” The $5 pork paté I recently had at the Dakota nearly had my head spinning off my shoulders with surprise and joy: A perfect little puck of spicy meat frosted with sweet fat, paired with house pickles and a buttery English muffin. It was the finest of fine dining—for the price of a Big Mac. I had it with a $5 Prairie organic cucumber lemonade: Refreshing! And it made me remember: What’s the most underrated restaurant in Minnesota? It’s gotta be the Dakota. Everyone knows the Nicollet jazz-and-dining venue for its world-class music, but does anyone pay attention to the world-class food being produced by young co-chefs Kristin Tyborski and Derik Moran? We should be paying attention, because this is good stuff.
From 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the happy hour happens in the bar or out on the patio, with $3 beers and glasses of wine, and truly glorious food. Moran is something of a genius with the product of local farms. Check it in dishes like a $5 duck confit salad with soft egg and pickled beans as big as quail eggs. My favorite thing might be the $10 steak frites dinner: hangar steak served on a sort of poutine with thick fries, melty cheese curds, and superb classic brown gravy. If you’re a penny-pinching food snob, this is the most filling and thrilling cheap dinner downtown. The one downside: You have to stay on top of the Dakota’s calendar; if they have a 5:30 show, they put an early end to their happy hour. Oh well. Most nights don’t have early shows, and if you want a good secret of the city this is one: Figure out when the Dakota’s schedule and yours align, and you’ll be one happy happy-hour goer. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com“