Where and why and on what we lunch—these are the questions of adult human life. Zebras don’t lunch. Lions and chimpanzees don’t, either. We may say they do. We may even provide these noble beasts a mid-size meal at noon because we presume everyone likes a mid-size meal to separate the work of the morning from the work of the afternoon, but these regal animals don’t really lunch. They eat what they can, when they can, simply because a fresh patch of grass or a wounded gazelle or a fruit plate presents itself. Human children do lunch, but not freely. They get cheese sandwiches in their lunchbox and, upon opening it, they like it or lump it. In fact, maturity as a citizen in present-day life is marked by the minute, the hour, the day you are put in charge of your own lunch. A 17-year-old gets a taco on a tray from the school cafeteria; an 18-year-old gets to leave campus and eat whatever they want. Lunch is freedom! Ah, freedom: the one thing every truly successful American lacks. Let’s face it, adult life is an arena in which you make a series of trades, accepting ever-greater amounts of responsibility and ceding ever-greater amounts of freedom. This goes on until, if you are truly a pillar of your community, you end up with about 20 free minutes a week to call your own. And the odds are great—almost a lock, even—that you will spend that time on lunch. But beware: If you don’t pay attention, you might end up eating at the chain sandwich place with meat that tastes like salted marshmallow. So make the most of your hard-earned adult freedom: Eat lunch. And eat lunch well, at one of the following 75 places—the best lunches in the Twin Cities.
15 Best Mill City Lunches
Bombay Bistro South Indian
820 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-312-2800, bombaybistromn.com
Paper dosa as thin as gossamer filled with silky potatoes blended with toasted cumin seeds and roasted vegetables is just one of the many reasons to seek out this all-you-can-eat buffet.
120 S. Sixth St., Suite 211, Mpls., 612-746-1769, kikugawa-restaurant.com
The staff makes sushi to order, using the top-quality fish and mad sushi-sculpting skills that Kikugawa is known for. Bonus: They serve real pork ramen—the best-kept secret in town.
2719 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-4739, quangrestaurant.com
The Vietnamese lunch specials, like the gelatinous curried Mi Bo Kho, are unusual and plum delicious. The prices are as cheap as ever, too.
3800 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-823-4790, blackbirdmpls.com
Blackbird has been reborn after the fire that leveled its first location, and now it’s a thorough charmer. The banh mi is famous, but the pork and talleggio is a winner, too.
901 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-767-6960, damico-kitchen.com
The dining room holds one of North America’s nicest publicly accessible collections of contemporary art, and the food manages to be both robust and delicate.
1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com
The Dakota, the great restaurant that most people mistakenly think of as merely one of the nation’s leading jazz clubs, is a fresh, haute, and affordable spot for top-notch dining.
1100 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-630-1189, vincentarestaurant.com
The two-course, $12.50, Monday-to- Friday lunch at Vincent is one of the best reasons to work in downtown Minneapolis.
1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-825-1572, lucias.com
On top of their game for three decades and counting. Anything with chicken from Callister Farm in West Concord, Minnesota, is particularly good, be it mustard-poached or roasted on a salad of new sugar-snap peas.
1300 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-339-9900, mannyssteakhouse.com
Nothing says power in Minneapolis like an invite to Manny’s. Order the surf-and-turf sliders, one a generous pile of fresh red lobster served on a sweet pillowy bun, the other a well-charred little steakhouse burger.
