Cheap Eats

The 99 best splurges in the metro under $10

What’s cheap? When I embarked on a quest to discover the best cheap eats in the Twin Cities, my first task was to define “cheap.” To do so, I scampered to the top of the Foshay Tower, perched cross-legged on the spire, and meditated. “I know that $12 is the new $10,” I told the little birds that flitted around me curiously. “But I think I don’t care, because in the wake of the Great Recession, people are more sensitive to these incrementally creeping prices than ever before.”

“Then you must do what you think is right,” twittered the little birds. “Go forth and find the most delicious, craveable, wonderful dishes everywhere—but they must cost less than $10.”

So I plunged to earth and did just that. But I was tested mercilessly. Dishes that cost $10.50, $10.95, even $10.25 mocked and baited me at every turn. I ran weeping from one particularly beguiling temptress, a beef with broccoli for $10.95. In the end, though, I emerged triumphant: Here is my list of the best cheap eats the Twin Cities currently has to offer—the dishes that will haunt you in your dreams with their deliciousness yet make nary a dent in your wallet. You’ll find date destinations, takeout spots, and some of the most authentic and delicious ethnic dishes from Lebanon, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and so many more places in these pages. So empty your penny jar, rifle through those couch cushions, and don’t forget to look under the car seats before you go for a bite. It’s a delicious time to be thrifty.
 

Date-worthy Destinations

Nick and Eddie

Walleye and chips, $9

This Loring Park restaurant had a near-death experience last summer and emerged as a completely different restaurant, one that is essentially the Minnesota holy grail: a date-worthy, sexy, stylish spot with five-star cooking and $9 entrées! The walleye is that $9 entrée: It’s a generous fillet of line-caught walleye, tempura-breaded and fried until it’s crisp yet as light as a balloon. The fish is served with a big pile of hand-cut, real-potato-tasting fries, and presented alongside a tartar sauce made with pickled habaneros. Dip a forkful of the light-as-a-wisp walleye in the zippy tartar, follow it with a meaty French fry, and grab your phone to tell everyone in town you’re eating cheaper than them—and better. ☛ 1612 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5800, nickandeddie.com
 

Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque

Barbecue pulled-pork sandwich, $9

A barbecue pork sandwich from Smalley’s is a spicy-tender pimiento-smoked joy. Get the coleslaw as your complementary side dish and pile it up on top of the sandwich for a hot-and-cool taste sensation. ☛ 23 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-439-5375, smalleysbbq.com
 

Toast Wine Bar & Café

Antipasti plate, $10

This little wine bar feels like an insider’s secret, partly because it’s hidden on a side street in Minneapolis’s North Loop neighborhood and partly because, when you order something like the $10 cheese-and-antipasti plate, you are presented with all of the fine-dining tricks of the trade that make white-tablecloth restaurants feel so special—the hard-to-find cheeses and crazy-exotic garnishes like mustard-cured candied violets. No wonder this is where you’ll find all the fine-dining professionals on their nights off. ☛ 415 N. First St., Mpls., 612-333-4305, toastwinebar­andcafe.com
 

Cheeky Monkey Deli

Cumin pork roast, $8

An individual pot of succulent, tender pork with a wee bit of spice and a lime on the side to jazz it up is just what a Minnesotan craves to get through a cold winter night—and the fact that the joint is date-night stylish and serves beer, wine, and fabulous desserts makes it all the more reason to bring someone special here. ☛ 525 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-6066, cheekymonkeydeli.com
 

Wilde Roast Café

Turkey-meat-loaf sandwich, $9

With a full wine list, generous beer list, and a chandelier- and fireplace-bedecked dining room that resembles a luxurious old mansion, the Wilde Roast is a coffee shop that outperforms most full-service restaurants. Be sure to try the turkey-meatloaf sandwich: It’s comforting, filling, and big enough to prevent you from ordering every decadent and delicious dessert in the pastry case. ☛ 518 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-331-4544, wilderoastcafe.com
 

Mai Village

Bún grilled shrimp noodle salad, $8.25

The family behind Mai Village imported a whole pavilion from the city of Hue to fill their Frogtown restaurant—an astonishing feat. But if you can pull yourself away from ogling the architecture, you’ll note that the bún salads are some of the best bargains in town. The one made with grilled shrimp is excellent—the shrimp (or your choice of other topping) contrasts nicely with the roasted peanuts, fresh green onions, shredded mint, pickled carrots, and a lively sweetened-vinegar-and-chili sauce. ☛ 394 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-290-2585, maivillage.net
 

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro

Com tam platter, $10

The décor is French in a theme of understated frills, the cuisine is highly accomplished Vietnamese, and the drinks list is filled with affordable small artisanal-produced bottles. No wonder Ngon is first in St. Paul’s heart! But it’s the broken-rice platters that steal the budget limelight. Ten dollars gets you a choice of steak, shrimp, chicken, roast pork, or a pork meatloaf and egg cake, as well as a serving of broken rice (stickier than the unbroken kind, not as sticky as real sticky rice), cucumber slices, and sweet pickled carrots and daikon. ☛ 799 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonvietnamesebistro.com

 

 

W. A. Frost

Cold-smoked-salmon gravlax club sandwich, $9.50

The bar menu at W. A. Frost is a must-know for any penny-pinching gourmet. It offers bargain treats like duck-confit flatbread, fennel-scented mussels, and roast-mushroom linguini—all priced at $10 or under. If you try only one dish on the remarkable menu, though, make it the cold-smoked-salmon gravlax club: The fish gets a melodic vibrancy from its traditional Swedish cure, and the sweet toasted brioche and dill cream combine to make the sandwich taste posh and important. ☛ 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com
 

