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St. Paul has some great delis. Here are a few of our favorites.

11February 2021

When you think of a deli, what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s sandwiches or sliced meat with some mayonnaise-based salads set out in bowls.

But a great deli is so much more than that.

St. Paul has many gems that offer everything from really great sandwiches to cold salads to full heat-and-eat meals. They are perfect options for when you just don’t have the time or energy to make a meal. The best part about deli food? You can keep it in your fridge until you’re ready to eat it.

Here are some of our favorites outside of major grocery stores. Please let us know if you have a deli recommendation that should be on our radar, because this was some really fun research. As always, email us at eat@pioneerpress.com.

BUON GIORNO

Calabrese sandwich from Buon Giorno deli in Lilydale. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

The deli here features sandwiches and cold salads, but also a build-your-own pasta bar and a variety of heat-and-eat items like meatballs, grilled pork chops, lasagna and more.

We recently ordered sandwiches for lunch and were pleased with the house-made bread (also available for purchase on-site) and quality meats balanced with just the right amount of sauce or condiments. The teens in the house heartily approved of the giant chicken Parmesan sandwich, which could easily be two meals for those with regular appetites. The porchetta sandwich, piled high with giardiniera and drizzled with jus, is also a treat, as is the calabrese — a proper baguette stuffed with coppa, hot salami, pepperoncini, provolone and a roasted red pepper puree.

There’s also a stacked dessert case, with everything from wholesome-looking cookies to pretty tarts and cakes, a freezer case loaded with heat-and-eat Italian favorites and a small grocery stocked with hard-to-find Italian items, but also house-made pastas and sauces.

And what might be the biggest bonus? Lilydale is so small that state law allows Buon Giorno to have a liquor store in the same space, and the wine selection is awesome. There’s also a sommelier on hand to help you pick the perfect bottle.

981 Sibley Memorial Highway, Lilydale; 651-905-1080; buongiornodeli.com

CECIL’S DELICATESSEN

A social distancing sign on the door at Cecil’s Delicatessen in St. Paul. Photographed May 19, 2020. (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

This St. Paul institution that opened July 1, 1949 quickly gained a reputation for its deli operation that is still going strong today. Walk in and grab popular staples such as corned beef and pastrami, as well as baked-daily rye breads and pastries including the top selling Hamantaschen triangle fruit-filled cookie. There are prepared salads, too, such as Cecil’s classic potato salad and coleslaw. In addition to the deli, you can order anything to go from the restaurant part of the operation. Order on the spot or call ahead. The deli selections go great with restaurant menu items such as Cecil’s signature sandwiches on house-made bread, the classic and Russian reubens among them, or soups, such as matzo ball and borscht.

651 Cleveland Ave. S., St Paul; 651-698-6276; cecilsdeli.com

COSSETTA MARKET

Grab-and-go items in Cossetta Market in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

Sure you know about the counter-service operation where everyone eats when they go to Cossetta, but have you checked out the first-rate deli counter?

As far as pastas go, there’s everything from manicotti to lasagna to a layered eggplant Parmesan. But there’s also chicken marsala, chicken cacciatore, vegetable sides, pastas salads and a whole case full of grab-and-go items.

We recently ordered some cheesy, fresh manicotti, the iconic mostaccioli with ricotta and red sauce, chicken marsala, stromboli and some vegetables and had a lovely little Italian buffet. It was easy to heat everything to be ready at the same time, between the oven and the microwave, and the kids in the house were asking before dinner was over when we could do it again.

There’s also a station right next to the door with pizza dough, sauce, packaged mozzarella and pecorino and even pre-sliced pepperoni if you want to try your hand at pizza making without all the work. We’ve done it lots of times, and it’s always a hit with the kids.

211 W. 7th St., St. Paul; 651-222-3476; cossettas.com/market-italian-grocery

EL BURRITO MERCADO

This deli case at El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul holds empanadas, chiles rellenos and more. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

El Burrito is one of our favorite grocery stores in the Twin Cities, full stop. We frequent it not only for the best, perfectly ripe avocados and juicy limes, but also dried chiles, Mexican cheeses and the freshest tortillas.

But maybe the best thing about El Burrito is the sprawling deli section. Our most frequent purchase is probably salsa — the deli has more than a dozen different, brightly colored versions — everything from roasted tomatillo to traditional tomato and jalapeno to chipotle-infused and everything in between. In fact, the salsas here are so fabulous that we have pretty much stopped making our own.

It’s also awesome to pick up a bag of freshly made tamales to steam at home when we’re ready to eat. Or maybe we’re feeling like chiles rellenos — choose from meat or cheese, poblano or jalapeno for some real heat. The empanadas here are top-notch, too, and there are at least three different kinds in the case at all times.

We haven’t yet tried the seafood salads, including ceviche, but they’re definitely on our short list.

Sometimes we finish our meal with a slice of tres leches cake, or maybe some Mexican sweet bread, also available in the deli area.

There’s also a counter-service operation and a cafe where you can get a ready-to-eat meal, but if you’re doing that, why not grab dinner for tomorrow?

