There’s that moment on any car trip when hunger shifts from a passing thought to a full-on obsession. Fast-food chains and gas station convenience stores hugging the off-ramps are counting on you to take the easy way out, but it doesn’t always end up that way. Sometimes you luck upon a venerable diner or a roadside café, and you proceed to have the best meal of the year. Why leave it to chance? Minnesota’s byways and thoroughfares are loaded with dining experiences grand enough to set the itinerary, not just accompany it.
Here are some more restaurants dotting different road-trip routes:
Former Duluth NAACP president Stephan Witherspoon opened a soul food restaurant in downtown Duluth modeled after his late father’s chicken shack. Stop in for fried chicken, catfish, cornbread, and other made-to-order Southern fare.
New Scenic Cafe, Duluth
A true culinary pilgrimage, this 22-year-old North Shore institution mastered farm-to-table before the concept was cool. Owner/chef Scott Graden expanded his lakeside empire with the Mise en Place Marketplace meal kits and the Scenic 61 food trailer during COVID-19, but locals and tourists are hungry to see the remodeled crown jewel. Coming up: two more Scenic 61 trailers (one will serve sashimi tuna tacos at the Minnesota State Fair) and a new Mise en Place deli area at the Cafe entry.
Northern Waters Smokehaus, Duluth
The smoked salmon is the star of the sandwich menu—try it in the Cajun Finn or Great Summer Caper. But don’t overlook the excellent deli meats and thoughtful vegetarian options.
Naniboujou Lodge, Grand Marais
This summer, in-house guests can indulge in breakfast, lunch, and dinner beneath Naniboujou’s grandiose ceiling painted with Cree-inspired designs. On pause for 2021: Sunday brunch and afternoon tea in the solarium, which was once an outdoor shuffleboard court.
Rustic Inn Café, Two Harbors
A couple places vie for the title of the North Shore’s best pie, but Rustic’s cream, crumb, and fruit varieties often come out on top. Ask about the fresh lake trout and bluefin available in season.
Sunrise Bakery, Hibbing
Founded in 1913, this fourth-generation family-owned bakery offers Italian-style breads, pastries, and Iron Range standbys like pasties and potica. The adjacent deli serves espresso and stellar porketta sandwiches.