#1 Meal at Cora’s Best Chicken Wings

James Norton / Heavy Table

For five dollars at Cora’s on Payne Avenue, you can buy a #1 Meal consisting of three fried chicken wings, an egg roll, a pile of fried rice and … wait for it … an entire can of Coke or one of the off-brand sodas stocked in the cooler. You may have to ask for the beverage, and they’ll give it to you begrudgingly. But it’s right up there on the menu. Know your rights.

The atmosphere in Cora’s consists of scuffed-up tiles, signs pitching bulk-rate catering deals, a well-loved rubber mat, and a cash register set so far back from the main counter as to be nearly invisible. Aluminum chafing dishes hold the most recently made wings, and service is relaxed. You can read a religious pamphlet about the evils of pornography while you wait, but you’ll have to stand while you do it.

James Norton / Heavy Table

But back to the meal. If you value the soda at about $1.50 — which seems to be the going rate in most shops — you’re paying $3.50 for three wings, an egg roll, and a pile of fried rice. At this price, you’d expect excruciatingly inedible food, and it would still be a fair value.

But no. The egg roll is tiny, roughly cigarillo-sized, and stuffed with nothing but seasoned cabbage. You get the sense that it’s the absolute minimum a restaurant can provide while still meeting the federal government’s definition of “egg roll.” And yet — it’s not bad. Truly crisp. Simply seasoned, but properly so. A good wrapper-to-filling ratio. It’s enjoyable, and it goes down in about three dainty bites.

The fried rice comes with enough garlic and salt to stop and then pickle a vampiric Lhasa Apso, but it doesn’t veer into the realm of the inedible. It’s simple, it’s comforting, it’s basically just rice with a couple of token bits of peas and corn, but it’s food. Another win.

And then the pièce de résistance, three fried chicken wings for what must be about $2, in terms of how this meal prices out. We got ours spicy, and they really were. There was a pleasant heat that lingered on and on, the heat-to-sweet ratio was good, and the wings were distinctly and pleasantly crunchy. These aren’t gourmet wings, and maybe you don’t want to drive in from South Minneapolis to eat them. But they’re done with a lot more care and seriousness than wings we’ve had in many other casual restaurants.

We don’t pretend to understand the economics at work in the #1 Meal at Cora’s, but we’re pleased with the result.

Cora’s Best Chicken Wings, 1143 Payne Ave, St. Paul, Minnesota; 651.776.0020

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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