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The 10 best things I ate this year

From savory-sweet gnocchi to guava-laced ice cream, it’s been a tasty year.

Unlike its uncertainty-filled predecessor, 2021 was a year marked by burgeoning optimism. Many Minneapolis residents rolled up their sleeves to get a shot, were able to gather freely with the people they loved for the first time in months and were allowed to return to one of life’s greatest pleasures: in-person dining. While some beloved businesses closed their doors, a handful of new ones opened theirs over the course of the year. 

As 2021 comes to a close, I present to you — in no particular order — the best things I ate in the Twin Cities this year. 

1. Gnocchi with cauliflower and orange, $25 – Bar La Grassa (800 Washington Ave. N., Mpls.)


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After its pandemic-induced closure, chef Isaac Becker and Nancy St Pierre’s Italian joint reopened its doors in June — excellent news for those of us eager to once again experience the pleasure of their housemade pastas. The pillowy, caramelized gnocchi shines in a light cream sauce, intermixed with bits of cauliflower and topped with fragrant orange zest. It’s tender and rich, the kind of dish that leaves you dreaming of the next time you’ll have a taste.

2. Zoo Siab Meal with Hmong Sausage, $17 – Union Hmong Kitchen (520 North 4th Street, Mpls.)

Chef Yia Vang’s pop-up restaurant, newly opened at Graze Provisions + Libations, offers a variety of his signature narrative-centered dishes, each working to tell a story of their own. The Zoo Siab Meals are no exception to this concept, letting traditional Hmong flavors shine through in each component. The Krunchy Chile Oil complements the coarsely ground, flavorful sausage link. The crispy brussel sprouts are rich enough to offset the tang of the pickled vegetables and the purple sticky rice is the element that pulls it all together.

3. Tomato Mozz Arancini, $4 – un dito (4728 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls.)


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A creamy blend of arborio rice, smoked mozzarella and basil come packaged in a crispy exterior. Like much of the southern-Italian street food-inspired menu, the arancini wows as a small plate. I’d extend an honorable mention to the Gnocco Fritto, a set of chewy focaccia dumplings best enjoyed alongside a serving of cacio e pepe sauce.

4. Sticky Toffee Cake, $8 – Red Rabbit (201 Washington Ave N., Mpls.)


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The best thing on the menu at Red Rabbit is this sticky toffee cake, and I stand by that. Between the soured whipped cream, indulgent caramel sauce and candied orange garnish, it’s an unexpected delight.

5. Ham and cheese croissant, $4.95 – Bellecour at Cooks of Crocus Hill St. Paul (877 Grand Avenue, St. Paul)

Perfectly flaky and just the right amount of cheesy, this pastry is an ideal grab for breakfast or lunch.

6. Romeu e Julieta ice cream, $5.50 – Bebe Zito (501 30th Ave SE, Mpls.)

Declared Minnesota’s best ice cream by Food & Wine over the summer, Bebe Zito truly is as good as they come. Guava ripple weaves through a rich cream cheese base in this dish, topped with a sweet guava sauce and dusted with Ritz crackers.

7. Shredder, $20  – Wrecktangle Pizza (729 Washington Ave N, Mpls.)

This midwestern take on Detroit-style pizza is rectangular with a thick crust that succeeds in being just light enough to throw down a few more slices than you think you can. Topped with a generous helping of salty pepperoni, dotted with pickled jalapenos, sprinkled with finely shredded pecorino romano, all atop a red sauce base — the real kicker here is the whipped Cry Baby Craig’s honey.

8. Raffi Luigi, $15 – Marty’s Deli (Location Varies)


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If you haven’t made your way to a Marty’s Deli pop-up yet, I’d advise you to change that immediately. This gem features a thick stack of red table salami and prosciutto alongside marinated sweet peppers, fennel slaw and a spicy mustard aioli, all nestled between two pillowy slices of house made focaccia.

9. Parlour Burger, $15.99 – Parlour Bar (730 Washington Ave N., Mpls.)


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The beauty of this burger lies in its simplicity. The charred patties, a mix of ground chuck, ribeye and brisket are just the right amount of thin. Melty white american cheese oozes out of the soft egg bun and crisp pickles finish it off.

10. Star Bar, $6 – Estelle (1806 St. Clair Ave, St. Paul)


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Maple-coffee nougat, peanuts and caramel come together in this delicious candy bar, finished with a sprinkle of flaky salt. It’s a decadent conclusion to the end of any meal at the Portuguese, Italian and Spanish-inspired spot in St. Paul.

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