The past couple of months have been a whirlwind on the restaurant scene, with several exciting new destinations opening. But on my mind lately: these great, underrated eateries across the Twin Cities. They range from sit-down restaurants to grab-and-go eateries, all of which are worth your time and palate.

Hot Grainz

The name doesn't inspire confidence that an eatery within a small strip mall on University Avenue in St. Paul serves perhaps the most authentic evocation of Thai food in the Twin Cities. Thai Café has its place, but another newcomer — Hot Grainz, opened just under two years ago by Aunyamanee "Aun" Ritneatikun, an immigrant from Chiang Mai — ought to share the spotlight. During each of my four visits, I found myself in rapture of the "street food" aromas characteristic of her incandescent stir-fries — so distinct that they stayed in my head like a Wagnerian leitmotif. It'll make up for the dreaded wait times I experienced for takeout and dine-in, which can stretch to an hour or more during peak days. Your best bet is to arrive early, say 5 p.m. early in the week, place your orders, and try not to take it personally when you are subject to the militant-sounding printed signs that warn you not to wander into the dining room yourself. Once inside — the room is no bigger than a walk-in closet — the dishes arrive swiftly.

Yes, there are staples, including a judiciously charred krapow ($15) and a khao mun gai ($13) that hits the right notes (dewy rice slicked with chicken fat; tender chicken, that housemade ginger and garlic chile sauce), and you should order them all, but the khao soi ($15) here is built differently, and better, than all the others; it's less sweet and gloopy and more brothy — as it should be given the curry paste is made from scratch. Her panang curry ($13) hits a similar consistency, too (thin yet stout, humming with galangal). But one dish rules them all: the pad woon sen ($13) — al dente, springy glass noodles slightly hot from white pepper, stir-fried with whatever velvety strips of protein you select.

995 W. University Av., Suite 136, St. Paul, 651-400-0126,


Naysayers may find fault in the preciousness of the food (manicured vegetables, croquettes, espumas), and that it's priced accordingly (entrees are $24-$38). They'll wonder why this Indian restaurant near 50th and France doesn't look like their favorite neighborhood spots; why there isn't, say, a buffet for $15. Raag isn't any of these, nor does owner Sohil Goorha intend to compare it to the otherwise excellent array of Indian restaurants across the Twin Cities. Instead, it's a fine-dining restaurant that happens to cook food inspired by Indian recipes, and it does so very well.

In a handsome, dimly lit room illuminated by a gleaming bar that dispenses inventive cocktails, you'll find an equal mix of young families and couples. During a recent night, our table was flanked by tables filled with South Asian groups. It was tempting to lean over and ask them what to get, but chef Romila Ramamurthy has designed a menu that rewards you for ordering not just the obscure things, but the accessible ones, too.

One of my favorite dishes, in fact, is her blackened chicken ($16) — juicy, with an appealing tang — set over eggplant mash and beetroot gel. Other strong dishes include Ramamurthy's more genteel, milder take on moilee curry ($24). This one is less mustard forward and more redolent of rich, fatty coconut cream, and it was the perfect foil for glossy pan-seared shrimp. Another is a completely different take on malai curry ($23), a Bengali staple with warming cinnamon and cloves — here, with bright tomatillo cream, a counterpoint to paneer with its handsome, darkened edges. Don't miss the vegetables and figs kofta ($22), in which croquettes resembling Scotch eggs are encased with a thin, crackling armor and set beautifully over a smooth cashew cream.

3812 W. 50th St., Mpls., 952-405-8367,

Must-have egg sandwiches

A good breakfast sandwich can liven the soul of any jaded critic, particularly if it's one from Egg on a Roll, a counter serve at 5th Avenue Market, from chef Adam Bresina (previously at the Hewing and the Minneapolis Club). Sure, you can enjoy a gloriously greasy egg sandwich from a good diner, but how about one that's a little more elevated? Bresina's sandwiches wedge egg patties, cheese and meat between two fluffy brioche buns. For reference, the classic ($6.99) fulfills that mission, but regulars (and yours truly) will tell you that his Breakfast in Bombay ($8.99) is the one that delivers true elemental pleasure: those alfalfa sprouts, those crinkle-cut yellow peppers, the mildly hot spread, and that egg patty — satisfyingly thick yet light as a soufflé.

Egg sandwiches needn't be characterized by bread, however. Breakfast burritos should count, and while it's an excuse to mention Saturday Dumpling Company's tidy, fastidiously constructed — and all-around excellent — scallion pancake-wrapped burrito (disclaimer: they're friends), it's also my pleasure to report that that Lito's Burrito's, in Richfield, also serves an unfathomably good breakfast burrito ($7.99). It's a messy, satisfying affair with stubby coins of sausage, soft-scramble, and crisp hashbrown encased in a warm tortilla wrap. As the name suggests, there are other terrific burritos, including an elephantine supreme burrito filled with birria that yields, and whose wrap is slicked with oil that stains your fingers red. Worth it. That my colleague recently had a similar affection for Lito's burritos was pure coincidence, and a testament to its quality and popularity.

Egg on a Roll, 201 5th Av. N., Mpls.,; Lito's Burrito's, 6519 Nicollet Av. S., Richfield, 612-243-9699,

Correction: Previous versions of this story misidentified the city where Raag is located.