Dining 101: The Best Twin Cities Restaurants

From award-winning restaurants to well-loved local favorites, the Twin Cities foodie scene provides a wide range of flavors
Young Joni is just one of many amazing restaurants in the Twin Cities
Young Joni

Photo by Eliesa Johnson of the Restaurant Project

Chefs in the Twin Cities make family recipes, push boundaries and win culinary awards for excellence. The Midwest’s 2019 James Beard Best Chef, Ann Kim, calls Minnesota home, and the state typically produces more than a dozen semifinalists in that category each year. We have small, 20-seat eateries with lines out the door for breakfast, like Al’s Cafe, and modern cuisine served in some of the area’s most historic places, like W.A. Frost and Co.

Restaurants all over the world have had to adjust due to the economic impact of the novel coronavirus, and the Twin Cities have been no exception. But restaurateurs here worked hard to adapt their services and policies to keep a wide variety of dining options available. They’re waiting for you to discover them, and you’ll find your new favorite in bustling hotspots like Eat Street, Midtown Global Market, downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul’s Grand Avenue and elsewhere.

Eat Street is a roughly 17-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis that starts just outside of downtown. Options here include cocktails, pizza, doughnuts and alcohol-infused cupcakes, the latter courtesy of the Copper Hen.

Pimento

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Stop in Pimento Jamaican Kitchen & Rum Bar to light up your taste buds and savor the story of chef Tomme Beevas. The winner of an episode of Food Network’s “Food Court Wars,” Beevas has brought his grandma’s flair for seasoning to Kingston-style jerk chicken, curry chicken, braised oxtail and coco bread. Pimento’s food truck makes stops around downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul in the spring and summer, to pack flavor into your afternoon.

We can’t talk about Eat Street without mentioning Eat Street Social (its sister restaurant is Northeast Social). Here, dishes like 1881 Steak Frites, risotto and Wild Acres Duck Breast come with some of the city’s most acclaimed cocktails and handcrafted non-alcoholic sodas. And if you’re craving pizza, the gourmet, coal-fired pies at Black Sheep Pizza next door won’t disappoint.

For something sweet, Glam Doll Donuts has creative and plump doughnuts like the Cloud Nine, with dark chocolate bourbon filling and chocolate fudge brownie icing—plus vegan options, too. A block away, find Chinese food skillfully prepared at Rainbow Chinese Restaurant and Bar.

Icehouse

Photo by Allen Brisson-Smith

The Eat Street list goes on, but our last mention is Icehouse. This two-story building offers American cuisine, drinks and live music in an industrial-chic space. The venue puts music center stage with almost-nightly concerts (including Monday Night Jazz), and the menu mixes things up: from nibbles, such as an assortment of house pickles, to burgers and a worthy smoked-salmon Benedict.

Midtown Global Market, also in Minneapolis, houses more than 15 food vendors. Check out Panaderia y Pasteleria Samantha for Mexican food and baked goods; Holy Land Grocery, Butcher Shop & Deli for falafel; Taquería Los Ocampo, Taco Cat, La Loma Tamales and Salsa a la Salsa for Latin American food; Safari Express for East African food; and Ziadi’s Mediterranean Cuisine. There’s more to discover, but we’ll let you browse among the clothing and gift booths during your visit.

Midtown Global Market in the Twin Cities
Midtown Global Market

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Midtown Global Market is Minneapolis’ original food hall, but for another experience on the other side of the river, swing by St. Paul’s Keg and Case Market, which earned the title of USA Today’s No. 1 food hall in 2018 and 2019. Situated on the grounds of the historic Schmidt Brewery, this food hall combines chef-driven restaurants with craft beer and a curated market of regional products. Also in St. Paul is Market House Collaborative, a bustling food hall with bakery, butcher shop and seafood eateries in upscale-industrial digs. And look for the upcoming Dayton’s Project in downtown Minneapolis.

While not under the same roof, downtown Minneapolis’ other food spots never seem far thanks to the gridded streets and miles of skyway. A local favorite is Hell’s Kitchen (which existed before Gordon Ramsay’s show). The venue features a 35-foot Bloody Mary bar and live music, and notable bites include lemon ricotta pancakes, barbecued ribs and world-famous house-made peanut butter. Nearby, find the Local, an Irish pub; Sawatdee Thai; and Brit’s Pub, which features rooftop lawn bowling.

Another downtown darling is Eastside, run by chef Jamie Malone, who has also steered the French-inspired Grand Cafe back into the spotlight. At Eastside, things get a little quirky—a little ’90s—with white-blazered bartenders and golden swans freighting cocktails. With a focus on family-style meals served on Lazy Susans, guests can split appetizers, such as the fried chicken with honey and Espelette peppers, or share the whole wood-roasted duck entrée.

Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar

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In the historic North Loop, two fine-dining musts include Bar La Grassa and Spoon and Stable. The first is an Italian restaurant with exposed brick and more than a dozen pasta dishes. The second serves up modern dining with French techniques that won chef Gavin Kaysen a Best Midwest Chef title. Relax with a pint at any of the surrounding breweries, such as Modist Brewing Co., Fulton Brewing Taproom and Clockwerks Brewing. Otherwise, grab a seat at Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar or head to Zen Box Izakaya for Japanese comfort food such as ramen, rice dishes, sushi and savory small plates.

For Minnesota-centric food, head to Blue Door Pub, the Nook, Matt’s Bar and other burger joints serving the state’s famous Juicy Lucy (where patties come stuffed with molten cheese). At Demi, in the North Loop, you’ll have to reserve well in advance: This is the Twin Cities’ take on ultra-sophisticated tasting-menu fare, helmed by Kaysen, who establishes a welcoming Minnesotan sensibility.

Across the Mississippi River and in the suburbs, the foodie scene continues to thrive. In St. Paul, Grand Avenue is known for its shops and restaurants. Here, the summertime favorite is Grand Ole Creamery for ice cream, and year-round desserts include Cafe Latte’s locally famous tres leches and turtle cakes (but don’t sleep on the cheesecakes, either). French Meadow Bakery & Cafe was the first certified organic bread bakery in the country, and since then, it has expanded its tempting café menu. Colossal Cafe has mouth-watering brunch items, including giant pancakes, and walleye is the go-to at Tavern on Grand.

Also on Grand, the Lexington is full of history. Before opening in 1935 as a restaurant, it operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Chef Jack Riebel helped bring the Lexington back in 2017, after it was closed for four years, and now its American-style menu of old favorites—like steak Diane and an updated beef pot au pho—doesn’t skip a beat.

Other favorites on Grand: Brasa Premium Rotisserie’s Creole comfort food and mouth-watering chicken; French restaurant Salut Bar Americain; Red Rabbit for authentic Italian food in an easygoing atmosphere; and Everest on Grand, a family-owned Indian and Nepalese restaurant. More global cuisine includes Japanese eatery Saji-Ya, India House, and the Afghani eats at Khyber Pass Cafe. Seafood boils might not be on your radar in Minnesota, but don’t overlook Grand Catch. Meanwhile, Billy’s on Grand has elevated bar food and a great patio, making it a summer staple.

Out in the western suburbs, make your way to the James Beard Award-winning Travail Collective in Robbinsdale. Just west of Minneapolis is celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern’s Chinese restaurant Lucky Cricket in St. Louis Park. In Bloomington, Mall of America has more than 50 eateries. There are hidden culinary gems all over the Twin Cities, and new ideas are popping up all the time.

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