The Deliciously Polyglot Flavor of the North: A Minneapolis-St. Paul Dining Guide
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
The Heavy Table Checklist Projects (Heavy Table staff)
Minnesota’s ambassador for Hmong culture and culinary traditions (Minnesota Public Radio)
Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef (Heavy Table)
Meet Kim Bartmann (Visit Twin Cities)
Breaking Bread Cafe Cooks Real Food for Real People (City Pages)
Jamie Malone and Alan Hlebaen of Grand Cafe (Heavy Table)
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