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Saffron Restaurant & Lounge

Say you love a good street-cart falafel, exploding with onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and leaving a trail of creamy yogurt dressing dripping down your wrist. Say you make weekly trips to Holy Land to stock up on pita, hummus, tabouli, and stuffed grape leaves. What do you do when you want to find these same flavors in your fine dining? You head to Saffron, where chef Sameh Wadi marries ingredients from the Middle East with haute-cuisine techniques he used while working at La Belle Vie. That means you'll find dishes the likes of which you've never seen served in the Twin Cities, from salmon and clam tagine to lamb brain with tomato confit-a sleeper hit, according to Wadi. "The Minnesota diner is more adventurous than I thought," he says. Wadi's $3.50 happy-hour menu, which riffs on classic bar food, is a rock-bottom bargain for gourmet food lovers. There are mini-burgers spiced with charmoula, French fries served with feta cheese, and a BLT made with house-cured lamb bacon that's the best thing between two slices of bread anywhere in town.