French Meadow Café
Cheeky Monkey Deli
France 44 Cheese Shop
There isn’t supposed to be class in American society—no upper class, no lower class; we’re all just somewhere in the middle. Of course, we know that isn’t true, and class is most easily observed these days when it comes to tacos. If your taco is hard shelled and comes with south-of-the-border-accented Tater Tots, woe betides. If your taco is made of heritage pork and Minnesota-grown corn, however, good for you! But if your tacos come from Masa? Well, that’s when you know you have achieved the ultimate lunch—one not of a classless society, but of classy society. At Masa, it’s all about the whole picture: pretty ceramic plates filled with savory, authentic, chef-made tacos (Chef Saul Chavez hails from Morelia, Mexico). Oh, those tacos! They are filled with wonderful things like al pastor-marinated pork gilded with spice and pineapple, and shredded chicken with chipotle crema. Making these tacos even more delicious is the line of foolish souls queued up outside the Chipotle down the street. Don’t those people know they’re paying practically the same price for a tenth the enjoyment? That they could be dining on better food in an improved atmosphere just steps away? Oh well, pearls before swine and all that. But if you know how to tell pearls from paste, Masa’s the one for you.
Paris, France, has a lot going for it. It’s not just the way locals place a lei of foie-gras medallions around your doughy American neck when you get off the plane. It’s not just the way preschoolers lean against jungle gyms twisting sections of lemon peel into their espresso-filled sippy cups. It’s the ornament. That city has more egg-and-dart cornices and Gothic balustrades than the Boundary Waters has pinecones. And it has them because the French look at life differently than we do. We Puritan-descended Americans get dessert when we finish our chores, and not a moment before. And, naturally, those chores include fixing the world. The French get dessert because it’s the natural completion and fitting ornament to a meal; having a meal without dessert is the same as having a book without covers or a coat without buttons.
And this essential French-ness is Meritage’s genius: the sweet, fresh butter in the chilled table-pots; the pale consommé introduced to fresh herbs tableside, so you’re treated to a scent that’s salty and enticing; the lobster roll tucked into a perfectly seared white roll that you very well may not eat. (But does that mean it shouldn’t be toasted and attended to till it’s burnished like a cover model? No, it does not.) Best of all, you can lunch at Meritage for as little as $10.50 for a soup and sandwich combination, and you can get it regardless of whether or not you have perfected your—and everyone else’s—life first.
10 Best Capital City Lunches
Bangkok Thai Deli
1278 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-696-1666, everestongrand.com
Everest on Grand’s weekday lunch buffet is so popular they vary the star entrées. The Monday roast pork may change your assumptions about Nepali cuisine. It’s meaty and cakey—just the thing to fuel a trip up the Himalayas.
13 Best Soups
SATAY 2 Go
Laksa is the favorite meal-in-a-bowl of Malaysia, and Satay 2 Go’s is stellar: fragrant from the curry and rich with coconut milk. • 6670 150th St. W., Apple Valley, 952-891-8551, satay2gomn.com
MOSCOW ON THE HILL
Svekolnick, a vegetarian chilled-beet soup, is Russian summer in a bowl: light, bright, powerful, surprisingly delightful. • 371 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-291-1236, moscowonthehill.com
Borscht has helped hearty souls survive the winter for eons. Enjoy this beefy version for lunch and you can skip dinner. • 215 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-379-3018, kramarczuk.com
Chili-red broth makes this spicy calamari soup sing with fiery grace. • 1989 Silver Bell Road, Eagan, 651- 688-3447, hobanrestaurant.com
Pho: conquerer of colds, curer of bad days, triumph of still-wonderful Quang. • 2719 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-870-4739, quangrestaurant.com
Pozole’s homey combo of chicken, corn, and spices has been popular since ancient Aztec times. • 809 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825-4978
Wonton soup for foodie elites. The crisp, tender gai lan greens perfectly complement the house-made dumplings, which are as buoyant as clouds. • 326 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-340-0937 , keefercourt.com
CHIANG MAI TAI
