Monday, May 16, 2016

Eating BIG in Minneapolis

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Local Eats of the Twin Cities

I hadn't been to the Twin Cities since my last post from back in 2012. So when my fiancee told me she wanted to drive there to check out wedding dresses I obliged. To me a six hour drive is nothing and I'd heard nothing but good things about the food scene since my last visit so I was down to spend a weekend eating and drinking. Luckily for us the weather had just started warming up so it was in the low 50's which is basically sandal weather for the people in these parts. I have no interest in visiting during the winter. But when it's warm, or not freezing, Minneapolis is very nice.


First stop I found thru this thread, thanks to those that posted the positive info. I love this trend of hip and happening restaurants opening up inside of museums and cultural centers. Located inside the American Swedish Institute, FIKA is a Swedish focused cafe putting out great plates of food as well as house infused Aquavit. Usually I take a picture of the menu so I can remember exactly what we ate but I forgot to here nonetheless I never forget to take a pic of whats on the plate.

Brussels Sprouts - I prefer my sprouts crisp and these were roasted until soft but still good with a creamy sauce and some chopped nuts did a little add crunch.

Potato Dumplings were as soft as can be without totally falling apart and that was impressive. The combination of slivered apples and roasted peanuts is usually something I find at Thai spots but as this dish showed it works great in all forms of food.

Smørbrød of Seared Salmon over Rye was fantastic even though I'm not a big cooked salmon fan. The Dijon Mustard sauce really made the salmon shine in my mind.

Bachelor Farmer Cafe

I didn't get a chance to try the Bachelor Farmer on this trip but I did shoot over to their new cafe showcasing coffee and all sorts of baked goods with a Nordic influence. Not a coffee drinker, nor a big sweets in the morning guy. That said they also have a Smørbrød (open faced sandwich) section and the smoked salmon with pickled veggies, dill and mustard was calling my name. I love the combo of smoked salmon and dill which I just mentioned it in the Seattle thread. This was good enough to get another but alas there's always another spot coming.

Scandinavian Style Open Faced Sandwich

When it comes to regional eats Minneapolis has some interesting options. Aside from all the Norwegian eating options there's also quite a few Somali spots. This would be due to Minnesota having what might be the most Somalian refugees of any US state. I read somewhere that 1/3 of US born Somalis live in Minnesota so that would make sense.

Afro Deli & Catering

This place too is part of a cultural/developmental center designed to help the well being of newly arrived refugees. The Somali restaurateur and the center split the profits so you're helping a good cause when you eat here. Two good things come of one as the food is pretty damn good. There was a steady mix of college kids and local Somali people and never were they not taking orders. I got an excellent steak sandwich made with thin/tender beef spiced up with African seasoning and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and Swiss. The soft but stable focaccia was perfect for this tasty concoction. A Samosa was also enjoyed.

Somali Steak Sandwich and a Samosa

Strip Mall dining time. I took an early morning ride to the suburb of Burnsville to get my day started with a Somali style breakfast.

Tawakal Restaurant

Early Sunday morning so a few locals and their young sons were in there watching some soccer. I decided to go with the beef suqaar which is a popular breakfast made with cubes of meat mixed with veggies. It's comes served with injera which is a flat pancake to scoop up the meat and eat. Tender well spiced beef and veggies with a tangy sauce served on the side was a great way to start my day.

Beef Suqaar with Injera

Continuing on with the International regional eats offerings I was surprised to find a handful of Tibetan and or Nepali restaurants and as regular readers know I love me some momo. So I had myself a little momo-off. Aside from Jackson Heights in Queens I'm not sure there's anywhere with a higher concentration of momo options. There's actually a Nepalese tea spot coming to Chicago in Logan Square and the family behind it owns a joint in Minneapolis but I didn't make it to that spot. I did get to three others though.

Gorkha Palace

I had wanted to eat an entire meal at this spot featuring Nepali, Tibetan, and Indian food made with local ingredients but it wouldn't happen. I can only go so far when it's basically just me so I stuck with a half order of momo made with local bison meat. This was probably my favorite of the trio I tried as the meat itself was very clean tasting. I've ate my fair share of Nepalese Dumplings and a common characteristic new to me at all these spots was big chunks of green onion as opposed to finely diced-in with the meat which is what I prefer. Nonetheless I love the combination of fresh herbs spices used including cilantro, coriander, and Turmeric. The commonly served on the side dipping sauce is usually a mild tomato and cilantro blend as was the case here.

