The crispy chicken sandwich from Burger Press was a major upgrade from standard fast food, with its chipotle mayo and pillowy brioche bun. And it only cost me $7, including a side of fries.

The catch?

I didn't know it would be in the "surprise bag" I'd ordered. And I had to drive to Edina at 9 p.m. to pick it up.

The restaurant app Too Good to Go, which arrived in Minnesota last fall, offers discounts on restaurant leftovers that might otherwise get tossed. The app is marketed to curb food waste, but in an era where pricey fast-food receipts have gone viral, many users are likely motivated by saving money.

I spent a few days assessing the deals.

How it works

The Too Good To Go app shows about 80 participating restaurants/cafes/grocery stores in the Twin Cities. When I restricted my search to within a 15-mile radius of downtown Minneapolis, almost every time I opened the app, there were several surprise bags available.

At least a third of the offerings were baked goods (from YoYo Donuts in Minnetonka, Butter Bakery Café in south Minneapolis and the Buttered Tin in St. Paul, for example). Most of the restaurants providing an individual meal were new-to-me suburban spots: Vitali's Kitchen in Bloomington, Nautical Bowls in Maple Grove, Alicia's Latin Cuisine in New Brighton, Indian Masala in Maplewood. Two outliers frequently appeared in my search: a grocery store's end-of-day goodie bag and beef consommé from a birria taco place.

New surprise bags are posted regularly, so I checked the app several times a day. Too Good to Go doesn't let users set alerts for specific eateries, but there are third-party workarounds, or you can ask eatery staff when they tend to post.

Most offers went fast. Once, as I was debating whether I wanted to drive 20 minutes to pick up pastries at 7 a.m. the next morning, someone else snapped up the deal. The app lists the day's current and sold-out offers, and I did see a few I was disappointed to have missed. (Herbivorous Butcher's mock meats, for one.)

All my transactions went smoothly. I'd claim a bag with a workable pick-up time and pay for it through the app. When I asked restaurant staff about using Too Good to Go, they said that food in the surprise bags would have otherwise been tossed or donated. A few mentioned that they found it was an efficient way to get rid of excess food while bringing in a little money.

All the bags I purchased had a minimum retail value of about $20.

Chicken sandwich and fries from Burger Press in Edina.
Chicken sandwich and fries from Burger Press in Edina.

Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune

Bag #1

Where: Burger Press, Edina

In the bag: Crispy chicken sandwich with fries for $7.62

Verdict: I discovered a tasty new fast-food spot I'd never heard of before. The savings weren't worth the drive for me, but I'd recommend it for someone closer.

Chicken dinner from Mama Sheila's House of Soul in Minneapolis.
Chicken dinner from Mama Sheila's House of Soul in Minneapolis.

Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune

Bag #2

Where: Mama Sheila's House of Soul, Minneapolis

In the bag: Chicken leg served with rice, broccoli, mac and cheese and candied yams for $7.62

Verdict: I'd passed Mama Sheila's hundreds of times, but had never stopped before. I found solid soul food that's worth another visit.

Pastries from Gigi's in Minneapolis.
Pastries from Gigi's in Minneapolis.

Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune

Bag #3

Where: Gigi's Café, Minneapolis

In the bag: Five pastries for $6.53

Verdict: My go-to pastries shops are usually Black Walnut Bakery or Patisserie 46. But for the price of one fancy French croissant, I got to try five day-old items from Gigi's bakery case (muffin, fritter, etc.) and found a savory scone I liked.

Rolls from InTown Sushi in Minneapolis.
Rolls from InTown Sushi in Minneapolis.

Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune

Bag #4

Where: Intown Sushi, Minneapolis

In the bag: Four sushi rolls for $7.62

Verdict: With its cold, dried-out rice, refrigerator-case sushi is a poor substitute for made-to-order, but Intown Sushi's surprise bag contained a generous four packages. (Roughly a $30 value.) The company has a Midtown Global Market storefront, but also supplies packaged sushi to grocery stories, institutional foodservice and events. My assortment included four different cooked and raw rolls with a sell-by date of the day I picked them up.

Is it worth it?

At this point, for me, there aren't enough metro-area restaurants participating in Too Good to Go to reliably find a convenient deal. But if you're a flexible eater, it's worth checking the app before defaulting to your usual takeout spot. The surprise bags I tried all met my expectations for food quality and amount. But your personal taste and tolerance for hassle will determine if an offer is worth it.

Using Too Good To Go is a very low-stakes way to try a restaurant you've never visited.