Insane Chicken in a Strip Mall
LEMON GRASS THAI CUISINE
Up near nowhere, where Highway 252 gets you to Coon Rapids, there’s a newish but desolate strip mall with some of the best Thai food in the metro. Get the Crazy Duck or the Insane Chicken (the mad fowl are similar) for a profoundly moving update on the classic roasted rice, lime, and herb salad known as larb. It’s fresh and bold, jumping with big leaves of just-snapped herbs and vibrating with chili. Next, the Chiang Mai Alley Noodles, a tangle of spicy yellow curry and sour pickled mushroom greens, will have you understanding spice and pucker in a whole new way. Suddenly nowhere tastes like somewhere wonderful. 8600 Edinburgh Center Dr., Brooklyn Park, 763-494-8809, lemongrassthaicuisine.net—D. M. G.
EL TACO RIENDO
There are seriously no frills to this place, unless you count the super-friendly owners and delicious fat burritos that will make you say, “Chipowho?” 2416 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-781-3000, eltaco-riendo.com
What's a Futbol Pizza?
CRESCENT MOON PIZZA
What are the benefits to a football-shaped pizza? Besides the flavor-amped Afghani beef topping and the secret tangy green sauce, there’s this: You have no choice but to finish it because it won’t fit in your fridge. 1517 Como Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-767-3313, crescentmoonfoods.net
LA COCINA DE ANA
Forget pizza, take-and-bake Mexican dishes are made fresh every day here. Frijoles con chorizo is sultry and bright with just-chopped herbs; chicken mole verde is gorgeous. And, shockingly, it all comes from your oven. 1400 Co. Rd. 101, Plymouth, 763-951-3377, cocinadeana.com
All Things Vietnamese
The quiet, tidy, well-run Que Nha, which means “my homeland” in Vietnamese, has been around for seven years and has never served me a dud of a dish. I go for the roll-your-own spring rolls, especially the grilled shrimp wrapped in sliced beef, and the housemade Vietnamese sausage, sour and perfectly grilled. The crusty-bottomed rice casseroles served in traditional earthen pots are complex layered creations of meat, seafood, and vegetables. (Be patient—they take some time to make.) The spicy goat with onions is flawlessly authentic. And the iced coffee is the best in town. 849 University Ave., St Paul, 651-290-8552 —A. Z.
CURRY 'N' NOODLES
You tend to get quizzical looks when you state that Curry ’N’ Noodles in the heart of Hopkins is one of the best Indian restaurants in town. The place bills itself as an Indo-Chinese bistro, but it’s not the Asian stir-fries you should seek. Stick to the curries ’n’ such and you will be rewarded with wonderful depths of flavor. Among the specialties that set Curry ’N’ Noodles apart are several that emanate from the southern Indian state of Hyderabad. One of the standouts is the chicken Hyderabadi, simmered in thick tomato-based gravy. Other sure bets include the lightly spiced “chicken lollipop” drummies, the spicy deep-fried nuggets called Chicken 65, and the tasty tandoori seasoned lamb chops. 802 Main St., Hopkins, 952-681-7834, currynnoodles.com —P. L.
Sake on the Patio
This slip of a joint has blossomed into a great izakaya, with Japanese beers on tap, tons of small-plate bar snacks, an awesome Washoku tasting tour, and a nice patio. 1510 Como Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-331-1432, obento-ya.com —P. L.
More Than Cheap Margaritas
PANCHO VILLA GRILL AND BAR
The standard for great two-for-one margaritas (and cervezas) four days a week also has really tasty, mostly authentic Mexican fare and a killer roast pork platter. 2539 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-250-2344, panchovillagrill.com
A World Apart
From the roast pork and papaya salad to the bitter bamboo soup and curry noodle bowls, the indoor/outdoor Hmongtown Marketplace, with its garden center and DVD bins, is the single most underrated culinary resource in the state. Take the plunge. 2217 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651-487-3700, hmongtownmarketplace.com
Momo's the Word
Steamed yak-filled momo dumplings, deep-fried onion and jalapeno pyaazi fritters, and Kathmandu-style tandoori seared choyala lamb are just a few of the Nepalese treats that will set your palate ascending at this neighborhood charmer. 2401 Franklin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-332-0880, himalayanmomo.com
A Trek for Thai
Light-rail construction makes it challenging to get to the best Thai food around, but it’s worth the effort. From amazing meing kum fix-it-yourself snack lettuce wraps to luscious egg-yolk noodle foy tong dessert, it’s as good as it gets. 1613 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-644-1444, onskitchen.com
Treats from Trinidad
HARRY SINGH'S ORIGINAL CARIBBEAN RESTAURANT
Harry Singh, the one-man show who cooks and serves at his Eat Street place, and his sister Marla Jadoonanan, of Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine, are the unquestioned royalty of local Caribbean food. Harry’s been at it for more than 20 years, and his current spot offers a steel-drum-solid lineup. There’s the roti dhalpourie—a pizza-sized wrap of griddled flatbread with fillings such as jerk chicken, browned pork, and curried goat. Other great options include the spicy meat-filled turnovers called Jamaican patties, the traditional Trinidadian snack sandwich of flatbread and lentils known as doubles, and a carnival of curries paired with white rice. Harry’s oh-god-it’s-hot homemade pepper sauce is justifiably legendary. Be sure to buy a bottle on the way out. 2653 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-6181, harrysinghs.com—P. L.