Spoonriver

Savory wild mushroom-pistachio terrine, $8

All the big food-thinkers in the country have now concluded that the key to a healthy body and a sustainable planet is for all of us to eat more plants. But is this a yummy way to live? Proceed to Spoonriver for a strong affirmative, as evidenced in dishes like this mushroom terrine which is bursting with the fifth flavor, umami, also known as meatiness. The dish will have even the most dedicated lovers of pork rillettes in full swoon. ☛ 750 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-436-2236, spoonriverrestaurant.com
 

The Strip Club

Pig’s Eye poutine, $9

According to legend, St. Paul was settled by trappers, many of them French or French-Canadian. Just as legendary is the Montreal dish poutine, in which French fries are combined with cheese curds and gravy in a way that tests the skills of Canada’s famed national health service. But of all the versions of poutine ever made in Minnesota, the Strip Club’s is the only one worth busting your diet for: The gravy is just like your great-great grandma used to make, only gussied up with truffles and earthy-tasting potatoes and tangy real cheese. Is it the spirit of those old trappers that makes the Strip Club’s poutine so good? Perhaps, but let this story serve as an alert to the citizens of Minneapolis: Those seeking the most craveable poutine in the Cities have good reason to portage east. ☛ 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247, domeats.com
 

Masa

3-for-$10 lunch special, $10

In assembling this cheap-eats guide, I largely steered clear of happy hour and other time-sensitive specials. It’s too complicated for average eaters to track these things. That said, the Masa lunch special is really worth knowing about, even though it’s only available during weekday lunches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., because during those blessed hours a mere 10 bucks gets you your choice of three of the top-flight Mexican dishes on Masa’s regular menu. Try the tortilla soup, with its intense broth and half-a-dozen garnishes, or the rich and meaty torta carnitas submarine sandwich and a shredded chicken taco with chipotle crema, for instance, and you’ll be taking a whole culinary tour of the best that Mexican cuisine has to offer—at little more than fast-food prices. ☛ 1070 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-6272, masa-restaurant.com
 

Jasmine 26 Restaurant & Bar

Sweet apple salad, $7

How craveable can a salad be? Try this one and find out: Long strands of julienned green apple mingle with toasty, creamy cashews, fresh cilantro leaves, a zingy lime juice dressing, and your choice of chicken or tofu to create a salad that will have you clicking your heels together in joy. It’s one of those rare utterly healthy dishes that has the power to stir the soul. ☛ 8 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-870-3800, jasmine26.net
 

Be’Wiched Deli

Soup and half sandwich, $8.50

Be’Wiched is what happens when a couple of fine-dining chefs open a sandwich shop. But while the individual sandwiches each deserve their own rhapsodic due (is the asparagus sandwich the best in the world?), it’s the soup and half-sandwich combo that is a frugal gourmet’s ace-in-the-hole. Maybe today it’s an Italian minestrone soup, rich with crisp green beans and paired with a tuna-confit-and-preserved-lemon sandwich. Maybe tomorrow it’s a lobster-apple bisque, alongside a house-smoked turkey sandwich stuffed with Medjool dates. Factor in bonuses like the stylish décor and it’s obvious that Be’Wiched is one of the top date-night destinations for the tastily thrifty. ☛ 800 Washington Ave. N. Mpls., 612-767-4330, bewicheddeli.com
 

Tanpopo Noodle Shop

Agedashi tofu teishoku, $10

Agedashi tofu is among the world’s most lyrical dishes, the fried tofu cubes garnished with wisps of tuna bonito that wave and wiggle on the plate like something under the sea. At Lowertown’s airy little Japanese restaurant Tanpopo, this lyrical and tasty dish is also a bargain, served as it is with rice, miso soup, vegetables, and a lively ginger-dressed salad. ☛ 308 Prince St., St. Paul, 651-209-6527, tanpoporestaurant.com
 

112 Eatery

Bacon, egg, and harissa sandwich, $7

The crisp salt of the bacon, the lush salt of the fried egg, the spice of the Moroccan harissa, and the foil of the plain yet good bread combine to make this sandwich one of the most important in the history of Minnesota dining. After all, it’s arguably the signature taste that launched one of Minneapolis’s most perennially popular restaurants, 112 Eatery. If you’ve been whiling away your visits gorging on 112’s high-end offerings, like the foie-gras meatballs, think about reserving a few bucks to taste the cheap thrill that helped to take Minnesota chef-driven cuisine to the next level. ☛ 112 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-343-7696, 112eatery.com
 

Ginger Hop

Kimchi Reuben, $9.95

Anyone who hears about the kimchi Reuben at the new Northeast microbrew-centered pan-Asian restaurant Ginger Hop immediately cringes: spicy fermented Korean-cabbage pickles on a corned-beef Reuben? But it’s great, the spice giving the meat variety, the meat giving the kimchi weight. The sweet-potato fries on the side add to this strangely wonderful combination. Is this Multiculturalism 2.0? ☛ 201 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-746-0304, gingerhop.com
 

Birchwood Café

Chipotle barbecued tofu sandwich, $10

In the right kitchen, tofu can sometimes be rendered into a state that makes even avid meat lovers admit it’s unspeakably delicious. And the Birchwood is one of those kitchens. This tofu is glazed with a house-made apricot-chipotle-barbecue sauce, and paired with guacamole, cilantro, watermelon radishes, carrots, and sweet onions. It’s the only veggie barbecue in the world that would stand a chance of winning at a rib cook-off. ☛ 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com
 

