There's no shame in not wanting to cook. With a frantic pace of life, it's hard to carve out the time and energy to hit the grocery store and slog through the dirty dish aftermath every single night. Think outside the pizza box and try a few of our favorites for dinner on the go. Grab a few dishes and head out for a late summer picnic evening, or hunker down on the couch. We understand, either way.
We realize that ceremony and presentation are half the magic of a sushi dinner, but the fine folks at Fuji-Ya know that sometimes we just can't make that much magic happen. Accordingly, they have perfected the art of assembling whatever maki, nigiri, or donburi you might have your heart set on, and having it packed and ready to go precisely at the hour you request. You can take your prize down to the lake, over to the St. Croix, or home, where you can arrange it just so on one of the seldom-used platters you got for your wedding, uncork your own value-priced prosecco, and pretend your coffee table is the center of your own private tatami room.
There's Chinese takeout, and then there's Chinese takeout. Since its opening in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood in 2010, Szechuan Spice has been receiving rave reviews from critics and patrons. With portions the size of placemats and spice levels that will warm a polar plunge participant, this isn't your typical chicken lo mein and beef with broccoli Chinese restaurant, though both are on the menu. We recommend the chicken with double chili pepper (eat it with a water faucet nearby), the candy-sweet General Tao's tofu, and the bright, seductive, revelatory cold noodles. Takeout is prompt, and the portion sizes are almost always good for multiple meals. The restaurant's location at the bustling intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street makes it convenient to most of south Minneapolis, and its small parking lot makes it easy to swoop in, grab your food, and go. Put this one on speed dial. (3016 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.353.4281. Szechuan Spice website)
For anyone whose cubicles and dashboards often double as dining tables, a carryout meal from this longstanding St. Paul lunch hub offers loads more home-style comfort than its stir-fried or tortilla-wrapped counterparts. Granted, the average Atkins disciple would likely run screaming at the sight of Cossetta's carbo-licious mostaccioli or scrumptious pasta salads, but even those folks can find an array of straight-up sausages and deli cheeses to fall back on. And if true on-the-go eating means foregoing the use of utensils altogether, there's always Cossetta's pizza by the slice, served hot and hefty with toothsome crust and a zingy sauce to rival anything this side of lower Manhattan. Occasionally daunting queues at the counter are a small price to pay for takeout as dependably tasty as this. (211 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651.222.3476. Cossetta website)
Forget Chinese, pizza, and all the other staples of takeout. Because whether you're too busy, too broke, or too shirtless to dine in at a restaurant, the last thing you want from your takeout is be reminded that you're having takeout. So here's what you tired, hungry masses do: Pull a few blocks off 35W to Marla's and order the kind of food you associate not with being in a hurry but with being on vacation: jerk chicken, saltfish, callaloo, plantains--the comfort food of the Caribbean islands. Grab a Jamaican Ting soda to wash it all down. You'll start relaxing even as you wait, what with the classic reggae on the stereo and the breezy charm of your hosts. Rest assured that Marla--the sister of local island-cooking icon Harry Singh--will spice the dishes enough to recharge you for another few hours of work. Though for at least a little while, as you chow down in your Ford Focus, you'll forget what needs doing and perhaps even where you are. (3761 Bloomington Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.724.3088. Marla's Caribbean Cuisine website)
The problem with the grab-and-go meal options is that it's often the end of the day and likely you've got the hangries -- that special awful mood combination of hungry and angry. This is the danger zone and the worst place to be making food decisions. This is how people end up eating hastily made, squished up, grease laden sandwiches filled with the residual hate and regret from the worker stuck assembling them. That's not nourishment. Instead, slide into the market inside Surdyk's and request a couple of cheese samples. The friendly staff is quick to oblige. Grab a little hunk of cheese, some of their incredible olives, and a baguette for an appetizer before digging into the entrees and sandwiches. Check out their website to find out the daily deli selection, where they even add a wine pairing suggestion to the featured entrée. And if a little bottle of something fell into the dinnertime basket, would that really be so bad? (303 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.379.3232. Surdyk's website)
Chinese takeout is a common tale, but the exquisite burn to be derived from a container of Little Szechuan is something entirely different. The menu is filled with traditional Szechuan dishes made with that addictive, floral heat. The toasty Dan Dan noodles are just as wonderful hot, right after the ride home, as they are cold, straight out of the fridge for breakfast. The ma po tofu or beef in spicy broth (and by "broth" they mean "magma") are blazing hot, the kind of food that somehow both combats a hot, sticky summer night and a frigid Minnesotan cold night. The Geleshan Ma La chicken is like fiery popcorn chicken, requiring you to dig through a pile of toasted chiles to find the perfectly crispy, juicy fried chicken. If you're not into the whole punishment thing, Little Szechuan has all the usual Chinese food hits as well, like egg rolls, hot-and-sour soup, General Tao's chicken, and lo mein. No matter the dish, the food is memorable and sure to induce couch-bound cravings. (422 University Ave. W., St. Paul; 651.222.1333. Little Szechuan website)
