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)

Timothy Fischer of Loews Minneapolis Hotel

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

As we travel through the seemingly infinite and almost completely forgettable network of midmarket and business-class hotel chains that dot this country, it can be easy to forget that hotels were the original purveyors of fine food in the United States. Places like the legendary Waldorf Hotel in New York City, presided over by the tyrannical but brilliant Claudius Charles Philippe in the 1940s and ’50s, were gateways to a bigger, better, bolder world of eating and drinking. They forever changed the American landscape for the better.

But at their worst, modern hotel restaurants bring none of that vibrance. They can feel like upscale interpretations of fast food — $25 entrees, sure, but made with packet sauces, assembly-line cooking, and trends that are years behind the curve. It’s how you end up eating fabulous-looking but mediocre sushi in Nashville or forgettable scallops almondine in Spokane without really wanting to, and overpaying for the privilege.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

But you can still find hotels presided over by the likes of Chef Timothy Fischer of Loews Minneapolis. This is a “came in a skeptic, left a believer” story. Fischer and his team invited a few food writers (including me) for a foraged dinner a couple of months ago, and it left a vivid impression. The dinner was as lovely and manicured as anything we’ve seen, but it was powered primarily by ingredients with local pedigrees: greens from the hotel’s rooftop garden, Minnesota crayfish, foraged mushrooms. It was cosmopolitan food with a local flavor.

Fischer is a double threat — a seriously trained professional chef (he was James Beard-nominated in 2011,during his time at the Hotel Donaldson in North Dakota), and an outdoorsman who hunts, fishes, and forages. He constantly works to make connections between the land and the plates of food he serves to his guests.

At the Heavy Table, we are constantly trying to define Upper Midwestern food, and the common element we keep discovering is a love of grappling with ingredients at the most basic level: the carrot just pulled from the ground, the intact carcass ready to be broken down, the honey emerging from the hive, the herbs torn and sprinkled by hand. It’s an intimacy that makes for simple but unforgettable dishes, and it’s an attitude that Fischer displayed in spades, both at his dinner and at a follow-up interview conducted later, over a brilliantly simple breakfast of a wild mushroom omelet and a fresh salad largely plucked from the Loews Hotel rooftop chef’s garden.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

CHEF TIMOTHY FISCHER ON GROWING UP

I grew up in St. Paul right over by Hamline College, so we were always going over to the fairgrounds and looking at the tractors and all that stuff.

When I was about eight, my parents moved up to Brainerd. I’d always been doing pickling and canning, but my first real jump into food was working at the Grand View Lodge. I started working when I was 14. I was roasting bones when I was 14 years old; we got to do that stuff there.

It was pretty amazing. Two of my partners from that summer went to the CIA [Culinary Institute of America]. One of them works at Pillsbury now, and one of them runs Fireside [Restaurant] up in DL [Detroit Lakes]. … If it wasn’t for [Grand View’s executive chef], I don’t know if the three of us would have made it to the CIA.

If you look at what Tim McKee has done, it’s similar. Hundreds and hundreds of people who went through — maybe they didn’t enjoy working at La Belle Vie when they were there, but they brought something out of the experience. If you have four or five great chefs in an area — the Lenny Russos, or the Tims [McKee] — we got pretty lucky in this area. It’s amazing what one person can do for a city, or a state.

It’s a fun game to get into. I’ve always done it because I’ve been a hunter and a fisher my whole life. The canning and pickling and preserving — it’s kind of ingrained into me from my grandmother and my mother. We always did that. The cheese guy and the smoked fish guy [at the St. Paul Farmers Market] — those were always my two favorite places to go.

I remember my father going into the little produce market up the hill there and buying truckloads of apples and cucumbers and tomatoes. Pulling the skins off of the tomatoes and peaches was always my favorite. Or stuffing the pickles into the jars. A lot of people don’t see that stuff. When we went to New York and New Jersey, 90 percent of kids thought food just came from the supermarket.

Pajarito in St. Paul

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

There has been much excitement over the newly opened Pajarito on St. Paul’s West 7th Street. And why not? The restaurant brings together pedigree (Tim McKee acolytes Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse) and a clearly defined concept (Mexican street food dressed up and ready to party).

Pajarito’s central challenge is to balance an almost universally appealing street food aesthetic (focused on stuff like small, flavor-packed tacos, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, melted cheese with a soul) with drinks, chic decor, and the necessity of maintaining healthy margins in a competitive industry. Your food should taste like the best $4 you ever spent on East Lake Street, but it should also be surrounded by impeccable decor, convincing cocktails, and … well, it should cost at least $8.