Bison Momo

Moving onto the next spot I just so happened to be driving by and it was on my hit list so I stopped in for an order of momo to go.

Himalayan Restaurant

This place just smelled great with all the smells coming from the kitchen and what not. Again another spot I would've liked to further explore the menu but a half order of lamb momo was all I was good for. Another nice example, though I'll always prefer beef over lamb when it comes to these dumplings. Like the first stop the insides of these had nice sized chunks of greens to go alongside the meat. The tomato-cilantro sauce really is the perfect compliment to an order of momo.

Lamb Momo

Last dumpling stop up was a place that was open late and doubles as a bar so that made it within reach. When I stopped in there were quite a few drinkers on what was a pretty mild weathered Saturday night.

Tibet Kitchen

Even though these ones here were made with beef they were my least liked of the three. The wrapper itself was too rubbery while the beef was just a ball that often fell out after first bite. I wasn't asked about any preferred style of sauce but ended up with a damn spicy dip that pretty much took over the flavor profile when used.

Beef Momo

Then there's the American style regional eats. Cant do a trip to the Twin Cities and not stop for a Jucy Lucy and since I never had never been to Matt's now was my time.

Matt's Bar & Grill

I've had a Lucy at The Nook over in St. Paul years ago but never one from Matt's (Since 1954) which many say is the original. Many also say it's the best and there's been good word spoken here about it so I wanted to make sure I got in. Good thing I had a couple days because on Saturday when I stopped by sometime mid-afternoon the place had a line to the point where there were a few people waiting outside. Popular spot so plan according, I got there around 11:30a on Sunday and scored a seat at the bar.

The Grill at the end of the bar

Wisconsin tavern setup with the grill being in visible sight at the bar but there's to much traffic to make the bartender the grillmaster so each one held is held down by someone. I wanted as the grill guy remove and then reload the grill as many burgers as he could with each passing round. He was a natural. After a few rounds my wave came up and I had plenty of time to get a pic as you'll burn the shit out of your mouth if you don't wait for the cheese inside to cool down. The Jucy Lucy seems like such a simple burger, and it pretty much is, yet none of the imitators come close to the ones I've tried in the Twin Cities which is weird because you'd think it'd be pretty easy. Great bar burger. Make sure to go grilled with the onions, don't think it'd be the same without 'em.

Jucy Lucy

The Twin Cities also has a little bit of a roast beef sandwich culture and when out in da burbs I spied a place specializing in it.

Penn Lake Roast Beef

Turns out the owner from here used to work at another local spot called Wally's which was closed so I was never able to try it and see how they compare to here and also Maverick's which I stopped into last trip upthread. Special deals on the day I was in so I got two for $5. Considering the price this was a pretty good sandwich. Real, red at that, roast beef sliced to order and served with bbq and horseradish sauce on a lightly toasted burger bun. I can get down with that.

Roast Beef Sandwich

I like the old school roast beef spots but if you want one of the best roast beef sandwiches you'll have head to this new school butcher.

Clancey's Meat & Fish

Clancey's is pretty much like all the other new-school butchers and I mean that in a positive way. They got everything from custom cuts to duck fat and all the other good stuff I was hoping to find some walleye to throw in the cooler and take home but none this trip in. They also make sandwiches with house roasted meats and the roast beef gets lots of love online. I'm clapping with the rest of the applause as this was a masterpiece. Thinly shaved rare roast beef dressed to my liking in a fantastic locally baked bread roll. Deli sandwiches from your local butcher don't get much better.

Roast Beef Sandwich

MSP also has a good pasta culture going on and Italian is heavily enjoyed by both of us so we went around and checked some spots out. Though in hindsight I wish we returned to that which we knew because I didn't think either was on the same level as Bar La Grassa.

ie Italian Eatery

Stopped in here upon arriving in town on Friday night. It was packed and they pack them in so there were tables and chairs everywhere. In some cases good (near the open air kitchen) and in other cases not so much (near the bathroom). We were squeezed in at a small table amongst the bar area, the size of the tale made it somewhat hard to eat. Food was ok. Like I said it just didn't wow like Bar La Grassa did on a past trip.

Pan Fried Artichoke Ravioli - Housemade Ravioli with artichoke, ricotta, lemon, white truffle oil

Mushroom Cappelletti with Crème Fraîche, whiskey barrel-aged shoyu, roasted mushrooms, thyme

Bucatini with Housemade Fennel Sausage, Smoked Paprika, White Wine, Pecorino

Scena Tavern

Popular spot for food and booze here and it was Happy Hour so we were there. Drinks were good as was an order of bucatini that we ate up off the Happy Hour menu.

