Diving into food adventures opens up the possibility that the next great meal or new favorite ingredient could come from just about anywhere. As people who dine out on a near-constant basis, we are thrilled to find new foods and experiences that catch us off guard. Here are the top five moments none of us saw coming.
1. We'd want to order cup of noodles at a restaurant.
"I don't remember the last time I had instant ramen, but I guarantee it was never this good," wrote Sharyn Jackson. Jackson and colleague Joy Summers had gone to Payne Avenue in St. Paul on a different mission, but ended up at Capital Corn tangled up in a cup of ramen (the kind familiar to the dorm room set that requires nothing more than hot water to cook) and cheese of the Whiz variety. The order started almost as a culinary dare, but ended up being a dish we kept talking about throughout the year. "The creaminess of the mayo- and cheese-infused salty broth and the snap of the corn were exactly what this dehydrated soup-in-a-cup needed." It's ridiculous on every level — including that we haven't gone back for more.
2. Lutefisk was a new State Fair food — and some people even liked it.
It was the sweaty, steamy first day of the Minnesota State Fair and we weren't the only ones ordering the lutefisk. Longtime stand Shanghai Henri's at the International Bazaar had worked with some folks from the Devil's Advocate restaurants and the result was the squidgy-textured fish served with a judicious amount of hoisin sauce inside steamed buns. It certainly was a talker, and while drawing mixed reviews it wasn't exactly a runaway success, it was surprising that this was the first year lutefisk appeared in the lineup of new foods at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
3. Pickles are everywhere — even in the national spotlight.
Speaking of the State Fair, this year saw more pickle dishes than ever. And, as much as the Taste team loves a giant pickle on a stick — pickle doughnuts were a stretch. That wasn't all. There was pickle beer, pickle lemonade, pickle fries and even pickle fudge. But enough about the State Fair — that was just 10 glorious days, and the pickles were not confined to the fairgrounds. Pickle wraps — better known as Minnesota Sushi — got a shoutout on "Jeopardy! Masters" and "Somebody Somewhere" on HBO. As if that weren't enough pucker power, we even had a pickle cookie in contention in the Star Tribune's annual Holiday Cookie Contest. (Seriously.)
More year-end restaurant stories
4. People are sure mad at this sandwich.
While the price of ingredients is a real issue, and costs are on the rise everywhere, we learned that folks will only pay so much for egg and cheese on a bun. The prevailing mood of the commenters on our 15 best breakfast sandwiches story was a frugal "Bah, humbeggs," when it came to the prices of some of the sandwiches. It makes sense that an egg, square of cheese and some kind of bread should be one of life's simple pleasures, but some breakfast sandwich makers are determined to be extra. (And we stand by these bougie bites.) However, none seemed to irritate people more than the fancy offering at Grand Avenue's new Big E. With the Her Name Is Yoshimi, a custom milk bun is topped with lump crab meat, black sesame-studded, miso-spiked sauce and a tender, Japanese-style steamed omelet. It seems few find all that worth $18, even if we enjoyed every last bite.
5. One of the best fine dining meals of the year was served inside a gas station.
"It's a tasting menu inside a gas station! You gotta go!" was overheard at a Taste team meeting earlier this year. The sheer audacity of co-owners Karen and chef Cristian De Leon to pull out all the stops at a dinner situated between the potato chips and meat sticks was a delightful jeer into the face of what's expected in fine dining. The result was a meal for the ages under the hum of fluorescent lighting inside an Eagan BP store.
The de Leons both left stable restaurant jobs — he having run kitchens at places such as the Copper Hen, Chino Latino, the Good Earth and the Icehouse, and she as a manager at Pittsburgh Blue — and opened El Sazon Tacos & More in March of 2022 with to-go options. However, for a few special nights, they would put out tables in the middle of the convenience store, cover them in black cloths, and flex their fine dining chops over a five-course meal with N/A beverage pairings crafted just for the experience.
In October, they expanded El Sazon into a new restaurant location at the edge of Minneapolis and Richfield on Lyndale Avenue, but there's still hope that there will be a few more of these dinners in the original location, inside an Eagan gas station.