Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Baklava at Pita King
Based on a reader tip, we picked up the baklava at Pita King on Franklin. It joins our trinity of favorites along with Filfillah and Gyropolis. Super crispy layers, wonderful walnut-y body, just the right intensity of sweetness.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]
Red Wagon Pizza at Red Wagon Pizza
Red Wagon Pizza’s self-titled pie is absolutely perfect. Salty soppressata; meaty sausage chunks; briny pickled pepper; thin, crispy, and sturdy crust; a trace amount of sweet balsamic glaze — all in symphonic balance with one another. There’s a ton of interesting other pizzas on the menu so bring enough people to try a couple of those (they do splits), but it would be regrettable to skip this one.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]
Aguachile at Octo Fishbar
The marlin in this cevichelike dish was exquisitely fresh and flavorful, and with just a dip in the bright citrus vinaigrette, it was in no danger of being “overcooked.” Charred habanero provided sultry heat, while bits of cucumber and avocado slices kept things cool. It was a delicious summer dish made all the more welcome in the dead of a landlocked winter.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Joshua Page]
Noodle Salad with Egg Rolls at iPho by Saigon
Complex-yet-balanced flavor profiles are the hallmark of much Southeast Asian cuisine, and the bun (noodle salad) with egg rolls and pork at iPho by Saigon is no exception: It’s a mix of salty, crunchy, chewy, earthy, bright, and — as you burrow through the layers of pork bits and noodles and hit the lettuce that supports the strata above — remarkably refreshing. iPho’s our go-to for lunch, and every time we branch out (as we did with this dish), we’re rewarded with a new twist on a beloved formula.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #3 | Submitted by James Norton]
Tacos at La Alborada
We tried three tacos at La Alborada on East Lake Street — cabeza (beef head), longaniza (spicy sausage), and asada (steak). The asada was exemplary, packing an incredible amount of umami-rich, steaky punch into each tender little cube of meat. The cabeza was mellower than the asada, and richer, with a streak of fatty intensity to it. We’d expected the longaniza to be a one-for-one with chorizo, but it was more complicated than that. There was a cinnamonlike spicy depth that was both surprising and enjoyable. All the accoutrements (hot sauces, lime slices, grilled onions) were right, and the tacos rank among the most enjoyable we’ve tried. And we’ve tried … a lot of tacos.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from an Instagram post previewing a future East Lake Checklist by James Norton]
We fell in love with aguachile at Mexico City’s Contramar (above). Layers of thinly sliced fresh fish, red onion, cucumber, chile, cilantro, and lime juice: What’s not to love? Yes, it’s similar to ceviche, but it isn’t marinated as long and typically packs a more serious chile-hot punch.
So it was love (and appetite) that made us book a table at Octo Fishbar, Chef Tim McKee’s newish restaurant in Saint Paul’s Lowertown: Its menu promised of Marlin Aguachile ($12, below). And McKee delivered, hitting all the right notes. The marlin was exquisitely fresh and flavorful, and with just a dip in the bright citrus vinaigrette, it was in no danger of being “overcooked.” Charred habanero provided sultry heat, while bits of cucumber and avocado slices kept things cool. It was a delicious summer dish made all the more welcome in the dead of a landlocked winter.
Though we thoroughly enjoyed Octo’s aguachile, we wanted more — literally. It was basically an amuse-bouche for two. And it’s not just that there wasn’t enough of the good stuff; we understand (at least assume) that sashimi-grade marlin is expensive. A couple of extra pieces of marlin, and a few more slices of cucumber, onion, and avocado would have brought it closer to our ideal: the totally satisfying layers of ingredients and flavors that we’d first fallen for in Mexico. We’d happily pay a few more bucks for a plate of our beloved aquachile.
Octo Fishbar, 289 5th St E, St. Paul; 651.202.3409
About six months ago, a spate of rolled ice cream shops opened up to loud — if temporary — hubbub. And despite having a real curiosity about what they were doing, we managed to forget about their existence entirely until tripping over one of them last week. Sota Hot and Cold specializes in hot coffee and cold rolled ice cream, and it’s based in the front room of the former Mai Village space on University Avenue in St. Paul, which it shares with the dim sum-focused Tapestry Restaurant.
We tried the mango plus sweetened condensed milk Mango Bango ($6), splitting the difference between the more austere fruit-forward menu items and the more classically indulgent chocolate-and-candy ones.
Watching the creation is a large part of the appeal of Thai rolled ice cream. An ice cream base is dumped onto an extremely cold anti-griddle and moved around until it begins to freeze. It’s then flattened into a thin rectangle, which is scraped up into rolls of ice cream that are dropped into a cardboard bucket and topped. In the case of the Mango Bango, that means fresh mango chunks and whipped cream.
