24 Hours in Grand Forks, ND

This story originally appeared in the Heavy Table email newsletter for June 14, 2024, and was made possible through the support of our subscribers on Patreon. Back us on Patreon to receive four-to-six newsletters a month with news, reviews, and interviews telling the culinary story of the Upper Midwest.

Last year I took a (long)(very long) day trip to East Grand Forks to check out Molly Yeh’s Bernie’s (worth it). While driving around there and adjacent Grand Forks, it looked like the food scene in the Grand Forks area was thriving and interesting. I vowed that when opportunity allowed, I’d return and check out a few more things.

That recently happened, and I got a full day of meals in over two half days. Good news: There wasn’t a single place I tried that I wouldn’t happily return to. (It also seemed like a good omen that my last day there turned out to be Marilyn Hagerty’s birthday.)

Note: Several eateries charged a surcharge when paying with a debit or credit card. 


Darcy’s Cafe has a loyal local following. It’s the kind of small-town diner where seating is largely made up of stools around a U-shaped counter, with a few booths lined up along the walls. A sign warns that takeout orders may be discontinued once the cafe is too busy with in-person visitors. 

I arrived soon after opening and took a seat at the counter (moving a seat over after the server warned me that the first seat I chose was rather wobbly, and she was right). I chose the #2 Breakfast ($14) of German sausage, sauerkraut, and two eggs, along with a choice of hash browns or American fries (I chose the former) and toast or pancakes (I chose the latter with blueberries) along with a constantly refilled Cup of Coffee ($2.50)

Besides being enough food to feed a small army, the meal was exactly what I wanted from this type of cafe: well-browned, flavorful sausage with sauerkraut that must have been cooked at the same time, as it was also well-browned and full of fried onions, served with perfectly cooked hash browns, fluffy scrambled eggs, and tender pancakes packed full of blueberries. Even better: Sitting at the counter made me privy to lots of local gossip. (My lips are sealed; what I heard in Darcy’s stays in Darcy’s.)

Leaving Darcy’s with enough leftovers for a few meals to pack in my cooler, I decided that while Darcy’s coffee was standard diner issue (not bad, not amazing), I wanted something more special with caffeine. I’d read that Urban Stampede is thought to be North Dakota’s oldest coffee shop, with 30 years under its belt. It’s located in a beautiful old building in the historic downtown area and clearly a gathering place for all ages. Given that I’m not generally a sweet coffee person, it was a risk for me to try one of the seasonal specials, the Berry Blossom Latte ($6.50). But I ended up loving it. There was enough tartness in the raspberry flavoring to keep the drink from being sugary and just a hint of almond flavor too. In spite of the fact that they were slammed with customers while I was there, the staff was beyond friendly, and the baristas brought their A-game to the foam art. 


DogMahal DogHaus shares space with Ojata Records, meaning you can eat hot dogs, then shop for records. The menu is dauntingly long and full of punny names, including the Marie Curry and the Slawpy Dog. For those who have trouble deciding, the shop also offers a small lunch buffet, which on my visit included mini corn dogs, grilled hot dogs, and mac ‘n’ cheese. 

I decided to try the classic Chicago Dog ($7) along with the Green Party ($8) and a bottle of Water ($1). Note: DogMahal no longer gives free glasses of water as they’ve had too many people abuse the free glass by using it to get free pop. Tsk. 

The Chicago Dog was a stellar rendition, with the classic neon sauce and a hefty helping of sport peppers adding a lot of heat. The poppyseed bun was sturdy enough to hold the nicely grilled dog and its copious condiments. The Green Party came on a plain bun, and the hot dog was buried in guacamole and salsa verde. I was asked if I wanted hot or mild salsa and asked for hot, but got the mild. Which was fine; the Chicago Dog was a good offset heat-wise. 

I was curious about Burger Time, a small regional chain with eight locations in North and South Dakota and Minnesota, and wondered how it compared to the big multinational burger chains. The Grand Forks location is drive-through only. I arrived close to opening, and the line of cars was already down the block. Given that it was a beautiful day, I was thankful to see an adjacent park-like area with several picnic tables. 

Burger Time’s advertising boasts that they have bigger burgers (unless you order a junior version) than most drive-throughs. I’d say the burger in the Bigger Burger Combo ($11) was about the size of a full-sized Burger King Whopper, but a noticeable difference to me was that the toppings it came with (mayo, onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and ketchup are all standard) were fully spread across the burger instead of glopped in the center. That meant every bite had every condiment. The accompanying fries were on par with most chains, and the combo comes with a family-sized soda. If you’re in a quick burger mood and want to bypass the multinationals, Burger Time is a solid choice with a large amount of food for the money. 