Bucatini with 'nduja, egg yolk, garlic, herb, breadcrumbs

We also stopped for Happy Hour at a locally liked taco and margarita spot as I always try and doc a taco stop or two on each trip away.

Sonora Grill

The menu features a bunch of options but I could only muster up the appetite for one and settled on the hot shrimp tempura and made sure to ask for housemade flour as opposed to the standard store bought corn tortilla. Not sure why they even bother with the corn when taking the time to make flour in house. This was a massive taco and couldn't be ate as was which was fine since I just nibbled on a few pieces of the fried shrimp until it could all be folded over and ate like a taco. It was enjoyed but the margarita was not.

Hot Shrimp Tempura Taco

I had Spoon & Stable as an option for cocktails and then when we saw they do a Saturday night taco special after 10pm we decided to to head over.

Spoon & Stable

Really nice and thus very popular. We were lucky to snag some seats at the bar around 9:45p but the place quickly filled to the point where it was at capacity. Even with the crazy crowds the bartenders were on point with the drinks. All four scored A's on my report card. The Saturday night taco special changes weekly and this week was a mix of Midwest and Mexican. Modern Chef flavors on homemade tortillas are what these were and they were delicious.

Duck Carnitas Tacos with red mole, ramp salsa & fried cheese curds

Last stop up was on the way out in St. Paul. Lots of good words out there spoken on Saint Dinette the Upscale style diner ala Au Cheval.

Saint Dinette

Luckily for us there were no crazy lines or anything, plenty of people dining in but still room at a few tables and the bar where we took ourselves a seat. I ate a Jucy Lucy earlier in the day and just didn't have it in me to try their lauded double cheeseburger which looked absolutely delicious. If I hadn't had a 6 hour ride home upcoming I would've dove in without hesitation. So we split a few things that sounded good to here, all of it good to both us. The made in-house bologna sandwich was super sandwich material while the crispy smelts were terrific and the fresh crinkle cut fries pretty much a Superdawg replica. A place I'll probably make it back to, hopefully with enough eating power to get both the burger and that bologna. See ya next time.

Fresh Crinkle Cut Fries

Fried Smelt with Remoulade

House Bologna Sandwich with a Fried Egg added on

The Insides

2600 Park Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 871-4907

Bachelor Farmer Cafe
200 N First St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 206-3923

Afro Deli & Catering
1931 S 5th St
Minneapolis, MN 55454
(612) 871-5555

Tawakal Restaurant
12609 Nicollet Ave
Burnsville, MN 55337
(952) 500-8954

Gorkha Palace
23 4th St NE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 886-3451

Himalayan Restaurant
2910 E Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 332-0880

Tibet Kitchen
1833 Nicollet Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55403
(612) 872-8663

Matt's Bar & Grill
3500 Cedar Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 722-7072

Penn Lake Roast Beef
8911 Penn Ave S
Bloomington, MN 55431
(952) 681-7430

Clancey's Meat & Fish
4307 S Upton Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 926-0222

ie Italian Eatery
4724 Cedar Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 223-8504

Scena Tavern
2943 Girard Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 200-8641

Sonora Grill
3300 E Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 722-2500

Spoon & Stable
211 N 1st St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 224-9850

Saint Dinette
261 East 5th Street
St Paul, MN 55101
(651) 800-1415

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tacos al Pastor Tour

- On the Road with The Chicago Taco Tour

Jorge from Taqueria Los Barrilitos at Work

ICYMI please check out my Tacos al Pastor in Chicago round-up I recently wrote for Chicago's newest food focused site Fooditor. You can do so by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Boeufhaus Burger

-Got beef?
The Burgers of Chi

We're pushing up on a full year since Boeufhaus has been open. Since opening their doors on Western it's quickly become one of my favorite spots to eat. As good as dinner is, and it's great, I still slightly prefer lunch and all the wonderful beefy sandwiches on offer. I profiled them in this post.

New Locals Favorite 

Today we zone in on a semi-new menu item that still isn't listed on the lunch menu. The burger I was told is always available but it's up to your waiter to let you know, or me for that matter. You just knew going in that this burger was going to be the real deal and that's exactly what it is. I'm not sure if I really like it or absolutely love it but the intense beef flavor is the truth. The thick, juicy patty comes with some shredded lettuce, housemade pickles and cheese while the beef fat fries are top shelf. Looks like Chicago has a new contender for best burger in the city. Check and see for yourself.

