King Mackerel Aguachile at Colita
Chef/owner Daniel del Prado has a mackerel obsession, and the oily, dense fish ($15) contrasts beautifully against fiery Fresno chiles and the crunch of fried chapulines (aka grasshoppers), imported from Oaxaca and surely one of the most talked-about ingredients of the year.
Nam khao at Lat14
This do-it-yourself Laotian snack ($13) is a flavor burst of well-seasoned deep-fried rice, ground pork, fish sauce and chopped peanuts that’s spooned into crisp lettuce leaves and topped with fresh herbs. “Once you start eating it, you can’t stop,” said chef/owner Ann Ahmed. She’s absolutely right.
Potatoes aligot at P.S. Steak
Yes, the dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye is magnificent (ditto the Denver, Flat Iron and New York Strip steaks), but here’s another measure of a first-rate steakhouse: The side dishes are equally memorable. This hedonistic half-and-half blend of spuds and slightly funky cave-aged Gruyère ($13) is one sterling example; the plate of crisp, golden and utterly miraculous hash browns ($13) is another.
‘House’ burger at Burger Dive
Just when the diner-style double-patty cheeseburger was taking on a been-there/done-that aura, chef Nick O’Leary skillfully made it feel brand-new, and at a palatable price ($9.50). Even better, O’Leary and co-owner Josh Thoma opened a Rosedale outlet, delivering first-rate burgers to shoppers resigned to dreary chain output.
Octopus at Demi
Every dish at chef/owner Gavin Kaysen’s intimate tasting-menu-only restaurant has a back story, and this one had a doozy: It’s based on a signature preparation from the arsenal of legendary French chef (and Kaysen mentor) Paul Bocuse. Where Bocuse made hare the centerpiece, Kaysen used octopus, then fashioned a unique, intensely unctuous sauce using pig’s blood, wild rice and red currant vinegar.
Peras pizza at Boludo
While chef/owner Facundo Javier Defraia is an exceptional empanadas maker, he also has a knack for pizzas, baking delicate, oval-shaped crusts until the edges blister and then glisten with olive oil and twinkle with sea salt. Toppings follow many don’t-miss combinations, but the pear-dill-pine nut-Gorgonzola combination ($16) is Hall of Fame-worthy.
Sample platter at Animales BBQ Co.
The options change weekly, but chef/owner Jon Wipfli — laboring out of a trailer/food truck setup — is performing minor barbecue miracles. What’s best about this heaping helping of smoked goodness ($20) is that, whatever the assortment, it offers a superb BBQ 101. If anyone deserves to matriculate from a vehicle into a brick-and-mortar operation, it’s Wipfli.
Dutch baby at In Bloom
Last year’s Star Tribune Restaurant of the Year kicked off a brunch service that places this puffed-up pancake/popover crossover in the spotlight. Tapping the intense heat of his kitchen’s wood-burning hearth, chef Thomas Boemer offers three beautiful variations ($12 and $13), starting with a classic ham-and-egg version.
Deviled Norwegian crab on grilled sourdough at Eastside
My Scandinavian DNA finds open-face sandwiches irresistible, and this beauty ($21) was tops in its class. The house-baked sourdough, a model of baking acumen, is piled high with tons of sweet, ocean-fresh crab and very little else, just judicious pops of lemon, tarragon and espelette peppers. Perfect.
Kaddo bourani at New Scenic Cafe
This meatless version of the Afghani staple ($14) is a prime example of chef/owner Scott Graden’s affinity for both vegetarian cooking and globally inspired flavors, lending heft to sweet winter squash with harissa, dukkah, mint, tangy smoked yogurt and a nest of crispy fried shallots. No wonder this Lake Superior landmark has been drawing crowds for 20 years.
Plus, 10 more to remember:
Moroccan salmon at Fhima’s Minneapolis, French toast at Rose Street Cafe, Sunday night fried chicken at St. Genevieve, breakfast sandwich at Lowry Hill Meats, deep-dish pizza at the Fitz, bacon-Cheddar biscuit at Betty & Earl’s Biscuit Kitchen, shrimp and grits at Grand Catch, rhubarb ice cream at Pumphouse Creamery, “Abundance Board” at Kieran’s Kitchen Northeast and the Baltimore sandwich from Carbon Coal-Fired Pit Beef.