Tofu Bao from Abang Yoli
I'm beginning to suspect there's a bit of magic behind the walls at 3749 Nicollet Av. S. in Minneapolis.
The relatively small space tucked behind Nighthawks conjures tastiness. First it was an experimental culinary space, then a revolutionary pop-up room, and most recently the launchpad for Boludo, the fast-growing empanada and pizza empire that relocated across the street. The newest tenant is Abang Yoli, and an entirely new menu is casting dizzyingly spells of deliciousness on customers.
Abang Yoli is the work of chef Jamie Yoo, and this is its second outpost. Yoo first opened inside the popular Market at Malcolm Yards food hall. The lively stand there quickly attracted a following for its menu mix of Korean fried chicken, ssam and char siu, drawing from a pantry of different Asian flavors and cuisines. The tradition continues at the new location, a free-standing space that's best for ordering takeout.
The bao are affordable and filling bites, ranging from $4.50 to 5.50, depending on the filling. The dough, as plush as new snowfall, is made fresh in-house daily. The tofu ($4.50) comes with cross-hatched grill marks and a subtle, creamy flavor. Enlivening every bite is an herbal mix of mint, scallions and toasty/fiery chili crunch. Each bite is a savory mix of texture and flavors. (Joy Summers)
3749 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., abangyoli.com
Mushroom risotto at Noa
As snow was piling high outside, I was snug inside Noa, the California-inspired eatery that anchors the lower level of the IDS Center in Minneapolis. The holiday spirit was in full swing, with brightly lit trees in the courtyard and musicians entertaining lunchgoers. It was actually pleasant.
Despite the restaurant's California ties, I ordered something decidedly Minnesotan: mushroom risotto ($20). Filled with wild rice, meaty mushrooms, crisp celery and a creamy celery "soup," it was a welcome comfort on a snowy day. The tang of goat cheese cut through the richness, but it was still rich. Very rich. (It's almost like cream of mushroom soup, but in the best possible way.) Portions are large, so share a side of broccolini ($9) with your dining companions and box up half of the risotto for tomorrow's lunch. It will be just as delicious. (Nicole Hvidsten)
77 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-886-2194, noaminneapolis.com
Ranch Breakfast at Flameburger
When there's flame in the name, you'd best believe you're going to taste the grill. The Flameburger's signature burger patties, which are, delightfully, available even at breakfast time, rounded out the Ranch Breakfast platter ($11.50) as my protein of choice one recent morning. (A third-pound was enough for me, though a half-pounder is also an option, as is a pork chop.) But what I was really craving that morning was crispy hash browns, which come in a slab the size of a reporter's notebook. Note to self: Breakfast at this Hilltop greasy spoon — an institution that hasn't changed much since the middle of the past century — is always a good idea. (S.J.)
4800 Central Av. NE., Columbia Heights, 763-571-3267
Artichoke Dip at Churchill Street
"I'm just going to put in an order for extra bread," our server said with authority. Apparently she knew us better than we knew ourselves, because the unadulterated Midwestern pleasure of smearing steamy, garlicky artichoke dip ($16) on crusty, herb-flecked bread was an experience we never wanted to end.
Churchill Street is especially lovely on a snowy winter night, when the pitched roof reflects the soft twinkling lights with a specific Nordic-flavored kind of elegance.
The dip arrives in a small bowl like Mary Poppins' bag (seemingly bottomless) and filled with creamy base laced with artichoke hearts, spinach and plenty of cheese. A snowfall of Grana Padano garnishes the dish, which you should absolutely, without question, order with extra bread. (J.S.)
4606 Churchill St., Shoreview, 612-466-2596, churchillst.com
Blueberry lemon scone from StoneHouse Coffee & Roastery
My family went out of town for Thanksgiving, and on the way back, we simply had to stop in Nisswa for one of StoneHouse's famous scones ($4.50). And we're not the only ones. People drive from all over to score one of these enjoy-anytime treats, which are invitingly piled high behind the glass on the counter, the first thing you see when you arrive. The crunchy-on-the-outside blueberry-lemon scone was my favorite. It's packed so full of juicy blueberries that it's a wonder how it all stays together. Don't let anyone tell you ever again that scones are dry. (S.J.)
25346 S. Main St., Nisswa, Minn.; 24052 Smiley Road, Nisswa; 14540 Dellwood Drive N., Baxter; stonehousecoffee.com