Boeuf Burger

1012 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 661-2116

Monday, May 9, 2016

Paula's Cafe

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
  Italian-American Comfort Food

Out West on Grand avenue you'll find a part of Chicagoland where old school Italian is still going strong. Suburbs like Melrose Park and Franklin park have multiple family owned businesses of the Italian variety. Today we head to the latter to get a taste of some real deal Chicago style Italian.

Locals Favorite in Franklin Park 

Owner's Carl Dote and his wife Paula have been a part of the area forever. She used to cook at a local deli that's well known for their Italian-American comfort food and as of a year or two ago they went out on their own. Paula's Cafe is their place and it's quickly become a locals favorite. I stop in now and then when I can which is usually when I don't have anything to do the rest of the day. Reason being is this is heavy food and eating a plate full of it isn't going to make you motivated to run around. Take for example the Chicago classic of Chicken Vesuvio. Paula's serves a long narrow plate swimming in sauce. The potatoes always come cooked to the perfect tenderness while peas get sprinkled over the top. A near perfect example as the only complaint I have is the chicken is boneless.

Chicken Vesuvio

The star of the show at Paula's is actually something that came over with her from her previous place of work. The fried meatball sandwich is iconic in these parts and Paula is it's creator. Instead of balls you get a long patty carved out to the size of a sub roll. It gets fried in the pan until nice and colored and then it goes into a roll with sauce and cheese and hot peppers if you please. It's such a good sandwich both in terms of flavor and eatability that it makes you wonder why more spots dont go the route of a patty rather than balls. So often the meatballs end of slipping out but none of that here.

Fried Meatball Sandwich

Paula's Cafe
9400 W Grand Ave
Franklin Park, IL
(847) 916-2989

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Racine Wisconsin Taco Tour

- Chowing on Wisconsin

In celebration of today's faux American holiday lets eat some tacos! Today's post is actually an extension of a previous one so if it seems familiar it is but there's new spots added in. We're off to Racine Wisconsin aka Taco Doradoland aka The Golden Taco Capitol aka Fried Taco Town, USA. I'm not sure exactly why but for whatever reason you can find crispy fried tacos all over town. Today we take a stroll and try many of them. Please let me know in the comments any I might've missed.
La Tapatia 

Fellow local eats explorer Peter Engler aka Rene G on LTHforum had written this place up as a worthy stop for a cheap lunch. Locals love their freshly prepared crispy tacos. They're made in a semi-open air kitchen by quickly frying each side of the tortilla. Nice call. I've enjoyed these in the past while passing thru to Milwaukee. I go with ground beef as that's what works best with this style of taco. La Tapatia are the best fried tacos I've had where the meat doesn't go in until after the shell is fried.

Crispy Taco Plate ($4.59)

I did a little google search and found a place in town called Taqueria Nuevo Vallarta that was calling my name. I'd read their menu online and they offer fried tacos. As I took a peek at the menu someone posted on Yelp I spied "Tacos Fritos" which in turn immediately shot it onto my radar.

Taqueria Nuevo Vallarta

You can't order tacos dorados to go unless you plan on eating them as soon as you step outside so I chose to dine in and was given a couple really well balanced made in-house tomato salsas (mild and hot) which were the old school Mexican-American type I adore. Six minutes later my tacos fritos were ready. They come four to a plate ($5.25) and while I'm sure you could ask for a different filling they only list ground beef as the option. I knew I wanted these when I read the description "Filled with Ground Beef and Deep Fried" Keyword being 'and'. While spots like La Tapatia prove you can make good crispy's that get filled after the tortilla is turned golden, I much prefer the spots frying the shells with the meat inside. As always these were wonderful, to me anyway. On top of these they have a menu section dedicated to "Crunch" so next time I plan on trying the Fried Flour Tortilla Taco.

Tacos Fritos at Taqueria Nuevo Vallarta in Racine

The tacos dorados plate seems to be popular all over town. On top of the two spots posted up above I've found them on the menu at a couple other places which means there's a good chance there's more. This spot escaped me until a recent trek to Milwaukee took me thru Racine for something to eat. Not all that different from La Tapatia up above as far as the setup goes. It's a grocery store with a tiny open air kitchen in the back corner and a single table in front of it.

Santa Fe Liquors & Groceries

Most people are taking tacos and or cigarettes and booze to-go. The taco plates come four to an order and are what everyone is ordering. Not a bad lunch for under five bucks. These little guys are deep fried with the meat inside and toothpicks holding the shell in place. The ground beef mixture was a bit bland but other than that they make a respectable rendition of my ultimate guilty pleasure.

