Best Dishes of 2007

For some, 2007 will forever be the year of wide stances in public bathrooms, but for foodies, other moments stand out

When I got my beef ribs at the outdoor barbecue stand on the corner of University and Dale in St. Paul last summer, I waited about 20 minutes. Plenty of you wrote in to tell me that my article bumped that wait up by about two full hours, and for that I am deeply sorry. Still, I'd be lying if I said those beef ribs weren't some of the best I've ever had in my whole, entire, barbecue-saturated life: beefy like pot roast distilled to its most intense possible super-beef-guise, fatty and gelatinous and devourable like nothing else. Are they even out there this late in the winter? I put in some phone calls to the Big Daddy crew, and hallelujah, yes they are! They've taken over over the the former Abundant Bistro space next to their parking lot, and are cooking outside and delivering the gorgeous goods to customers who wait inside at warm, cozy tables. If you wrote in to tell me that you kept driving past the Big Daddy's tent but were intimidated by the lines, take heart, you've got all winter to get the ribs of the year, if not the decade. But the spot they're in is scheduled for demolition in July of '08, so you snooze, and you just might really lose. Big Daddy's: The Giants of Outdoor Cooking, 651.276.3101.

8) Roast pork at Brasa

If I was going to name the Most Important restaurant of 2007 I'd probably crown Brasa, the quick-serve spot that renowned white-tablecloth chef Alex Roberts opened in northeast Minneapolis last summer. Why? Because I think Brasa is brilliantly forging a path for the future of Minnesota cuisine, showing a way that the best, most naturally fitting products of our local family farms (chickens, pork, veggies) can be minimally but brilliantly gilded for happy consumption by our great urban metropolis. However, since I'm not crowning Most Important, but Tastiest, I'll highlight this aspect of Brasa: Holy cow, do I love their roast pork! That 12-hour-roasted local Berkshire pork shoulder is just phenomenal: rich like fudge, spicy and salty enough that you want to eat it by the pound, real and elemental enough that eating it by the pound seems reasonable. And yes, I'm head over heels for their grits and cole slaw, too, thanks for asking. Brasa, 600 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612.379.3030;

9) Whole flounder at Tea House 2

People keep asking me: So, which is the better Szechuan restaurant, Tea House, Tea House 2, or Little Szechuan? I honestly have no idea. As near as I can tell, they're all operating at extremely high levels of excellence, and which one is "better" falls to a dish-by-dish, hour-by-hour sort of how-many-angels-fit-on-the-head-of-a-pin thing. It's out of the realm of criticism and into the realm of the personal. I will tell you who makes the best whole fried flounder in the history of Minnesota: That would be Tea House 2, up on the hill way east of downtown St. Paul. Called "sautéed filet flounder," the dish features little morsels of fried flounder filet served in a bowl made of the whole flounder itself. I know on paper that sounds a little gruesome, but it's actually delectable: tender, preciously light fish; crispy potato-chip bones. The stuff is only available when the flounder is fresh, and you'll only find it on their specials menu, but it's one of those rare dishes that's worth building your day around. And their juicy buns are no kidding, either. Tea House 2, 1676 Suburban Ave., St. Paul, 651.771.1790;

10) Dan-Dan noodles and beef short ribs at Little Szechuan

More-than-pleasant pheasant: Stewart Woodman makes a triumphant return to the local  restaurant scene with Heidi's
Alma Guzman
More-than-pleasant pheasant: Stewart Woodman makes a triumphant return to the local restaurant scene with Heidi's

Location Info


La Belle Vie

510 Groveland Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

But then if I was in a meaty or noodley mood, I'd always head to Little Szechuan: How I love their beef short ribs, their cumin lamb, their wonderfully numbing beef in spicy broth. And if a magical genie appeared in my house, there's a good chance my one wish might be for a never-empty container of leftover Little Szechuan dan-dan noodles in my refrigerator. Little Szechuan Chinese Cuisine, 422 University Ave. W., St. Paul; 651.222.1333;

11) Pho at Ngon Bistro

When I had the beef pho at St. Paul's newest, nicest Vietnamese restaurant, Ngon Bistro, I thought their bowl of beef soup and noodles was the best in town, but half a year of actually tasting everyone else's pho in light of the Ngon pho has changed my mind: The Ngon pho isn't just the best in town, it's the best by a country mile. It's intensely rich and beefy brown, hauntingly spiced with warm notes of anise and all sorts of pepper, sweet and meaty with onions, light and bright with herbs. I'm hereby updating my opinion of the place: If you don't know Ngon, you don't know pho. Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, 799 University Ave., St. Paul, 651.222.3301.

12) Paradise duck at Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine

When I reviewed Lemon Grass, I couldn't decide which of its updates of traditional larb salad I liked better: Was it the crazy duck, which marries cold, roughly chopped duck with lots of mint, cilantro, lime juice, chile peppers, and, of course, traditional roast-rice powder? Or was it the paradise shrimp, made similarly, but so light, lively, and zesty? Absurdly, months later, I still can't decide. I do know that both those dishes stood out as some of the best of what was inarguably a very, very tasty year. Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine, 8600 Edinbourgh Center Dr., Brooklyn Park, 763.494.8809.

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