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BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFÉ—ST. PAUL Minneapolis 2008 - Tanpopo Noodle Shop

This quiet Lowertown noodle shop shows that Japanese cuisine is far more than fun-and-flashy sushi joints. Chef-owner Koshiki Yonemura cooks a home-style menu that's as simple and sweet as her dining room, a high-ceilinged loft with a beautiful, spare rusticity. Appetizers can be as basic as blanched spinach with fresh-ground sesame seeds or as exotic as agedashi tofu, where the silken cubes are deep-fried and then served in a pool of hot broth—the rising heat causes the bonito flakes to flutter like butterfly wings. It's as mesmerizing as it is delicious. Soba or udon noodle soups can be ordered in dozens of incarnations—our favorite is the one with mushroom caps, sweet omelet, and wakame seaweed floating on top. Or you can go the teishoku route—these "set meals" are the Japanese answer to the TV dinner. A portion of, say, panko-breaded pork cutlet or broiled mackarel is served on a tray with miso soup, rice, salad, and those addictive little Japanese pickles. Best of all, the entrées hover right around $10, so it's easy to keep coming again and again—which we often do, always hoping to drop in when sesame flan is being served for dessert.

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