Tangy Thai tom yum blends sour and spice to make you feel healthy, happy, and meaningfully sated. • 3001 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-827-1606, chiangmaithai.com
How spicy do you want it? Think twice—and then order the boiled beef in Szechuan hot sauce. • 3016 Lyndale Ave. S., mpls., 612-353-4281, szechuanspice1.com
Udon noodles are tender and comforting in Fuji Ya’s light and briny broth. Top them with your choice of treats, like this shrimp and vegetables option, crisply tempura fried. • 600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-4055, fujiyasushi.com
Fried fish with pickled vegetables isn’t your everyday soup. It’s more sour and much better. • 1676 Suburban Ave., St. Paul, 651-771-1790, ourteahouse.com
Potatoes, bamboo shoots, and black-eyed peas form the core of this Nepalese soup called aaloo-tama. It’s big in Nepal, and one of the most delicious vegan soups in town. • 2401 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls., 612-332-0880, himalayanmomo.com
Famous for their matzoh ball soup, Crossroads makes a creamy tomato that’s equally divine. • 2795 Hedberg Dr., Hopkins, 952-546-6595, crossroadsdelicatessen.com
THE GOOD LIFE
5600 W. 83rd St., Suite 100, Bloomington, 952-896-8888, parma8200.com
It’s a truism of life: Looking good makes us feel good. Does this mean we’re shallow? No: Arthur Miller spent his days penning deep dark thoughts in the Death of a Salesman vein, but still wanted Marilyn Monroe as arm candy in the evenings—it’s only human. We’re always working it, in our own fashion. Few work it as well as the new Parma 8200 in Bloomington, however. It looks like a Milanese design showroom in there: gleaming ostrich-leather-looking pillows, black-and-white-stenciled lights like Bauhaus thoughts on Victorian wallpaper. And on every table you’ll find pan-seared swordfish with a salty accent of house-made pancetta and a side of heart-healthy corona beans, a lively orange and fennel salad, or a homey plate of tagliatelle topped with a creamy Bolognese ragu. Looking good, Bloomington!
Curry & Noodle
802 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-681-7834, currynnoodles.com
The spicy Hyderabadi dishes like the chicken chattapatta are the spicy sensation of the West Metro—think the best spicy chicken wings you ever had, then multiply the deliciousness.
525 Winnetka Ave. N., Golden Valley, 763-544-2900, morts-deli.com
Nobody needs a critic to tell them this Jewish delicatessen is good: the line out the door every day for pastrami and potato latkes is proof enough.
Naviya’s Thai Brasserie
2812 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis, 612-276-5061
Naviya’s is known for their painstaking use of fresh herbs and just-squeezed citrus. Try the Yum Nue grilled-beef salad, a dish so well-tuned it practically sings.
Cocina del Barrio
5036 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-920-1860, barriotequila.com
Fine-dining-driven Mexican sweeps into downtown Edina. The chorizo torta is a decadent, spicy street-food treat and the chicken tinga salad pulls off the rare feat of being an entrée salad that isn’t the least bit dull.
TOP TABLES OF THE
1350 E. Hwy. 96, White Bear Lake, 651-414-9613, romananthonys.com
White Bear Lake: where multi million dollar mansions and back-woods ice-fishing houses happily coexist, and residents are united by good manners, a love of a big lake, and a taste for good things, like the zesty Italian chow at Roman Anthony’s. The meatball hero and chicken-parmesan sandwich are the best lunch picks.
King’s Fine Korean
1051 E. Moore Lake Rd., Fridley, 763-571-7256, kingsrestaurant.com
Spectacular food in a strip mall. Order anything: the dolsot bibimbop is scrumptious (especially with rice that’s roasted on the bottom). The lunch buffet is a delicious way to sample the restaurant’s considerable delights, from sushi (look for kim bap, piquant vegetarian sushi made with pickled vegetables) to kalbi-grilled short ribs, glazed to savory perfection.
4755 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights, 763-571-0222, bigmarinagrillanddeli.com
The biggest, cheapest, tastiest, all-you-can-eat Smorgasbord in the Twin Cities. Be sure to make room on your plate for lemony tabbouleh, red-pepper topped stuffed eggplant, and lamb shanks.
781 Old Hwy. 8 SW, New Brighton, 651-636-4670, barleyjohns.com
Take a day off work and meet a friend at Barley John’s to sample some of the state’s best microbrews at your leisure. Add a bratwurst or a smoked pork chop, and raise a glass to the good life.
