See more of the story

Lechon prensado at Oro by Nixta

"It takes two days to make it," chef Gustavo Romero said, clearly in response to what must have been our stunned faces as we forked more bites of the lechon prensado (pressed suckling pig). Described as a terrine, the menu couldn't possibly convey the amount of labor and care that goes into this rectangle of nose-to-tail-to-shoulder-to-belly pork, which has been broken down, roasted, chopped into chunks and stacked, pressed with weights, and finally fried for ultimate crispness.

Romero was beaming the night I dined at Oro, on the heels of a nomination for a James Beard Award for best new restaurant in the country. Dishes like the lechon ($28) are only part of the story. Oro began as Nixta, a COVID-era takeout-only business operating out of what looked like an office foyer, became a supplier of nixtamalized heritage corn tortillas to grocery stores and restaurants across the Twin Cities, launched an acclaimed restaurant that celebrates masa in all its forms, recently added a tequila bar, and now is putting Minneapolis on the national map for Mexican cuisine.

If you can get a reservation (I snagged mine for 4 p.m., which might be your best bet, too), pay them a visit and wish Romero and company well on their continued rise to masa stardom. And make sure to order the lechon. (Sharyn Jackson)

1222 NE. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-200-8087,

A sunrise stop at Bittner's Bakery in Shakopee for a lemon bismarck.
A sunrise stop at Bittner's Bakery in Shakopee for a lemon bismarck.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

Lemon bismarck from Bittner's Bakery

When readers take the time to write, we pay attention. When they say something is the best they've ever had, we really pay attention. Such is the case with this lemon bismarck, and why I was watching the sun rise from historic downtown Shakopee this week.

"The bakery makes you feel like you are stepping back in time," Tana Erickson wrote via email. Indeed, it's in a 1890s building that housed the Shakopee Bakery for decades. Don and Lauri Bittner reopened the bakery in 2021, and make everything from doughnuts, cookies and wedding cakes to bread and buns.

But back to the bismarck. Erickson went on to sing the praises of the huge, ethereal powdered sugar-dusted doughnut that surrounds a burst of lemon filling. It's so dreamy, light and delicate that you wonder how it could possibly hold its tangy contents. The tartness of the lemon cuts the sweetness, but sweet tooths needn't worry, it's still plenty sweet. And, at $2.75, it's a steal. (I walked out with a dozen doughnuts for less than $20.)

"I really can't get the bismarck out of my mind," Erickson said. Same. (Nicole Hvidsten)

114 1st Av. E., Shakopee, 952-846-7347,

The tuna smash at Coastal Seafoods "Dive" in St. Paul
The tuna smash at Coastal Seafoods "Dive" in St. Paul

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Tuna smash at Coastal Seafoods 'Dive'

There's a good reason the menu at Coastal Seafoods calls this the "Tuna Smash!!!"The idea of crisping up an ahi tuna patty on the griddle and topping it with cheese, pickles and rémoulade is so out-of-the-box, it deserves all those exclamation points.

And add one more for the comfortable new cafe in which to enjoy it. The St. Paul Coastal Seafoods market moved a few blocks down Snelling Avenue in December, and just last week opened "The Dive," a spacious restaurant with a patio and bar seating (but only sodas, so far) at the back.

Open at 10 a.m. daily, the cafe serves many of the same things you can get at the less-well-defined dining nook inside the Minneapolis market, including this ingenious, beef-free burger, which comes as a single ($12.99) or a double ($16.99). (For those who prefer traditional burgers, the $14.99 Coastal Burger, with two wagyu beef patties, is a must.)

One thing you can get only at the new location? Oysters. They're $3.95 each, or $19.99 for a half-dozen. Get yourself a mix of oysters, a crisp apple soda from Northern Soda Co., and any of the fantastic fish or lobster sandwiches, and you have St. Paul's newest power lunch. (S.J.)

286 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-698-4888,

The papaya noodle salad at Diane's Place in Minneapolis.
The papaya noodle salad at Diane's Place in Minneapolis.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Papaya noodle salad at Diane's Place

If you know Diane Moua's handiwork — and if you're a croissant fan, you probably do — then you already know that the pastries at her long-awaited debut restaurant are some of the best you can get in the Twin Cities.

But what I didn't know before I stopped in on the restaurant's second morning was that my favorite breakfast food is now papaya salad. (Diane's Place is currently open only for breakfast and lunch; dinner is coming soon.)

This gluten-free dish ($15) is a cold and crunchy counterpart to the buttery-rich goodness in Moua's faultless pastries. It contains a rainbow tangle of white noodles, orange carrots, green long beans; a sprinkling of dried shrimp and peanuts; and a dousing of funky tamarind vinaigrette that all mingle together in each refreshing bite. It was the perfect accompaniment to the Spam and nori croissant ($15), a breakfast sandwich that layers Lowry Hill Provisions smoked ham and thinly sliced Spam under a sunny-side egg and chili crisp aioli, all on one of Moua's superb croissants.

Of course, there's a case at the front of the elegant dining room showing off more of Moua's laminated dough achievements, and it's hard to walk past them and not get them all. But with an almost entirely savory menu of Hmong-inspired dishes to eat your way through, make sure you save room. (S.J.)

117 14th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-489-8012,

The Albondigas spiced meatballs in jamon-tomato sauce at Barcelona wine bar in Denver.
The Albondigas spiced meatballs in jamon-tomato sauce at Barcelona wine bar in Denver.

Nancy Ngo, Star Tribune

Albondigas at Barcelona

During a recent stay in Denver and looking for a dining option, checking out Barcelona, the Spanish tapas and wine bar rolling out a Minneapolis branch later this year, presented the perfect opportunity to get a preview.

If the upcoming North Loop version is anything like what we experienced at this location, we're in for a treat. The menu of charcuterie and cheese, tapas and entrees (including various kinds of paella) is extensive.

We were in a mood to graze on small plates and zoomed in on the more than two dozen tapas offerings. To help us decide, our server had solid recommendations and let us know what we can expect when Barcelona hits closer to home.

Barcelona, with locations in 11 states, has certain staples with the same recipe executed at all the restaurants. From there, local chefs have creative liberties.

The tapas section of the menu features nine or so staples, ranging from beef empanadas to ham croquetas, skirt steak with truffle vinaigrette to shrimp in garlic oil. We're also glad that the albondigas ($9.50) — our favorite of the dishes we tried — is among them.

The light and airy meatballs were wonderfully executed and swam in a tomato sauce also packed with flavors, thanks to details such as smoky paprika and a mahone cheese rind it was simmered in that gave off sweet and salty notes. The flavors from there, from sweet fennel to earthy oregano, continued to run deep.

We're looking forward to ordering this again when the time comes for Barcelona to open here. Because for us, it will be a staple at our table. (Nancy Ngo)