BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFÉ (MINNEAPOLIS)
It took us a few minutes to adjust to what was going on: the tattooed server toting around a construction-grade torch and hollering questions to the kitchen from across the room. Turns out, at the new, revamped Victory 44, the cooks play dual roles as waitstaff. If you can deal with the fact that your server might arrive at the table a little sweaty and smelling of burnt arm hair, this is a good thing, as the guys (all the cooks are guys, which gives the place a bit of a frat-house vibe) have actually cooked the dishes they're serving, so they're intimately acquainted with each plate and nothing gets lost in translation. The dishes are interesting enough to require a tour guide. For example, one bowl of soup looked like the miniature world of a snow globe: a tangled coil of house-made noodles, a wedge of pig trotter, and a halved quail egg. (The server then flooded them all with a pitcher of fragrant kimchi-infused consommé.) The dessert tray is a similarly fantastic diorama—various cakes, meringues, and mousses garnished with artful smears of fruit purees, and a chocolate wafer melted tableside via the torch mentioned above. Even those with plainer tastes still get to experience chef magic applied to a basic Reuben, burger, and fish-and-chips platter. Looks like north Minneapolis just stepped out from the South Side's culinary shadow.