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Shrimp Omelet at Union Hmong Kitchen

Yia Vang is launching his first full brunch at Union Hmong Kitchen on W. Lake Street. "This is a neighborhood restaurant and we want to give people a reason to wake up and come in on Sundays," he said over a spread of egg dishes punctuated by chile sauce, fresh herbs and UHK's signature sausage dressed up for brunch with a hint of maple syrup. Brunch launches this weekend, and he's cooked up compelling reasons for getting up and going out on the weekend.

There's a chimichanga doused in creamy coconut red curry sauce and a breakfast bành mí loaded with eggs, sausage, herbs, pickled radish and carrots graced with Maggi sauce. But the first dish I'll be ordering when I go back is the shrimp and tomato omelet ($16).

"This isn't like a Marco Pierre White-type omelet," Vang said. "You know, when the French colonials left, they left some things behind — including the name." So, we'll call it an omelet, but the preparation is entirely different. Eggs are whipped up and cooked in a hot wok with oil until puffy. The result is tender, light and served like a blanket over a mound of rice and topped with an herb salad. The succulent little nubs of seasoned shrimp and sliced cherry tomatoes punctuate the dish, and the salad makes the whole affair feel downright healthy and springy.

Sunday brunch will run each week from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Lake Street restaurant (the Graze location is still serving the Slurp menu). Prices are $14-$16, and other offerings include steak and eggs and lychee-guava mimosas. (Joy Summers)

901 W. Lake St., Mpls.,

JFC 2.0 fried chicken bites and a cocktail at Billy After Dark.
JFC 2.0 fried chicken bites and a cocktail at Billy After Dark.

Sharyn Jackson

JFC 2.0 at Billy After Dark

The first time I went to the cocktail bar Billy After Dark, I made a reservation with trepidation on a website that looked like a phishing attempt, then questioned every aspect of trying to enter — checking in at the host stand in the more public restaurant Billy Sushi (wrong), walking around to a back alley and searching for a neon astronaut riding a dinosaur (right), figuring out what to press to ring the bell (unclear).

Now I know the drill. Owner Billy Tserenbat says it's been a challenge to get people through the door and down into the basement, where they'll find an atmospheric black-box of a venue lined with trees and a sparkling LED starry night overhead.

"We have this dilemma in the speakeasy business," Tserenbat said. "You're supposed to tell people about the speakeasy but you're supposed to hide it, too. You cannot do an advertisement. It's hard on employees, because they have to make ends meet. So we have to make it easier to find."

The spammy reservation site? Now, you can book a table on Tock. And, it's on Google Maps. It's been a slow transformation from secretive hideout to well-known basement sushi bar, but that's where B.A.D. is headed. On the night I visited, I ordered bar snacks that weren't far off from what one would find in the main restaurant upstairs. A sushi roll topped with silky, blow-torched salmon ($25). A mezcal and grapefruit cocktail ($16). And these habit-forming Japanese-style fried chicken bites, or JFC 2.0 ($17). There's nothing secretive about them. "It's just Japanese fried chicken with spicy mayo. It's delicious. Sometimes I tell people after you try them, you're gonna say Jesus ..." You can fill in the rest of that sentence. (Sharyn Jackson)

120 1st Av. N., Mpls., back of the building,

Birria pupusas at Abi's Restaurant in Lyn-Lake Minneapolis.
Birria pupusas at Abi's Restaurant in Lyn-Lake Minneapolis.

Nancy Ngo, Star Tribune

Birria pupusas at Abi's

The first place I tried (and fell in love with) huevos rancheros was at Egg and I in Minneapolis some 20 years ago. The Mexican tortilla and egg dish became a regular order whenever dining at the Lyn-Lake spot until it closed at the beginning of the pandemic (the St. Paul location remains open).

On a recent Sunday brunch outing, I was delighted to find that the tradition of serving up huevos rancheros in that spot lives on, now in a place called Abi's Restaurant. The name might sound familiar. Abi's food truck has gained a following, serving the same casual Salvadoran-Mexican fare as the brick-and-mortar, which quietly opened more than a year ago.

The huevos rancheros ($12) from the all-day breakfast menu did not disappoint, with authentic details ranging from scratch-made tortillas to housemade salsa.

But we'll keep returning for the pupusas. Just like with the food truck, they are the star of the show.

