The Deliciously Polyglot Flavor of the North: A Minneapolis-St. Paul Dining Guide

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

When visiting Minneapolis-St. Paul for the Super Bowl (or, you know, during some reasonably sane time of the year), it would be remarkably easy to eat only in spots owned and operated by white dudes.

You’d eat some great food, and you’d see the well-appointed interiors of some very popular restaurants, some of which would resemble the well-appointed interiors of popular restaurants in any other major city in America. But you’d also miss much of the Minnesota story, including some of the tastiest bits that are the most worth sharing.

Minnesota’s Nordic and Germanic heritage get constantly celebrated (the name and image of the Vikings really doubles down on that tendency), but there is absolutely marvelous food and drink offered by Minnesotans with different stories to tell. Richly flavored Vietnamese and Hmong food? Hyper-authentic Mexican food? East African food served with skill and aplomb? We’ve got it, in spades. People need to know about this.

What you see collected here are about 15 fantastic places to eat that are run by women and/or people of color. For all the talk of the New North, there’s been an awful lot of old money sloshing around the conversation about what to eat, and this not-even-vaguely-exhaustive list is our attempt to invite visitors to get out and taste the full range of flavors here in Minnesota, whether that’s Mexican hamburgers in St. Paul, kim chi fries on East Lake Street (top, from Rabbit Hole), or wine-glazed pork terrine in South Minneapolis.

Make no mistake: If you dine at these restaurants, you won’t be eating where everyone else is eating. But you’ll be eating as well (or better) than they are, and likely for the half the price. Welcome to the True North!

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

NORTHEAST AND NORTH MINNEAPOLIS

There’s a reason that Young Joni has taken the state by storm. Ann Kim’s new restaurant is a pizza place, but it’s also incredibly civilized and serious dining. And yet it’s a loud, fun, buzzy, stylish place where it’s good to see and be seen. We’re suckers for the Basque pizza, which comes stacked with chorizo, goat cheese, piquillo peppers, red onion, olives, and preserved lemon. (Young Joni, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis)

Gorkha Palace does Nepali, Indian, and Tibetan food with love and respect, and it’s one of those places where the warmth of hospitality matches the depth of flavor in the food. You can find Gorkha Palace’s signature momos (dumplings) at the Mill City Farmers Market (indoors in the winter; outdoors, near the Guthrie Theater in the spring, summer, and fall). Gorkha Palace, 23 4th St, NE, Minneapolis)

Shrimp with grits at Breaking Bread Cafe

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Since its opening in 2015, Breaking Bread Cafe has created a name for itself as the home of some of the best soul food in the cities, dishing up serious renditions of dishes such as shrimp and grits and fried chicken to please any guest who crosses the threshold. And if you go, don’t miss the sweet potato pie. (Breaking Bread Cafe, 1210 W Broadway Ave, Minneapolis)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

By founding a straight-up, fully committed vegan butcher shop, the brother-sister team heading up the Herbivorous Butcher has made a national splash. By keeping their eyes focused on the flavor of their wholly vegetable-derived faux meats, they built a loyal clientele. Even a meat-lover will appreciate the careful spicing and layers of flavors that go into something like the shop’s pastrami or pepperoni. (Herbivorous Butcher, 507 1st Ave NE, Minneapolis)

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Like Young Joni, Hai Hai is fresh, on point, and just about bursting with lively warmth. The tasteful tropical decor interior will subdue the harshness of Minnesota’s winter, and the Thai street food menu will stomp the daylights out of your hunger for something creative and well-executed. The plates are small (two per person is a reasonable guide), but inexpensive and packed with layers of vivid flavor. Plus, you know, drinks. Delicious drinks! (Hai Hai, 2121 University Ave NE, Minneapolis)

Red Stag Supperclub unites the cooking of veteran chef Sarah Master and the ownership of local mogul Kim Bartmann — with delightful results. This supper-club-themed restaurant brings together modern fine dining with regional traditions, serving up the likes of braised beef cheek stroganoff and smelt fries in a big, brassy, LEED-certified dining space. (Red Stag Supperclub, 509 1st Ave NE, Minneapolis)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The inimitable Dong Yang offers the experience of eating superb Korean-grandma food served out of a window in the starkly decorated back room of an Asian grocery store. Anything presented in a piping hot stone bowl is a good choice for what will presumably be a frigid February, but you really can’t go wrong with the restaurant’s short and lovely menu, and you’re guaranteed to be served a massive flight of banchan whatever you do. (Dong Yang, 725 45th Ave NE, Hilltop)

