Pork chop from Pajarito
Why have a pork chop when there are tacos to be had? It's a reasonable question, but the pork chop at party-starting restaurant Pajarito tastes more like Mexico than any of the dishes we’ve enjoyed there to date. A pungent tang of a pasilla chile glaze gives an extra layer to the wood smoke. That base makes room for diced avocado and papaya relish, plus big handfuls of cilantro, radish, and lime, offering the only veggies you’ll want to interfere with this meaty undertaking.
605 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
Bourbon Manhattan from Mancini’s
For sheer transportment, it’s difficult to do better than Mancini’s, West Seventh Street's grand old Italian-style steakhouse and Las Vegas lounge. More shortsighted owners would have given this place an update long ago, and thank heavens nary a carpet fiber has been touched. Aside from red meat, brown liquor is the only consumable to fool with here, at prices that also seem to have been forgotten by a generation or so. Settle into a red swivel lounge chair and see how the whole world goes soft and warm before your very eyes.
531 W. Seventh S., St. Paul
Wood-roasted oysters from Red Rabbit
Few things can improve on the natural wonder of a raw oyster. Wood smoke is one of them, thanks to the yin/yang of sea salt and fire. Red Rabbit is making fine use of its wood-fired oven for pizzas and roasted meat, but these oysters with fresh herbs, garlic, and good Parmesan are like Oysters Rockefeller wearing a fedora. Still classy, but instantly more stylish.
201 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
Buttermilk biscuits from Handsome Hog
Lovers of good Southern food have a right to be picky about biscuits, and drop biscuits are often a sorry substitute for the real McCoy. There, I said it. Only folding and layering, and folding and re-layering, with the tangy edge of buttermilk, will do when a biscuit craving is severe. These hundred-layer beauties from Handsome Hog stand up proud and tall as the winners they are. Next to a pot of butter that zooms from sugar to salt to the burn of cayenne pepper, these biscuits are nigh impossible to put down, even when the main, meaty event beckons at this contemporary Southern spot.
203 E. Sixth St., St. Paul
Avocado toast from Rose Street Patisserie
You know what never goes out of season? Avocados. Guacamole can cool you when it's hot, and warm you with its richness when it's cold. At Rose Street Patisserie, the second bakery from one of the top pastry chefs in the world, avocado toast is a changing, seasonal special, and a true vegan treat. The latest preparation includes a scattering of sunflower seeds, shaved radish, sturdy bits of carrot, and microgreens, all served on sophisticated whole grain toast. The quality ingredients help justify the fairly steep pricetag of 10 bucks. Served with a steak knife, it’s substantial enough to keep you going all day.
2811 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis