Best Of :: Food & Drink
The cuisine of El Salvador is simple and lovely: corn, plantains, potatoes, carrots, seafood, meat—nothing too complicated, everything fresh and homey. This cozy spot on the East Side, filled with papier-mâché strands of fruits and vegetables and Central American flags hanging from the ceiling, makes you feel as if you are dining in mama's kitchen. The menu is thorough and thoroughly tempting, with falling-off-the-bone chicken, crispy whole fish, tender simmered beef, and saucy shrimp—each served with rice, beans, and salsa that is garden fresh and spicy hot, not "Minnesota hot." Each entrée is priced at $12.50 or under and served with thick, hot Salvadoran-style corn tortillas. Horchata, a traditional rice and cinnamon drink, fresh tamarind juice, or hot corn milk will perfectly complement your meal. Mañana's menu cover describes the setting perfectly: "Un rincon tipicamente Salvadoreno en Minnesota"—"A typical corner of Salvador in Minnesota."
Guest Best: Aaron Landry
Great pizza is about balance. While loads of ingredients and gobs of cheese can be satisfying, a fantastic pizza is disciplined: Each flavor, smell, and texture comes out without competing. Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza in Minneapolis's North Loop is nailing that balance. Their anthracite coal oven, which is a first in Minnesota, delivers a crust that is crisp but chewy, thin but not crackery, and just firm enough to hold a slice with one hand. They have six pizzas to choose from (at 12 or 16 inches) and a full list of ingredients to design your own. The personal hot salami and dried chile pepper ($9) is a common pick, but try their large tomato and oregano ($12) with added smoked mozzarella, garlic, and fresh cherry tomatoes. With its perfect mix of sharp and sweet flavors, it's the finest pizza in the metro this year. Black Sheep's pizza is also satisfying without being heavy—a rarity in pizza found in the Midwest. Their four taps exclusively feature microbreweries, and their wine list is brief but sophisticated enough for a nice date. Co-owner and chef Jordan Smith will often stop by each table to ask if the pizza is up to snuff. Black Sheep has been a recent darling of many critics and bloggers, but Smith says, "I avoid reading that stuff—I worry I'd want to respond to anything negative." Right now, Black Sheep has little to worry about.
Guest Best: Stewart Woodman
When a family dines out as a team, simplicity is essential. Here are foolproof instructions for feeding your clan by the most direct route possible. First, go to Quang. Order a strawberry bubble tea for each child, a pho (number 506 is preferred) to split, no onions or "green stuff," with small bowls for each child and a glass of water. When your food arrives, which will be in about 40 seconds (speed is a key element to dining with children), plop a couple of ice cubes into each small bowl and add some noodles, meatballs, and broth. It is sweet, cinnamony goodness, and your child will love it. Next, consume whatever tasty treat you have ordered for yourself as if you are being held hostage on a lifeboat in the Indian Sea. Then turn your attention to the unfinished food on the table and scavenge (it is a right of parenthood to eat whatever has not been consumed; furthermore, it's a valuable lesson in survival for your children). A household of four will usually get out the door for around $25, and you'll have a family that has a nice food buzz on.
Stewart Woodman is the chef and owner of Heidi's in Minneapolis, which was recently named one the 50 best new U.S. restaurants by Travel and Leisure magazine and is City Pages' Best Restaurant in Minneapolis this year). He is the founder of the food blog Shefzilla.com and is a father of two.
Still lamenting the loss of the Crack Burger at the late, great Sauced—that dear, departed patty was slathered in an incomparable veal demiglace—we decided to drown our sorrows in a few brews at the Blue Door Pub. There we discovered the new-ish neighborhood hangout to be pretty much the best thing to happen to Selby Avenue since St. Paul paved its cow paths. The staff is friendly, the tap beer selection well-selected (Rush River Lost Arrow Porter, Lift Bridge Farm Girl, and so on), and the Tater Tots so crispy that their crunch sounds like gunshots. The Blue Door serves up several stellar versions of Minneapolis's famed Jucy Lucy, plus our new Best in Show, the Jiffy Burger. Its tender, seasoned patty is topped with three chewy strips of thick-cut bacon, melted pepper jack cheese, a slather of mayonnaise, and an improbable swipe of crunchy peanut butter. Seriously. It sounds so wrong, but it tastes so right. The combination works because the peanut butter, bacon, and pepper jack pair with the meat in a way that evokes a spicy, smoky, Thai-style beef satay dunked in a nutty dipping sauce. It's good enough to risk salmonella, recall be damned. Try this burger and you'll be back for another one—in a jiffy.
Here's why Heidi's is the best restaurant in Minneapolis right now: Where else can you have a meal cooked by a nationally esteemed chef at a place where nothing on the menu costs more than $20? And when we say cooked, we don't mean quote-unquote cooked, like he created the concept but faxes menus from Fiji, letting his sous chefs do what they may. We mean that Stewart Woodman and his wife, Heidi, and maitre d' Frank Thorpe are at the restaurant pretty much constantly, with Stewart overseeing nearly every plate. Though the menu changes regularly, it always has a playful bent—exemplified by the nightly "Shefzilla" surprise, which one evening turned out to be an appetizer of delicate, batter-fried oysters, veal carpaccio, and a kimchi mayonnaise. Some of Woodman's greatest hits have included Asian-style braised short ribs served with spaetzle, a decadent pheasant in cream sauce with roasted truffle vegetables, and beef tenderloin "Caesar" with braised romaine and signature garlicky dressing. Desserts are Heidi's realm, so if you want to finish your meal on a sweet note, try the ultra-rich drinking chocolate or the tempura-battered mashed sweet potato bundles served with maple syrup and creme anglaise for dunking. It's, well, the best.
Just as trail mix tastes best on the trail, a proper hot dog tastes best in a dive. In the Twin Cities, no atmosphere is more appropriate for hot dog consumption than the Wienery, a dump (in the best sense of the word) of a restaurant on Cedar Avenue. Their Chicago-style dog is the best in town—its onions the freshest, its pickled sport peppers the brightest green, its pickles the crunchiest. And the Wienery leaves the mustard on the side, so customers aren't over- or underwhelmed by bright yellow potency. Customers can choose from several kinds of dogs and more than a dozen treatments. The smoked bratwurst prepared Warsaw style (Dusseldorf mustard and sauerkraut) can knock your pants right off. The taut skin of the restaurant's Vienna Beef brand dogs is perfectly cooked; it pops apart and shoots juicy, hot goodness into your mouth with every bite. The homemade chili is fresh, and the chefs will throw in habanero chiles on request to make it as hot as possible. Don't miss the Drive-in Fries—a Southern classic that combines hand-cut French fries with chili and coleslaw.