Anchor Fish & Chips

Fish and chips, $8.50

This new northeast pub was the talk of the town last year. The sustainably caught, crispy, and craveable halibut fillets were so big they flopped over the edges of plates the size of footballs. The cozy, Victorian-casual atmosphere made the place feel like a spot in the British Isles that had been going strong since the Edwardian era. If you missed it last year, don’t miss it this year: These are the fish and chips by which Minnesota fish and chips will forevermore be judged. ☛ 302 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-676-1300, theanchorfishandchips.com
 

Pairings Food & Wine Market

Duck-confit pizza, $9.95

The idea of putting duck confit on a pizza might seem silly—until you try Pairings‘s brilliant version. Tangy goat cheese nestles beside rich strands of duck meat, which itself cozies up to tart dried cherries and peppery tangles of arugula. Each bite is a charming sweet-sour-salty-rich contrast, but also benefits greatly from the toasty buoyant pizza crust. It’s so much more than a pizza, but costs so much less than a fancy restaurant meal. In other words: an idea whose time has come. ☛ 6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka, 952-426-0522, pairingsfoodandwine.com
 

Black Forest Inn

Potato pancakes, $4 (two for $7.25)

Potato pancakes are one of the many great foods in life that are easy to make but hard to make well. Black Forest, the classic German beer hall and restaurant, makes perfect ones, the potatoes mixed with just enough onion and parsley to give them savory flavor and texture, but then fried and served simply with applesauce or sour cream. Pair them with a good imported German beer for a decadent meal made from the most basic ingredients. ☛ 1 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-872-0812, blackforestinnmpls.com
 

Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine

Nasi Lemak, $7.95

Think of this ultra-traditional Malaysian meal as the meat-loaf-and-potatoes plate of a spice island where coconuts grow. The centerpiece—the “potatoes” side of the equation, if you will—is coconut rice, a not-sweet-but-pleasantly-complex-and-rich rice, scented with cloves and pandan leaves. The meat is potently curried chicken, cooked on the bone and served in a little heap beside the rice. Then there’s a half hard-boiled egg (just like the one you’d find in a meat-loaf slice?), cucumber slices, and a salad of dried sambal anchovies. Ignore the anchovies if you must, but this is everything a comfort food should be: mild but confident, complex but unified, satisfying, and priced for everyday budgets. ☛ 2608 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-8282, peninsulamalaysiancuisine.com
 

Vincent

Omelette du chef, $8.95 

 One of the surprising pleasures of eating on the cheap is that it gives you a chance to taste just how much cooking technique really matters. For example, try the Caesar salad or the omelet of the day from Vincent Francoual’s lunch menu sometime and you’ll be amazed: The Caesar is simple and intense in exactly the right way, and the omelet, light as a bubble, is so understated and exquisitely executed that most people could attend cooking school for a lifetime and never equal it. ☛ 1100 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-630-1189, vincentrestaurant.com
 

 

Small Perfections

Mort’s Delicatessen

The One-Pound Knish, $5.39

This doorstop of potatoey perfection is creamy, weighty, salty, and craveable—a real old-school delicatessen marvel. ☛ 525 Winnetka Ave. N., Golden Valley, 763-544-2900 morts-deli.com

Isles Bun & Coffee

Caramel pecan bun, $4

Lots of people make caramel buns, but almost all make the mistake of thinking that it’s the sweet part of the treat that is the big draw. Not so! It’s the bready, biscuity, wheaty freshness of Isles’ always-just-baked buns that makes their caramel rolls so exquisite. The sticky, lush caramel or rich cream-cheese icing are simply the components that make that fresh, bready goodness decadent. ☛ 1424 W. 28th St., Mpls., 612-870-4466, islesbun.com
 

Coffee News Café

$5.75 grilled cheese

Coffee News draws equal parts Macalester students (it’s practically on the St. Paul college’s campus) and thrifty gourmets. The students come for the good coffee and free wi-fi. The gourmets come for the fresh-cut French fries speckled with bits of fresh garlic that accompany every sandwich, and the simply wonderful old-school grilled cheese made with good soft bread griddled till its crisp as a chip. ☛ 1662 Grand Ave.. S., St. Paul., 651-698-3324
 

Papa’s Restaurant & Deli

Philly cheese steak, $9.99

There’s only one cheese steak in Minnesota worth driving across town for, and that’s the beauty at north Minneapolis’s Papa Mike’s. The roll is big and soft, the meat is beefy, tender, and flavorful, the onions are well-caramelized, and the provolone cheese is tangy enough to taste but subtle enough to showcase the meat. Take a bite and you’ll think you’ve been transported to a glorious cheese-steak land like Chicago or Philadelphia.  ☛ 4159 Thomas Ave. N., Mpls., 612-521-7272, papaspizzaandpasta.com
 

St. Paul Bagelry & Deli

Everything bagel with smoked-salmon cream cheese, $2.40

A true New York bagel hits a dozen important notes of flavor and texture: It’s soft and springy inside, chewy and resilient outside, sweet and salty, big and subtle—and the best bagel this side of the Hudson has got to be the one at Roseville’s little can-do bagel shop, which now supplies a number of local grocery stores, too. Visit the mother ship, though, and you can sample their house-made flavored cream cheeses, like the fresh briny-smoked salmon cream cheese, or the just-as-satisfying vegetarian East Coast staple based on green olives. It’s a bagel to make any New Yorker happy, and a wonderful local way to sample the favorite snack of one of the greatest cities on Earth. ☛ 1702 Lexington Ave. N., Roseville, 651-488-1700, stpaulbagelry.com
 

