Q: Where can I go to eat that makes me feel like I’m not here, but on vacation somewhere that’s exotic, warm and sunny?

A: Two words: Hai Hai (2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-223-8640, haihaimpls.com). For starters, co-owners Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem fill the smile-inducing space with mementos from their extensive Southeast Asian travels, which sets an appropriate mood. Grudem turns to sugar cane to forge a list of refreshing cocktails, and in the kitchen Nguyen piles on big, bold flavors and colors that transport diners to the couple’s favorite street-food stalls in Vietnam, Thailand and Bali. Service is spot-on, and the weekend brunch is a blast.

 

Q: I work in downtown Minneapolis. Where can I go on the skyway for a good lunch deal?

A: My tips are time- and date-related. From 1 to 2 p.m. at the terrific Bep Eatery (100 S. 5th St., Mpls., 612-338-5189 and 800 LaSalle Av., Mpls., 612-338-2000, bepeatery.com), the design-your-own spring rolls (chicken, shrimp, pork, tofu, steak) are just $2. Tuesday is deal day at friendly La Loma (608 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2379, laloma.com), because that’s when all of the made-by-hand tamales (chicken, pork, sweet corn and others) are half-price. And you might want to check out the daily specials at Valentino Cafe (900 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-338-7434), which range from Monday’s three tacos with a side dish and a drink for $6.99 to Friday’s burrito/side dish/drink combo for $7.99.

 

Q: What happened to Randle’s Restaurant & Bar?

A: Like its short-lived predecessor, Ling & Louie’s (921 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.), it didn’t last long. Owner Michael McDermott is converting the property — which has one of downtown’s better rooftop patios — to his third outlet of Rojo Mexican Grill (rojomexicangrill.com).

 

Q: Did Mon Petit Chéri close? I miss their ham-Gruyère rolls.

A: That makes two of us. The bakery/cafe (mpcbakery.com) did indeed close its Minneapolis location at 2401 E. Franklin Av., but the good news is that a beauty of a new home is currently under construction at 310 Main St. S. in Stillwater.

 

Q: Do you have any kids-eat-free ideas?

A: At the Sunshine Factory Bar & Grill (4100 Vinewood Lane N., Plymouth, 763-535-7000, esunshinefactory.com), Sunday dinner (that’s after 4 p.m.) means that the purchase of a full-price adult entree includes a free kid’s (10-and-under) meal. All-day Sunday at D’Amico & Sons (damicoandsons.com) is also a kids-eat-free situation; the purchase of an adult meal includes a free kid’s meal for ages 10 and under. Partake at the chain’s Edina, Golden Valley, Roseville and Wayzata locations. On Wednesday after 4 p.m., kids under age 12 eat free at Patrick’s Bakery & Cafe (12489 Elm Creek Blvd., Maple Grove, 763-420-7770, patricksbakerycafe.com) with the purchase of an adult entree.

 

Q: Can you give me a few east metro dining suggestions?

A: Here are two. You should check out Manger (320 5th Av. N., Bayport, 651-924-9313, mangerrestaurant.com), which has reactivated the former (and charmingly cozy) Cafe L’Etoile du Nord. Chef/co-owner Mike Willenbring is serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, pulling pizzas out of the kitchen’s wood-burning oven and focusing on dishes along the lines of double-cut lamb chops, steak tartare, beef short ribs with a parsnip purée, French onion soup and a small selection of fresh oysters. And I’ve always been a fan of Tongue in Cheek (989 Payne Av., St. Paul, 651-888-6148, tongueincheek.biz), where chef/co-owner Leonard Anderson’s playful cooking swings from amusing (and delicious) $3 “teasers” to a $70, five-course tasting menu (it’s $65 for the herbivore version). Anderson makes room for vegans, and serves a lively lunch/brunch hybrid menu Tuesday through Sunday.

Q: Where can I find a gluten-free dessert that isn’t a meringue or a macaron?

A: You need to know about the House of Halva (928 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-410-7483). Owners Liz and David Kadosh place the sesame-driven Middle Eastern sweet on a pedestal, offering it in flurry of flavors, from a cherry-cranberry take on the classic Black Forest format to pistachio, coconut, whiskey-chocolate and apple-cinnamon variations, sold by the (hefty) slice. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Keg and Case Market food hall. Closed Saturday.

 

Q: Do you have any Friday fish-fry suggestions?

A: A favorite of mine is at Red Cow (3624 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-767-4411; 393 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-651-789-0545; 208 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-238-0050; and 2626 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-767-3547, redcownmn.com), where $15 buys all-you-can-eat beer-battered wild Alaskan cod and hand-cut fries. It’s available all day, daily, through late April.

 

Q: What’s the most delicious thing you’ve tasted lately?

A: Where to start? I was bowled over by the simple appeal of the corn elote at Colita (5400 Penn Av. S., Mpls., 612-886-1606, colitampls.com), where chef Daniel del Prado makes it easy for his guests by cutting the kernels off the cob and then blending it with a slow-burn chipotle-fueled mayonnaise and a blast of a chile pepper-lime condiment; it doesn’t do it credit to describe it as a Minnesota-meets-Mexico sweet-corn hot dish, but that’s exactly what it is, in a good way. I wasn’t expecting to encounter pork schnitzel at P.S. Steak (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-886-1620, psmpls.com), chef Mike DeCamp’s steakhouse remake of the former La Belle Vie, but his spot-on iteration was a thrill to behold. And I can’t wait to go back to Lat 14 (8815 7th Av. N., Golden Valley, 763-400-7910, lat14.com) for another crack at chef/owner Ann Ahmed’s perfect-for-winter take on chicken thighs with eggplant and mushrooms.

Send your queries to rick.nelson@startribune.com.