SAINT PAUL

For sheer caloric magnificence, you’re not going to outdo the eponymous entree at Hamburguesas el Gordo. Covered in bacon, cheese, onions, lettuce, secret sauce, and Lord-knows-what other delightful toppings, these burgers are huge enough to split between two hungry diners. The key is to enjoy it all while munching on the side condiment, a brassy, griddle-sauteed hot pepper that cuts through all the fat and carbs. And if a burger’s not your thing, the Mexican street hot dogs and tacos are delicious in their own right. (Hamburguesas el Gordo St. Paul, 990 Payne Ave St. Paul / Hamburguesas el Gordo Minneapolis, 4157 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis)

WACSO / Heavy Table

iPho by Saigon is one of those restaurants that has “it,” whatever it may be. In this case, it’s some combination of quick and attentive service, a lively dining room, and some of the tastiest pho and banh mi on a street full of good renditions of both. It’s difficult to top this spot, but a few other pho-stops of note right around the corner include Pho Ca Dao, Trieu Chau, and Tay Ho; hit them all if you’re up for a cold-weather hot soup bonanza. (iPho by Saigon, 704 University Ave, St Paul)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

There’s usually a wait — sometimes an oppressive one — before you’re served at On’s Kitchen, a Thai Restaurant that’s a pillar of University Avenue dining. It’s not a fancy place, but it’s busy (and sometimes jammed) because nobody does food with the funky, fiery, deep flavors that you find at On’s. It’s Thai home cooking with no apology, and it’s worth the hassle every time. The ho muk (pictured) is so good that it outpaces the stellar version over at the also-worthy Cambodian spot Cheng Heng. (On’s Kitchen, 1613 University Ave W, St Paul)

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

SOUTH MINNEAPOLIS

Restaurants come and go, and wax and wane, and it can be tough to catch the right spot at the right time. But that spot of the moment certainly seems to be Grand Cafe, which is serving some of the most elegant and finely made fare in the state under the leadership of Jamie Malone. Read this profile for copious details and some juicy quotes, or just make a reservation and enjoy. (Grand Cafe, 3804 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis)

From food truck to Franklin-Avenue mainstay to Bay City, Wis. outpost, the Chef Shack brand has been expanding and changing for years, but the heart of the story has always been this: smoked beef brisket, pulled pork, hearty brunch, beautifully chai-spiced mini doughnuts, and other foods that are simple, accessible, but steeped in flavor and touched by global influences. (Chef Shack Ranch, 3025 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis / Chef Shack Bay City, 6379 Main St, Bay City, WI)

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Both World Street Kitchen and Milkjam Creamery seem to make the cut for a lot of “best of” lists around here, and the secret is that they’re somehow at once totally accessible, totally cool, and totally good. World Street Kitchen brings together killer burritos, sublime rice bowls, and Middle Eastern influences; Milkjam is one of the best ice cream spots in the country, with (among other things) a vegan flavor called Black that will redefine your relationship with chocolate. (World Street Kitchen and Milkjam Creamery, 2743 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis)

EAST LAKE STREET

There are three noteworthy food courts on Lake Street that demand your attention: the remarkable gathering of first-generation Mexican restaurants called Lake Plaza (rebranding as Plaza Mexico), the incredibly diverse Midtown Global Market (see below), and Mercado Central. At Mercado Central, you can get one of the best carne asada bolillo sandwiches outside of Mexico (at Maria’s), a hot atole (an incredibly creamy, corn-based drink) to sip with a spicy tamale at La Loma, or the finest order of chilaquiles you’re likely to find anywhere, at El Huachi. Or just blunder around and order whatever. It’s difficult to go wrong. (Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A warm, witty, gorgeous and well-executed menu makes the food of The Rabbit Hole pop out and demand attention — even amid the glorious culinary racket produced by all the interesting shops and restaurants housed within Midtown Global Market. The Rabbit Hole does Asian fusion with a Korean emphasis and a solid cocktail menu, but if that’s not your thing, strike out and explore the market a little — spots like Holy Land, Manny’s Tortas, and Moroccan Flavors have a great deal to offer, too. (The Rabbit Hole, 920 E Lake St Suite 101, Minneapolis)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Most restaurants have menus. Ibrahim Restaurant has a conversation: How many people should your platter feed? How many meats would you like on it, and would you like rice, or spaghetti, or both on the side? By the end of your meal, which will include a surprising number of components including soup, breads, and beverages, you’ll be startled by how delicious this spin on East African cuisine was, and how inexpensive the meal was for your group. And whatever you do, don’t miss the sambusa, which is one of the best in a state laden with them (and samosas, as well.) (Ibrahim Restaurant, 1202 E Lake St, Minneapolis)

SOME FURTHER READING

Smaller, and Smaller, and Smaller (Marlon James)