Plate of Ground Beef Tacos

Then there's also this joint below which I'd been into before but didn't see tacos dorados or crispy tacos etc on the menu so I passed, which was a mistake. This trip in I could tell this is a place that would be in Little Village or on the East Side of the city if it was in Chicago.

Taqueria Gran Morelos

Three older ladies were behind the counter and each of them was tending to something, be it the huge pot of fresh frijoles charros being made or chopping down some cilantro, they were all at work. The plates of the soft shell tacos eaten by the locals looked and smelled wonderful but I was there to see if they did the fried taco plates like the others. As it turns out the ground beef option is served standard as tacos dorados. These are also fried whole and include both shredded chihuahua cheese as well as crop dusts of Parmesan. Maybe the crispiest tacos I've ate to date. Racine may be the death of me.

Tacos Dorados

I had had a hunch after trying all those spots above that there were more. Hunch confirmed. Here are a few more consumed from there. Many of them found through through the comments to this little tidbit from a useful Southeast Wisconsin Food talk site. Next up might be the new #1.

Mi Jacalito

This place feels like it belong somewhere in old Austin or something. Big menu with lots of interesting stuff. Quite a few people dining in on my visits and many had big bowls of Menudo. Orders of crispy tacos come by the four and cost a whooping $4. These were very well fried with nicely spiced beef and lots of mexican crumbling cheese which I think works best with these. As good of an example of the Racine style Crispy Fried Taco Plate as I've found.

Crispy Taco Plate

Next stop is a place that I know was mentioned on LTHforum before. I was always intrigued to try Mexico lindo but when it's a stones throw from Wells Brothers it's hard to make room for both.

Mexico Lindo

I don't know what year this restaurant goes back to but it's got to be the 70's or early 80's as it feels like a time warp inside. We got a crispy taco plate with avocado added on. I like the folding job, looks like they hold it shut with tongs and fry them for a little bit before toppings go on. But they needed to be fried a little harder as they were slightly greasy and under-fried thus not much crunch was involved.

Crispy Tacos with Avocado added on

I wish we had these spots that double as liquor stores and taco shops. They seem to be a thing in Racine. I wish we had a few in Chicago although we still wouldn't have the option for Spotted Cow and Crispy Taco Plates but just the latter is still better than neither nor.

Taqueria La Mexicana

This place sells single bottles so you can enjoy a beer with your tacos if you want to eat them inside of there. These were a fine example as the meat is fried inside the shell though not quite as good as some of the others like Tapatia and Gran Morelos.

Crispy Taco Plate

Unfortunately you're always going to have duds and that's what we got when we checked out a spot that got some love in those aforementioned comments.

Taqueria Arandas 

This place had the looks and the feels of a spot that would serve a classic crispy taco plate it wasn't meant to be. Just a separately fried shell stuffed with beef. The textures just aren't the same and in the case of the crispy fried taco more meat isn't better as it just throws off the balance.

Crispy Taco

I became immediately intrigued when I had seen a comment on Wisconsin Food Talk about the local long time Chinese restaurant having excellent crispy tacos. You know crispy tacos are a big deal in these parts when the Chinese takeout spot is serving them up. We had to try them.

Whey Chai

Another old school spot where it doesn't feel like much has changed. They have an entire Mexican portion to the menu and you know Crispy Tacos are listed first. I ordered a plate and waited. When the lady yelled over to me that my tacos were ready everyone at a table on the other side veered their head toward me looking mystified that someone was ordering tacos at a Chinese place. In the end these were the least liked of this bunch as the shells were fried without the meat inside. Though they did have a slightly egg rolly taste probably due to the oil so it was at least interesting though probably not worth ordering again. See ya'll next time.

"American" Taco Plate 

La Tapatia
1951 Mead St
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 633-7816

Taqueria Nuevo Vallarta
3700 Durand Ave
Racine, WI 53405
(262) 898-9600

Santa Fe Liquors & Groceries
516 High St
Racine, WI 53402
(262) 632-1331

Taqueria Gran Morelos
1141 N Memorial Dr
Racine, WI 53404

Mi Jacalito
1318 Douglas Ave
Racine, WI 53402
(262) 633-8633

Mexico Lindo
2217 Racine St
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 632-8161

Taqueria La Mexicana
1336 State St
Racine, WI 53404
(262) 633-4245

Taqueria Arandas
1501 Prospect St
Racine, WI 53404
(262) 635-0095

Whey Chai
400 Main St
Racine, WI 53403
(262) 633-8000


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