The 12 Best Things We Ate in 2021

What do you do when you’re a foodie, and it’s time to look back on the year?

The usual New Year’s weight loss resolutions don’t exactly apply in our line of work…

So instead, we’re looking back on a year’s worth of eating by honoring the very best dishes we tasted all year. Those rare bites that left our minds completely blown on the first taste, and still have us dreaming about them nearly a year later.

Note: We’re going to number these out for ease of reading, but they’re not in any particular particular order. (This is a topic with intense personal opinions… it’d probably lead to a World War III among our staff if we actually had to agree on a #1 favorite.)

1. The Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich at Lake & Irving

buttermilk fried chicken sandwich lake and irving

In our brainstorming session for this article, this was the first bite that came to Lily’s mind.

As we wrote in our full Lake & Irving review:

This chicken comes out perfectly crispy, and then they double down on the crunch with the unique choice of a thin and crispy sourdough bun. The whole thing is then wrapped in perfectly cooked bacon, plenty of melted cheese, and a mayo-sauce that brings the tiniest hint of spice from a delicate amount of sriracha.

It’s one of the most unique sandwiches around. I loved it, and Lily loved it even more – one bite in and she re-confirmed it as one of her absolute favorites in the entire metro.  -Sean, DiscoverTheCities.com

Lily would like to add that she stands by her claim in that article. The rest of the staff would like to tell Lily that’s probably not needed, since she still hasn’t stopped talking about this sandwich since that trip.

2. The Shrimp Rolls at Khaluna

khaluna shrimp rolls
We’ll just let Sean’s first impressions from our full Khaluna review do the explaining:

Wow… I ate that shrimp roll and immediately ate all my concerns about this place.

These shrimp rolls were incredible. Whoever had the idea to fry them in an eggroll exterior, then wrap the whole thing in a spring roll wrap is a total genius.

You end up getting both an eggroll and a spring roll in one bite. It even comes with a spoon for drizzling the incredible sauce… just incredible.  -Sean, DiscoverTheCities.com

3. The Fried Chicken Steamed Buns at Tongue in Cheek

fried chicken steamed bun tongue in cheek

At this point, it’s no secret that the entire DTC team is filled with Tongue in Cheek fanboys and girls.

So despite all this praise, you can imagine our shock when our most recent visit had us discovering what might be our new most favorite item on the menu: The Fried Chicken Steamed Buns.

This is a masterpiece of perfect fried chicken that’s drizzled with spicy jam and then wrapped in softest steamed buns you’ve ever had. Truly amazing.

4. Mushroom Toast from Holman’s Table

mushroom toast

Sean says that if you put a gun to his head and made him choose, this might be his overall favorite bite of the year. 

That’s probably reflected in his subdued description from the full review:


Wow. Just wow.

Lily and I were both blown away by this seemingly simple dish.

It’s basically a thick chunk of toasted bread topped with mushrooms and cheese, then taken to the next level with a subtle walnut sauce and a seriously flavorful balsamic reduction and “red onion marmalade” – which is basically a jam made out of caramelized onions.

We both agreed it was one of the best appetizers we’ve had, anywhere, in a while.  -Sean, DiscoverTheCities.com

5. Shrimp Toast at Hai Hai

hai hai shrimp toast

You know this one was amazing, because we accidentally ate half of it before we remembered to do our jobs and take a photo.


6. Cavatelli at Martina

martina cavatelli

Martina’s ultra-unique pasta with curry flavors stole all of our hearts.

As Lily wrote in our Martina review:

Wow, this was the surprise pasta of the night.

Put simply, I’d never experienced a pasta quite like this. Buried underneath that mountain of shredded cheese sat a surprise layer of sauce that almost seemed… curry-like?

It was like someone took a traditional Italian pasta, infused it with with a surprisingly spicy latin kick, and then sent it off to blow people’s minds.

I absolutely loved this dish, and it single-handedly cemented Martina as a pasta heavy-weight in the Twin Cities food scene for me. – Lily, DiscoverTheCities.com

7. The Rosemary Bagel at Rise Bagel

rise bagels rosemary

Sometimes, it’s the simple bites that are the most impressive.

That’s the case with the rosemary bagel at Rise Bagel Company in Minneapolis. It’s nothing fancy, but throw some rosemary honey schmear on this one, and you’ve got our favorite bagel of the year.

8. The Burrata at Step Chld

step child burrata

Lily’s a sucker for burrata, and after our Step Chld visit, she’s happy to crown their unique take as maybe her favorite burrata dish in the Twin Cities right now.

As an appetizer, the burrata perfectly sums up the unique approach Step Chld is taking to their menu. Forget serving burrata with its traditional bread or toast, Step Chld remixes theirs with grilled chapati (Indian flat bread).  This surprising combination is exactly the sort of tastebud twist Step Chld promised.

And if that wasn’t enough, they also top it with the unusal choice of za’tar seasoning and pickled plum.

And somehow, it all just works. Brilliantly.  -Sean, DiscoverTheCities.com

9. Lemaconi Alla Norcina at Osteria I Nonni

osteria i nonni review

The new I Nonni is still a somewhat under-the-radar Italian restaurant in St. Paul. We doubt it will stay that way for long though, at least if they keep churning out pastas this amazing.

Their Lamaconi Alla Norcini was a seasonal take meant to highlight freshly imported Italian black truffles, and we’re already counting down the days until its back on the menu.

And yes, this was the pasta that had us immediately updating our list of best Italian restaurants in St. Paul after the meal.

(Check out our full Osteria I Nonni review here.)

10. Pillow Pancakes at Hope Breakfast Bar

They’re just pancakes right?


Hope Breakfast Bar takes their pancakes to a place we didn’t even realize pancakes could go. First, they give you plenty of cinnamon sugar butter to make some already soft pancakes even more pillow like. But then, and here’s where things get interesting, they drown the whole plate in their cream cheese maple syrup!

The result? Sean described it as every bite tasting like the best middle piece of a cinnamon roll.

11. The Wedge Salad at Petite Leon

wedge salad

If you’re a wedge salad fan, Lily will welcome you into her club. And then, she’ll send you to Petite Leon, who she’s decided serves the best wedge salad in town.

Read our full review here.

12. The Arancini at The Bungalow Club

arancini appetizer

I think we’re cheating by including these in this year’s list, since we technically first ate them in 2020.

But when you’ve got one of the best appetizers in the entire cities, you deserve to bend the rules a little.

We said before that these fried rice balls were absolute perfection, and a few years later, we still couldn’t agree more. Read more in our full Bungalow club review.

Here’s to more delicious bites in 2022!

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