Outside it’s gloomy, and the household is suffering from a bad case of cabin fever. One possible cure for what ails you—pack the family into the SUV, drive to the adventurous reaches of the city, and wander the meandering aisles of the Midtown Global Market. This compact bazaar of shops, markets, and eateries is about as unique and colorful a Twin Cities urban experience as you’ll find. You can snack from sunup to sundown on the most far-ranging collection of foods found under one local roof.
My top-rated pick for creative flair and unapologetic seasonings is Sonora Grill, which features a combination of Spanish- and South American–inspired cooking. I particularly recommend the pinchos, marinated grilled skirt steak skewers with homemade chimichurri sauce and chicken with salsa verde. Both meats are moist and tender and served with delicious coconut-flavored rice and spunky guajillo chile–suffused beans. If you’re an eggplant fan, don’t pass up the eggplant fries—thick wedges that are crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Also rewarding is the delish Sonoran hot dog—this homemade, preservative-free sausage is wrapped in bacon, griddled, and stuffed with chorizo and chopped tomato. Decidedly messy,but it’s worth the challenge.
Another venue that’s right up there is the award-winning Salty Tart. Owner and nationally acclaimed pastry chef Michelle Gayer has justifiably become a local legend. The only downside, if it is one, is having to make choices from the abundance of treats that include lascivious pastry cream–filled brioche, decadent layered cakes, rich cheesecake drizzled with caramel, cupcakes galore, fresh artisanal breads, and the patisserie’s namesake tarts. The offerings also extend to items such as sandwiches, quiches, and seasonal soups.
For guaranteed bragging rights among foodies, the undisputed “must have” is the camel burger served at Safari Express. The centerpiece is a thick patty of lean, only lightly gamey seasoned meat that is imported from Australia. The burger is flame broiled—unfortunately, due to health code requirements, to a rather well-done state—and slathered with a wonderful, just slightly piquant mayo-style spread and a slice of grilled pineapple. The truly adventuresome should couple that with an order of roasted goat, a dish with a lot of flavor, although several of the cubes of my sampling were rather fatty. Less controversial and absolutely outstanding are the sambuzas—impeccably flaky and grease-free turnovers stuffed with curried ground beef and served with a couple of dipping sauces. The staff members behind the buffet counter are as pleasant and friendly as can be, and in addition to offering a tasting of saffron chicken soup while you mull over the choices, they will let you try just about all of the interesting-looking stews and pilafs on the line.
Based on the crowds, I’d opine that the most popular kitchen in the mall is at Holy Land Deli. An outpost of the highly regarded enterprise in Northeast Minneapolis, the menu here is of mind-boggling length. You can choose the buffet, select from an assortment of combo and specialty platters, smear pita with dips of baba ghanoush or hummus, or simply stick to standard choices such as gyros, falafel, kufta, and souvlaki. Order sizes tend to be ginormous, but nothing I ate really socked it to me, though I quite enjoyed the lamb and kufta kebab platter. My lingering impression is of safe comfort food that’s targeted to the masses.
For all the Swedes, there’s Café Finspang. Although more retail shop and specialty grocery store than fast-food outlet (the deli counter brims with selections of Scandinavian herring, roe, cheese, truffles, and lefse), there’s typically a daily selection of the small buttered open-face sandwiches called smorgasar and an almost impossible-to-pass-up display of specialty cookies.
More mainstream, Andy’s Garage is a 1950s concept featuring grilled burgers, sandwiches, malts, and three kinds of fries. There are several “kick it up a notch” items, most notably a buffalo chicken sandwich and a Diablo burger with jalapeno bacon, roasted jalapeno peppers, and a tangy sauce. Also on the conventional side, Jakeeno’s Trattoria churns out hand-tossed pizzas sold by the slice or whole, hoagies, soups and salads, a handful of made-to-order pastas, and even a Chicago dog. While it’s solid and filling fare, it’s no showstopper.
As a testament to the changing neighborhood, there are several Mexican restaurants. A couple of them, A La Salsa and Taqueria Los Ocampos, are basically clones of free-standing cantinas scattered around the metro. If you like the food at their sister locations, you’ll enjoy the food here. For the most part, it’s substantial and just fine. One of my favorites is La Loma Tamales, purveyors of the best tamales in town. Not everyone enjoys the texture and filling quality of traditional masa, but I happen to be a fan, and I turn positively giddy for one of La Loma’s top-of-the-line Oaxacan tamales, wrapped in banana leaf and stuffed with spicy shredded meat. Pair that hefty serving with a fruity licuado—the Mexican equivalent of a milk shake—and I’m in Latin food bliss. Equally inspirational is the iconic Manny’s Tortas, featuring south-of-the-border subs that come piled with assortments of meats, cheeses, and various trimmings. And just off the beaten path, taqueria Ay Caramba has an amazingly great guacamole burger—a generous quarter-pound patty of juicy beef laced with pepper jack cheese and chopped jalapenos, perfectly seared to order, and then topped with fresh guacamole. The other unique item is chori-pan, a popular Argentine street food that features chimichurri-glazed grilled chorizo sausage served on a baguette with sliced jalapenos.
With one exception—the Mexican restaurant A La Salsa—everything here is counter service. At the lunch hour in particular it can be challenging to find a clean table. In addition, the food tends to be equivalently priced to what you’d pay at a regular sit-down establishment, and the paper plates and plastic utensils don’t exactly elevate the experience. But what the heck, it’s one of those memorable activities the whole family can enjoy. Plus, there’s free validated parking with purchase in the adjacent ramp and even live entertainment most nights of the week. Lake St. and 10th Ave,, Mpls., 612-872-4041, midtownglobalmarket.com