The ice cream is colder, stiffer, and seemingly creamier than what we’re used to, and if you cut across the rolls horizontally (as opposed to smooshing them flat) you preserve the delightfully light and delicate layers. One Mango Bango was a satisfying dessert for four people searching for a positive conclusion to a mostly baffling meal next door, and it redeemed the afternoon for us. There’s novelty for novelty’s sake, which is fine but gets old; Sota Hot and Cold, by contrast, is doing something really delicious that should stay pleasing for a long time to come.
Sota Hot and Cold, 394 University Ave W, St. Paul (no phone)
This week in The Tap: The North Coast Nosh is on the way, and a look ahead at upcoming restaurants in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Purveyors at the North Coast Nosh
We’ve been hosting North Coast Nosh sip-and-samples for the past seven years, and while the purveyors change constantly, the values of the event stay the same: locally made artisan food and drink, sampled generously, and the time (and elbow room) needed for real conversations between guests and vendors.
Our upcoming North Coast Nosh (March 29 at the Food Building) features many old friends, but there will be some new faces in the mix as well, including:
Utepils Brewing, one of the biggest and most exciting breweries to open in recent years
St. Croix Chocolate Company, long one of our favorite local makers of artisan chocolates
- Holman’s Table, 644 Bayfield St, St. Paul | A restaurant at the St. Paul Airport.
- Sweet Chow, 116 1st Ave N, Minneapolis | Counter-service pho and veggie-friendly fare.
- just/us, 465 Wabasha St N, St. Paul | An ambitious looking new spot in the suddenly closed Red Lantern space.
- Biergarten Germania, 275 E Fourth Street, St. Paul | Schnitzel, pretzels, brats, and other German standards, plus beer.
- Fig + Farro, 3001 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis | Vegetarian food in the semi-cursed former Figlio’s space.
- Sound, 132 E Superior St, Duluth | An ambitious new spot by Chef Patrick Moore (above), formerly of Silos at Pier B.
- Hodges Bend, 2700 University Ave W, St. Paul | Coffee, wine, and cocktails with a side of food.
- Nye’s Bar, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | A reboot of the legendary Nye’s Polonaise, in a new space at the Nye’s location, renovated and sans food. Our review here.
- Sonder Shaker, 130 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | A new restaurant and cocktail bar sharing the site of the old Nye’s Polonaise.
- Red Sauce Rebellion, 205 Water St, Excelsior | “Approachable yet unexpected” Italian. Our first tastes.
- Venn Brewing, 3550 E 46th St Suite 140, Minneapolis | A changing selection of brews in this taproom near Minnehaha Park.
- Hamburguesas el Gordo, 4157 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis (second location) | Our review of the original location.
- La Mesa, 230 Cedar Lake Road S, Minneapolis | Ecuadoran fare in the former Sparks space.
As tonight’s snow started to fall, so did our interest in food shopping or otherwise procuring our own dinner. But then we thought: Wait, is it OK to send a delivery driver out in this mess to obtain food on our behalf? Are we monsters?
We reached out to Bite Squad‘s vice president of marketing, Craig Key, to get his company’s official take on bad weather-food ordering, and here it is:
“Should customers feel guilty about using Bite Squad in bad weather?
No! I don’t think customers should feel guilty – it’s our goal to serve our customers and bring them just what they want! We do hope they can have a little extra patience on bad weather days, as these can be really complicated from a logistics standpoint.
Is bad weather a good thing for delivery?
In many ways, yes! Especially bad weather that keeps people from going out, but isn’t so bad that it makes conditions unsafe. A little rain or snow is great, a blizzard or a hurricane is more difficult. We see a clear correlation that the worse weather gets, the more demand there is for delivery. In fact, one of the reasons restaurants love us is that we naturally even out the peaks and valleys. When whether is good, most restaurants don’t have a hard time filling their tables. When whether is bad, they still have a full cook-staff on duty, but not a full house. Bite Squad (and other restaurant delivery services) is the perfect balance to solve that problem.
- Do you charge more during bad weather? – No, although some RDS’s may have “surge” pricing or similar, our prices stay the same as long as we can operate. If you’re feeling extra generous, you can always give your driver an extra strong tip (in the app or in person).
- How long should I expect to wait? – On some busy nights we may have wait times over 90 minutes, on bad weather days if it gets any longer than that we may temporarily stop accepting orders until we can get caught up and get our wait times under control.
- Do you close in bad weather? – We try hard not to, but safety is always going to be our top priority so if drivers can’t be out on the road safely, we will have to close.
- Are all options available in bad weather? – Sometimes we will need to shrink the zone slightly to keep our drivers operating in a smaller radius. This avoids sending drivers on long routes w/ more risk of accident or getting stuck away from help.
- Why is my order stuck in “sending to restaurant” mode? – When we are experiencing delays, we will wait to send your order to a restaurant until we know we can get a driver there when it’s hot and fresh. We don’t want your order to sit for 20 minutes before we get there, so we may wait to send it in until we’ve got someone lined up to get it. This may be frustrating as a customer, but ultimately it helps make sure your food is as hot/fresh as possible. “