175 Cesar Chavez St., St. Paul; 651-227-2192; elburritostp.com

DELI AT HA TIEN SUPER MARKET

The hot foods bar at the Ha Tien Super Market deli in St. Paul includes Salt and Pepper Shrimp. Photographed Feb. 3, 2021. (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

Talk about an expansive deli. The deli at Ha Tien Super Market in a former Byerly’s just off I-94 and White Bear Avenue in St. Paul includes a refrigerated grab-and-go section, hot foods bar, banh mi counter and barbecue station. It’s where some awesome Vietnamese dishes and other South Asian fare can be found in a hurry.

The beginning of the deli starts with a refrigerated section featuring packaged and ready-to-eat things like papaya and larb salads as well as jelly desserts and drinks. Then there is the hot foods bar featuring more than a dozen items. On the day we visited, there were four types of stir fry noodles and fried rice and plenty of proteins, including different types of wings, pork ribs, stir-fries and vegetables to accompany that starch. Make your way to the banh mi station where you can get a classic, barbecue, roasted pork or combination Vietnamese sandwich made-to-order. Continue on to stations featuring proteins like whole fried fish and Hmong sausage, as well as a barbecue area offering roast pork and duck.

Ha Tien is named after a seaside town in Vietnam so it makes sense that fish dishes are represented at the deli here. There are fish stews and whole fried fish. And then, our favorite, the salt and pepper shrimp, which you can eat with the shell on for a great crunch or peel-and-eat if you prefer your crustacean without its outer layer. The shrimp has such wonderful seasoning that it’s best served with a bowl of (neutral) white rice to mop up all that deliciousness.

For dessert, we highly recommend the banh cam sesame ball if you’ve never tried one. It can be difficult to pull off the traditional Vietnamese treat of deep-fried glutinous rice balls filled with mung beans and coated with sesame seeds, but the ones offered at Ha Tien are right on. And we like that they’re not too sweet, but just enough to be indulgent.

1959 Suburban Ave., St. Paul; 651-340-1321; facebook.com/HATIEN1959

NELSON CHEESE AND DELI

The California Club with a side of potato salad from Nelson Cheese & Deli in St. Paul, Feb. 2, 2021. (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

On the day we ordered from here, the curbside pickup operation was one of the smoothest we’ve experienced during the pandemic. Pre-order half an hour before pickup and pull into the parking lot where an employee walks up to vehicles, confirms orders and disappears for what seems like mere seconds before your lunch is handed off to you.

Straightforward sandwiches and salads, which, might we add, are very affordable, are part of the fully prepared meal offerings here. Order them individually or make it a boxed lunch with add ons such as sides and dessert. If you’re looking for recommendations, the Town of Nelson turkey and ham and St. Paul Special with roast beef, spicy pastrami and hot pepper cheese are great introductions to the cold sandwich selections. Off the hot sandwiches menu, consider top sellers such as the Reuben as well as the Lexington, a grilled chicken breast sandwich on a Kaiser roll. In addition to sandwich specials, there are hotdogs and brats on the menu too.

In addition, there are take-home reheat-and-eat meals available throughout the week. On Tuesdays, a beef brisket meal with white cheddar rosemary potatoes and dinner rolls is offered. On Thursdays, choose between pulled pork or pulled chicken to go with mac and cheese, dinner rolls and coleslaw. Premade frozen lasagnas ($25) are also available daily. A wide selection is offered, including traditional, vegetarian, black bean chorizo, black bean chicken and chicken alfredo.

Note that the storefront is currently closed and orders are being taken by phone or walk-up for curbside pickup. Sandwiches can be ordered half an hour in advance the day of. Take home meals should be ordered one day in advance.

1562 Como Ave., St. Paul; 651-647-1288; nelsoncheese.net

ST. PAUL CHEESE SHOP

Prosciutto di Parma and Brie sandwich from St. Paul Cheese Shop. Photographed May 8, 2020. (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

This cut-to-order cheese shop in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood is all about primo ingredients. That’s reflected in things like the fully prepared meals that include three dozen sandwiches and melts to choose from, each well thought out in what type of meats, cheeses, breads and smear go together.

One of our favorite sandwiches in the Twin Cities comes from here — the silky, buttery Prosciutto di Parma with brie on a baguette. Also worth checking out is the house-smoked ham, a true French sandwich with Comte cheese and butter. Off the hot sandwiches menu, the upscale grilled cheese selections have a loyal following, partly because the place has upped the game with creations like a double-cream brie melt with cranberry chutney, and partly because it’s hard to resist all the delicious cheese oozing out of this place.Grab a chicken or pasta salad to go with that sandwich.

We also like to head here for the well-curated meat-and-cheese boards that come with baguette slices, nuts and accompaniments that make a perfect nosh for two. The shop also has a great selection of small producer chocolates, so perhaps grab a Mini Chocolate Sampler while there.

1573 Grand Ave., (at the corner of Snelling Avenue), St. Paul; 651-698-3391; stpaulcheeseshop.com

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