Dining 101: The Twin Cities’ Best Restaurants

Tuck in at award-winning restaurants, run by nationally renowned chefs, for a wide range of flavors
The Bachelor Farmer
The Bachelor Farmer

Courtesy Visit St. Paul

The Twin Cities dining scene is full of chefs making family recipes, pushing boundaries and winning awards. We have the Midwest’s 2018 and 2019 James Beard Best Chefs, Gavin Kaysen and Ann Kim respectively, and each year we’ve had more than a dozen semifinalists. We have small, 20-seat eateries with lines out the door for breakfast (we’re looking at you, Al’s Cafe), and modern cuisine served in some of the area’s most historic places.

While it can be difficult to completely grasp the scope of Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurants, the bustling hotspots of Eat Street, Midtown Global Market, downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Grand Avenue convey just how filling you’ll find your stay.

Eat Street is a roughly 17-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue in South Minneapolis with diverse options including cocktails, pizza, doughnuts and alcohol-infused cupcakes, the latter courtesy of the Copper Hen.

For something you can tear into, go to Pimento Jamaican Chicken. The winner of an episode of Food Network’s “Food Court Wars,” Tomme Beevas has brought his grandma’s flair for seasoning to Kingston-style jerk chicken, curry chicken, braised oxtail and coco bread. While the meals are tantalizing year round, Pimento’s food truck goes around downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul in the spring and summer, adding zing to your day.

You can’t really talk about Eat Street without mentioning Eat Street Social. Besides savoring dishes like the 1881 Steak Frites, risotto and Wild Acres Duck Breast, you can get some of the city’s most acclaimed cocktails and handcrafted non-alcoholic sodas here.

Glam Doll Donuts
Glam Doll Donuts

Courtesy Glam Doll Donuts

For casual fare, spots like Black Sheep Pizza do the trick, and Glam Doll Donuts is best for those who believe in treating themselves with outrageous and plump doughnuts such as the Femme Fatale, which has fresh raspberry curd and vanilla icing. Meanwhile, on cold days especially, the food at Pho 79 is a winner, too.

The Eat Street list goes on, but our last mention is Icehouse. Since it opened in 2012, it has become an evening go-to for those wanting to lounge with good food and a long menu of sipping shots and whiskey. The two-story building puts music center stage with almost-nightly concerts (including Monday Night Jazz), and the menu mixes things up with an assortment of house pickles and Skuna Bay salmon.

Midtown Global Market, also in Minneapolis, has 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 Latino food; and Safari Express for East African food. There’s more to discover, but we’ll let you explore among the clothing and gift booths. It’s Minneapolis’ original food hall.

Keg and Case Market
Keg and Case Market

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

And if you’re hip to the food-hall trend, swing by St. Paul for Keg & Case Market (the brewery-size concept incubator  that took home the title of USA Today’s No. 1 food hall in 2018), the industrial-chic Market House Collaborative, also in St. Paul, and the upcoming Dayton’s Project in downtown Minneapolis.

While not under the same roof, downtown Minneapolis’ other food spots never seem far apart among the gridded streets and miles of skyway. A local favorite is Hell’s Kitchen, which existed before Gordon Ramsay’s show. It has world-famous peanut butter and a 35-foot Bloody Mary bar. Nearby, find the Local Irish pub; Sawatdee Thai; and Brit’s Pub, with rooftop lawn bowling.

A recent darling of downtown is Eastside, run by chef Jamie Malone, who has also successfully steered the French-inspired Grand Cafe back into the spotlight. At Eastside, things get a little quirky—a little ’90s—but even if you don’t dig the white-blazered bartenders or the golden swan that the shared cocktail comes in, you’ll love the food. With a focus on family-style meals served on Lazy Susans, guests can split appetizers, like the fried chicken with honey and Espelette peppers, or share the whole wood-roasted duck entrée.

Grand Catch
Grand Catch

Photo by TJ Turner

In the North Loop, a neighborhood next to downtown Minneapolis, two fine-dining musts include Bar La Grassa and Spoon & 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 Kaysen his Best Midwest Chef title. If you want to hang out and relax, knock back a pint at any of the surrounding breweries, like Modist Brewing, Fulton Brewing Taproom and Clockwerks Brewing. Otherwise, grab a seat at Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar or go for ramen at Zen Box Izakaya.

If you want Minnesota-centric food, we love places like Blue Door Pub, the Nook and Matt’s Bar for the state’s famous Juicy Lucys (where burger patties come stuffed with molten cheese), and as far as the North Loop goes, the Bachelor Farmer honors Minnesota’s heritage with Nordic cuisine. While you’re there, make sure you try its underground speakeasy, Marvel Bar.

Matt's Bar
Matt’s Bar

Courtesy of TJ Turner

Minneapolis has its foodie scene, but don’t forget the wealth of options across the Mississippi River and in the suburbs. In St. Paul, Grand Avenue is known for its shops and food.

The summertime favorite is Grand Ole Creamery for ice cream. Year-round desserts include Cafe Latte’s cheesecake and tres leches cake. French Meadow Bakery & Cafe was the first certified organic bread bakery in the country, and since then, it has delighted customers with an expanded café menu. Colossal Cafe has many mouth-watering brunch items, including giant pancakes, and Tavern on Grand puts a spotlight on walleye. For spices, head over to Everest on Grand, a family-owned Indian and Nepalese restaurant.

Also on Grand, the Lexington has its own history. Before opening in 1935 as a restaurant, it operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Chef Jack Riebel and Smack Shack owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald brought the Lexington back in 2017 after it was closed for four years, and its American-style menu of old favorites like steak Diane and updated classics like beef pot au pho didn’t skip a beat.

Brasa
Brasa

Photo by Todd Buchanan

Other Grand Avenue restaurants include Brasa Premium Rotisserie, with its Creole comfort food and mouth-watering chicken, and French restaurant Salut Bar Americain. For more global cuisine, there’s Japanese eatery Saji-Ya, India House and the Afghani 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 non-ostentatious 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. Also west is Andrew Zimmern’s Chinese restaurant Lucky Cricket, which recently opened in St. Louis Park. South of Minneapolis in Bloomington, Mall of America has 50-plus eateries. There are hidden culinary gems all over the Twin Cities, so bon appétit.

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