Best Farmers' Market: St. Paul Farmers' Market
Others may be bigger and have more crafts and tchotchkes, but foodists know this is the boiled-down, serious-ingredients real deal. 290 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-227-8101
Best Airport Eating: Concourse G
Ann Kim's slice of pizza heaven
Doug Flicker's modern Italian
Mill City Tavern:
Lenny Russo's local foods bar
Andrew Zimmern's boozy sandwich counter
Trends come and go, but Lucia Watson proves over and over that great ingredients, honed technique, and a neighborhood vibe are the magic combination.
Best Cooking Cult Item: Big Green Egg
Is there any other piece of cooking equipment for which there are classes, clubs, newsletters, and even chatrooms? According to the obsessed, the egg is worth the hefty price tag. Meet your brethren at Kitchen Window, where the gatherings happen in the rooftop classroom. kitchenwindow.com
Best Butchery Class: The Whole Hog
Mike Phillips's class at Kitchen in the Market usually sells out right as it's posted, because having the local king of charcuterie teach you how to break down a whole hog is higher education, indeed. 920 E. Lake St., Ste. 107, Mpls., 612-568-5486, kitcheninthemarket.com
Best Pickling Secret: Menards
You can go to the fancy kitchen store for classes and books, but for supplies no one beats Menards on value for Ball jars, funnels, and beginner kits. Remember, a jar is a jar. Several metro locations, including 6800 Wayzata Blvd., Mpls., 763-541-9300, menards.com
Best Home Cheese-Making Hero: Cedar Summit Milk or Cream
Beyond mastering your cheesecloth technique for kitchen ricotta or the right pull for your own mozzarella, the thing that turns cheese makers into cheese masters is the quality of the base. 25830 Drexel Ave., New Prague, 952-758-6886, cedarsummit.com
Best Trend That's Here to Stay: Small Plates
Nearly every current restaurant and every hot cuisine has a small plates offering that goes way beyond the appetizer tradition of sharing nachos.
Beets | Camden
Polenta gnocchi, meatballs | Linden Hills
Bar La Grassa:
Lobster and scrambled eggs bruschetta | North Loop
Brioche and foie gras gateau | South Mpls.
Bay scallop and squash tempura with avocado, shiso, and lotus root | Northeast Mpls.
Chinese BBQ spare ribs | Uptown
Insanity! That's the word that comes to mind to describe this 21-spice fried chicken. The insanity comes from the truly zany over-ambition that goes into it—yes, really, 21 spices can be found in the crispy coating. Spices such as smoky ancho peppers, but also broad herbal notes from innovative elements such as powdered sage and perilla leaves. It all comes together to make something sweet and spicy and dusky and haunting.
Best Old-School Steak House: Jax Cafe
It should be old, it should be pierogi heaven, and it should be the kind of place where you feel like you need to wear a suit. And it is.
Food Face-Off: Go classic old-school or try something new.
Best Bar Sammie
Old School: Mayslack's
garlic beef (a two-handed monster)
New School: 1029's lobster roll (a Smack Shack
Old School: Lion's Tap
double cheese (jaw hinges required)
New School: Blue Door's
Juicy Blucy (redefining a category)
Old School: Red's Savoy
pepperoni slice (it's the sauce)
New School: Pizzeria Lola's
Lady ZaZa (kimchi belongs on pizza forevermore)
Old School: Al's
walnut blueberry cakes (yes, worth the wait)
New School: HauteDish
sourdough griddle cakes (with triple crËme brie, good morning)
Old School: French Meadow
(fresh local flour means something)
New School: Patisserie 46
(like a Parisian wonderland)
Old School: Ted Cook's 19th Hole
(tender and succulent with its own built-in handle)
New School: Q-fanatic
(pay extra for the pepper vodka sauce)
Best Raw Bar
Old School: Meritage
(oyster purists' pure heaven)
New School: Sea Change
(oysters with juniper ginger emulsion)
Old School: Byerly's
Chicken Wild Rice (For many, their first non-canned soup) | When people talk about wild rice being an iconic Minnesota food, they're thinking about this creamy, comforting version of its. Multiple locations, lundsandbyerlys.com
New School: Tanpopo
Ramen (Not the kind you ate in the dorm) | The soup of the moment is none other than ramen with chewy-dense noodles, richly flavored broth, greens of consequence, and perhaps even an egg.
Old School: Peter's Grill (Tried and True: Bacon, lettuce, and tomato on white bread) | When you have a simple and overpowering need for bread, meat, and veg, Peter's BLT is there, elemental and expected, waiting for you.
New School: Icehouse
(New Twist: PLT—pork belly, lettuce and tomato) | You might think some things shouldn't be messed with. Then you bite into the lush pork belly.
They Like It—They Really Like It
Kids meals used to be a bland and beige roundup of chicken fingers, fries, and mac 'n' cheese on a doodle placemat. But local restaurants have figured out that if they up the ante, maybe they can keep the gigglers asking to come back for more.
It's good for you AND fun. The chicken fingers are baked with whole-wheat breadcrumbs and come with steamed veggies and fruit; there's not even a fryer in the kitchen.
At Edina Grill
, Highland Grill
, and Longfellow Grill
, they offer dishes of Goldfish crackers to kill the terror time before the food drops, but they also put steak and pierogi on the menu because they know pre-teens have to eat, too. blueplaterestaurantco.com
Using a muffin tin as a tray, your nibbler can select from all sorts of choices to fill it: ants on a log, fish sticks, chicken lollipops. Your price is your age.
Best Home Brew Shop: Northern Brewer
With locations in both towns, this place is like a clubhouse for beer nerds. 6021 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-4444, northernbrewer.com
It's the bar that sets the standard, the one you see yourself sitting at in the movie of your life.
Old School: Grain Belt (Timeless: To be drunk anywhere, with anyone) | Premium is a day up at the lake, out on the pontoon playing cribbage before your uncle bellows that he's cleaned and fried all the sunfish.
New School: Indeed (The Latest: Exciting and new and yet comfy, too.) | The bourgeoning taproom scene is thrilling and exciting for beer drinkers, but Indeed Brewing seems to grasp that it should be welcoming and homey, too.
Lynden's is a space that's so old-timey cute, with marble counters, tin ceilings, and adorable stools, that you enter and immediately want to pose your family Christmas photo shoot. But even if lime rickeys and adorable style are not your thing, Lynden's has super-elite Dogwood coffee, Mojo donuts, sundaes in sparkling glass-footed cups just like they out to be, and throwback candy to gift every hipster and grandma on your list.
Best New Bar Feature in Uptown: Bar Louie Wading Pool
Who needs a mechanical bull when you can dip your tootsies in dulcet waters?
We've Got Spirits, Yes We Do
Once reserved for Derby season, bourbon has trumped the flavorless, colorless pageant queen that is vodka. It's a rich new barrel-aged world; get on board.
Some joints use "bourbon" as a come-on, but these guys walk the walk. The deep, long list delivers various proofs of known brands plus private-label and boutique bottles you won't find elsewhere and brilliant flights.
Best Bourbon Cocktail: Up in Smoke at The Strip Club
Add the herbaceous liqueur Averna and hickory maple syrup to bourbon and you have simple elegance. The maple edge dresses it up without making it a strumpet.
Best Local Bourbon: Border Bourbon
I know you think it has to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky to be called bourbon, but that's a myth. Border Bourbon, from locally owned 45th Parallel Spirits, is made right over the line in Wisconsin. It may be young, but it's full of oaky, vanilla-scented promise. 45thparallelspirits.com