The 5 best things we ate this year

The Taste team recounts their favorite meal of the year, from takeout to a communal spread.

Honey and Cream Cake at Spoon and Stable

I'm ashamed to admit that my first time trying Spoon and Stable is in its seventh year of operation. Much has changed since then — in and around Gavin Kaysen's seminal Minneapolis restaurant. The Honey and Cream Cake hasn't. Its progenitors, Diane Moua and Alexandra Motz, then the pastry chefs at Spoon and Stable, made some chef-y riffs on Tres Leches, a type of sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk (evaporated, condensed and heavy cream), by adding honey and enriching both the sponge cake and mousse with egg yolks. There are button-size discs of meringue, a simple crumble, a perfect quenelle of beeswax ice cream, seasonal fruit (ranging from quince to blueberries), plus a tableside pour of more cream. It was so intensely gratifying that I'd visit the restaurant for dinner, on multiple occasions, just to end with that cake. (Jon Cheng)
211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, Open daily 5 p.m.-midnight. Dinner served Sun.-Thu. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m. Brunch Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Vinai & Co. with Nixta at St. Paul Farmers Market

There it was, a feast for four artfully arranged on top of banana leaves. Union Hmong Kitchen's chef Yia Vang, in collaboration with the equally talented Gustavo Romero of Nixta, put forth a display at his summer series of dinners at the St. Paul Farmers Market that still makes me smile. Yang's tri-tip steak with Szechuan peppercorn crust and vegetables — including a bunch of pea pods from his mom's garden — were hot off the grill and waiting to fill Romero's tortillas. Two types of tamales and an array of sauces and salsas bridged their culinary worlds, proving that Hmong and Mexican flavors were indeed a match made in heaven. (Nicole Hvidsten)
Union Hmong Kitchen, Graze Provisions + Libations, 520 N. 4th St., Mpls., Open Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Nixta, 1222 NE. 2nd St., Mpls.,, preorder or takeout Thu.-Fri. 3-8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Soupe à l'Oignon Grâtinée at Meritage

A classic soup — a house specialty at this equally classic St. Paul restaurant — underscored the delight of dining out. Not only did this Gruyère-topped exercise in excess reveal the promise locked within a taken-for-granted ingredient (in this case, onions), its flawless execution demonstrated a finesse that's foreign to the vast majority of home cooks. Well, this one, anyway. (Rick Nelson)
410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, Open Sun., Thu. 4-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4-10 p.m.

Calamarata with raw tuna at Bar La Grassa

These wide tubes of pasta, coated in a spicy red pepper sauce and topped with cold cubes of ruby-red tuna, would classify as a best dish for me any year, but it was especially good after a long pandemic slumber for this Italian fixture in the North Loop. Bar La Grassa's future looked dicey when sister restaurant Burch closed. But the restaurant re-emerged in June. Thankfully, the menu was mostly unchanged, including this classic that made for a perfect, almost-back-to-normal birthday dinner from my favorite perch at the open-kitchen counter. (Sharyn Jackson)
800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-3837, Open Mon.-Thu. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.

Coconut Shrimp Toast from Hai Hai

A highlight of high-low cuisine, the coconut shrimp toast at Hai Hai in Minneapolis was the dish that made takeout feel like a special occasion. A slice of crispy browned bread is topped with a succulent, spicy mixture of ground shrimp that's dusted with coconut flakes and toasted to a crunchy shell. Served with dollops of spicy, sweet jam and fresh jalapeño, it's tropical divinity. (Joy Summers)
2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-223-8640, Open Sun., Tue.-Thu. 4-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4-11 p.m.
To see more of our look back at Minnesota's food scene in 2021, including our Restaurant of the Year, best dining moments, beloved neighborhood spots and more, use the drop-down navigation bar at the top of this page.