Top 5 things our food writers ate in the Twin Cities this week

Ajello shrimp at Estelle

Sometimes a restaurant lands in a corner of the world embracing it like a supernova, gathering enthusiasm and heat before turning into a reputation that is impossible to maintain. Other times it is a quiet place, a small place that serves its neighbors so well that it is able to settle into a long life of growth and milestones with the people who love it.

One of Estelle’s big charms is in the Mac Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul is that it’s both – the type or restaurant that attracts chefs and other foodies with excitement, but also reflects their cool and cool stature. The much-anticipated restaurant of Peter Sebastian and Chef Jason Hansen has grown into the kind of place that always seems to occupy a whisper of ‘Are you back? We the love Estelle”.

Understood, as there is a lot to love on the menu. My favorite way to enjoy it is to order a bottle of rosé and opt for a parade of snacks like shrimp ajello ($17). A touch of Spanish tapas, plump oysters dressed in a creamy, smoky sweet chili sauce with a bit of garlic. Garnished with bright herbs – dill and cilantro – served alongside toasted baguette slices to soak up all the sauce. It’s a delicious snack. (Joey Summers)

1806 Saint Clair Street, Saint Paul, 651-330-9648,

Sol Lao Crispy Pork Belly and Garlic Noodles

This was one of the best types. Muddy Paws, the old St. Louis Park bakery for creative and subtle flavors of cheesecake, hosts a food truck and live music in the parking lot every Thursday through mid-October. Last week, the pick was Soul Lao, and to be completely transparent, a photo on social media attracted me to this garlic pasta ($16). Whoever says that Instagram does not portray reality is wrong: this dish was as delicious as it looks.

Infused with a slightly sweet, rich umami garlic sauce, and topped with chunks of crunchy pork spread like a deck of playing cards, this pasta is going to my hall of fame. I made a wise move and ordered the entire menu. The Coconut Crunchy Naim Khao Rice ($18) and Tongue Fryer Wings ($15) round out the offerings, and I’ve thought about them almost as much as I think of those divine noodles.

Bonus: If you happen to find Soul Lao in Muddy Paws (3359 Gorham Av., St. waiting for your pasta. They’re hauling a few of their inventive flavors (butterfinger, pink lemonade) from a trailer in their land. (Sharen Jackson)

Follow Soul Lao on Instagram or Facebook for locations, or search for a calendar at

Spicy Chacho Ramen in Oishi

Never a bad time for ramen. It warms on cold days, strangely refreshes on warm days and calms the soul any day. But if your only experience with ramen was the four-to-dollar bricks that fed you through college, stick with it. Times have changed.

Illustration A: Oishii, a casual Japanese restaurant on the Savage Strip Shopping Center quietly entered the scene less than two years ago. Unassuming on the outside but vibrant on the inside, the little restaurant offers big flavours. I’m a real Minnesota, before committing to a spicy ramen, I asked how spicy it was. “You can handle it,” our server said. I can do it. The seasoning broth was bolder than the “Minnesota condiment” but certainly not fiery, as the seasoning broth was packed with all the necessary things, including noodles, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, scallions, fish cake, seaweed, chili sauce, and half a properly cooked egg in soy sauce. Topped with shacho (slow braised pork belly), it was an amazing feast for the senses ($14.95). There are many, many other possibilities for ramen and hard ramen eaters can also build themselves, choosing everything from broth and noodle type to protein and add-ins. Vegetarians are also included.

Not sure about ramen? There are plenty of options: fried noodles, a handful of donburi (rice bowls), fried rice, teriyaki, and a whole host of appetizers. They are all worth trying – after the ramen. (Nicole Hevedstein)

7711 Egan Drive, Savage, 952-855-1004,

Lobster rolls at St Paul’s Cheese Store

The first time I went to Portland, Maine, what surprised me was how familiar I felt about the city. I turned on the boulder-covered beach to look down at the gigantic hill beside me, then into the expanse of cool blue water. Among the nice (but kind) locals and the lighthouse tour, it was closer to my adopted hometown of Duluth. Well, except that there is a real sea in Portland and in it all the oceans that Maine is famous for. I spent the entire weekend stuffing myself with lobster rolls.

Back in St. Paul, there aren’t nearly many opportunities to enjoy plenty of fat from the delicious sweet lobster meat, with a bit of mayonnaise, lemon juice, and a pinch of celery for a crunch. Then I noticed that the painting was outside the St. Paul Cheese Shop makes a real lobster roll ($20).

The Skinny Cheese Shop is known for its great sandwiches, which often feature Red Table Meat, which take advantage of the myriad of mundane cheeses available and their proximity to Breadsmith. I wasn’t expecting a cheeseless sandwich to capture my heart, but this was the newest Maine bite I’ve had in some time.

They are dressed in large chunks of lobster and served on a freshly buttered, grilled hot dog from the nearby bakery. It’s not a giant sandwich, and the price might suggest it’s to share ($20). But if you choose to share, you’ll be looking forward to your buddy in every bite, so let’s call it a one-on-one serving.

But the sandwich is not in regular rotation. Best to call ahead for availability or keep an eye out for this sign. (Joey Summers)

1573 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-698-3391,

Giant Bavarian Pastries in the Shipping House

On the 10 best days of the weather, a family dinner on a waterside patio was tidy. But my first attempt, at the newly reopened and reimagined Dock Cafe, now Dock, in Stillwater, was a two hour wait. And rightly so; People lost this yard for two years! But after 45 minutes, we collapsed and headed through the parking lot to Freight House, which was sitting right at umbrellas shaded picnic tables on a sprawling deck. With two hungry kids, I needed an appetizer ASAP, and I ordered the giant soft biscuit in a hurry. Good movement.

Massive and hot, with two cans of Pepper Jack cheese sauce for dipping, this whimsical start to a much-anticipated dinner that’s been saved for the night. It’s $19, but it can easily serve six people. The leftovers, which came home in a pizza box, made a great biscuit cake for sandwiches the next day.

The Freight House, in one of the charming riverside buildings in Stillwater, was handed over for the rest of our spontaneous meal as well. Cod dipped in aromatic Alaskan beer mix ($21) and a plentiful Southwestern salad with Chipotle chicken ($17) were the highlights. My FOMO has eased into the dock for now. Summer is only half over, with more patio nights ahead. (SJ)

305 Water Street, Stillwater, 651-439-5718,

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