The 5 best things we ate in the Twin Cities area


Nopales taco at Centro

My very first bite at Centro, when it was a new taco stand in an industrial corner of Northeast, was the nopales taco ($4.50). It was love at first, succulent crunch. When I stepped into the bustling new location in Highland Park, I knew it had to be my first order.

Centro has gone from a taco spot that was the secondary half of Minneapolis’ finest Mexican dining (Popol Vuh) to a burgeoning local chain under the guidance of owner Jami Olson. The menu, created and overseen by chef José Alarcón, mixes what Minnesotans might expect from a taco restaurant with flavors he picked up while traveling the Mexican countryside. One of those flavors was the peanut and black sesame salsa that accompanies the nopales tacos — and it’s fantastic.

Nopales are soft and luscious cactus paddles that have been scraped and stewed, and the silken texture is irresistible when wrapped in a corn tortilla. Topped with the dried chili flavor and satisfying crunch of peanut and sesame seeds, it’s a win.

Centro’s St. Paul location brings in familiar favorites from the restaurant company. There’s a lively sidewalk patio, doors that swing open to let the outside in, margaritas by the pitcher, local art that looks like a giant floral cross-stitch, and fast-casual ordering with a QR code on the tables. There’s little interaction with staff, other than someone depositing food on the table, and I don’t think I opened my mouth other than to take a bite.

Still, the Sunday morning was bubbling with new-restaurant energy, and it’s an exciting addition to the Cleveland Avenue/Ford Parkway area. (Joy Summers)

750 Cleveland Av., St. Paul, 612-489-5558, centrompls.com

The Rudytini at Rudy’s Redeye Grill

When the big type on the menu says, “Ask your server about our famous Rudytini,” how could you not?

We did, and we were in luck. It was a Tuesday, and the special was $5 off the signature drink at Rudy’s Redeye Grill. That dropped the price to $13, which might be the best cocktail bargain around. Made with raspberry vodka and cranberry, pineapple and lime juices, the Rudytini is fruity, but not sweet; strong, but not disabling. It’s served in martini glasses holding handfuls of frozen raspberries and with a shooter of Champagne for you to add a splash of sparkle. After pouring two drinks, the shaker still had enough for two more pours — and then some. That’s the polite way of saying you should definitely share.

You should also definitely eat. We started with the sizable duck bacon wontons ($16), filled with cream cheese and duck bacon and alongside was an oddly addicting dipping sauce (sour cream and orange marmalade). But the winning entree was another special — blackened walleye ($22). The spicy rub didn’t overwhelm the walleye as it often can, and with two large fillets and the two sides that accompany it, we could have easily shared. Instead, we had a top-notch lunch the next day.

The steakhouse, right off Hwy. 61, was plenty busy on this chilly weeknight. Next time, I’ll want to be sipping my Rudytini on the stellar rooftop patio. (Nicole Hvidsten)

4940 Hwy. 61 N., White Bear Lake, 651-653-6718, rudysredeye.com

‘Sexy’ ahi burger at Sea Salt

It took until May, but finally, eating outside is back as one of Minnesotans’ spring joys. The first place I think of as patio season emerges is the iconic terrace adjacent to Minnehaha Falls, where Sea Salt continues to uphold the ideal of waterside dining in the Twin Cities.

Of course, more seasonal spots are coming out of hibernation. Lake Harriet’s Bread & Pickle, always a favorite during a free band shell concert, reopened this week for the season. The Painted Turtle, which is replacing Sandcastle at Lake Nokomis, opens in June. The rebuilding of the pavilion set to house Pimento at Bde Maka Ska is still under construction. And Dock and Paddle, in Como Park’s lovely lakeside pavilion, is open weekends.

But back to Sea Salt. While it can be busy any day, weekday lunch is your best bet for a short line, a quicker (but not particularly fast) wait for food, and a chance to snag a table facing the falls without having to hover over someone’s last few bites.

This “sexy” ahi burger ($20) was just the thing to kick off the first of many Sea Salt lunches: a thick slab of cooked-to-medium tuna on a toasted bun with horseradish mayo and a griddled red onion.

Also of note: The menu — even the daily specials — doesn’t change much here year to year, but after being staunchly anti-French fries over its long history, Sea Salt finally relented last year by adding a basket of beer-battered fries to the menu ($9). They were worth the wait. (Sharyn Jackson)

4825 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-721-8990, seasaltmpls.com

Breakfast burrito and mazapan latte at Cajeta

It’s been two weeks since peanut butter and hot coffee exploded all over me. As I dripped, I marveled at the lengths I’m willing to go to in my quest to enjoy peanut butter in new ways. (Important science lesson: Shaking hot things in a sealed jar will create a buildup of pressure. I just wanted a peanut butter coffee drink.)

Fast forward a few days, and I found the flavor I attempted (and failed) to capture at the new Cajeta in downtown White Bear Lake. Plus, there was an epic breakfast burrito.

In addition to the usual lineup of coffee drinks, there’s a cajeta-sweetened latte (like caramel, but better), and one sweetened with mazapan ($5.95), a candy made from compressed peanut butter and powdered sugar that’s luscious in a latte.

As owner Juan Miguel Hernandez expertly prepared the rich and creamy coffee sensation, his mother-in-law, Catalina Bahena, cooked up savory dishes in the back, including this day-brightener of a breakfast burrito ($8). Soft but set eggs, plenty of cheese and juicy chorizo are piled into a flour tortilla and rolled up cozy. It was a hearty meal that lasted me all day.

There also were all kinds of bakery treats, like conchitas and gluten-free banana bread, that I’ll have to try when I’m back for my next mazapan latte fix. (J.S.)

Cajeta, 2179 4th St., White Bear Lake. Follow them on Facebook.

BiBimBap bowl at Duluth Grill

Of all the times I’ve been to Duluth, I never tire of that first view of the lake. But with a daughter who went to school and lived there for several years, my visits were often utilitarian and rushed. On our most recent stop (another college visit), we had time to take a breath. I could finally get to the daytime-only Duluth Grill, a place the Food Network’s Guy Fieri has been to more than I have.

And there’s so much to love: the charming staff, the local art, the sprawling menu that appeases nearly every type of eater, and the restaurant’s use of local, organic food — some even grown on site.

I took my ordering cue from Fieri, who sang the praises of the BiBimBap bowl ($19.50). Purists should have an open mind; it’s a northern Minnesota spin on the classic Korean dish. The base is local wild rice and it’s topped with seasoned ground pork and beef, marinated kale, pickled chiles, pickled onions, house-made (Minnesota spicy) kimchi, mushrooms and avocado. A sunny-side-up egg (with a drizzle of soyoli) adds an exclamation point. It’s fresh yet filling, with an abundance of flavors and textures. But it all works. Magnificently. (Industrious cooks can find the recipe here.)

Owner Tom Hanson is also about to open Burger Paradox nearby. A recent Instagram post featuring a burger-dumpling-wonton collab already has us planning our next trip. This time we’ll get there before Fieri does. (N.H.)

118 S. 27th Av. W., Duluth, 218-726-1150, duluthgrill.com

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