WACSO / Heavy Table

The Heavy Table Checklist Projects (Heavy Table staff)

Meet 26 Immigrants Who Are Changing the Twin Cities Restaurant Scene (Star Tribune)

Across generations, Minnesota’s Somali-Americans try to balance old and new (MinnPost)

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Minnesota’s ambassador for Hmong culture and culinary traditions (Minnesota Public Radio)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef (Heavy Table)

How Jamie Malone’s French Obsession Became Minneapolis’ Restaurant of the Year (Eater)

Meet Kim Bartmann (Visit Twin Cities)

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Breaking Bread Cafe Cooks Real Food for Real People (City Pages)

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Jamie Malone and Alan Hlebaen of Grand Cafe (Heavy Table)



The Morning Bun at Honey and Rye Bakehouse

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

When you spend your whole childhood living in one city, you get to know the local carbs. In Madison, Wis. in the ’80s and ’90s, that meant Rocky Rococo pizza, Bagels Forever bagels, and the morning bun from the Ovens of Brittany. The last of these items is a local legend, and it still pops up (with varying degrees of fidelity and quality) around town, with good renditions at Barriques and Lazy Jane’s Cafe, and a relatively feeble version at La Brioche (the actual heir to the Ovens of Brittany business). And if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can even make them in your own kitchen.

The thing that makes the morning bun so addictive is this: You get the flaky sophistication of a croissant plus the gooey sweetness of a cinnamon roll, creating a “best of both breakfast worlds” situation. Good croissant dough has a chewy, flaky, buttery character that is well-complemented by the aggressive sprinkling of some cinnamon and sugar, and a great morning bun is at once sophisticated and childishly delightful.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Honey and Rye, the St. Louis Park bakeshop, has a morning bun on its menu for $3.50. Despite similarities in name and structure, there’s no direct Madison connection. Baker Anne Andrus says her first morning bun came from an Oakland, Calif. bakery called La Farine, and her version uses Danish dough (which typically includes milk, sugar, and eggs), rather than a simpler croissant dough, for added tenderness. And while it’s not a bite-for-bite clone of the Madison version, it’s quite strong in its own right. The Honey and Rye bun is about half the size of the big honkin’ buns found in Wisconsin, and it lacks the large, gooey core of its Madison counterpart. Instead, it has a delightfully consistent, chewy crispiness accented by a strong natural-cinnamon kick. In short, slightly different item, same result — a high-class yet slightly silly breakfast-time indulgence.

Honey and Rye Bakehouse, 4501 Excelsior Blvd, Minneapolis; 612.844.2555



Heavy Table Hot Five: Jan. 19-25

hotfive-flames

Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveSmoked Oysters at The Hasty Tasty
The mention of “smoked oysters” may evoke memories of tin cans, but the version at The Hasty Tasty is fantastic. Rather than individual oysters, the dish is a composed plate with fennel, pickled veggies, and Texas toast. This open-faced style keeps the accoutrements from overwhelming the star of the dish, while making it substantial and interesting. Pair with the Kumquat Caipirinha for a bright contrast!
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]

Ted Held / Heavy Table0

2-new - two - hot fiveSriracha Zucca Pasta at Italian Eatery
The Sriracha Zucca pasta at Italian Eatery is a welcome addition to their perennially excellent menu. The nickel sized pumpkin shaped pasta have more of sriracha’s brightness than heat and are cooked al dente, as you would expect from IE. Pepita pesto with toasted pepitas are a lovely twist on the usual pine nuts. There is a hint of citrusy tartness that contrasts perfectly with the olive oil and the sweetness of the basil. Pair it with a salad and the crispy chicken thighs for meal perfection.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]

James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveCheesecake from Brianno’s Deli-Italia
Anyhow, back to the cheesecake. It’s as tangy as you could possibly desire, and sticky to the point of being almost cream-cheese-like in consistency. The balance of sugar and dairy zing is spot on, and the graham cracker crust is a great counterpoint in terms of sweetness and crunchy texture. We’ve had cheesecakes with a more elegant texture (lighter, firmer, overall better), but this slice gets the tangy vs. sweet balance right in an important way, and really delivers on the “cheese” side of things.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton from a recent review]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveHam and Cheese Quiche Bite from Sift Gluten-Free Bakery
The crust of this mini-quiche was chewy and buttery, and perhaps a little corny. The egg filling was creamy and shot through with pockets of melted cheese and bits of smoky ham. Our only gripe was the silver-dollar size. We could have eaten an entire full-sized quiche. On the other hand, if it were bigger, we’d have missed out on the lovely crust in each bite. Sift knows what they’re doing: These things are seriously craveable.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Ted Held]