Just a couple of blocks from Urban Stampede is Ely’s Ivy, also located in a beautiful historic building downtown. Ely’s Ivy touts its menu as farm to table, with several items noting locally grown or produced ingredients, and the beer menu offered several North Dakota and NW Minnesota beverages available by the glass or as part of a Flight ($9). I opted for a flight of several styles, including Revelations Ale Works Fuse Box Peach Kettle Sour, Bear Arms Brewing Liberty Lager Kolsch, Fargo Brewing’s Stone’s Throw Scottish Ale, and Drekker Brewing’s Broken Rudder. The flight demonstrated there’s a good range of beer being produced by the Canadian border.    

In order to nosh along with the beer, I ordered Liver Pate Plate ($14), which came with a healthy helping of housemade chicken liver pate, on the sweet side (but not offensively so) and smooth without a lingering or overwhelming liver flavor. The gently pickled vegetables added some needed crunch and tang. 

But the real treat of the visit was the Pommes Paillasson ($9), Ely’s Ivy’s take on the classic French potato cake. Rather than cakes,, they were solid sticks of potato-y goodness, beautifully fried and crispy on the outside, and inside filled with melty tater tots. The plate came with a housemade steak sauce with a sweet-and-sour taste and a garlicky aioli. Both were welcome, but on their own, they were fantastic. 


For dinner, I checked out Helix, recommended to me as one of Grand Forks’ trendiest spots. Its location in a strip mall belied its wine bar-like interior. The restaurant is small, so I opted for bar service as the few tables were filling quickly, even though it was early on a Wednesday night. The bartender proved to be a knowledgeable server and soon presented me with the Sidekick  ($10), centered around a pineapple- and jalapeño-infused tequila along with lime juice, agave, and Triple Sec. The first sip left me worried that I’d chosen something too sweet for my taste, but then the jalapeño appeared with a delayed kick that countered the first sweetness, something that happened with each sip, and I ended up loving it. Given how cocktails have dramatically risen in price, this seemed like a good deal for $10.

The Pan Seared Salmon ($27) was also deceptive at first bite. The salmon itself was nicely cooked, but felt merely serviceable with its maple-soy glaze. However, the underlying hash of roasted white sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, pork rillette, and shallots raised the complexity and attractiveness of the overall dish several levels. The hash could serve on its own as an entree with its varying textures (tender potato, crispy Brussels leaves and shallots) and flavors (sweet, smoky). 


If your trip to the Grand Forks doesn’t allow several stops at restaurants–perhaps you’re passing through on your way to some Lake of the Woods fishing or camping–you can always make a stop at L&M Meats, a family-owned and -operated meat shop that’s been in Grand Forks more than 60 years. It’s a beautiful thing to open a car door outside the shop and immediately drink in the aroma of a smoker hard at work. Inside, the shop has myriad sausages and smoked items, including whole smoked chickens, and a knowledgeable, multigenerational staff ready to answer questions and make suggestions.  

Darcy’s Cafe, 1015 N. Washington, Grand Forks, ND, 701.775.4050, MON-FRI 6:30am-1:30pm, SAT-SUN 7am-2pm

Urban Stampede, 324 Kittson Ave, Grand Forks, ND, MON-TUE 7am-6pm, WED-SUN 7am-8pm

DogMahal DogHaus, 305 N. Washington, Grand Forks, ND, 701.757.4000, TUE-WED 11am-5pm, THU-FRI 11am-6pm, SAT 11am-5pm, SUN-MON CLOSED 

Burger Time, 2650 DeMers Ave, Grand Forks, ND, 701.775.2776, MON-SAT 10am-9pm, SUN CLOSED

Ely’s Ivy, 22 S. 3rd St., Grand Forks, ND, 701.757.0243, MON-THU 11am-10pm, FRI-SAT 11am-11pm, SUN CLOSED

Helix, 4491 S. Washington, Grand Forks, ND, 701.757.1444, TUE-SAT 4:30pm-close, SUN-MON CLOSED

L&M Meats, 2801 S. Washington, Grand Forks, ND, 701.775.2009, MON-SAT 9am-6pm, SUN 11am-4pm