Milda’s Café

Pasty, $6.75

The pasty (pronounced pass-tee) is an important part of Minnesota’s culinary heritage. Legend has it that the pastry-wrapped treats were brought to northern Minnesota by Cornish miners who carried them underground for lunch while working mines on the Iron Range. In contemporary Minneapolis, the best pasty is made at Milda’s, a little lunch-and-breakfast-only joint on the border of Golden Valley and the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. Milda’s pasties are served only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but the beefy, potatoey treat is worth seeking out. ☛ 1720 Glenwood Ave., Mpls., 612-377-9460
 

Ring Mountain Creamery Café

Dolci latte shake, $4.50

One of Italy’s great contributions to the world of street foods, the affogato, a vanilla gelato served in a pool of espresso, will make you weak at the knees. At Eagan’s homegrown Ring Mountain Creamery Café, the classic affogato is ramped up with full-throttle American glee. The “dolci latte shake” is a home-made gelato blended like a milk shake with espresso. Try one with ultra-dark chocolate gelato; dark as a blackout in an underwater cave and so good it should be regulated as a controlled substance. ☛ 1965 Cliff Lake Rd., Eagan, 651-454-7464, ringmountain.com
 

Liberty Frozen Custard

Turtle sundae, $4.49

The little concentrated pecans that top Liberty Custard’s turtle sundae add profound nutty oomph to the dish, while the hot fudge adds depth and the fresh vanilla custard makes it taste real and innocent and wholesome. ☛ 5401 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-8700, libertyfrozencustard.com
 

Shorty & Wag’s

Four chicken wings with ho-jo’s, $6.90

No roundup of the Twin Cities’ best cheap eats would be complete without a mention of some good plain-old, fried-chicken wings—and Shorty and Wag’s has the best. So crisp, so salty, so meaty, so right in every way a bucket seems to vanish in seconds, leaving nothing but a strong desire to get more again soon. ☛ 3753 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-0619, shortyandwags.com
 

The Brothers’ Deli

New York–style pastrami sandwich, $9.09

Tender, plush pastrami, fresh tender rye, all of it piled high, all of it peppery and old-world and real. It’s the best pastrami sandwich in Minneapolis, hands-down. ☛ 50 S. Sixth St., Mpls., 612-341-8007, thebrothersdeli.com
 

Maison Darras

Prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil panini, $4.49

Ever since every coffee shop in town got a panini press, the concept has been degraded. A slightly warm grilled cheese is not a panini! What Maison Darras serves is panini: real, good French bread smashed and grilled with top-flight ingredients like prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves, until what emerges from the panini press is an indistinguishable whole new thing, and a scrumptious thing at that. ☛ 401 Robert St. N., St. Paul, 651-379-2770
 

Turtle Bread Company

Quart of soup, $8.79

Few families in south Minneapolis aren’t aware of the last-minute-dinner potential of soup and a loaf of bread from Turtle Bread. But in case you’re one of those families, please know that some of the best loaves in the country are to be had at Turtle Bread, alongside refrigerator cases filled with quarts of homemade soup in flavors ranging from Heart of Artichoke (with tangy Parmesan cheese) to New England clam chowder. ☛ 3421 W. 44th St., Mpls., 612-924-6013; 4762 Chicago Ave., Mpls., 612-823-7333; turtlebread.com
 

St. Paul Cheese Shop

Prosciutto di parma and talleggio sandwich, $9

Sandwiches are markedly enhanced by fancy cheese. But who ever has fancy cheese on hand for mere sandwich-making? The St. Paul Cheese shop, that’s who. This brand new offshoot of the great France 44 Cheese Shop on the Minneapolis–Edina border has a whole array of exquisitely sourced sandwiches, though it’s the prosciutto and tallegio one that is the real heartbreaker. Can everything wonderful about Italy really be compressed into a single bite? ☛ 1573 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-698-3391, france44.blogspot.com
 

Yum! Kitchen and Bakery

Beef stew, $8.95

A recent visit to Yum! revealed that six out of 10 tables were having the beef stew. No wonder: Eating this classic comfort of good beef, good gravy, and a ton of mashed potatoes feels like it should be a fundamental Midwestern right, alongside the right to get homemade quilts from Grandma at Christmas. ☛ 4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000, yumkitchen.com

Fat Lorenzo’s

Meatball hoagie, $7.99

The best meatball sub in the state, this zesty, gooey, plush, and, of course, meaty creation is about the size of a toaster oven and in many ways more versatile: Got a game to celebrate? A teenage football player to feed? An East Coast friend longing for home? A hunger that can’t be filled by mere human-size amounts of food? This sandwich will get all of those jobs done. Add some garlic cheese bread if you don’t want to eat again for a year. ☛ 5600 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-2040, fatlorenzos.com
 

Jerabek’s  New Bohemian

Chicken potpie, $4.95

Is it the flaky crust, buttery and minutely layered, or the creamy center, rich with chicken pieces and vegetables, that makes Jerabek’s chicken potpies so good? Hard to say, but once you try one you’ll know why this was the ultimate craveable comfort food of your grandparents’ generation, and you’ll start regarding the frozen ones in your local grocery store as nasty imposters. ☛ 56 E. Sixth St., St. Paul, 651-354-4332; 63 W. Winifred St., St. Paul, 651-228-1245, jerabeks.com
 

