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Cheese curd burger at Northern Taphouse

Burgers are serious business. We've rarely met a burger we didn't like, and conversations around who has the best burgers can last longer than a Minnesota goodbye. So the menu at the Northern Taphouse caught my eye: How can you not try a burger topped with giant cheese curds or Tater Tot hot dish?

Both start with two fresh beef patties and cheese. From there the burgers' paths diverge. The cheese curd burger ($13) adds lettuce, onion, a house-made sauce and two top-notch giant cheese curds. (Those giant cheese curds, also available as an appetizer, would make a fantastic accompaniment to tomato soup.) So fun, and so good. The Tater Tot hot dish burger ($14) is topped with a creamy corn and bell pepper sauce and two jumbo tots filled with bacon, cheddar and chives. Oddly comforting, and a brilliant idea that I'll try to replicate at home with my own hot dish recipe.

The burgers might look intimidating, and polite diners probably will use a knife and fork to dig in. But a little squeeze is all it takes to make these monster burgers manageable. (Nicole Hvidsten)

18404 Kenrick Av., Lakeville, 952-214-0300, northerntapmn.com. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Margherita pizza from Simpls.
Margherita pizza from Simpls.

Sharyn Jackson • Star Tribune

Margherita pizza from Simpls

We've been in this pandemic long enough now that the restaurants that pivoted once are pivoting again. Simpls, a cafe known for its scratch-made soups, closed all three of its locations at the start of the pandemic: two in the downtown Minneapolis skyway and one in Dinkytown. Instead, Simpls launched a soup subscription model that saved me from many tired work-from-home lunches last winter. If I couldn't go to the skyway for lunch, they found a way to bring skyway lunch to me.

Simpls was keeping it simple — just soup, bread and cookies. But starting Sept. 27, they're adding a major new player to the menu: frozen pizza. As a subscriber, I got a preview of two of their new Neapolitan-style pies, which needed about 10 minutes in the oven. A hand-tossed crust made from organic heritage wheat gives it a nice chew, and it's naturally leavened, which gives it some tang. I was intrigued by their vegan pie, with sweet corn, herby chermoula and tomato slices that melt in the oven. But I fell for the margherita, which has a perky fresh tomato sauce and thick slices of mozzarella, basil and super-sweet roasted tomatoes that burst with brightness when you bite into them. This winter's work-from-home lunches just got better. (Sharyn Jackson)

Simpls delivers throughout the metro. Order online at simpls.com.

String bean and pork belly fried noodles from Magic Noodle.
String bean and pork belly fried noodles from Magic Noodle.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Noodles from Magic Noodle

Now that it's officially fall, our culinary thoughts often drift toward comfort food. And at Magic Noodle, a bright, window-filled spot on St. Paul's University Avenue, that's in the form of hand-pulled noodles. Cold noodles, fried noodles, noodle soups, noodle bowls — you get the idea.

Prime example: the String Bean and Pork Belly Fried Noodles ($11.95). Fresh beans and bell peppers provide a nice end-of-summer crunch, while braised pork belly and a flavorful sauce provide the warmth. But it's those hand-pulled noodles that pull it all together in one magical comfort-laden bowl. Luckily the portions are so big I could enjoy it twice.

If you're not quite ready to embrace the warm and cozy, the Sichuan Cold Noodles ($7.95) has a different kind of heat with a healthy dose of chili oil. But the chill of the noodles, cucumbers, carrots and bean sprouts help temper the spice.

While you're there, be sure to pick up an order of pan-fried pork dumplings ($4.95). They didn't even last the trip home. (N.H.)

1337 University Av. W., St. Paul, 651-369-6688, magicnoodleusa.com. Open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., closed Wed.

Wagyu beef rib from Boomin Barbecue.
Wagyu beef rib from Boomin Barbecue.

Sharyn Jackson • Star Tribune

Wagyu beef rib from Boomin Barbecue

The photo doesn't capture the scale of this caveman-style bludgeon, but consider that the wagyu beef rib from Boomin Barbecue was served in a chafing dish. It's an occasional menu item from this superb barbecue trailer that opened in June outside Ombibulous liquor store in northeast Minneapolis. And it can weigh in at anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 pounds. At $44 per pound, you might think it's a hard sell. It's not.

"People go crazy for the beef ribs," said chef and owner Dylan Boerboom, who previously was a chef at Handsome Hog and Cov, and started Boomin Barbecue with a smoker he bought off Craigslist. (The other chef in the trailer and at the smoker is Garrison Sherwood.) "I only get 12 of them a week, and people line up for them. I've seen people put down a 2 1/2-pound beef rib for lunch. It's pretty impressive."

The beef comes from Minnesota's only wagyu cattle herd, Fellers Ranch. Boerboom seasons the marvelously marbled cuts with only salt and pepper. You'll find a little container of sauce on the side, but this beef stands on its own. Just a touch of acid from a small pile of pickled red onions and jalapeños is all you need to cut through the richness of the fat and the smoke.

Even if you don't manage to get a rib (available every other Friday, but check Instagram to be sure), the three-day-a-week operation usually has several cuts of beef — brisket, beef cheeks, a one-of-a-kind smoked juicy Lucy — some lamb, some pork, and a smoked chicken thigh sandwich that puts fried chicken sandwiches to shame. (S.J.)

The trailer is parked outside Ombibulous, 949 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., boominbbq.com. Open noon-8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.

Bacon shrimp and grits from Bacon Social House.
Bacon shrimp and grits from Bacon Social House.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Bacon Shrimp and Grits from Bacon Social House

I've never been to a restaurant where the server asks, "Would you like to start off with some bacon?"

So of course I had bacon — a flight of bacon, actually. Six slices ($9.50-$12.50) that vary in thickness and flavor, from chile lime to French toast, and are served with a kitchen shears for easy sharing. You wouldn't expect anything less from a place called Bacon Social House. Surely this would be the highlight of my visit.

But then another server brought out the Bacon Shrimp and Grits ($15.95) and prefaced it by saying, "Are you ready for my favorite dish on the menu?" I can see why; it was delicious. Purists take note, it's actually toasted polenta slices, not Waffle House-style grits. But that's even better. It provides a sturdy base for the medley of shrimp (sautéed to perfection), bacon (of course), spinach, tomatoes and goat cheese, which when sautéed together make a tasty sauce eagerly absorbed by the polenta. You can top it with an egg for another $2 — over-the-top is right at home here — but no need. It's perfect as is. (N.H.)

700 S 3rd St., Mpls., 612-428-7107, baconsocialhouse.com. Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.