Salvadoran quesadilla from El Guanaco Bakery y Cafe

The early morning sun was strong, and my car looked tiny. I'd slid into an ample spot outside El Guanaco for a quick breakfast bite and I wasn't the only one. This corner of the Bloomington parking lot was filled with oversized trucks, and my little family grocery-getter was dwarfed by its neighbors. But it was the first indication that I was in for something delicious. The next clue was the wave of aromas that hit when I opened the door; sweet baked goods, toasty masa, rich stewed meats and soft spices beckoned.

El Guanaco Bakery y Cafe was recommended by someone who swore the pupusas are the closest thing to the ones he remembered eating as a child in his mother's Salvadoran kitchen. They were, as promised, delicious. But it was the bakery case that enticed me.

There were dishes I'm familiar with from local panaderias, like conchas, barquillos and cookies, but a little round sesame seed-adorned cake called to me. The Salvadoran quesadilla eats like a cousin of pound cake, a rich and slightly crumbly buttery interior with just a bit of salty back note from the cheese it's named for. It's a perfect foil for a cup of black coffee and an absolute bargain breakfast at $3.50.

It makes sense that the sweets are irresistible; the family of El Guanaco founder Amilton Yobani Garcia Murcia had a bakery in El Salvador. He opened the first El Guanaco as a bakery before expanding into savory foods. There are three metro locations now, serving an impressive array of both sweet and savory treats. (Joy Summers)

7837 Portland Av. S., Bloomington, 952-737-7088; 501 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-353-6905; 849 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-776-3320;

Fried Chicken Sando at Little T's

So this is where the Gen Zers and millennials hang. At least that was the majority of the crowd at Little T's in Minneapolis on a recent Friday evening. A line was forming just inside the door to snag a seat, making it clear Little Tijuana's 2.0 is just as popular a destination as when it was dishing up Tex-Mex.

Under new ownership, this next iteration serves up drinks and bar fare from around the globe. Between the dive vibe and the moderately priced fare cranked up several notches, it was easy to see why the spot just off Eat Street is drawing new regulars.

Our group could easily become repeat customers too, ordering any of the dishes we tried with regularity: the fried cauliflower ($12), coated with a tempura-like batter and drizzled with pickled ginger, furikake seasoning and bonito flakes; a melt-in-your-mouth cheeseburger ($10 single; $12 double) with proper sear and great topping choices of caramelized onions, pickles, cheese sauce and "ketchonaise."

But if we were forced to pick a favorite, it would be the chicken sando ($12). The sandwich is a delicious melding of pan-Asian flavors starting off on a solid foundation — a tender brined and buttermilk-soaked chicken thigh coated in rice flower for a thick, uber-crisp coating reminiscent of Korean fried chicken. After frying, the chicken is coated with a sweet chili sauce and topped with a papaya slaw and mint sprigs that further brightened the dish while complementing that savory with some sweet and heat. (Nancy Ngo)

17 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-315-3245,

Spinach and artichoke pizza from Scratch Pizzeria

As a fan of spinach and artichokes — and a superfan of them together — I didn't hesitate to order the duo on a specialty pizza at this new Eagan pizza joint.

I dove in, but wait; wasn't there supposed to be chicken? I asked our server if I was missing something. Turns out the pizza was: "Oh, my gosh," she said. "The chicken is the best part, I'll have them make you another one." I was perfectly content to keep the chickenless pizza, but she insisted. And I'm glad she did. House-smoked chicken was the addition to this classic flavor combo that I didn't know was needed. The smokiness of the succulent chicken cut the richness of the cheese and garlic, and was a worthy companion to the artichokes and fresh spinach. The thin crust had a nice crisp, yet was substantial enough to hold its own with the toppings. Thanks to an order of garlic cheese bread, a small pizza (10-inch, $18) was enough to ensure leftovers, which was a good thing. I wanted to savor every bite.

Scratch Pizzeria opened in Eagan just over a month ago in a strip mall next to the Eagan Transit Station. It's a great lunch or after-work stop for pizza and beer, or an easy solution to tonight's "what's for dinner" dilemma. (Nicole Hvidsten)

3450 Pilot Knob Road, Eagan, 952-866-1080,

Winter Roll at Sushi Takatsu

The downtown Minneapolis skyways are littered with memories of my adult life. From the corner where my best friend once manned her shoeshine stand in our broke early 20s, to all the buildings where I worked as a temp trying to cobble together health insurance, and eventually the firms where I established something akin to a grown-up life. Since starting with the Star Tribune, I've relished the opportunity to be back downtown and join the other workers shuttling back and forth in the above-ground pathways. And, while there are plenty of days I'd like to be at home under a blanket with my cat, it is fun to revisit the places I used to frequent and see what there is to discover — like today's fantastic sushi lunch.

Sushi Takatsu in the Baker Building stands out for its long, fast-moving line. Regulars all have a favorite and rarely stray. It's easy to see how one could fall hard for this spot. The winter roll ($8.99) is a mix of spicy tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado, rolled up with rice in sheets of nori that are then topped with crispy little tempura flakes, eel sauce and spicy mayo for good measure. It's a whole meal — and for less than $10 is an incredible downtown bargain. (J.S.)

733 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-5981, follow them on Facebook

Grilled heritage pork chop at Breva

While a national restaurant group may have taken over the dining room at Minneapolis' Hotel Ivy, the menu at Breva is all about feeling Minnesota.

Spot smoked walleye dip on the appetizer menu and wild rice with the entrees. There are less obvious nods to Minnesota, too; it especially would be a shame to overlook the grilled pork chop ($36).

The kitchen confidently cooks thick-cut heritage chops your way — pink or no pink. But what has us waxing poetic, or at least nostalgic, the most is the side of Tuscan kale and braised beans in gravy. The side dish had an unexpected but welcome smokiness transportive to times of eating baked beans out of a can cooked over a campfire.

While the maroon beans looked like those of the campfire variety, they were cranberry beans, a cousin of the kidney bean. The creaminess of the beans with hints of sweet and nutty was a respectable spin on the dish, as was the preparation, which felt like a modern love letter to Minnesota and our campfire ways. (N.N.)

Breva Bar & Grill, 1115 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-6207,