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Ann's Ham 'n' Cheese sandwich at Bronto Bar

There's a particular ache you feel watching a dish parade through the dining room, drawing twisted necks and ultimately a sigh at its destination. The ache comes from knowing it could have been yours, but you didn't order properly.

It was opening night at Kim's when a sandwich-shaped hole first formed in my heart. The dining room at the remade Sooki & Mimi was hopping. Tables were filled, the music was an irresistible party beat set in the late '90s, and James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim's Korean American comforts were jockeying for stomach space.

It was hard to know what to order, so massively order we did. But absent on our table was one square-shaped sandwich steeped in nostalgia and draped in American cheese. We ordered the hotteok, the Korean bun that acts as vessel for the sandwiches. We also ordered the kimchi and "Ann's ham" fried rice, which was studded with cubes of the housemade version of Spam. But I needed the sandwich.

Later that week, Bronto Bar opened, the subterranean drinking den that's down the alley and underneath the Uptown restaurant. In addition to a dazzling array of drinks, curated by flavor on the menu, there it was. The crown jewel in the quest for good eats: the best Spam-like sandwich $11 can buy in this city.

The result is a hunger-crushing dose of "Afterschool Special" nostalgia. Thick porky, salty meat is sizzled up into a juicy mouthful under a layer of cheese and topped with housemade pickles along with yellow mustard that does the heavy lifting of adding acidity to a bite with so much decadence.

It's now a must-order when I visit Kim's or Bronto Bar — and it's easy to cut into four sections to share with friends. (Joy Summers)

1432 W. 31st St., Mpls.,

Cease and Desist hot dog at LITT Pinball Bar
Cease and Desist hot dog at LITT Pinball Bar

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Cease and Desist hot dog at LITT Pinball Bar

There aren't a lot of places in these inflationary times where you can get a lunch special (sandwich, chips, soda) for $10 — and even fewer where you can have it while sitting in a retro vinyl booth among dozens of blinking, whirring, dinging pinball machines. But that's what you'll find at this new eat-drink-play spot, courtesy of the folks behind the former Tilt Pinball Bar that used to exist just off Eat Street.

When Liquor Lyle's closed in 2021, almost 60 years of midcentury dive bar splendor went with it. Fortunately, the just-opened LITT retains some of what made Liquor Lyle's special: cheap(ish) drinks, Atomic Era room dividers, and a glorious round bar. And what they've added can't be overstated: a deep cleaning, for one thing, and nearly 50 ways to spend your quarters on pinball.

But we were here to eat. The lunch special gives you the option of choosing any hot dog, smashburger or sandwich on the menu. We tried the Cease and Desist, the first in a pretty long list of hot dog creations. It's a substantial Nathan's all-beef dog, topped with feta cheese, roasted red peppers and crispy cubes of capicolla — which is kind of like putting more hot dog on top of a hot dog. (Totally fine with that.)

It came with kettle chips on the side (you can upgrade to fries for $2), and I added a $1 serving of their housemade smoked onion dip, which was a very good idea. (Sharyn Jackson)

2021 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.,

A photo doesn’t do justice to the Pollo Rostisado at Homshuk in Apple Valley.
A photo doesn’t do justice to the Pollo Rostisado at Homshuk in Apple Valley.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

The Pollo Rostisado at Homshuk Mexican Kitchen and Bar

Let's take another moment to appreciate the caliber of Mexican food in the Twin Cities metro area. From slivers of taco shops on Lake Street and Eagan gas stations to North Loop fine dining and sprawling suburban restaurants, the cuisine is having a moment and we are thrilled.

The new Homshuk Mexican Kitchen and Bar falls into the "sprawling suburban restaurant" category and lights up the corner of 152nd Street and Galaxie Avenue in Apple Valley. The menu is also sprawling, with a range of dishes that takes advantage of the kitchen's wood-fired grill, including a half-chicken that is bathed in a guajillo marinade and roasted to perfection. Yes, perfection.

The Pollo Rostisado was so flavorful and juicy, all we could mutter was a "whoa." It seemed wrong to put it in a tortilla, but it wasn't. The whole package — housemade tortillas, cactus salad topped with cotija cheese and rice and beans — was a delicious, hefty portion that seemed a bargain at $25.

Be sure to check out the adjacent market, Bodega 42, where in addition to many Hispanic favorites, you'll find Homshuk's salsas and desserts, a full butcher counter and even premade masa dough for your tortilla or sope needs. We can't wait to go back to both places. (Nicole Hvidsten)

6999 W. 152nd St., Apple Valley,

Crispy and tender, savory and earthy, this is one dish from Tammy Wong, the chef/owner of Minneapolis’ legendary Rainbow Chinese.
Crispy and tender, savory and earthy, this is one dish from Tammy Wong, the chef/owner of Minneapolis’ legendary Rainbow Chinese.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Turnip Cake at Rainbow's Le Chine pop-up

Last weekend, two powerhouse women of the food world teamed up to host the pop-up Le Chine, which melded both of their talents into an immersive evening.

Held in the new upstairs private event space inside Rainbow Chinese on Eat Street, the dinner was hosted by chef/owner Tammy Wong and Jamie Malone of Paris Dining Club. Inspired by 1920s Shanghai, the room was filled with music of the era and decorated with fresh flowers and framed vintage posters. "I've had those for 20 years and just hung them today," Wong said as she walked through the open room.

The menu blended dishes from Malone's classic French elegance with the well of Wong's Chinese knowledge and passion for farm-fresh produce, resulting in a meal that ranged from a delicate, savory foie gras mousse served inside hollowed-out eggs to a five-spice duck that took Wong more than three days to prepare. It was an absolute delight.

But the dish we marveled at the most was the humble turnip cake. It shone like a decorated jewel beneath shreds of green onion; the earthy flavor so delicate, the texture so refined. Often served on dim sum menus, Wong said she has prepared a version for her special Chinese New Year menus.

It was also fun to be back inside Rainbow. The 36-year-old restaurant was closed for indoor dining throughout the pandemic, and finally reopened this summer. Being back felt like reconnecting with a much-missed friend.

For other turnip cake fans, there is a version on Rainbow's current menu, and Wong and Malone have said they had so much fun at the party that they might just team up again. We can only hope. (J.S.)

2739 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.,

Buttermilk biscuit at Silver Fern in Minneapolis.
Buttermilk biscuit at Silver Fern in Minneapolis.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Buttermilk biscuit at Silver Fern

Australia-inspired eateries might be having a moment, at least in northeast Minneapolis. First, Zhora Darling opened with a menu written by the team behind a Brooklyn-based Australian restaurant.

A few blocks away, we now have Silver Fern, a day-to-night coffee shop and wine bar that purports to be modeled on cafe culture in Australia and New Zealand. But as a Minneapolis cafe, Silver Fern feels right at home.

I stopped in for coffee this week, and was immediately charmed by the space — a bright, window-lined front room; a smooth banquette booth, fire pit and planters of trailing ivy; and a cozier section with a bar and a lush plant wall. You could see how the transition might go from sunny morning coffee and pastries to moody evening sips with a charcuterie board, once the evening wine program fully launches.

Till then, you'll want to get there in the morning for seasonal lattes and house-baked pastries, croissants and cookies, some even vegan. I was smitten with this infinity-layered Southern-style buttermilk biscuit ($6), served warm and smeared with cinnamon butter. There's also an exceptional breakfast sandwich ($11), with an egg soufflé and some nice greens on fresh focaccia. Can't wait to go back for lunch, happy hour and all the rest. (S.J.)

114 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls.,