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Where we eat on our own dime

Lowry Hill Meats: It's the grocery store where you get to eat a sandwich while you shop.

Lowry Hill Meats: It's the grocery store where you get to eat a sandwich while you shop.

While eating out for a living has its charms, it leaves little time and calorie allowance for indulging our own cravings. So when a lech strikes, we gotta be strategic and swift.

Here are five places for satisfying our (and now your) most intense cravings. 

Pho Tau Bay 

At the ass end of Eat Street, abutting a laundromat and a car wash, the decidedly un-glamorous Pho Tau Bay has rescued us from all manner of hunger emergencies for at least a couple of decades. Inside, pause to delight over the massive collection of solar-powered Japanese happy cats in the display case. Their combined undulations are mesmerizing. That's about the extent of the bells and whistles here, and that's OK. Just slide behind a fluorescent-lit booth and order up. All the glamour is on the plate. 

Fans of their pho and tightest-in-town spring rolls are legion. The $3 and $4 banh mi are hulking, and the bread flakes delightfully with every bite. But consider a less obvious choice: the beef stew with carrot. It comes served with a big French roll and the whole of it is every bit as Midwestern country kitchen as it is Vietnamese. Savor the collagen depth only properly made stock can achieve; daub it up with the bread. Rich doesn't begin to describe the experience. 

2837 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis

Beef stew with carrot: It's Vietnamese, it's French, it's Midwestern.

Beef stew with carrot: It's Vietnamese, it's French, it's Midwestern.

612-874-6030

photaubay.us

Rinata

Quiet, unassuming, and simple as a home kitchen, Rinata is the understated Italian bistro every neighborhood wants and needs. Nothing slick or showy about it, tinny speakers crank out classic Italian standards you know from every Italian restaurant everywhere. "Ain't that a kick in the head?" Sinatra asks you, as you hover over your inexpensive Chianti.

For all of this reserve, the cooking is better than it needs to be, while retaining the discipline this sort of place demands. You'll find only classics here: steamed mussels with lightest-ever white wine broth, Caesar salad potent with garlic, house-made spaghetti noodles anchored by two no-nonsense meatballs.

The Sunday date night has to be one of the best deals in town, with four courses at $20 per person. Take yourself out on a date, even. It's the perfect place to do it. 

2451 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis

612-374-8998

rinatarestaurant.com

Lowry Hill Meats 

It's not a butcher shop, or a sandwich shop, or a grocery store. It's all three, and that's why we're Lowry Hill Meats loyalists to the end. The place will keep you in every protein you'll ever need (pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed beef, the best breakfast sausage ever), and many you didn't know you needed (goat belly, veal osso bucco, blood sausage).

There are also best-in-show Midwestern cheeses, high-fat butter, cream line milk, farm fresh eggs, and Rustica baguettes. Plus, cookies! Kombucha! Espresso! Just about the only thing missing is produce, and that's all about to change when harvest season begins. They'll be a farm share pickup location, sealing the deal: You'll never need an ordinary grocery store again.

If you're not yet convinced, consider the fact that Wednesday is cheeseburger day, and along with their comprehensive sandwich menu, they crank out daily specials like an excellent banh mi (above), slick with house-made pate and dripping with fatty pork belly. 

Italian classics get the Midas touch at Rinata.

Italian classics get the Midas touch at Rinata.

1934 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

(612) 999-4200

Il Foro 

Currently the most underrated new place in town, it's one the best of the many new Italian spots. Il Foro is located in the Historic Forum Cafeteria space, and if the food doesn't get you, the room surely will.

There's little deco grandeur like this anymore outside of Miami. Shades of green try to outdo one another, preening like a bunch of vibrant dandies. Grasshopper, mint, emerald, and forest refract against beveled mirrors that make your date look even prettier.

Even prettier than all of this is cooking by chef Joe Rolle, who offers sleight-of-hand iterations of Italian American that still manage to remain elegant, bright, and inventive.

Try Dario's Rabbit Cacciatore with a polenta that eats like liquid silk, enriched with a wobbly egg yolk. Or, go at happy hour, when the biggest, baddest, finest meatball gets crammed into a slider for $5. 

The biggest, baddest meatballs at Il Foro.

The biggest, baddest meatballs at Il Foro.

40 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis

612-238-2300

il-foro.com

The Original Red's Savoy Pizza 

Either you love it or hate it, but if you're a good Minnesotan you probably love it.

Square cut, cracker crust, a little too heavy-handed on the cheese — the Original Red's Savoy is a signature pie of the Twin Cities. The sauce is like heavily spiced tomato paste— so rich it's practically a solid. Toppings stay straightforward (nothing sundried or artisanal here).

Either you love it or you hate it. If you are a good Minnesotan, you gotta love it.

Either you love it or you hate it. If you are a good Minnesotan, you gotta love it.

But 50 years of the same ovens, the same carpeting, and probably the same servers can't be wrong. It comes served greasily on a butcher-paper lined cafeteria tray, the top layer of cheese ever so charmingly toasty. But we'll fight you for the edge pieces where the cheese is caramelized and perfect.

The beer here is cheap, the bartenders are saucy, and the wood paneling is most definitely not "faux."

The Original Red's Savoy is the real deal. Accept no substitutes. Though there are multiple other locations, only one can be the original.  

421 E. Seventh St., St. Paul

651-227-1437

savoypizza.com