Bryn Mawr Pizza & Deli
404 S. Cedar Lake Rd., Mpls., 612-377-5501, brynmawrpizzaanddeli.com
If you’re an I-394 commuter or live anywhere near Cedar Lake, go out of your way to find this spot. You won’t regret it: really good, bold red-sauce pizza, and the best hoagies west of downtown Minneapolis.
1989 Silver Bell Rd., Eagan, 651-688-3447, hobanrestaurant.com
Korean hot pots are one of life’s great healing foods, with their chilies, mineral-rich bone broth, and combination of vegetables and proteins. If you have a head-cold, if you have sadness, if you have deadlines stacked up like planes over LaGuardia in a snowstorm: Hoban’s hot pots do wonders to help solve those problems. Their spicy chicken hot pot is so complexly spiced it zooms past your ordinary senses and burrows into your spiritual center, leaving you feeling as healthy and happy as a robin singing the praises of the first days of spring.
Poor Richard’s Common House
8301 Normandale Blvd., Bloomington, 952-835-8308, poorrichardscommonhouse.com
Forgive them their shticky Colonial American thing. This sister-restaurant to Lakeville’s Molly Cool’s makes a very good Waldorf salad and a notable chicken pot pie.
8405 Lyndale Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-1429, purplesandpiper.com/wp
This chef-driven, local-focused spot has had some ups and downs since it opened, but it’s back with a strong lunch. Try the surprisingly craveable roast-cauliflower mac and cheese.
3501 Minnesota Dr., Bloomington, 952-841-1000, ciaobellamn.com
The wood-fired pizzas here are some of the lightest, purest, and most Italian in the metro. Be sure to try the thin-crust wild-mushroom flatbread.
981 Sibley Memorial Hwy., Lilydale, 651-905-1080, bgimarket.com
Italian food is ingredient-driven, and Buon Giorno simply has the best ingredients—by the truck-load and as far as the eye can see. The North Beach turkey sandwich has even been known to bring tears to the eyes of East Coast expats, it’s so marvelously authentic.
GREAT GRUB BACK
328 Fifth Ave. N., Bayport, 651-955-6337, bayportbbq.com
The metro’s newest BBQ joint is fascinating: The thick, sweet, well-glazed, ham-like ribs are unlike anything else offered, and, once sopped in Bayport’s signature mild-yet-zippy hot sauce (served warm!), remarkably delicious. The hot-links—house-made and gamey in an Old World way—are worth a trip alone. Don’t miss the cheese-saturated, farm-supper classic au gratin potatoes and fresh bread.
Phil’s Tara Hideaway
15021 N. 60th St., Stillwater, 651-439-9850, tarahideaway.com
Even though this great Greek eatery looks like nothing from the highway and like a 1930s roadhouse from inside, they make a wonderful lemony Greek chicken, and the Gyros-meat potato hash is the perfect guilty pleasure.
8362 Tamarack Village, Suite 124, St. Paul, 651-578-0064, sushitango.com
The most whimsical, fun, creative, and lighthearted of the metro sushi restaurants shines at lunch in its suburban location. (If you can lunch as late as 2 p.m., you can save a bundle—that’s when their happy hour on both food and drink begins.)
Tea House 2
1676 Suburban Ave., St. Paul, 651-771-1790, ourteahouse.com
There’s a good argument to be made that the Tea House restaurant in St. Paul is the best of the Szechuan chain. The food is bright and unmuddied, and the lunch specials are downright cheap: $6.50 for a giant bowl of pork and pickled-mustard green soup, and a mere $7.50 for some of the best kung pao chicken in town plus soup, rice, and an egg roll.
772 Bielenberg Dr., Woodbury, 651-578-3000, aperitifrestaurant.com
Aperitif’s $10 “Pronto” lunches are a chic value. For lunch dates with your book club, just try and avoid having every single person order the chopped salad and cup of soup combo. The flatbreads may be the best pizzas in Woodbury.
17 Best Sandwiches
REAL MEAL DELI