Andrew Zimmern’s top 3 local food adventures

MECCA BOS | Updated 7/15/2013

Zimmern dishes on the most adventurous Twin Cities food spots.

The Hmong Village Market in St. Paul offers these sausage sold at Grace Diner.
Photo by Marlin Levison

1. “I think people drive too quickly down E. Lake Street,” says Zimmern. “There are any number of little mom-and-pop shops that I like stopping into for some tacos or menudo. It’s not just about the Midtown Global Market, which is also great, but might be a bit sanitized in some cases. For instance, Pupusería El Rincón Salvadoreño in Mercado Central (1515 E. Lake St., 612-528-5401) for pupusas and fresh blue corn tortillas. As for the Midtown Global Market (920 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.midtownglobalmarket.org), look for great fried chicken and short-rib poutine with kimchee and a fried egg at the Left Handed Cook. And at Salty Tart, custard-filled brioche doughnuts are my new obsession.”

2.Hmongtown Marketplace and Hmong Village in St. Paul. I’d put that experience against any other — even nationally. The Hmong sausage seasoned with lemongrass is one of the best sausages in the Twin Cities — it can stand up to anything from Victory 44 or Butcher & the Boar. It’s rustic, but not lazy. You can not only buy veggies and herbs, but you can even buy fruit trees or lemongrass to plant. I went into [Hmong­town] and bought a bundle of seven or eight Southeast Asian herbs, and the lady who was handling them said they were good for making beef shin soup. So, if these herbs are tied together, ask what they are for. I braised them with some beef, veggies and water, and it was incredible.” (Hmongtown: 217 Como Av., St. Paul, 651-487-3700. Hmong Village: 1001 Johnson Pkwy., St. Paul, 612- 872-4041.)

3. At food writer Thomas Keller’s recent book signing at La Belle Vie (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-874-6440), Zimmern says that Keller leaned over while the two were “snitching food off plates in the kitchen” and commented: “This is just one of the most incredible restaurants in the country.” Zimmern concurs. “Tim McKee’s kitchen is the best restaurant in the five-to-seven-state region. And it is so amazing how they have quietly accomplished this. So this would be another kind of adventure — to experience what I think is a very special moment happening over there right now. [Chef de cuisine] Mike DeCamp, [pastry chef] Diane Yang, [bar manager] Johnny Michaels and [sommelier] Bill Summerville — it’s like the band is all together. Go check them out. Have a couple plates in the lounge. It’s creative and brilliant.”