Lucia Watson has been doing the locally sourced food thing since way before it was cool. She opened her Uptown restaurant, Lucia's, in 1985, with a focus on high-quality, seasonal, organic, local ingredients, which she's used to make some of Minneapolis's best food ever since. In the fall of 2005, in a space next door to her wine bar, there appeared a casual, deli-counter version of Lucia's. The new annex has just a smattering of tables but unlimited takeout opportunities, making Lucia's food available on no notice and at very affordable prices. Need a comfort dinner? Try the super-hearty beef and wild mushroom stroganoff served with thick egg noodles. For something lighter, check out the ever-changing array of creatively conceived salads, like a pear-apple-arugula combo. In the mood for a Scandinavian-inspired lunch? There's a delicious salmon sandwich on pumpernickel with dill cream cheese and radishes. The potato salad with spinach and thick-cut bacon offers a delicious twist on an old favorite, and there's a constant supply of vegetarian chili on hand. Lucia's To Go offers a different featured pizza every day (like the one in the opening photo), and an array of pastries and other breakfast options in the mornings, plus, of course, good coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. One can also call in ahead with special orders, for parties or maybe just a big family dinner. It's good to see the local-foods issue getting wider consideration these days, and it's great to see Lucia Watson continue to excel at showcasing the goods. (1432 W. 31st St., Minneapolis; 612.825.1572. Lucia's website)
Who wouldn't want to dine at Lenny Russo's award-winning restaurant every night of the week? His ability to transform humble, local farm ingredients into plates of confounding elegance is always inspired. That inspiration clearly comes from his sources. Next to his restaurant is the Farm Direct Market. The ingredients that go into those exquisite dishes are available for purchase to be brought home. The deli case has raw ingredients like fresh, local fish, poultry, and pork, but they also have ready-made items. The inventory changes daily, but a lucky shopper might find a small jar of pork rillettes, headcheese, sopresatta, and all manner of sausages. There's a hot case that sometimes holds remarkable fried chicken. There are stacks of jars holding mostarda, jams, pickles or kimchee. They also have a daily rotating selection of astounding sandwiches: freshly baked bread topped with house cured meats and local artisan cheeses, or grab the vegetarian option -- always one of the most creative and satisfying veggie dishes in the cities. Don't skimp on dessert. The pastry chefs at Heartland fill the case with brownies, éclairs, and scones. They also expertly brew Dogwood Coffee. Open Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Like the restaurant, the selection is constantly changing and evolving with the seasons and always delicious. (289 E. Fifth St., St. Paul; 651.699.3536. Heartland website)
Question: What's a lot easier than importing the Creole grandmother you never had and chaining her to the stove? Answer: programming Brasa's number into your phone. The premium rotisserie restaurant that serves batch-roasted chicken, slow-roasted pork, and braised beef to dine-in guests also whips up the same fare for takeout. Call it comfort food in the comfort of your own home. Chef Alex Roberts of the upscale Restaurant Alma has customers calling in orders for free-range chickens, sides of creamy cheese grits, and fried sweet plantains, and their house-made sodas. A variety of size options means that feeding one person (with a quarter-pound of Berkshire pork and a small side of cornbread with smooth honey butter) is as easy as taking on a group (with whole chickens and a steaming side of sweet roasted yams with andouille sausage that accommodates up to four). (600 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.379.3030. 777 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651.224.1302. Brasa website)
Shrimp Caramelo from Sonora Grill in Midtown Global Market
Can't decide what you want for dinner? Cruise by Midtown Global Market, where short-term parking is free (just don't forget to have your ticket validated by one of the vendors). Inside the old Sears building is a world of easy on-the-go meals. Visit Holy Land deli for whole roast chickens, gyro meat, hummus, olives, and baklava. Get a pile of traditional Mexican tacos at Los Ocampo. Or there are the gourmet fusion tacos, caramelos, from Sonora Grill. There's the high-class comfort food from the Left Handed Cook. Try a little curry from Safari Express. La Loma has the best tamales in town -- if you like spicy, the Oaxacan is not to be missed. Whew! And that's only half the inhabitants. The market has a myriad of tasty takeout options, and they're all easy on the wallet. You'd be hard-pressed to walk away without something wholly satisfying and easily brought elsewhere. (920 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.872.4041. Midtown Global Market website)