The owners pay tribute to the national dish of El Salvador — thick corn tortillas filled with cheese and meat/vegetable fillings and then cooked on a hot griddle — with a from-scratch family recipe. Filling choices such as chicken, pork belly or beans were tempting, but we ultimately went with the marinated beef birria ($4.50 each; three for $12).

We were happy campers as we tore the corn cakes into bite-size pieces and topped them with fresh slaw and salsa. Like when ordering birria tacos, the pupusas also came with an au jus-type broth for dunking. So we obliged, and it took us further into the depths of this flavorfully layered dish. (Nancy Ngo)

2828 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.; 612-721-0013;

Jamaican beef patty at Irie Jamaican Express in Midtown Global Market
Jamaican beef patty at Irie Jamaican Express in Midtown Global Market

Sharyn Jackson

Jamaican Beef Patty at Irie Jamaican Express

Midtown Global Market came alive last weekend for a family-friendly Lunar New Year celebration, and while my kids were entranced by the energetic lion dance, I grabbed a bite from a brand-new vendor. Irie Jamaican Express opened Feb. 3, an offshoot of Irie Vybz in Blaine. Zavion Hyatt and his wife first launched their restaurant in Brooklyn Center, then moved to its current location near Northtown Mall a little over a year ago. When the opportunity came up to take over a vacant stand in the heart of Minneapolis, Hyatt grabbed it.

The Jamaican-born restaurateur absorbed much of his culinary expertise from his chef mother and his grandmother, both of whom cooked for him throughout his childhood. The life-affirming aromas from the jerk chicken and the curries he grew up around are still with him. "You know, when you eat good, you feel good, and you live longer," he said.

He lived in New York for a while, which was crawling with Jamaican cuisine and culture. But in Minnesota, where he had family, "it used to bug me because I couldn't go to any Jamaican restaurant for lunch or nothing like that," he said. "If I don't feel like cooking today but I want some Jamaican food, I don't know where to go. So I'm like, you know what? I'm going to open up a restaurant."

At his market stand, Hyatt is making most everything from scratch, down to the ground spice blends in the Jamaican beef patties ($5). Flaky, curry powder-tinged dough encases melt-in-your-mouth spiced ground beef for a portable savory snack. But then he takes it up a notch with the optional add-on of coco bread ($4.60), a supremely squishy sweet bun that you tear open and put the patty inside to eat like a sandwich. This carbs-upon-carbs combination delivers three textures and flavors in every soul-satisfying bite.

"When I was going to school, that was my lunch," Hyatt said. "That's a whole meal right there for the rest of the day." (S.J.)

Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St., Mpls.,

Order anything with the carnitas at Nico's Taco and Tequila Bar. This roast pork is a standout.
Order anything with the carnitas at Nico's Taco and Tequila Bar. This roast pork is a standout.

Joy Summers

Carnitas tostada at Nico's Taco and Tequila Bar

Nico's Tacos and Tequila Bar has come a long way. The first location opened in a converted mansion on Hennepin Avenue in 2013 with a limited menu of salsas, guacamole and tacos. And the carnitas have been there since day one.

The restaurant from Jenna and Alejandro Victoria just opened its third and most ambitious location, transforming the former Tinto Kitchen into an airy refuge that feels almost like a tropical Mexican day spa. We stopped in for a quick bite, but I should have leaned into the rattan chairs and sat a spell while savoring all the bites, because the one we had was divine. The carnitas tostada was better than anything has the right to be for just $7.

With the expanded kitchen space, the restaurant is now supplying all three locations with nixtamalized masa for fresh tortillas. Fried crispy, that's the base of the tostada, and the earthy, undeniably corny flavor was crispy decadence against the icy cold lettuce and rich cheese and crema. But the carnitas. The slow-roasted pork was beautifully flavored, with subtle, warming spices and just a hint of acidity, tasting like it stewed in love and time. Appropriate, since this was our early Valentine's date night, and not surprising, since Michoacán, where Alejandro hails from, is the birthplace of carnitas.

I can't wait to go back and order it again tucked into tacos, in enchiladas or any of the other ways carnitas are showcased at this new restaurant, which is open for lunch through dinner. (J.S.)

4959 Penn Av. S., Mpls., 612-216-1188,