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Best Of 2008

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

BEST DELICATESSEN
Be'wiched
Emily Utne

Three words: house-cured pastrami. This tasty, salty meat is one of the stars of the menu at Be'wiched, and it's about time it got here. The Twin Cities have never exactly excelled at the deli thing: Until recently, our best delis were the ones flying ingredients in from New York. Here to change this sad state of affairs are Be'wiched owners Matthew Bickford and Michael Ryan, two former fine-dining chefs (at La Belle Vie and D'Amico Cucina, respectively, among others) who are funneling their expertise and creativity into the humble sandwich-shop concept, with delicious results. That pastrami, served on rye of course, with coarse-grain mustard and tangy pickled cabbage, is a winner of a sandwich, as is the roast beef with Havarti, a sweet onion chutney, and spicy horseradish. The restaurant has an open kitchen and orange walls that are bright and cheery, if a bit bare. Some well-selected art certainly wouldn't hurt, but there is artfulness to be found on the plates: If you choose to eat in, you might see a food presentation with better design than the new Guthrie. One good deal is the $8.50 combo: a half-sandwich with soup or salad and a fountain soda. Try the sweet, crisp coleslaw or whatever the soup of the day is: These from-scratch creations are often wonderful. Offering locally sourced meats, house-baked breads, takeout, box lunches, catering, and now wine and beer, Be'wiched, open since September, is a welcome addition to the dining scene.

800 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 55401
MAP
612-767-4330
BEST ASIAN GROCERY
Dragon Star
Christopher+Peters

This Frogtown market has all the basics: Asian produce, noodles, candy, spices, and soft drinks. You'll find 50-pound bags of rice and durian fruit. Bahn mi sandwiches and deep-fried sesame balls are available for takeout. There's even a jewelry store. But what make this market stand out from the rest are its tanks of live fish and its snout-to-tail butchery, which is not for the wasteful or the squeamish. When you reach into the refrigerator case of cellophane-wrapped meats—everything from duck heads to chicken feet to beef lips (and you thought tripe was authentic!)—you'll realize you're not in Byerly's anymore. In the aquatic section, you'll find the still-swimming fish, plus fresh oysters, snails, shrimp, and crabs. The only thing they don't seem to carry anymore—but once did—are live frogs.

633 Minnehaha Ave. W., St. Paul, 55104
MAP
651-488-2567
BEST BREAKFAST
Lucia's to Go
Vincent Marcinelli

All too often, breakfast comes down to a simple either/or prospect: Either do it up and spend a lot for an expensive brunch, or eat a mess of eggs and potatoes in a skillet. Both have their time and place, but it's nice to be able to break out of the box. At the simultaneously affordable and high-class Lucia's to Go, there is no compromise. Folks who have moved to New York City have been spotted complaining on Chowhound.com about not being able to get the equal of Lucia's croissants there. Truly, those croissants (chocolate, almond, and traditional) are flaky, buttery, many-layered things. The plain variety ($2.50) will complement any other breakfast choice, and the sweet incarnations are a light breakfast unto themselves when accompanied by a cup of coffee or Grand Keemun tea. Lightly iced and nutty Budapest and baby Budapest buns are a stylishly restrained twist on the usual fatty frosting-bomb that is the traditional American cinnamon roll. And the crepes...oh, Lord. They range from $4 to $5 and are either sweet (Nutella, berry butter, fresh preserves) or savory (onions, ham and cheese, or greens). But both species are light, bursting with flavor, and as elegant as George Clooney in a tux. The tight space at Lucia's to Go often gets packed, but as any fan of Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown knows, a crowd's not a knock, it's the ultimate compliment. A scrum of elbows and legs means "Good Food Served Here...Cheap."

1432 W. 31st St., Minneapolis, 55408
MAP
612-825-1572
BEST BAKERY
A Baker's Wife

Few things in this world are incontrovertible. But here's one: A good neighborhood bakery can save lives. How? It's difficult to say, but it feels right to say it. If you stood outside the place peering in through the window, you wouldn't believe me. The view is mostly obstructed by a grandmother's collection of old signage, things like a woodcut of a sheep with the words "Thank Ewe!" painted across the wool. And passing by in your car, it would be easy to mistake the place for something more akin to one of those Wonder Bread thrift stores. You would certainly never guess that this jewel of a Minneapolis bakery is run by the former pastry chef of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, if only because of the prices. The buttery-crisp blueberry turnover, the caramel cake, the doughnut holes packed into a clear to-go cup and surrounded by the beaded moisture of the just-baked—any of these things can be yours for just outside of a dollar. And the perfect peasant loaves? Just outside of two dollars. As if they needed to indulge in any further kindness: The iced tea comes with ice cubes made of the same. And this is truly a neighborhood bakery. On any given Sunday morning you'll find kids still in their pajamas and neighbors exchanging another week's worth of hyper-local gossip. Is it saving lives? Okay, we'll cool it with the bluster. But it is.

4200 28th Ave. S., Minneapolis, 55406
MAP
612-729-6898
BEST CHEAP EATS
The Chicago Dog at the Bulldog

It will set you back $5.25 (or $5 at the Northeast location) for this meal at the Bulldog, but for the amount of food you get, you'll swear you should be paying more. Those who order the Chicago Dog will be treated to maximum doggage (either meat or a plump and filling veggie dog). Quality Chicago dogs are only as good as their toppings, and the mass of accoutrements loaded on this meal is impressive: tomatoes, a whole pickle spear, diced onion, sweet green relish, yellow mustard, and little sport peppers that unleash tiny explosions of spiciness in your mouth. All of this comes with what seems like an entire grocery bag of potato chips, which can be used to scoop up any excess toppings that fall while eating. Add a pint, and you've hardly broken the bank at around $11.

2549 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, 55405
MAP
612-872-8893
BEST BARBECUE
Lee's and Dee's Barbeque Express
Ed Neaton

It's gotta be a rule that fanciness and great barbecue are mutually exclusive. We've just never found decent ribs in a place with padded booths and linen tablecloths. Lee and Dee Smith have been churning out the Cities' most consistently excellent barbecue for 15 years, and their little restaurant's biggest claim to fanciness is a rabbit-eared TV mounted on one wall. Their pork sandwiches are hearty enough for any appetite and dripping with rich, tangy sauce; the ribs are slow-cooked until the meat falls off the bone. If you're tired of the muddy, flour-battered catfish common to the North, try a taste of Lee's and Dee's flaky, cornmeal-battered fillets for a refreshing change of pace. But the dish perhaps most indicative of true Southern cooking (and great for sopping up sauce) is the cornbread, cooked in a flat pan, cut into squares, and salty, not sweet.

161 N. Victoria St., St. Paul, 55104
MAP
651-225-9454
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BEST DELICATESSEN: Be'wiched

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