendo

This purist’s taquería in northeast Minneapolis offers little ambiance beyond televised fútbol matches and salsa music on the radio. The carpet is soiled and scuffed from all the foot traffic headed to a counter-service kitchen, which turns out made-to-order tacos. Try classic tacos like al pastor, carnitas, or tinga de pollo. For the more adventurous, sample tongue, stomach, or pigskin fried and cooked in red sauce. • 2416 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-781-3000, eltaco-riendo.com
 

Andale Taqueria y Mercado

Andale Taqueria y Mercado represents Richfield’s changing restaurant culture: the restaurant and market replaced one of the original Ember’s, which had been there since 1961. The taqueria’s floor-to-ceiling windows and vaulted ceilings showcase the vintage architecture, but the real action takes place behind the counter, where a massive cylinder of al pastor taco meat—chili-rubbed slices of pork stacked high and topped with a chunk of pineapple—rotates around its axis, in the style of gyro meat, as it slowly cooks. The cooks shave slices for the tacos, tortas, and platters that make up most of the menu. In the adjacent market, the butchers offer specialty cuts such as cecina, beef sliced paper-thin and rubbed with oil and salt. • 7700 Nicollet Ave. S., Richfield, 612-259-8868, andaletaqueriaymercado.com
 

Szechuan

Szechuan cuisine continues to grow in Minnesota with multiple options available all over the metro. Among the nicer newcomers is Szechuan in Roseville, situated in a sea of fast-food joints, mega stores, and retail outlets just south of the Rosedale Center. The large menu, similar to other Szechuan restaurants in town, offers all the favorites: chewy dan dan noodles, spicy fish in Szechuan chili broth, and crispy duck—if you’re dining in, the whole bird makes for a stellar sharable feast. • 2193 Snelling Ave. N., Roseville, 651-633-3113, szechuanmn.com
 

Gorkha Palace

East meets East Hennepin: Gorkha Palace merges Nepali, Indian, and Tibetan cuisine. Tibetan-style dumplings (momos) are served generously with eight to an order and cost just $5 during happy hour. Choose between vegetable, turkey, or yak. (But really, when else do you get the chance to eat yak?) • 23 Fourth St. NE, Mpls., 612-886-3451, gorkhapalace.com
 

Rachel Hutton is a senior editor for Minnesota Monthly. Jason Ross is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the TCTaste blog.
 


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