A few places around here have executed this formula well: Barrio may be the reigning champ, but there are some others (Jefe, Bar Luchador, certain incarnations of Chino Latino) that seem to get the balance right. Add Pajarito to the list. Straight out of the gate, it’s combining compelling flavors with an atmosphere and aesthetic that is skillfully designed to create repeat customers.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our cocktails were properly executed and well-balanced. The Trouble With Tipples ($8, above right, featuring Plantations Dark Pineapple Rum, Trader Vic’s 151 Proof Rum, Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters, and more) reminded me of one of my all-time favorite cocktails: the Sea Foam, served at the sadly defunct Jolly Bob’s Jerk Joint in Madison. The concept in a nutshell: pineapple-meets-rum, effortlessly light and cheerful, but packing a hidden wallop.

You Boys Ever Been to Oaxaca? ($10, above left) was equally deft: a blend of mezcal, pineapple, lime, vanilla, and caramel flavors that could have been a nasty sugar bomb, but instead was a properly balanced tart-meets-sweet-meets-earthy package that resembled a dressed up, but still recognizable, old-school margarita.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

At the very center of the menu at Pajarito is the Queso Fundido ($10), and at the very center of “Queso Fundido,” in a language-bending way, is the word “fun.” This is no coincidence. It’s a dish that everyone who visits this restaurant should order, as it’s howlingly joyous — a one-two punch of rich, silken, melted Monterey Jack with roasted onion and green chorizo, and the kind of super fluffy, pillowy tortillas you rarely get outside of the Southwest.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We actually sacrificed one of our Fundido tortillas to repackage our Tacos al Pastor ($8 for two). There’s little to complain about vis-a-vis the fillings of these tacos (lots of heat from the thinly sliced jalapeños, nice depth of flavor in the meat, a non-excessive pineapple presence) but the thin, irritatingly chewy fried tortillas are a minus. They’re not really satisfyingly crispy, and they are difficult to chew, and it’s not clear how they’re meant to be an improvement on the street-food standard.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The restaurant’s “Elote style” Brussels Sprouts ($8) are the kind of thing you should serve to a Brussels sprouts skeptic. If this individual doesn’t like these beautifully charred, perfectly complemented sprouts, they’re hopeless (vis-a-vis sprouts, and probably vis-a-vis food in general.) The cotija cheese and crema filled out the sprouts’ roasty and vegetal flavors, and the whole dish clicked.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Similarly nice was the wood-charred Sweet Potato ($9) a blackened, honking thing that was tender and sweet, and offset by salt, cilantro, and char. As with so many well-conceived dishes, the diner can steer the ship and create the ideally balanced bite by navigating combinations of the exterior, the center, and the toppings, making the dish as fun to eat as it is tasty.

Service at Pajarito was attentive and cheerful during our visit, and the restaurant (crowded these days, and likely to stay that way) feels busy and fun amid the crush of guests. It’s loud but not deafening, and while we’d remove the distracting televisions from above the bar, there’s not much else we’d want to change about the warm and inviting environment.

Pajarito
Trendy Mexican on West 7th in St. Paul

605 West 7th St
St. Paul, MN 55102
651.340.9545
HOURS:
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not so much
ENTREE RANGE: $8-$22
NOISE LEVEL:  Amenable din
PARKING: Street parking

Heirloom in Saint Paul

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Heirloom is billed as a “neighborhood” restaurant that specializes in “modern farmhouse cuisine.” As these terms suggest, it’s utterly inviting and the fare is rustic, centered on seasonal and local ingredients. But the food is also beautiful, subtly complex, and, at times, cutting-edge without being the least bit pretentious. Chef Wyatt Evans (formerly of WA Frost) has our attention.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The most unassuming dishes on the dinner menu (brunch is served on Sundays) produced the most high-fives and “hot damns.” The pedestrianly named “meat pie” ($14) turns out to be an adorable acorn-shaped cracker crust filled with a luscious, soul-warming mixture of shredded chicken and pork, cinnamon, and a layer of green tomato chutney. Accompanied by sharp English mustard, raisins, and pickled green tomatoes, the delectable pie skillfully balances textures and flavors. Hot damn, indeed.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Moving from England to Ireland, Evans’ black pudding ($11) is another stunner. Made of pork shoulder, pig’s blood and organ meat (heart and liver), and steel-cut oats (for binding), the “pudding” is really a refined, funky, and delicious meatloaf. A light puree of celery root and thin slices of tart, slightly sweet pickled apples cut the dish’s richness while brightening it. Winner winner, fancy meatloaf dinner.

