As we wrap up 2017, we’re celebrating 24 of the most memorable and delicious things we tasted over the past 12 months via the Hot Five. We’re running this feature over the course of three days, counting down eight fantastic bites at a time. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
#8: Chamoy Croquette from Travail’s Spotlight Dinner
There were plenty of highlights at this year’s Mexican-inspired feast by Travail Chef Benjamin Feltmann (everything from bold chicken mole to a house-made choco taco dessert to a fried grasshopper), but the most remarkable of all might have been a fried sphere containing brined fruit known as chamoy. Chamoy presents a full arsenal of flavor: sweet, tart, salty, and spicy in equal measure. This croquette was 100 pounds of gusto in a 2-ounce package. Travail may be getting older as an institution, but its ideas stay young and its execution remains strong. [James Norton]
#7: Carne Asada Burrito at Taqueria Victor Hugo
The Carne Asada Fajita Burrito at Taqueria Victor Hugo may be the best burrito I’ve ever eaten. “Best ever” is not something to be tossed around lightly, if at all, but this burrito was the first thing that we tasted on this leg of the crawl, and I could feel myself wrecking my whole evening by going back for exploratory taste after exploratory taste. This is a meat-and-cheese driven burrito, not stuffed with rice or other filler ingredients, although a lettuce and tomato core helped cut the heaviness of the meat and provide a real counterpoint to the salt and fat of the dish. If this (massive) burrito had been any heavier, or any greasier, or any saltier, it would have been too much. But as it was, it was perfect — substantial, comforting, filling, savory, and compelling. [James Norton] Also read: our East Lake Checklist featuring Taqueria Victor Hugo.
#6: Pork Ramen at Meritage
It’s a shame ramen isn’t on the permanent menu at Meritage because this is the best we’ve had around here. This dish, part of the restaurant’s Japan installment in its World Tour series, featured house-made noodles with great al dente texture; a really rich, lovely broth with supreme depth of flavor; tender pork belly; and tenderloin. [James Norton]
#5: Lefse Good Times Roll at the Rabbit Hole at the Minnesota State Fair
It’s a shame that this lefse + cream cheese + marshmallow + almond brittle + roasted pineapple + mint hand roll wasn’t available at the start of the fair, because it might have topped our list of state fair favorites. Between its creamy-chewy texture, the lovely crunch of the brittle, and the brightness of the mint, this is a dessert dish we’ve never tried before, and one we’d like to try again and again due to its perfect balance and the novelty “wow” factor. [James Norton] Also read: Our coverage of the food of the 2017 Minnesota State Fair.
#4: Kinoko Nabe at Kado no Mise
The flavor of the Kinoko Nabe (Mushroom Pot) at Kado no Mise brought me straight back to Japan. The hot clay pot contained a barely sweetened dashi in which young Japanese greens and a variety of mushrooms stewed. A grilled nebrodini mushroom lent its firm texture and smoky flavor, and a poached egg tied it all together. [Jane Rosemarin] Also read: Our review of Kado no Mise.
#3: Wurst Plank at Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery
Some of Minnesota’s best bratwurst (and there are plenty of good ones in this highly Germanic state) are being served at the freshly opened Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery in St. Paul. Both the currywurst and bratwurst boast a fine, even grind, an ideal load of spices and seasoning, and a casing that snaps without being tough or chewy. The Red Table hot dog pictured at the center isn’t too bad, either. The Wurst Plank comes with three sides of your choosing, and the ones we picked (sauerkraut, dumplings, and limestone potatoes) were spot on. [James Norton] Also read: Our review of Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery.
#2: Sambusa from Ibrahim Restaurant
We liked so much about our trip to Ibrahim Restaurant on Lake Street that it’s hard to condense it down to a single experience. The hot sauce alone is worth a column. But we can at least start with the sambusa: a perfect filling-to-crust ratio, a crunchy-yet-chewy exterior, a diverse and deeply spiced filling (spicy but not excessively so). It may be the best in town. At the very least, it’s our favorite. If Waldmann is the epitome of traditional Minnesota German-inspired food, than Ibrahim is the epitome of the East African flavors that are keeping our state diverse and delicious. [James Norton]
#1: Duck a la Presse at Meritage
As we wrote in our story about Meritage’s (extremely) special duck dish, Duck a la Presse isn’t just an entree, it’s an entire complicated, beautiful, and somewhat brutal process that plays out tableside, from duck deconstruction to squeezing to sauce-making. The end product is worth the fuss and expense. It’s one of the richest and most delicious duck dishes we’ve tried. It’s our #1 dish of the year not just because it’s delicious (it is) and not just because it’s a true feast (it is), but because it’s one of our favorite things about long-form, traditional dining: It can be an opportunity to pause, reflect, connect, and enjoy a story told through flavors and stunning visuals. [James Norton] Also read: Our story about Duck a la Presse at Meritage.