 

Authentic Ethnic

Punch Neapolitan Pizza

Margherita pizza, $5.95

While it’s always satisfying to get Punch’s most expensive pizzas—the ones loaded up with premium imported ingredients—it’s also worthwhile to remember that the cheapest pizzas, like the $5.95 Margherita, offer sublime, transporting flavor for the price of a single glass of wine at a fancy Italian place. ☛ Various metro locations, punchpizza.com
 

La Loma

“The Oaxaqueno,” $3.20

Tamales are the ultimate hunger-killer, the steamed cornmeal dough and spicy center uniting to satisfy both the flavor-seeking side of appetite and the fill-me-up side. The Oaxaqueno, in which on-the-bone country pork ribs in a red-chili sauce are overloaded into a banana leaf, is everything to love about a tamale, cubed: Bigger, meatier, spicier, more intense, and even more craveable. ☛ 1515 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-728-5430, lalomatamales.com
 

Tea House

Dan-Dan noodles, $5.95

The Sichuan equivalent of a perfect pizza crust, these wheaty, plain, and cold noodles, with their topping of pork-chili sauce, are transcendently good in the way that only very simple, well-done dishes can be. ☛ 88 Nathan Ln., Plymouth, 763-544-3422, ourteahouse.com
 

Tea House 2

“ Shanghai Mini Juicy Buns,” $5.95

Soup dumplings are a figure of cult-fixation on the East Coast, with food-hounds journeying great distances to sample versions of the difficult dish, in which a taut dumpling skin contains not just a bite of filling but a few spoonfuls of broth. Find out why with an order from Tea House 2. (Only the St. Paul location of the Tea Houses, a local chain of restaurants with similarly inspired, but often quite different, Sichuan items, has these darlings.) Each quivering dumpling enters your mouth as a solid, and then explodes deliciously into a much more complicated thing. It’s like a Juicy Lucy taken to the next level! ☛ 1676 Suburban Ave., St. Paul, 651-771-1790, ourteahouse.com

Little Szechuan

Ma-po tofu, $9.95

To someone who has never tried it, the idea of tender tofu cubes swimming in a pork sauce so spicy it will make steam come shooting out of your ears may not sound that appealing. But as anyone who has experienced the tingling yin-and-yang heights and depths of this dish knows, it’s unforgettable and addictive. ☛ 422 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-222-1333, littleszechuan.com
 

Hmong International Market

Barbecue pork belly, $6

What’s better than bacon? How about a pound of bacon, not cut into thin, meager little slices but instead grilled whole, as barbecue, and cut into giant, marshmallow-sized chunks for you to pair with hot dipping sauce? This better bacon is the specialty of the Hmong International Market (alternately known as the Hmong Flea Market) near the capitol in St. Paul, a place you can find either by map or triangulating the glazed, happy grins of its dazzled customers. ☛ 217 Como Ave., St. Paul, 612-382-6403
 

Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine

“Insane Chicken,” $7.95

Brooklyn Park’s Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine is the best restaurant no one knows about—and there’s no better showcase of the spot’s talents than its duo of signature salads, Insane Chicken and Crazy Duck. Both are essentially riffs on classic Southeast Asian larb salad, for which meat is intensely seasoned with roasted rice powder, lime juice, chilies, cilantro, and other spices and then presented with plenty of lettuce and sliced cucumbers. The duck version is a little earthier tasting, the chicken a little lighter, but both are mad good—spicy as the best taco, but also refreshing, brisk, and, with the abundance of vegetables and lack of cooking oil, crazy-good for you. ☛ 8600 Edinburgh Center Dr., Brooklyn Park, 763-494-8809, lemongrassthaicuisine.net
 

Chimbarozo

Camarones encocado, $10

Ecuadorian cuisine encompasses foods from both the Latin American tropics and the high Andean mountains. At Chimbarozo in northeast Minneapolis, the more tropical dishes are particularly good, especially the camarones encodado, a sweet and fragrant shrimp dish made with lots of coconut milk and ripe red bell peppers. ☛ 2851 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-788-1328
 

Taqueria La Hacienda

Al pastor alambre, $8.73

Al pastor is the Mexican version of gyros, a big cone of pork meat cooked on a rotating spit, and at the top of the spit is a hunk of pineapple, which bastes the meat as it cooks. Like gyros, this is some good, craveable stuff, and the best is made by Taqueria La Hacienda, at either Burnsville or Minneapolis locations. Once you pick your location, pick your portion size—smallish, in a taco, or gargantuan, in an alambre, in which the meat is fried on a griddle and served on a whole mess of tortillas, fanned out into an edible plate. It’s good stuff—almost too good, really. Once you know about it, you may find your car, as if steered by ghosts, inexplicably pilots itself to a Taqueria La Hacienda parking lot. ☛ 334 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-822-2715; 2000 Williams Dr., Burnsville, 952-808-6895
 

Emily’s Lebanese Deli

Spinach pie, $5

This little northeast Minneapolis restaurant is legendary for its spinach pies, in which a lemony, onion-flecked spinach filling is nicely contrasted with a big, roasty, yeast-dough crust. Get some lubin, the house-made thick yogurt, to dip chunks of spinach pie in and you’ve got the sort of simple, satisfying home cooking that people have been enjoying ever since people settled down into villages. ☛ 641 University Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-379-4069, emilyslebanesedeli.com
 

