See more of the story

Corned beef hash and pancakes at Nicollet Diner

Minneapolis' only remaining all-day-every-day independent diner has just made an ambitious move up the street to the edge of Nicollet Mall, into a slick, 13,000-square-foot building that used to house the iconic Ichiban. Joining it soon will be Roxy's Cabaret, a theater for drag shows, karaoke, bingo and comedy. Meanwhile, the old address, 1428 Nicollet Av. S., is converting into a pizza and chicken spot called Mother Clucker's.

The Nicollet Diner's menu is the same — even slightly slimmed down for now, with the neighboring Muffin Top Cafe and its pastries still a block away. But the shiny digs inject new life into the quirky 'round-the-clock haunt. There's no trace of Ichiban; blue metallic booths with Formica-topped tables give the otherwise modern space a retro vibe, and there's a central U-shaped counter plus a bar to meet just about any need, no matter the time of day.

For me, it was breakfast. My server was practically giddy when I chose Sam's Skillet ($17), a favorite of his because the slow-roasted corned beef in the hash is a surprising specialty of the house. (He convinced me to come back promptly for the Reuben.) The chopped meat, mixed with sautéed onions and crispy hash browns, with gooey cheddar and a couple of eggs over easy on top, was exactly the kind of hearty, satisfying dish I crave on a blurry morning that warrants a bottomless cup of coffee. Going all in, I swapped my toast side for a stack of two pancakes, topped with a scoop of whipped butter that quickly melted into a salty puddle. Delicious. (Sharyn Jackson)

1333 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-399-6258, thenicolletdiner.com

Spare a little capital and fridge space for this locally made, fermented hot sauce. It’s worth it.
Spare a little capital and fridge space for this locally made, fermented hot sauce. It’s worth it.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Another Bad Investment hot sauce from Lost Capital

Last week, we shared local hot sauce suggestions that should stand in during our national hour of mourning: the Sriracha shortage. The response made it obvious that our reputation for school-paste spice palates is undeserved, but several readers let me know there was a glaring omission.

Lost Capital Foods is a Falcon Heights-based company run by husband-and-wife team D.J. and Anastasia Bocchetti. Working in small batches, they ferment local chiles into an array of sauces with spice levels that range from gently warming to burns-so-good levels.

In my defense, I'd considered Another Bad Investment ($8.99) for the article, but since it was sold out online, I worried it wouldn't be readily available. But worry not. Another Bad Investment is available at all area Lunds & Byerly's stores, several local co-ops and breweries — and it's back in stock online.

The sprightly red sauce delivers on balanced heat, twang and a versatile fruitiness that's bliss on a tortilla chip. The makers describe the dominant manzano chile as having an orange bell pepper flavor, and that nudge of sweet vegetal flavor is definitely there. I shook some onto cold pizza, mixed it into chilaquiles and ate it directly on some tortilla chips.

A tip of the chip to all the readers who sent in their favorites. I'm thrilled to add another bottle to my lineup of necessary local hot sauces. It's like a whole mood board of heat on my fridge door. (Joy Summers)

Lost Capital Foods, Falcon Heights, lostcapitalfoods.com

The Brie curds at the News Room.
The Brie curds at the News Room.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

Brie curds at the News Room

When I told a friend I was going to the News Room for a pre-theater dinner, she said, "Oh, I always forget about that place." With so many restaurants and only so many dining dollars, that's understandable. It's also unfortunate, because on a beautiful summer night — with the doors swung open and the front patio abuzz, it's really quite lovely.

The News Room is one of those restaurants where even the pickiest of eaters can find something to enjoy. For starters, you can't go wrong with the Brie curds ($11.95), which are exactly what they sound like: squares of deep-fried, deliciously creamy Brie. What elevates these curds (besides the Brie) from State Fair status to A-list appetizer is the housemade blueberry ketchup served alongside them. It may sound "interesting," as Minnesota diners might say, but it's just the right amount of fruity to cut through the richness of the cheese. Don't skip it — it changes the entire experience.

If you happen to be on the patio and washing them down with a strawberry mule — one of the restaurant's signature cocktails — all the better. (Nicole Hvidsten)

990 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-343-0073, thenewsroommpls.com

Order a side of fries to dip in the rich broth from these mussels.
Order a side of fries to dip in the rich broth from these mussels.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Mussels at Bar Rufus

When the Rand Tower was remade into a gorgeous, Art Deco hotel, the downstairs bar became a beautiful room to lounge in, with thick upholstered chairs and historic architecture details. But only recently has the food menu been given the star chef treatment. Daniel del Prado, who seems to be just about everywhere these days, has installed a new lobby bar and food menu here.

The succinct menu offers a few French snacks along with a burger that's ideal if you're a smashburger mustard fan. When I went with a colleague this week, we lingered over a side of pommes frites ($7) and the mussels in a rich butter and white wine sauce served with grilled bread and a salad's worth of flat parsley ($19). The crispy little fries are served with ketchup and a curry mayo, but they were destined for a good, long soak in this broth.

The mussels themselves were plump, fresh and fun to dig into. It was the first time in a long time that a downtown Minneapolis happy hour felt like a normal fun night out with friends. (J.S.)

527 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-224-3710, barrufus.com

The Choco Taco lives on at St. Louis Park pool.
The Choco Taco lives on at St. Louis Park pool.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Choco Taco at the St. Louis Park Aquatic Park snack bar

Much has been made of the demise of the Choco Taco, a frozen novelty long relegated to the back of the convenience store freezer. Among all the ice cream-like treats out there, it ranks maybe a 4 out of 10.

But we never know how good something is until it's gone. When Klondike announced it was discontinuing the treat as a "result of complex production challenges," a social media outcry renewed nostalgia and interest in the Choco Taco, and a mad dash among fans to purchase the last of them. It got so hot that people were peddling boxes of them on Facebook marketplace — for $500.

If you've found yourself mourning the Choco Taco, here's some good news. The Aquatic Park at the St. Louis Park recreation center has a little snack bar with hot dogs, pizza, sodas and, right there on the poster-size menu next to the window, the Choco Taco ($2.50). According to the teen working last weekend, the snack bar still has "boxes and boxes" of them, and will be selling the treats until they're gone.

I hadn't had one in decades, and my memory of the Choco Taco was perhaps a little tastier than the real thing. Still, after a long day in the sun, a cold and uber-sweet treat met the moment, and sent me back to the sweltering summer nights of my youth, running out of the house at the first ding of the Mister Softee truck rolling down the block.

It was lovely to go back in time for a moment, but if given the choice, I'd have picked a locally made novelty of a higher caliber, such as Sebastian Joe's dipped Oreo ice cream Brr Bar ($6.15); La Michoacana Rose's refreshing mango con tajin paleta ($2.50); or, for a crowd, Bebe Zito's impressive Scrumbebelyupmtious Bar, a log-shaped cake made of chocolate ice cream, Oreos and brownies, with a chocolate bar draped over it ($50). Those? All 10s. (S.J.)

3700 Monterey Dr., St. Louis Park, 952-924-2500, stlouispark.org. Paid admission to the pool ($6-$15) is required to reach the snack bar.