In what is possibly the most robust and diverse eating year in Minnesota history, how can we possibly choose just a handful of favorite dishes?
Truly, we can't.
But here are six that comforted, surprised, delighted, and quite literally kept us alive last year. We can't wait for 2017.
6. Spaghetti and meatballs at Mucci’s
The cooking at Mucci’s reminds me of a great artist making a sculpture of a beautiful woman. The woman is already beautiful, to be sure, but the artist makes her more so. More interesting, more nuanced, a total homage to women everywhere. That’s Mucci’s. A complete homage to the particular genre of red sauce Italian. And what citizen of the world hasn’t already eaten a million spaghettis, lasagnes, tiramisus? And yet, Mucci’s makes them new again without bastardizing them, or making any use of the word “elevated.” These are just good. Really good, where every component is done properly, thought about over and over again, until the whole comes together like it could never had been done any other way, yet somehow beats the original.
Read our full review of Mucci's here.
786 Randolph Ave., St. Paul
5. Green enchiladas at Homi
The nothing-flashy homestyle cooking and too-long menu at Homi belie the wonders within, like these green enchiladas, made in a manner that finally makes you get the fuss about enchiladas. These are not about cheese, or fillings, or even tortillas, but the chile-forward green sauce, ladled delicately over feathery tortillas, lightly fried. Just Cojita cheese and cooling iceberg finish things, making this the pitch-perfect example in its class.
Read our full review of Homi here.
864 University Ave. W., St. Paul
4. Chicken Thenthuk at Gorka Palace
Not only is the chicken thenthuk one of the most medicinal preparations of chicken soup available anywhere in the Cities, it’s the only local dish we know of that features the fat, hand-pulled noodles traditional to this sort of regional Himalayan/Chinese cooking. Galvanized by the interesting additions of daikon, tomato, spinach, edamame, and soy sauce, this is a dish that seems to contain the wisdom of the ages, plus plenty that's altogether novel to the uninitiated.
Read our full review of Gorka Palace here.
24 4th St. NE, Minneapolis
3. Sour pork ribs at Thai Cafe
Is there anything new in the world anymore? Maybe not, but for something that could be altogether new-to-you, get over to tiny Thai Cafe on University Avenue, where the labor-of-love sour pork ribs await your attention. A preparation you’re not likely to encounter at more commercial-style Thai joints, these lightly fermented little addictions are like the edible equivalent of a Michelada — funky, malty, tangy, and then enlivened by the addition of chile, garlic, lime, and pepper. Do a little research and you’ll find that fermenting meat is a maneuver best left to the pros. And aren’t we in luck? We got that.
Read our full review of Thai Cafe here.
371 University Ave. W., St. Paul
2. Ramen from Ramen Kazama
You gotta tip your hat to people who take on a thing that’s not just a technique but a craft, the sort of undertaking that’s guaranteed to be highly repetitive, difficult to control, and time-consuming. It could be argued that all of cooking is this way, but some more than others. Ramen Kazama’s brand of ramen, small-scale but laborious, painstakingly lengthy to prepare with no shortcuts, is a precise example of what we’re taking about. The way they’ve stepped in to assuage a craving we didn’t even necessarily know we had has been like a breath of fresh air. Deep, steamy, porky air. With noodles in it.
Read our full review of Ramen Kazama here.
3400 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
1. Shrimp and grits from St. Genevieve
Perhaps the best compliment a dish can get is that it transformed a hater into a lover. Shrimp and grits has never seemed like much more than a sustenance meal for parts of the world that have a glut of those two ingredients, and not the thing to get excited about that many menus pretend it is. Until now. Like many things at St. Genevieve, the shrimp and grits is a magic trick. It takes something you thought you knew and hoists it to levels it’s never before been, with levity, poise, and probably, not a little butter.