These guys have been at it since long before there was any such BBQ moment, and we get the feeling they’ll be here long after trendsters bubble, then dissipate.
Big Daddy's started out the honest way, with a smoker in a parking lot. Now their bright and fresh storefront on University Avenue and Dale Street keeps the whole block smelling smokily divine. Go to them for lots of things but especially ribs and rib tips, available by the “dinghy,” “shipload,” and “boatload."
Containing the ideal ratio of lean flesh to fat, they’re invitingly snackable, like the potato chip of the meat world. Also check out their absolutely devourable short rib sandwich, tender slices of rib on a squishy bun.
625 University Ave. W., St. Paul
Clams from Esker Grove
They look like a prop from a rendition of “Under the Sea.” The bowl is an aquarium of shellfish with strips of kelp-like kale and Morcilla (blood sausage) bursting forth from each open mollusk. Smoky and briny, metallic and vegetal, beautiful and audacious, the clams are altogether surrealist and completely at home in a modern art museum like the Walker. Come here and see for yourself how Esker Grove is proudly serving food-as-art.
723 Vineland Place, Minneapolis
Kubay Brinj from Babani’s 2
If you like the irresistible toastiness of fried rice, order this dumpling from the newer, bigger, brighter Babani’s on the west side of St. Paul.
They make a dough of rice, tender within, and crisped at the exterior. Then, they stuff them with Middle Eastern spices and ground beef, finished with a ribbon of tomato sauce. It’s a dish that takes the humblest ingredients, and through innovation and elegance makes it worthy of company.
32 E. Fillmore Ave., St. Paul
Spam musubi from Unideli
Do you still feel weird about Spam sushi? Well, get over it.
Here, let Unideli help you.
Two bricks of rice topped with grilled slices of Spam and eel sauce are strapped together with nori. The rice tempers the saltiness of the meat and rounds it out into a substantial bite. At $3.50 an order, it's a cheap and delicious snack on its own, or a shareable bite to keep the hunger rage at bay while your ramen is in the works. Still scared of sushi made with Minnesota's meaty export? Know that this musubi was delicious enough to win over one vociferous naysayer last year. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised. -Hannah Sayle
Unideli in United Noodles
2015 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
This beet recipe, adapted from The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook
This time of year, you can’t get away from beets, nor should you. They’re one of the few winter vegetables worth getting fired up about, and here’s something to make them a little more fiery.
Take a bunch of beets, wrap them individually in foil, and roast for one hour at 350. I’ve tried a million different other ways and this is the only way I ever get a consistent, moist, and roasted through beet. If you can’t poke a paring knife through with the ease of melting wax with flame, put them back in.
Then peel the beets and dice them small. Toss equal parts minced garlic, honey, and any hot sauce you like. Start with two tablespoons of each, then adjust to your liking.
The end result is a little funky, a little sweet, a little spicy, and of course a lot earthy. Don’t forget the salt and pepper.