DeGidio’s Restaurant & Bar

Italian meatball dip, $9.95

DeGidio’s is an old-school St. Paul Italian-American restaurant with a killer marinara recipe and a budget-pleasing menu. Chief among the pleasures, though, is the Italian meatball dip: Three big plush meatballs, served on a sea of mostaccioli swimming in an ocean of perfectly spicy marinara, all of it baked under a generous quilt of melted mozzarella. Spicy, savory, rich, and comforting in equal measure, it’s as good—and as good a bargain—as there is to be found anywhere in Minnesota. ☛ 425 W. Seventh St., St. Paul, 651-291-7105, degidios.com

 

Blue Nile

Missiraa Gurracha, $8.75

 Most people who go to Blue Nile splurge for the combination plates, which run $11 to $14 a person and offer a taste of a whole range of classic Ethiopian dishes. If you’re on an even tighter budget though, try a single vegetarian dish like the spicy lentil stew, Missiraa Gurracha, served on the Blue Nile’s incomparable fresh-made biddenna (or injera), the spongy, pancake-like bread which will serve as the dish’s plate. Add a local Surly beer for a true present-day-Minneapolis experience. ☛ 2027 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-3000, bluenilempls.com
 

Rooster’s BBQ Deli

Half-barbecue-chicken dinner, $9.09

Rooster’s is one of St. Paul’s old barbecue masters, and their simple smoky-flavored chicken is a particular joy, the sweet meat accented perfectly with a shot of hickory smoke. The coleslaw, bun, and fries that come with the dinner make a good thing a full meal. ☛ 979 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-0969, roosterbbq.com
 

Evergreen Chinese Restaurant

Three-cup tofu, $9.95

Most people know this little Nicollet Avenue restaurant for its vegetarian dishes, but the three-cup tofu is a dish even a carnivore would crave. Blocks of tofu are fried till crisp, then tossed with a rich blend of slices of tiny hot chilies, a combination of soy sauces and sesame oil, and a slightly mentholated form of Asian basil. All of this combines to make something that you can’t help but keep putting in your mouth, chasing the various hot, crisp, cooling, and salty flavors until you reach the very last–but still delicious–bite. ☛ 2424 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-871-6801, evergreen-chinese.com
 

Abu Nader Deli

Sfeha, $2.99

Abu Nader offers the kind of Middle Eastern cooking you’d do at home if you had the skill. Everything is wholesome and healthy, from-scratch, and lovingly made. The sfeha meat pies are particularly charming, with pine nuts and parsley tenderly combined with beef and tucked into a nicely resilient dough crust. Pair the sfeha with a container of tabbouleh or a fava-bean dip and the deli’s scratch-baked pita breads. ☛ 2095 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651-647-5391, abunaderdeli.com
 

Shish

Maza mix platter, $8.95

A groaning buffet of various spicy vegetarian Middle Eastern mezze—or maza—is just the thing to end a hectic day in a healthy way, and this little deli on the Macalester College campus makes some of the best. The maza appetizer platter is an especially nice dinner, a groaning feast of roasty hummus, deep-tasting baba gannouj, lively falafel, feta cheese, fresh tabbouleh, all of it served alongside tomatoes, black olives, and warm pita bread. ☛ 1668 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-690-2212, shishongrand.com
 

Caravelle

Grilled grape leaves, $4.29

Ever tried Vietnamese beef-stuffed grilled grape leaves? They’ve got the beefy char of a great burger, but the grape leaves give them a novel herbal edge, and the light dipping sauce gives them dimension. They’re one of the greatest little-appreciated treats to be found on Vietnamese menus, and Caravelle makes some of the best. ☛ 2529 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-3226, caravellempls.com
 

Pho Tau Bay

Broken-rice platter with grilled pork, $6.95

Pho Tau Bay, the restaurant across from the carwash where Eat Street dead-ends behind the Kmart, is a blue-collar pork-lover’s paradise. Make a beeline to anything on the menu that offers grilled pork or pork chops, like the various broken-rice platters, and you’ll be enjoying some sweet, fine meat—with plenty of money left over to splurge on some spring rolls to share with your date. ☛ 2837 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-874-6030, photaubay.us
 

Kabobi

Combo plate, $9.95

A sibling to the other Hemisphere Restaurants (like downtown’s Good to Go, Mission American Kitchen, and Atlas), Kabobi is another answer to the question: What would Chipotle look like if it was Middle Eastern? Try the combo plate for an answer: You’ll get two big grilled kebobs of well-seasoned meat (try the lamb), a big pile of basmati rice, a whole grilled tomato, a couple slices of grilled pita bread, and a tiny cup of yogurt sauce to dip it in, all served in a spic-and-span contemporary room perfect for big groups. The kebobs here are the same great ones you’ll know from Atlas and Good to Go. The key difference seems to be gargantuan portions: If you’re still hungry after finishing the combo plate with all that rice, you’d better make your next meal a mastodon. ☛ 13250 Technology Dr., Eden Prairie, 952-937-1414, kabobi.com
 

Holy Land

Whole-chicken combo dinner, $9.99

Few budget gourmets in Minnesota are strangers to the famously wallet-friendly Holy Land. Still, it bears mentioning that you can get a whole-chicken combo dinner—that is, a whole roast lemon chicken, lots of rice, a cucumber-and-tomato salad, and a side of yogurt dipping sauce for a penny under $10. Yes, that is enough food for two! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you build a legend. ☛ 2513 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-781-2627; Midtown Global Market, Mpls., 612-870-6104, holylandbrand.com
 

Mirror of Korea

Man Du Gook soup, $9.95

 The big, plump, egg-sized man du dumplings at Mirror of Korea are some of the best in town. They especially shine in a bowl of man du gook, a hearty soup into which a fresh egg is cracked and cooked, rendering the flavorful broth positively rib-sticking. ☛ 761 Snelling Ave., St. Paul, 651-647-9004, mirrorofkorea.com
 

Good to Go

Lamb, chicken, or beef wrap, $6.92

All the flavors of a Greek salad wrapped around a flavorful beef kebob and rolled into a toasty pita sandwich perfect for gobbling on the go—what’s not to like? The only mystery here is why this stylish little skyway place hasn’t gone national. It’s a concept whose time has clearly come. ☛ 200 S. Sixth St., Mpls., 612-341-4600

 

True Thai

Kabocha squash curry, $8.95

For years, True Thai’s spectacularly fragrant green curry has riveted the Cities’ attention. But lately, the new kabocha-squash red curry, with its sweet and spicy elements, has made choosing only one curry for dinner nearly impossible. ☛ 2627 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls., 612-375-9942, truethairestaurant.com
 

Crescent Moon Bakery & Restaurant

Chicken kourma plate, $8.99

While Crescent Moon is justly famous for its football-shaped Afghani pizzas topped with a spicy, gyros-tasting ground-beef filling and served with a snappy sour cilantro sauce, budget-minded gourmets are advised to head to their Central Avenue location for groaningly large traditional Afghani dishes, like the chicken kourma. It’s a grilled-then-sauced plate of lots of chicken, served with a heap of basmati rice, a salad, pita bread, a yogurt sauce, and cilantro sauce—in short, a feast on a plate. ☛ 2339 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-782-0169, crescentmoonfoods.net
 

Quang

Sea bass and shrimp pho, $8.95

Quang is Minneapolis’s classic Vietnamese restaurant. It’s youth- and work- and date-oriented—as opposed to the more family-centered vibe of St. Paul’s Vietnamese restaurants. As befits its young and adventurous crowd, it’s also got a more far-reaching menu. The sea bass and shrimp pho offered Fridays through Sundays is particularly worth seeking out, with the clean, clear flavors of the sea beautifully showcased in the lime- and seafood-based broth. ☛ 2719 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-4739, quangrestaurant.com
 

CurryUp

Chicken biryani, $8.99

This little knotty-pine-panelled full-service restaurant attached to a grocery store looks like something straight out of the 1970s, but the taste is very now. The best dish is the biryani, in which individual strands of long basmati rice are imbued with the flavor of a dozen subtle spices and served (or packed up for takeout) with a container of fresh yogurt raita and a wealth of lentil papad chips. ☛ 13601 Grove Dr., Maple Grove, 763-416-0473, curryupfoods.com
 

Harry Singh’s Original Caribbean Restaurant

Curry potato chickpea roti, $9.95

Harry Singh’s Caribbean roti dhalpouri, a sort of Caribbean burrito with your choice of filling (the jerk chicken is spicy, the browned-down chicken comforting and stew-like, the potato chickpea fierce and filling) is one of the best street-foods in town. Get it to “eat in” to enjoy some time with Harry, everyone’s Caribbean grandpa. Or get it to-go to pair with a Red Stripe and a movie on your couch. Instant island vacation! ☛ 2653 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-6181, harrysinghs.com
 

Little Tel-Aviv Café & Restaurant

Falafel and fries, $7.75  

There’s only one authentically Israeli restaurant in the Twin Cities: Little Tel-Aviv in the Calhoun Village shopping center. Almost everyone there orders the falafel, a particularly bright-green herbal version which is stuffed into a handmade pita and slathered with an ivory-colored tahini sauce, all of it served alongside the very homemade, delicious dark-fried French fries. ☛ 3238 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-929-1111, littletel-aviv.com

Black Sea Restaurant

Beef-shish-kebob plate, $8.95

Little Turkish Black Sea doesn’t look like much, but don’t let that fool you. The food is fresh, great, and astonishingly cheap. The beef-shish-kebob plate is enough to feed a linebacker, and the flavors are so vibrant you’ll forget you’re in St. Paul, not Istanbul. ☛ 737 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, 651-917-8832, blacksearestaurant.com
 

Hoban

Bi bim bop, $9.95

Eagan’s Hoban is primarily known for its hot-pot casseroles (giant pots of food priced at $30 and designed to serve two people) and its private karaoke rooms (where you can retire after your feast). However, there are even more delicious bargains to be found at this bright and inviting and very authentically Korean spot. Try the bi bim bop, a big pot of rice topped with various vegetables, a fried egg, and some delicious beef stew. Just the fuel you need to belt out “My Sharona” to your friends. ☛ 1989 Silver Bell Rd., Eagan, 651-688-3447, hobanrestaurant.com
 

Kabob’s

Vegetable samosas, $1

Talk about craveable. These fried pastry-pyramids are stuffed with potatoes, peas, and enough spice to obliterate every Garrison Keillor joke about what’s spicy in Minnesota. They’re also so good you’ll start building your week around getting them. Add an order of the just-as-spicy, just-as-craveable “Chicken 65” for $7.99 (or add just about anything else they have on the menu) if you want to eat as well as anyone dining on take-out in London. That said, get it to-go. This place is a total dive—though a great one. ☛ 7814 Portland Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-2779; 8085 Wedgewood Ln., Maple Grove, 763-494-6925; thekabobs.com  
 

