Smoked Whitefish Smörgåsar at Fika

If you need help getting into the holiday spirit, the American Swedish Institute is the place to be. From the bright red sheds in the courtyard ready for outdoor markets to the elegant yet understated decor, everything about it (politely) screams happy hygge holidays.

Fika, the museum's cafe, is the sugar coating on it all. Yes, there's lingonberries and Swedish meatballs ($15), and a fellow diner called the duck confit ($22) "to die for." But I was making a return trip for the smoked whitefish smörgasåar ($16).

Chef Blake Meier gently tosses house-smoked Lake Superior whitefish with caraway crème fraîche before setting it atop a sturdy slab of housemade darkened rye caraway bread and topping it with frisée, a soft-boiled egg and wisps of fresh dill. It wasn't just a sandwich, it was a meal — and a delicious one at that. Just save enough room for the cardamom bread pudding ($9).

Fair warning: Everyone wants a little Fika right now, so the wait can be long. Make the best of it and explore the museum and its expanded yuletide gift shop. Too bad they don't carry the one thing I really want: the smoked whitefish salad to be available solo so it can be part of my own hygge holiday spread. (Nicole Hvidsten)

2600 Park Av., Mpls., 612-871-4907, Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed., Fri.-Sun., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu. Lunch menu served 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Maltagliati at Giulia

Not much has changed on the menu since Giulia quietly reopened in the lobby of The Emery hotel, located on a sleepy stretch of downtown Minneapolis, earlier this summer. It's one of the more accessible places to walk in, as it's rarely at capacity. And the selection of pastas remains (woefully) limited.

No matter: Giulia's Maltagliati ($25), one of the two pastas offered, is so good that I've had it thrice. Each time, I've marveled at the way that obscenely butter-forward pork ragu clings onto silky, springy ribbons of housemade pasta. Pops of cherry tomato add equal parts brightness and umami. And rosemary lends the aromatic brand of woodiness, reminiscent of those long-labored Tuscan beef stews.

It's the brainchild of consulting chef Steven Brown, who approached the ragu like Tonkotsu, an intense, creamy pork broth often used for ramen: Cook it down for hours until it's rich and fatty and deeply flavorful. As winter starts to bite, I can't think of anything more comforting. (Jon Cheng)

215 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-215-5450, Open 5-10 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Rosettes at La Boulangerie Marguerite

One of the many memorable delicacies at my family's long-ago Christmas gatherings were the elegant rosettes that my mother's aunts, Alice and Marian Moe, would painstakingly prepare in the tiny kitchen of their north Minneapolis home.

These rose-shaped beauties require an enormous amount of work, which explains why they've fallen out of favor with subsequent generations of bakers in our Norwegian-Swedish clan. It's rare to encounter these fragile treats ($3) at bakeries, especially French-accented ones.

"We inherited the recipe," said co-owner Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde; she and husband François Kiemde purchased the 100-year-old bakery, formerly PJ Murphy's, in 2017. "Joe Schlosser, our overnight baker, has been making them forever, and people love them."

I do, too, and I'm grateful for the nostalgia-inducing holiday cheer. God Jul! (Rick Nelson)

1279 Randolph Av., St. Paul, 651-699-9292, Open 6 a.m.-noon Mon., 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Ropa Vieja at El Cubano

I was winding my way through the streets of West St. Paul and back down the hill into the Capital City when I stumbled upon El Cubano. Situated on a triangular lot between two streets, the sign promised Cuban and Dominican cuisine, and it was like fate grabbed the steering wheel and yanked it toward the tropical awning.

Inside, the setup is simple: two tidy dining rooms and a counter to order. The menu boasts sandwiches like the eponymous pork-filled one, appetizers such as crispy fried empanadas and several entrees.

I fully intend to explore every corner of the menu, but the one dish that I have to order for now and forever is the ropa vieja. Skirt steak is tenderly cooked until shreds of the meat luxuriate in their juices before being served over a heap of perfectly prepared white rice. It's gently spiced, but deeply succulent and flavorful, punctuated by tart pops of soft-cooked cherry tomatoes. Every plate also comes with plush sweet/savory plantains, salad and a side of stewed black beans deserving of their own sonnet. The feast was so generous, it's almost enough for three meals. And at $15.95, that's a bargain for such a labor of comforts. (Joy Summers)

870 Dodd Rd., St. Paul, 651-227-1510, Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun., Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri-Sat.

Deviled Egg Salad sandwich at Hope Breakfast Bar

When a west-of-the-Mississippi outpost of St. Paul's Hope Breakfast Bar opened earlier this month, I half-expected more of the over-the-top and ultra-sugary dishes it had become known for. You know, cereal milk French toast and German chocolate pancakes. A few of those — banana bread pancakes and a fried pickle waffle, for starters — did make the leap to St. Louis Park, and then some.

But something new and decidedly understated caught my eye. The deviled egg sandwich ($11) amped up tired old egg salad with creamy deviled egg dressing, put it on an open-faced slice of toast and topped it with pickles and everything bagel seasoning. With hash browns on the side — this is a breakfast place, after all — it made for a restrained yet refined diner-style meal.

But don't think I wasn't eyeing the piña colada French toast for next time. (Sharyn Jackson)

5377 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park, 763-338-9810, Open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.

Correction: The spelling of smörgåsar was corrected.