Each year I go back through my photos and narrow my dining experiences down to my 10 (or so) favorites to create my “best of” lists. My favorite dishes aren’t necessarily the fanciest or the newest. They’re just my favorites. Here’s a run down of memorable dishes from the year.
All of the cocktails and snack plate, Vikre Distillery, Duluth, MN: Most of the time I’m disappointed when I order a signature cocktail. Something’s usually off-balance and I wish I just ordered a classic. This has not happened here. Everything’s good, even when it sounds strange. The snack plate is a ridiculous deal for the price; it comes loaded with spreads, cheese, smoked fish and meats, candied nuts and the best pickled beets ever. It’s better than any cheese plate I’ve ever ordered, well, anywhere. The NA cocktails are also good! Post on Vikre here.
Bibim Salad from Young Joni, NE Minneapolis: For one thing, the salad is made with a grain called Job’s Tears. How metal is that. Most importantly, it’s really delicious. The spicy gochujang vinaigrette and runny egg yolk pull everything together.
The Stewart’s Trifecta: Patty Melt, Buffalo Brussel Sprouts & Korean Fries + classic cocktail. These three dishes are consistently good. We may mix in a dessert or different entrée, but one of us always orders the patty melt and appetizers to share. Read more about why we love Stewart’s here. Alas they are no longer serving the banana pudding dessert.
Quang’s Cream Cheese Wontons + #502 eaten at the restaurant: We eat a lot of cream cheese wontons. Quang’s is still our favorite. They’re clearly homemade, folded triangle-style. Enjoying them from the fryer in the restaurant is its own experience. Read more about Quang’s here.
Brussel Chips, The Cavalier near Union Square in San Francisco: This bowl of crisp brussels sprout leaves is only $5 during their daily “Bevvys & Bites” hours in the bar a.k.a. happy hour. The sweet and savory seasoning includes vadouvan curry and lemon zest. More on my solo birthday happy hour crawl here.
Fried Cauliflower at Terzo in Minneapolis: I recently mentioned this standout cauliflower dish. I’m not sure if it’s on their regular menu but if you see it, order it. Despite being fried, the cauliflower doesn’t taste oily. The frying gives it texture complimented by the tangy sauce and sweet peppers.
Red Wagon pizza, Minneapolis: The first bites of Red Wagon pizza actually left me stunned. I remember pausing for a moment to process how good this pizza tasted. Jake ordered a plan pepperoni pizza while I chose the signature Red Wagon (sopresetta, banana peppers, sauce, chili flakes and fig balsamic) adding jalapeno. The crust is thin and very crisp and the toppings taste high qualify and balanced.
On’s Red Curry: On’s Kitchen wins for the restaurant that we visit the most often. We don’t have extensive Thai food knowledge; We just know that On’s food is better than all of the Thai food we’ve tried so far. The red curry is my favorite dish. For only $10, On’s serves a generous portion of red or green curry that includes a lot of your choice of pork, chicken, beef, mock duck, or tofu. It’s also stuffed with fresh vegetables and bamboo shoots, not just accented by them. Order extra spicy if you like extra spicy. Find my post here.
Curries & Garlic Naan from Ghorka Palace in NE Minneapolis: A friend took me here early this year. We shared garlic naan, vegetable korma and palek paneer. The sauces were so flavorful and the vegetables tasted fresh and not overcooked. You can taste how much care the owners put into sourcing local, sustainable and humanely raised ingredients. Himalayan is closer to us so we go here most often, but I’ve been meaning to return.
Most surprising favorite: The soups from SIMPLS: I have no idea how these soups are so good. The SIMPLS shops in the MPLS skyway are kind of organic/expensive bougie but these soups are worth the price. I make a lot of soup even the best ones haven’t tasted as good as SIMPLS. Read my post here.
- Croissant + Vietnamese iced coffee from Trung Nam: This is my favorite Saturday morning breakfast run.
- Cajun Fettuccine Alfredo from Jake’s City Grill (a local chain): This is one of my favorite dishes. It’s not trendy or sexy enough to appear on menus at hipster restaurants. When it does show up, it’s often times bland or the sauce tastes cheap. Jake’s isn’t the most exciting restaurant chain but the alfredo here is solid and I haven’t forgotten how much I liked it.
- Severely underdressing and sitting at the bar at The Lexington to eat garlic-parsley fries and drink martinis.
- Sunday brunch at Chianti Grill (a local chain): At $16 per adult, it’s actually a pretty good brunch buffet. Enjoy scoops of pasta dishes with your yogurt parfait and omelette.
- Mouth Trap cheese curds + MN Wine Country wine slushy enjoyed at the MN State Fair.
- Hot Pot from Little Szechuan: If a spicy food doesn’t mess me up for at least 48 hours, it’s not spicy enough. The spicy hot pot from here will do the trick. In addition to the spicy broth, you can order a milder broth in the same hot pot. I liked the variety of ingredients. There are plenty of vegetarian options and little buffet of dipping sauces. Don’t forget to grab a little ice cream cup (you know, the type you eat with that wooden spoon) to cool everything down.
- Curry roti from Harry Singh’s, ordered extra spicy. The hot sauce here is lethal. By the time it caught up with me I felt like I was levitating outside of my body.
- Fake Meats: I’ve gone in and out of phases this year where meat just didn’t taste appealing. For variety’s sake I tried a number of fake meat products, both locally-made and available at major grocery stores. Some of these foods are the only ones that made me toss an entire dinner into the trash or run to the sink gagging. I want a meat substitute to change my life, but I’m scared to try more, so for now I’ll stick with tofu and mock duck.
- Paying $36 for a rack of fine but not life-changing ribs at a Twin Cities restaurant.
- Expensive, OK burgers served a la carte.
- Food service places going cashless and pushing diners to do the self-check out thing.
- The new juniper-sage latte from Starbuck’s.
Feel free to share your thoughts below. Wishing you all a happy new year filled with good things.