James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveRain Drops Northeast-Style IPA by Barrel Theory
Hazy, New England-style IPAs remain wildly trendy and it’s easy to taste why: many possess a juicy, fruit-forward hops-driven flavor that paradoxically seems to flood your mouth with a pulpy, almost orange juice-like moisture while also making you thirsty for more. Barrel Theory’s Rain Drops (7.5% ABV, 60 IBU) is brewed with Citra and Mosaic hops and even juicier than most, a seeming cascade of moisture in every sip plus an earthy, profound, orange-and-iced tea sort of body.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]



Cheesecake at Brianno’s in Eagan

James Norton / Heavy Table

The photo above depicts a slice of cheesecake from Brianno’s Italian deli in Eagan. It’s not much of a photo — it was taken quickly, as an afterthought, to serve as a reference in case the cake turned out to be remarkably good. Not much other than fried catfish or tacos looks good on styrofoam, and the pale color of the cake plays particularly poorly here.

Nevertheless, this slice of Brianno’s homemade cheesecake ($3.50) quickly popped into our top five reasons to drive out to this stellar deli, one of the last true bastions of Italian-American deli deliciousness in the state.

That list:

5. All the Italian cookies/dried pasta/pizzelle you could possibly want.

4. High-quality frozen pasta sauce for a reasonable price; we really dig the house-made Bolognese, but the classic Meatless is just what you’re looking for, too.

3. The cheesecake. We’ll get into this a moment.

2. The Sloppy Hot Dago ($8.50). Is this the best hot dago sandwich* in the state, and therefore the world? You be the judge, but we think it might be. Tons of tasty melted cheese, high-quality red sauce, legitimately spicy sausage patty, and even a pepperoncini on the side. (*Yes, we know that the name is offensive to many people, and we actually wrote a book that dove into the history and etymology for about two full pages.)

1. Muffuletta ingredients. All the high-quality, reasonably priced Italian meats and cheeses you need to make a huge, killer muffuletta and feed an army of people. Plus! Spicy, delicious muffuletta olive salad in a jar to save you a tremendous amount of hassle and expense on your sandwich crafting.

Anyhow, back to the cheesecake. It’s as tangy as you could possibly desire, and sticky to the point of being almost cream-cheese-like in consistency. The balance of sugar and dairy zing is spot on, and the graham cracker crust is a great counterpoint in terms of sweetness and crunchy texture. We’ve had cheesecakes with a more elegant texture (lighter, firmer, overall better), but this slice gets the tangy vs. sweet balance right in an important way, and really delivers on the “cheese” side of things.

Brianno’s Deli-Italia, 2280 Cliff Rd, Eagan, MN; 651.895.1174



Chankaska Spirits Ranch Road Gin

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Chankaska Spirits, a three-year-old venture of Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, is now offering a variety of spirits in Minnesota liquor stores and at its facility in Kasota, Minn., just south of St. Peter. Though the decade-old ranch and vineyard is better known for cold-climate wine, the Chankaska grounds were formerly occupied by a successful rum-running operating during Prohibition. As a nod to that heritage, spirit production has now expanded to include several unaged as well as barreled selections.

In terms of raw ingredients, Chankaska sticks to the use of traditional barley, corn, and rye for the majority of its portfolio. Using a 500-liter pot still, they distill each wash twice, first through a stripping run and then through a spirits run. To add to the continuity between the wine and spirit operations, two of the spirits feature the use of grapes (rather than grain), some of which are grown on site.

The Ranch Road gin is one of the offerings distilled from grapes, meaning that it is entirely grain-free. It was developed using 15 different botanicals, including juniper, and it strikes a balance between the juniper-forward and botanically balanced gin styles.

The aroma is fruity and floral, with slight banana and lilac notes, while juniper takes a backseat. On first sip, there is a biting quality that is delivered more by the alcoholic heat than the botanical additions. Rather than an aromatic bouquet, we found a monotone character that hits the palate consistently and doesn’t develop much over time. The website claims that this gin is “begging to be made into cocktails,” and we couldn’t agree more.

Far from being flavorless, the restrained and, well, basic profile of Ranch Road makes it a powerful mixing spirit. It’s an ideal canvas for more robust bitters and craft sodas like spicy Spruce Soda Co. Ginger Beer or Joia Orange Jasmine and Nutmeg. We especially liked the bitterness and depth of flavor when Ranch Road is combined with Blue Henn tonic. On the other hand, sipping it straight only led to disappointment.

One could argue that the merit of any spirit should be based on its ability to be enjoyed straight up. However, there are distilleries such as Skaalvenn and Du Nord that aim to deliver craft liquors perfect for mixing. With a $29 price tag, though, Chankaska is straddling the line between everyday and premium branding, and it falls short of sipping quality.