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Boat noodle soup at Friends Cafe

Without the recommendation of a friend, it's possible I would have missed Friends Cafe. The Rice Street strip mall where it's located would have only caught my eye if I was looking for a drugstore, and to miss out on this deeply flavorful food would have been a shame.

Inside this small family-run cafe are a few tables and a brisk lunch and takeout service. The multipage menu is filled with Thai and Burmese specialties, like the Siamese-style samosas, pad kra pow and papaya salad.

But I had a mission to steam my winter-wind-whipped face over a massive bowl of boat noodle soup ($12.99). The rich, silken broth is made from long-stewed beef bones, warm Burmese spices and salty richness from dark soy sauce with just a tiny bit of sweetness to balance it out. Bobbing in the glistening broth are slow-cooked beef slices and beef meatballs — all flecked with chopped coriander. On the side are bean sprouts, purple basil and a lime wedge, much like how pho is served. A sprinkling of the crispy chiles in oil served at the table ratcheted up the flavors past 11 and leveled a kapow of warm-climate flavors into my palate.

I swore an oath right there, into my pool of noodles and beef broth, that I would work this restaurant into my regular lunch-spot rotation. And next time I'm springing for the $5 bonus bag of crispy pork rinds to crush on top. (Joy Summers)

1711 Rice St., Roseville, 651-487-7696,

Chiya Chili Potatoes at Namaste Cafe in Minneapolis bring the heat.
Chiya Chili Potatoes at Namaste Cafe in Minneapolis bring the heat.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

Chiya Chili Potatoes at Namaste Cafe

Potatoes have never looked or tasted as good as they did in this appetizer from Namaste, a charming Indian restaurant in Uptown.

Golden potatoes are glazed with a spicy concoction of crushed pepper, ginger, maple syrup, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, vinegar and a medley of other spices ($7) and topped with a sprinkle of cilantro. The coating surrounds the potatoes, making a deliciously firm crust while leaving it tender inside. That it was a past winner of the Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge is no surprise. The spice level is tolerable even for this Minnesota palate, but having a mango lassi ($4.25) on hand isn't a bad idea.

Find the cheerful Namaste Cafe in a restored Victorian house along Hennepin Avenue. The bar churns out an array of top-notch chais and lively cocktails crafted with local spirits, and the kitchen showcases an impressive variety of dishes, including many meatless options. Good luck on deciding. We landed on the Punjabi Spinach Paneer ($17.50) and Namaste Special Curry ($17.50-$19.50), which allows you to choose your own protein and spice level. Take advantage of the specials, including the weekend brunch and a weekday dinner-for-two.

Ordering is at the table via QR code, but servers are happy to bring paper menus, too. Before leaving, grab a growler of chai and vow to come back in the summer to take in a little sun and spice on the welcoming porch and patio. (Nicole Hvidsten)

2512 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-2496,

Hot Pot City at the new Asia Mall in Eden Prairie
Hot Pot City at the new Asia Mall in Eden Prairie

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Hot pot at Hot Pot City

My family won the soup season lottery this week when we decided to check out the new Asia Mall in Eden Prairie.

There are two full-service restaurants, a couple of grab-and-go options and a small food court in this two-story Asian market, and choosing where to start was the hardest part. But who can compete with a robot server? I was instantly charmed by Hot Pot City, considering that a 4- and 1-year-old were my companions. There were enough fun graphics projected on the wall to hypnotize a toddler for days, although that didn't stop mine from happily flinging tofu into boiling liquid and laughing maniacally.

We chose two broths from the four selections — a rich pork bone broth and a tomato-added version of the same one — and then went to town on the all-you-can-eat options for dipping and dunking into the brew at the center of our table. Dumplings were a favorite, as were tender chunks of white fish, slices of chewy rice sticks, udon noodles and raw eggs the kids cracked right into the pot. Letting them steer the cooking was a particular joy. "It's science!" my preschooler said as he scooped out a thin slice of beef that the heat had quickly turned from pink to brown.

The meal, with as many meat, veggies, noodles and sauces you can eat, is $33 for adults on weekdays, $37 on weekends. Kids are $11, free for 3 and under.

Afterward, we went back downstairs to Mochi Dough and feasted on ethereally light rice flour doughnuts, which pull apart into satisfying little doughnut balls easy for sharing. Get the churro flavor if they have it.

If you followed the news of the mall's opening late last year, you may have heard about jammed parking lots and long lines to get into restaurants. For what it's worth, I had no problem getting a parking space or walking in on a Monday evening. (Sharyn Jackson)

12160 Technology Drive, Eden Prairie, 952-856-5880,

The kind of wintry salad so good that it’s almost hard to share.
The kind of wintry salad so good that it’s almost hard to share.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Chicory Salad at The Lynhall's Sunday Roast

When reading through the Sunday Roast menu that debuted last weekend at the Lynhall Uptown, the charred chicory salad was the only thing I was not interested in ordering. But after one bite, it was the item I was willing to stab a friend over should they try to pry the plate away from me.

Dishes on this weekly menu are built for sharing, with entrees like mushroom pot pie or Peterson Farms porchetta and sides like red pepper-spiked broccolini, crispy Brussels sprouts and caramelly sweet potatoes. Someone — not me — insisted we get that salad along with every other item offered on the menu.

I went in with the attitude of a middle schooler at a reunion: I'd been there, and hated that bitter business. Turns out that I don't know everything I think I do. Charred into a crusty, tender sweetness, a small head of this cabbage cousin is served on top of a generously creamy bed of aioli seasoned with anchovies, the king of umami. Up top are vibrantly colored breadcrumbs that have mingled with fatty, rich 'nduja and pickled ramps bring the oniony acidity.

It was divine. I even shared a bit. (J.S.)

2640 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-2640,, Sunday roast served from 4:30-8:30 p.m.

Doughnuts from Dahlia, a pop-up preview of a future restaurant.
Doughnuts from Dahlia, a pop-up preview of a future restaurant.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Doughnuts from Dahlia

One of the new restaurants I'm most excited about for 2023 doesn't even have a location or opening date yet. Luckily, I've already been able to sample the food, thanks to the robust number of pop-ups they've been holding around town.

The restaurant/pop-up is Dahlia, a collaboration of three Travail alumni who aim to bring full-service, daytime fine dining to the Twin Cities. Pastry is at the center of the operation, with pastry chef Alex Althoff as one of the Dahlia trio. This week, the team was at Dangerous Man Brewing for the northeast Minneapolis brewery's 10th anniversary celebration. The David Bowie-themed party called for glitter, and Althoff coated each of the four huge, square doughnut selections in a sparkly sheen.

My favorite of the bunch (they were $20 for a box of all four) was the coffee hazelnut (top left), though brown butter (bottom right) was a close second. The doughnuts went surprisingly well with Dangerous Man's collaboration with nearby Nixta — a Mexican corn lager. And after trying and kind of liking chili cheese dip beer last week, a doughnuts-and-beer combination doesn't sound so outlandish. (S.J.)

Dahlia's next pop-up is Jan. 29 at Barrel Theory, 248 E. 7th St., St. Paul, with both sweet and savory selections and beer pairing recommendations. On Feb. 11, they'll be at Falling Knife Brewing Co., 783 NE. Harding St., Mpls. Stay tuned for more at