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Smoked salmon bagel from Rudy's Bagels

There's no lovelier way to spend a Saturday morning than sitting on a step outside the Guthrie Theater overlooking the Mississippi River and digging into the goodies collected from vendors at the Mill City Farmers Market.

While any combination of the delicious snacks sold there would make a solid progressive meal, my family's most recent breakfast consisted of the maple cream cold brew from Farmers Kitchen + Bar, a piping hot pizza from Northern Fires and, new this year, a bagel and lox from Rudy's Bagel Sandwiches.

Rudy Sanchez and family are farmers market veterans, having worked alongside food vendors, including Golden's Deli, which has a longtime presence at the St. Paul Farmers Market. This year, they decided to go out on their own with a stand under the cover of the Mill City Museum.

There are not enough places to grab a bagel in the Twin Cities, so I was happy to find the Sanchezes, who had eight varieties of bagels at the ready. I went with a sesame bagel, cream cheese and smoked salmon with green olives ($12). Chewy, salty, creamy — it hit all the marks for Saturday morning perfection. (Sharyn Jackson)

Mill City Farmers Market, 750 S. 2nd St., Mpls.,

A parade of small-bite delights inside the Travail basement, where Tim McKee and the restaurant’s chef/owners bring out bite after delicious bite.
A parade of small-bite delights inside the Travail basement, where Tim McKee and the restaurant’s chef/owners bring out bite after delicious bite.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Txikiteo with Tim McKee at Travail

Part of what got me into food writing is that I'm always on the hunt for the next perfect bite, preferably one with a good story to pair with it. That's how I found myself in a dim, cool basement eating through a parade of snacky bites while sipping top-shelf beverages.

Dinner was the work of James Beard Award-winning chef Tim McKee, who is doing his second residency with Travail, Robbinsdale's destination eatery. It's a tribute to Txikiteo (pronounced chee-kee-tay-o), a tapas crawl in San Sebastian, Spain, and it really is the best kind of eating.

Grab another food-obsessed friend and meet in the parking lot, where Travail's chef/owners, alongside a grinning McKee, grill up appetizers before waltzing diners into the interior of the giant restaurant.

Once you're settled into the Basement Bar, it's an onslaught of unbelievably delicious snacks. A specialized serving piece arrives with a bouquet of skewers, each delivering salty, smoky, crispy and unctuous bites.

While the parade continues — crispy croquettes, domino-sized pork belly — a handmade paella cart provides the show: Vegetables are sautéed and broken vermicelli is bathed in squid ink before the dish is served, just ahead of a trio of desserts.

It's an onslaught of food in the best possible way. Diners leave satiated, and in my case absolutely smitten by not only how delicious everything was, but how much fun these old friends are clearly having. I've already booked another night, with another friend.

The event is also a bargain by Travail ticket standards at $60 per person; beverage add-ons start at $55 (spirit-free and low-proof available, too). (Joy Summers)

Travail Kitchen & Amusements, 4134 Hubbard Av. N., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131,

The chef’s slice special at Snack Bar.
The chef’s slice special at Snack Bar.

Jon Cheng, Special to the Star Tribune

Chef's slice (or pie) special at Snack Bar

I made three mistakes when it came to Snack Bar and its chef's pie special, a slice ($13) with mustard Mornay, fried speck, Gorgonzola and dates.

The first? Thinking of Snack Bar as the forgotten sibling in Isaac Becker's empire. Yes, it sits opposite Bar La Grassa, and it strategically serves as spillover for those who can't get in at a reasonable time and who aren't willing to soldier waits for a table at BLG. That's why there's a long bar at Snack Bar — so you can nibble and sip to make the time pass a little more appealingly.

But forgotten siblings can wallow in neglect or rebel. Snack Bar rebels: The menu is rowdier and a little more progressive (speck instead of prosciutto; cheeses, like Gorgonzola, that go beyond parmigiana or pecorino), but it still feels like a Becker restaurant. For one, there's enough acid in many of the dishes to make you wince; for another, he relies on a winning sweet-salty diaspora.

The latter thrives in his pizza special. The salty speck and sweet Medjool dates are a terrific match. The Mornay, a more rounded béchamel, adds body. And the Gorgonzola is just musky, but not funky enough to remind you that it's a kind of blue cheese. I devoured it all and committed my second mistake by scalding my tongue in the process, as the crust — an appealingly thick, chewy cornicione — was burnished with enough hot oil to seethe.

So, third mistake: Not ordering the whole pie ($43). (Jon Cheng)

800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-383-2848,

DeGidio’s built its glowing reputation on red sauce Italian food, but there’s also a burger that’s a serious contender.
DeGidio’s built its glowing reputation on red sauce Italian food, but there’s also a burger that’s a serious contender.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Cheeseburger at DeGidio's

This nearly 90-year-old restaurant has cemented its place in the pantheon of great St. Paul eats, serving the community for generations. In this modern age, the dining room has been tastefully updated into a comfortable, crowd-pleasing space but retains its perfumed marinara tang. It's not only the perfect place to bring Grandma for lunch, it's also an excellent stop for an evening date.

The menu has largely remained unchanged for years, just the way most regulars like it. And while the aforementioned marinara is the sauce of legends, every so often, something different is a good thing.

That why I'm suggesting that while visiting this venerable red sauce Italian restaurant, order the burger ($16). Double stacked and dripping with Taleggio cheese, it's a big one. Juicy thin patties are dressed with just the right amount of zingy house sauce — and there are a couple of brine-snappy pickles tucked on the bottom. Each bite is beefy satisfaction. (J.S.)

425 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-291-7105,

Big AZ Burrito from Arizona Taco Co.
Big AZ Burrito from Arizona Taco Co.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Big AZ Burrito from Arizona Taco Co.

Could this be Minnesota's first restaurant for snowbirds?

New Hope's Arizona Taco Co., tucked into a strip mall alongside an entrance ramp to Hwy. 169, has a menu that appeals to the many northern visitors to that southwestern state. There's even a large Arizona flag on the wall.

Like the food in Arizona, specialties here are heavily influenced by Sonora, Mexico, including large, paper-thin housemade flour tortillas that wrap up a selection of burritos. Some of the "AZ Favorites" include dunked tacos, a hot dog loaded with bacon and beans and a Phoenix-style burrito that's stuffed with ground beef and French fries.

I opted for the Big AZ Burrito, which goes for Grand Canyon-sized proportions by stuffing one of those fresh tortillas with carnitas, shredded chicken and shredded beef, plus rice and beans, lettuce and loads of cheese. Red and green sauces each top a half of this behemoth, which must have weighed in close to 3 pounds ($15). Everything is bigger out west. (S.J.)

9428 36th Av. N., New Hope, 763-208-0419,