A Year of Dining in the Wild

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This story is sponsored by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

By Dave Freeman

When Amy and I depart on September 23 to spend a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we will leave with enough food for two people for two weeks. Then we will be met by a resupply team bringing out our next batch of food. These resupplies will happen every two weeks or so.

While it might sound crazy to you that we will be spending A Year in the Wilderness, we are used to camping in all seasons and challenging ourselves in the wilderness. Plus, we are doing this for a cause that’s close to our hearts, protecting the Boundary Waters from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining (which you can learn more about from the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters).

Courtesy of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters
Dave Freeman

Last year, when we took off on the Paddle to DC, our 101-day trip from Ely, Minn. to Washington, D.C., by canoe and sailboat, we had to plan our meals only a few days in advance, and we strolled the grocery store aisle at least once a week. On that trip we were able to carry lots of fresh foods with us, and our meals were very similar to what we would normally eat at home.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This time, we need to have our meals preplanned so that the resupply teams know what to bring. It’s not often you can predict ahead of time what you’ll have for dinner three months from now, but we will. Our meals will change based on the seasons — we’re gonna want a lot of hot soup and plenty of calorie-dense foods in December to help us stay warm. In the winter we will need to eat about 5,500 calories each day because of the extreme cold and large amounts of exercise in our daily routine. That means we get to add an extra dollop of peanut butter to our oatmeal, slather ridiculous amounts of butter onto steaming hunks of cornbread, and consider bacon one of the major food groups all winter long.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

When out in the wild, we typically keep our meals simple and try to eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods. Our breakfast usually consists of oatmeal with dried fruit, a splash of honey or maple syrup, and some peanut butter and powdered milk to add protein and fat. We also eat a lot of granola for breakfast. Crapola is our favorite, and we love that it is made by our friends right here in Ely!

Into The Pines And Over The Fire

 

Courtesy of Save the Boundary Waters
Courtesy of Save the Boundary Waters

This excerpt from The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food is sponsored by Save The Boundary Waters, which was organized by local residents in and around Ely, Minnesota, who are dedicated to protecting the more than one million acres of pristine water, unspoiled forests, and abundant fish in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its watershed from toxic pollution caused by mining copper, nickel, and other metals from sulfide-bearing ore.  

Into The Pines And Over The Fire: Epic Wilderness Meals In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area And Beyond
by Alyssa Vance
Excerpted from The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food

Way up in the northeastern corner of Minnesota, nestled next to the Canadian border and tucked within the Superior National Forest, sits more than one million acres of pristine wilderness. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is guarded by the U.S. National Forest Service and is one of the most coveted hiking, camping, and canoeing regions in the country. It is dense with thousands of lakes and waterways that were formed millennia ago when the glaciers that originally covered the region began to retreat, leaving behind a region sprinkled with pine, water, and bedrock. There are more than 2,000 campsites in the BWCA alone — and that doesn’t take into account the popular surrounding camping destinations like Grand Marais, Ely, and the Lake Superior shoreline.

Spending any time in wilderness demands work. And in this region the work is earned by portaging canoes, strapping on backpacks, and traveling by foot or water for long — and often strenuous — stretches, over land and water. However with this work comes reward. And don’t the best rewards come in the form of food?

Below is a collective narrative of memorable wilderness meals in northern Minnesota. It begins by the rock-laden Lake Superior shore, travels north and west through the still waterways and thick pines of the BWCA, and trails off at International Falls along the Canadian border.

Highway 61 is a road adjacent to the Superior Hiking Trail — a 296 mile stretch that follows the Lake Superior shorelines and connects Duluth to the Canadian border. Silver Bay is a small town on that highway, roughly 50 miles north of Duluth. If you turn inland when you reach it, you’ll have access to a hilly three-mile hike that leads you away from the sprawling Lake Superior shoreline, into a walkable roller coaster of rocky hills, and arrives at two bodies of water: Bean and Bear Lake.

“We hiked the trail in early July. The air was thick with heat and humidity, and most of the trail was spent under a blanket of trees. You’re constantly take long steps to hike up or gingerly walking on a downward slope. As a novice hiker, it was challenging. But all worth it when we reached the peak that juts out over Bean Lake — a crisp, quiet, bright blue lake in the middle of all these trees. We camped at Bear Lake, just beyond it. We used our tiny camping stove to heat a hearty curry soup with coconut milk, sliced chorizo sausage, carrots, and lentils. Dessert was a sweet, crunchy muesli square. Eating both while staring out at this peaceful lake was one of the most satisfying moments of that summer.” — Alyssa Vance, Minneapolis