Go for the meatball sub or the Oh Mio Dio, a saucy hot grinder sandwich that delivers a gut-warming punch. But don’t worry—you can cool off with some beer gelato. 5600 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-2040, fatlorenzos.com—P. L.
All-Day Dim-Sum Buns
KEEFER COURT BAKERY
No, you don’t have to wait for the creaky dim sum cart to come around. Keefer has all the soft, luxurious Chinese BBQ pork buns, pineapple buns, and ham and egg buns ready to go, ripe for your choosing. 326 Cedar Ave., Mpls., 612-340-0937, keefercourt.com
A Lodge for the Greek
PHIL'S TARA HIDEAWAY
It couldn’t be on a more awkward lot, slipped onto a side road that heralds your turn from Highway 36 into Stillwater. It looks like the kind of log-cabin bar you’d find in Bemidji. It is a hideaway, after all. The interior will match your cabintastic expectations, but when you open the menu you will be shocked to find serious Mediterranean cooking. There has long been a Greek lilt to the menu, but of late it has been refined and elevated. There’s grilled octopus, housemade loukaniko, dolmades with a gorgeous charmoula sauce, and a lamb duo with gyros and grilled chops that comes with cucumber yogurt, garlic confit aioli, house pickles, and summery lemon-artichoke orzo. Welcome to your cabin on the bright blue Mediterranean. 15021 N. 60th St., Stillwater, 651-439-9850, tarahideaway.com—S.M.
The Deepest Dish
DI NOKO'S PIZZA
Beyond the fact that pizza is a very personal issue, I think we can mostly agree that serious deep-dish pizza is hard to come by in these parts. Sometimes it seems like a joke, like the pizza guys just slop stuff together because they don’t care about the architecture of a thing. Enter Di Noko’s, a takeout joint that seems to get it. Its abundant pies are like hand-molded pizza buckets, layered perfectly with a base of milky cheese on which your choice of toppings (I go sausage, spinach, garlic) will swim in a thick, chunky, chipper red sauce. It is a sturdy thing. Which is good, because there’s no seating, although Di Noko’s does deliver—to Eagan even, bless their hearts. 5501 34th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-727-2424, dinokos.com —S.M.
Italian American Classics
DEGIDIO'S RESTAURANT BAR
Italian American red-sauce Italian is a whole cuisine in and of itself, born when immigrants from the starving southern ankle and heel of the Italian boot suddenly found themselves in the land of plenty. No one does it better than the old-school masters at DeGidio’s—going strong since 1933, when Joe “Kid Bullets” DeGidio turned in his bootlegger’s stills for a pot of meatballs. Get the classic spaghetti, large, with two meatballs, and add a sausage. It’s a $13 plate of food as big as a Thanksgiving turkey, the perfect yin-yang blend of sweet tomato and deeply flavored meats. That’s the old neighborhood, the taste of Brooklyn, the taste of a certain American dream perfectly realized, and whatever you do, you should never, ever fuhgeddaboudit. 425 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-291-7105, degidios.com—D.M.G.
MOSCOW ON THE HILL
Right across from a vaunted local patio is this smaller, quieter patio where you may sip copious amounts of vodka and snack on small-plate zakuski such as duck pâté, blini with caviar, and cured herring. 371 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-291-1236, moscowonthehill.com
Luigi Vitali, Cossetta’s baker straight out of Italy, is working wonders, including a line of focaccia so well developed, so fruity with olive oil, and so savory it’s nearly meaty. It makes supermarket focaccia taste like old Pringles. 211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-222-3476, cossettaeventi.com
Shop 'n' Slurp
UNIDELI AT UNITED NOODLES
The café in the back of United Noodles has had a refresh. New menu items such as the porky wonderful ramen are courting the food set who shop here for exotic ingredients. Ask about the Spam Musubi Hawaiian rice roll, and open your mind. 2015 E. 24th St., Mpls., 612-721-6677, unitednoodles.com
Philly Cheesesteak Like You Mean It
PAPA'S RESTAURANT AND DELI
Quietly in North sits this little place that may have the best Philly cheese-steak around. But first you have to get by the East Coast tomato pie, a fragrant pizza done with a lighter hand. 4159 Thomas Ave. N., Mpls., 612-521-7272, eatatpapas.com
Kielbasa and Language Lessons
ZIACH POLISH FOODS
Once upon a time, Nordeast was known more for Polish and Russian immigrants than artists and hipsters. But things change, and pubs replace pierogis as time marches on, except at Ziach Polish Foods. On a tiny residential block, this new bare-bones deli/shop has hoisted the Polish flag. Every week, owner Zbigniew Ziach drives to Chicago and loads up on things he can’t get here anymore: double smoked Black Forest sausage, spice-loaded Moscow bacon, and corpulent links of kielbasa that crack a snap when you bite. I’ve become addicted to the garlic-studded Moscow ham. There are other Polish goods, some great Warsaw chocolate, and tons of flavored pretzel sticks, but the real win comes when you find paczki, a filled donut that is rich, milky, and hard to find locally. Go on Fridays when the stock of meats is full. 1625 NE Washington St., Mpls., 612-789-0907, ziachpolamer.com —S. M.