Bangkok Thai Deli

Larb kai (ground chicken salad), $8.00

Three words come to mind when describing the Bangkok Thai Deli, last year‘s food-blogger sensation. The first word is odd. Odd because the main dining room is in a sort of interior courtyard in an industrial building in Frogtown. To get to it you cut through the supermarket and look for long church-basement communal tables ringed by photo murals of food that look as if they were transported in a time machine from 1970s Bangkok. The next two words are spectacularly delicious, because everything off the exquisitely authentic menu is truly delicious. The larb chicken salad, is so electric with fresh herbs and zingy with lime juice, it practically jumps from its plate into your mouth; the “boat noodle soups,“ classic meaty, wheaty, filling and comforting street-foods, are phenomenal, too.  Whether you‘ll find this odd duck appealing or appalling is another story, but inarguably, this Frogtown spot is as quirkily delicious as they come. ☛ 315 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-224-4300

 

 

Hot Dog! The Cities’ Most Prize-Worthy Wieners!

The Bulldog NE

Chili dog with cheese and onions, $7

Beefy homemade chili makes this more like a restaurant tasting-meal than a mere hot dog.
401 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls.,612-378-2855, thebulldognortheast.com

Chris & Rob’s Chicago’s Taste Authority

Chicago Dog, $2.99

Pure Chicago perfection, put on your Bulls jersey and make a day of it.
3101 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-729-5507; 7429 East River Rd., Fridley, 763-571-0288; 603 W. Seventh St., St. Paul, 651-228-9347, chrisandrobs.com
 

The Wienery

Mexican-style hot dog “Hairy Brain,” $4

Look carefully: See the bacon wrapper? It makes it absurd, and absurdly good.
414 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-333-5798, wienery.com
 

Citizen Café

House-made brat, $9

How good can a bratwurst get? Really good, subtly, complexly spiced, and fit for date night.
2403 E. 38th St., Mpls., 612-729-1122, thecitizencafe.com

 

Six Spectacularly Satisfying Soups!

Crossroads Deli

Scott’s Famous Matzo Ball Soup, $8.49

These matzo balls are so tender they make Jewish grandmothers weep, and the hearty chicken broth cures every illness, from sniffles to heartbreak.
2795 Hedberg Dr., Minnetonka, 952-546-6595, crossroadsdelicatessen.com
 

Pho 79

#14; Pho chín nam vè dòn, $6.79

The beef meatballs have an almost Swedish whiff of sweet spice; paired with the onions and scallions they become as satisfying as Christmas dinner.
2529 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-4602, pho79mpls.com
 

Taqueria Los Ocampo

Chicken pozole, $8.75

Presented with chili oil and lime so you can season to taste. Add lots if you‘ve got a hangover.
417 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-823-5398; 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-872-8562; 809 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825-4978; 895 Arcade St., St. Paul, 651-774-2823, losocampo.com

Midori’s Floating World Café

Kitsune soba, $8.50

The sea vegetables garnishing these hearty noodles reportedly contain lots of minerals.  Is this why this ethereal tasting soup leaves you feeling so healthy?
2629 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-721-3011, floatingworldcafe.com
 

Kramarczuk’s East European Deli

Hot beef borscht, $5.49

One bowl of Kramarczuk’s hearty borscht is all you need to overcome even the most arctic of winters.
215 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-379-3018, kramarczuk.com
 

Satay 2 Go

Laksa, $8.95

Creamy, spicy, filling; and fresh, there’s a whole universe of flavor in this classic Malaysian dish. Get it to-go for a stay-cation with the Travel Channel.
6670 W. 150th St., Apple Valley, 952- 891-8551, satay2go.com

 

 

Nothing’s Better Than a Great Sandwich—or 9!

Buon Giorno

Calabrese sandwich

Fiercely spicy, authentically Italian. Pair it with a bottle of Sangiovese and a DVD of Goodfellas.
981 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Lilydale, 651-905-1080, bgimarket.com
 

Surdyk’s Cheese Shop

Rhine River Griller

Fancy German tilsit cheese takes these grilled sandwiches from simple to spectacular.
303 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-379-3232, surdyks.com
 

Brianno’s Deli Italia

Eggplant Parmigiana

An Italian-American dream come true, it’s the complex marinara that makes the eggplant sing.
2280 Cliff Rd., Eagan, 651-895-1088, briannos.com
 

Jasmine Deli

Roast pork banh mi sandwich

Candied pork gives sweet counterpoint to a whole bouquet of herbs and fresh-pickled veggies.
2532 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-4700
 

French Meadow Café

Grilled tempeh Reuben

A vegetarian treat even butchers might crave.
2610 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-7855, frenchmeadow.com
 

Saigon

Meatball banh mi sandwich

Saucy, long-simmered meatballs in a feather-light roll makes an especially devourable treat.
601 W. University Ave., St. Paul, 651-225-8751
 

Clancey’s Meats & Fish

House-roasted turkey sandwich

Just-grated horseradish and local turkey meet house-pickled veggies for fresh and zesty magic.
4307 Upton Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-0222, clanceysmeats.com
 

Patrick McGovern’s Pub

Turkey Reuben

The turkey is so fresh at Patrick McGovern‘s, it‘s like the day after Thanksgiving every day.
225 Seventh St. W., St. Paul, 651-224-5821, patmcgoverns.com
 

Maverick’s Real Roast Beef

Roast beef sandwich

House-roasted roast beef is a pleasure few people remember, but there‘s really nothing better.
1746 Lexington Ave. N., Roseville, 651-488-1788, mavericksroastbeef.com

 

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