2012’s best cheap eats

A&E’s favorite new spots are dishing up big grub at tiny prices.

The chicken gyro at the Foxy Falafel on Raymond Avenue in St. Paul.

Ichigo Takikawa

The chicken gyro at the Foxy Falafel on Raymond Avenue in St. Paul.

Lucy Nieboer

It was a good year to be a budget-eater in the Twin Cities. With recession memories sinking into the murky depths of one of our various lakes, Minnesota chefs and restaurateurs dove into business ownership with gusto and creativity.

Some of these new places boast nationally acclaimed chefs and four-star reviews. Others, like the ones mentioned here, keep it simple with delicious food at low prices.

So, let us raise our red plastic cups to a year that gave us a multitude of new casual dining options on which to spend our college student-sized funds.


The Left Handed Cook

Midtown Global Market

920 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis


Choosing a spot to eat a meal at the Midtown Global Market can be overwhelming. Standing between the Mexican breakfast burrito stand, the Swedish bakery and the quintessential burger joint while being rushed by the crowd of people on their weekday lunch break is not an ideal environment for decision-making.

Before ending up with a plate of unwanted food, consider the Left Handed Cook.

The dishes here tie the richness of comfort food and Korean flavors together with a hint of Los Angeles street fare style.

Unlike many of its neighboring stands, the Left Handed Cook lacks flashy photos of its fare and is tucked away in a quiet corner. With decor reminiscent of a dark carnival, this spot offers food as quirky as its sense of style.

Don’t miss: The poutine — these crisp fries, drenched in a mound of thick curry sauce, cheese and topped with a poached egg, are a taste-bud-tantalizing, exotic version of chili cheese fries.


Foxy Falafel

791 Raymond Avenue, St. Paul


2012 may have been the year of the dragon, but here in Minnesota it was the year of the food truck.

With mobile eateries like Smack Shack, Rusty Taco and World Street Kitchen all announcing plans to put down roots this year, it seemed only fitting that one of pioneers of the now booming food truck scene settle into a more permanent home.

That home, tucked onto the quiet Raymond Avenue, is a small and cozy counter-service restaurant with local art on the walls and a homey vibe.

Trained by Israeli-American chef Einat Admony, owner Erica Strait serves up flavorful falafel and several different varieties of meat sandwiches made using local ingredients and a few new twists on the old Middle Eastern favorites.

Don’t miss: The beet or curry falafels. Deep maroon and bright yellow respectively, these crispy nuggets, about as big as a quarter, provide a huge crunch given their small stature. Seasoned delicately, these chickpea-based balls are great on their own but even better with a dash of the smoky harissa sauce.


The Hole Sports Lounge

2501 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis


This year the Leaning Tower of Pizza toppled right over (business-wise at least). In its place stands The Hole.

In the first floor of University Village, its nondescript signage is easy to miss. Like any other sports bar, it has tall tables and multiple screens for viewing that day’s game. But it’s the pub grub that really stands out.

The snacks here open up a whole new world of bar food after the soggy fries, overly salty, unidentifiable fried appetizers and grayish burgers consumed at your typical mediocre watering hole all for the sake of a brew and some sports viewing.

Don’t miss: The specialty burgers. At around $9, these monstrosities are worth the cash. With combinations like Cajun seasoning with blue cheese, prosciutto with mozzarella and Kalamata olives with feta, these toppings are better than anything you could possibly get at Five Guys.