For 32 years running, the No. 1 seller at the Good Earth has been its cashew chicken salad sandwich ($9.95). The winning formula originates with founder Bill Galt, a former Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee who made a fortune in the 1970s by going the health-food route. Here's his secret, although it's not exactly rocket science: Take plenty of seasoned, freshly baked chicken breast, blend it with mayonnaise, lemon, parsley and celery, pile it high on thick slices of house-baked multigrain, sourdough or caraway rye bread, finish it with crunchy roasted cashews and a mountain of cool shredded iceberg lettuce and don't charge the equivalent of a year's college tuition for it. "We haven't changed the recipe, not one iota," said Parasole Restaurant Holdings' Phil Roberts, which has owned the restaurants since the 1980s. When it's this good, why would they?
- 3460 Galleria, Edina, 952-925-1001 and 1901 W. Hwy. 36, Roseville, 651-636-0956, www.goodearthmn.com
"Grilled, deep-fried or blackened?" was the query from my server after I'd ordered the awesome "Our Famous Walleye" dinner (one fillet, $15.95, two fillets $21.95) at Tavern on Grand, but it wasn't my last. Choice of potato? Salad dressing preference? Soon enough, dinner arrived, and it was just as promised, an enormous pair of delicate Canadian walleye fillets, gently grilled and absolutely up-at-the-lake perfect. No wonder the restaurant sells 450 pounds of walleye in an average week, and 600 during Lent.
- 656 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-228-9030, www.tavernongrand.com
With burgermania still gripping the Twin Towns, and chefs putting every conceivable spin on the genre, it's refreshing to revisit an old U of M standby like Annie's Parlour and encounter cheeseburger genius: the thick, juicy and nicely charred patty, the buttered and grilled bun, the slabs of sultry smoked Cheddar ($5.50). That's it, embellishments-wise, and that's all that's necessary. It's even better, if that's possible, with a malt.
- 313 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-0744
For the past 16 years, a single flavor has kept constant vigil in the ever-changing scoop-case landscape at Crema Cafe, Ron Siron's and Carrie Gustafson's south Minneapolis temple to the ice cream arts. They call it "Crema" ($3.50 for a single scoop), because it transfers the flavors of the most mellow latte imaginable into chilled, ultra-decadent form. It's the embodiment of the simple-pleasures credo, just the couple's top-secret ice cream base, infused for three lazy days with super-premium Intelligentsia-brand espresso beans before it hits the freezer and then lands in the cones and cups of its legions of fans.
- 3403 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-3868, cremacafeminneapolis.com
The primal magnificence of the Silver Butter Knife Steak for Two ($94) at Murray's is not to be underestimated. Order it medium-rare -- as recommended by chef John Van House -- and tradition immediately steps in. As he has been doing for more than 30 years, Murray's butcher Boyd Freeman pares wet- and dry-aged New York strip sirloins into 28-oz. bricks, rounding the edges (the scraps become Murray's spectacularly good burgers) for maximum searing potential. Two sides are dredged in the kitchen's briny seasoning and then it's off to an engineered-specifically-for-Murray's broiler, which blasts intense heat, in the steak version of surround-sound, from four 45-degree angles. Twenty minutes later, when the Angus beef has attained a glorious, salt-kissed char enveloping a velvety, ruby-red interior, this extravagance rests on the plate for five minutes before it's rushed to the dining room for the full carved-tableside treatment. It's Minneapolis' longest running (and most aromatic) show, performed daily on 6th Street since 1946.
- 26 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-339-0909, www.murrays restaurant.com
If ever there were a signature a.m. dish, it's Maria Hoyos' cachapas Venezolanas, the plate-sized, can't-eat-just-one corn pancakes (single $2.95, double $5.80) at the ever-bustling Maria's Cafe. Dotted with crisp yellow corn kernels, each tender, delicately browned bite is nearly sweet enough before the requisite maple syrup drizzle. So ask for a side of crumbled Cotija cheese ($1.50), a hard, cow's-milk Mexican import that acts as a salty counterpart to the cake's sweet personality. "Everyone comes from all over for these pancakes," said Hoyos. Judging from the number of orders flying out of the kitchen on my most recent visit, I'd say that she is not exaggerating.
- 1113 E. Franklin Av., Mpls., 612-870-9842, www.mariascafe.com
It's not a rib joint, but if there's a better plate of slow-braised, sweet-spicy, abundantly meaty baby backs than the iconic version at the 128 Cafe, I haven't eaten them. Drop in on Friday's "Rib Nite," when a half-rack is $20, and a full is $30.
- 128 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, 651-645-4128, www.128cafe.net
The ownership has turned over, there's a new chef in the kitchen (Michael Harper), and there are plenty of unfamiliar items on the menu (flatbreads!) at the Lexington. But do not despair, oh change-averse clientele; the hearty chicken pot pie ($14 lunch, $16 dinner), remains. Phew.
- 1096 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-222-5878, www.thelexongrand.com