Top Culinary Destinations Across Minnesota

    This article is presented by Explore Minnesota Explore Minnesota Logo

    Central Minnesota

    Resorts, pretty lakes, and outdoor recreation—in the heart of Minnesota—help to make the Brainerd Lakes area a quintessential tourism destination, about a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities metro. With a history that includes Indian culture and logging camps, the area takes pride in its legends (Paul Bunyan and Babe, his mighty blue ox) and folklore, as well as miles of bike trails, Paul Bunyan Land Amusement Park, Pioneer Village, Pirate’s Cove, the Brainerd International Raceway, nationally ranked golf courses, some of the best freshwater fishing around, and hidden gems like Cru Restaurant & Wine Bar at Grand View Lodge, with meals prepared in creative and unexpected ways. 

    central minnesota  
    Photo courtesy of Grand View Lodge          

      central minnesota                                                                                                                 
    Photo courtesy of Explore Brainerd Lakes

    •  Day trip: Visit Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter, the first brewery and taproom in the area, open Thursday through Saturday. 

    Michael Manders | Resort Executive Chef, Grand View Lodge, Nisswa

    Grand View Lodge chef
    Photo courtesy of Grand View Lodge

    Local attractions: Our biggest attraction in the Brainerd Lakes area is the outdoors – hiking, biking, fishing, boating, golfing. At Grand View alone, we have three golf courses, horseback riding, and a spa. In the Brainerd Lakes area, it’s about getting out and enjoying Minnesota for what it is.

    What regional dish do you recommend people try when they come to your restaurant?  
    Our most popular regional dish is the walleye—we prepare it in a cracker crust, sometimes with a Cognac-infused marmalade, and serve it with a sweet corn risotto and wild rice. Another popular dish is the venison wild rice meat loaf.

    What wine or beer would you suggest as a pairing?
    The walleye goes well with a Sauvignon blanc. Walleye is a very light fish, you don’t want a heavy wine to overpower it. (The wine cellar at Cru Restaurant & Wine Bar, Grand View’s high-end restaurant, features over 2,000 bottles of wine.)

    I ignite my cooking creativity by … paying attention to trends. I do a lot of research, keep an open mind, and act as a sort of culinary sponge. I like to go to little places that do things in a traditional manner. That’s how I learn. I take pride in my ability to duplicate traditional dishes and add my own unique spin.

    Northeast Region

    Superior National Forest? Check. Sawtooth Mountains? Check. Waterfalls? Check. The world’s largest freshwater lake? Check. The northeast region is perfect for the city dweller wanting to unplug and reconnect with Mother Nature. Lodges are close to hiking and biking trails, state parks, scenic golf courses, and little towns with big personalities. Restaurants in this part of the state are worth the drive, too, from Duluth on up to Canada. (Bonus that views of Lake Superior provide an unforgettable backdrop.)

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    Photo by Craig Schmalz  

    Bluefin Bay
    Photo courtesy of Bluefin Bay


    • Ale trail: The North Shore is making a name for itself in the craft brew scene, with nine Minnesota breweries along the Duluth Beer Trail, ranging from Canal Park Brewery in Duluth to Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors.

    Judi Barsness | Executive Chef, Waves of Superior Café/Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts, Tofte

    waves of superior cafe
    Photo courtesy of Bluefin Bay

    What do you love about living on the North Shore?
    I love the quality of life. We enjoy the beauty of Lake Superior, nature, and the outdoors. If a person could be a direction, I would be North.

    What regional dish do you recommend people try when they come to your restaurant?  
    Any of our menu items that feature locally caught fish—fresh or smoked—eggs benedict, wild rice and walleye chowder, entrée salads, Bouillabaisse, locally made wild rice sausage, and our wild rice sausage gravy that goes over buttermilk biscuits—my North Shore version of biscuits and gravy. To truly immerse yourself in the North Shore experience, you must not only walk, ski, canoe, and bike its paths, you must savor its harvest. So often people think of the harvest as coming from the land, but up here, the harvest is from the Northern waters, Lake Superior and its watershed: lake trout, bluefin herring, coho salmon, steelhead trout, and walleye.  

    What wine or beer would you suggest as a pairing?  
    A great Sauvignon blanc pairs well with fresh Lake Superior fish, and any thirst-quenching Bent Paddle brew tastes great year-round.

    People should try Waves of Superior Café because … we call what we do Minnsine, or “Fresh Minnesota Cuisine” featuring locally harvested, produced, wild-caught ingredients. 

    Northwest Region

    In the Moorhead area, there are three colleges within 10 minutes of one another, creating a lively, vibrant atmosphere. Attractions include the Red River, miles of biking and hiking trails, the Rourke Art Gallery and Art Museum, the Hjemkomst Center, Comstock House, and award-winning destination restaurants, like Sarello’s, Usher House, and Rustica Eatery & Tavern.

    •  Cheers for local beer: Junkyard Brewing Company is the newest “nanobrewery” and taproom in Moorhead, open Monday through Saturday.

    Eric Watson | Executive Chef/Owner, Rustica Eatery & Tavern, Moorhead

    rustica eatery
    Photo by Scott Thuen

    What’s a “must-have” ingredient?
    Sherry vinegar and porcini powder.

    What regional dish do you recommend people try at your restaurant?  
    Everyone should try our pork belly appetizer and our duck confit entree. Our menu is well balanced with many great options, however, these two provide a unique flavor profile.

    What wine or beer would you suggest as a pairing?
    For the pork belly we suggest the Rapitala, Nero d’Avola and Davis Bynum; for the duck, a medium-bodied Pinot Noir. Our food menu and wine list are deliberately limited in size so that we can focus on great products and service.

    What’s your favorite food indulgence? Drink indulgence?
    My favorite food indulgence would definitely be bone marrow and grilled bread. As far as beverages, I love any well-executed Old Fashioned. I’ll take the tried-and-true over the trendy stuff any day.

    Southern Minnesota

    Take Highway 61 south from the Twin Cities to Winona for panoramic views of the Mississippi River on one side, and towering bluffs on the other as you meander through historic river towns, pastoral scenery, and unique attractions to Winona. Once you arrive, check out the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, where you’ll find world-class works by greats like Picasso and Renoir inside and a spectacular river view from the outdoor mezzanine. The Mississippi River is the star attraction in this town, and in the summer months the locals (and visitors) can be found on the water. Winona’s Park and Rec offers canoe and kayak rentals, as well as stand-up paddleboards. One of the best panoramic views of the river valley is from the Garvin Heights Overlook. While you’re up on the bluffs, sample some wine at Garvin Heights Vineyards.

    southern minnesota
    Photo by Cynthya Porter

    southern minnesota
    Photo by Mary farrell

    • Time to wine: Garvin Heights Vineyards is open from May through October, Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. No wine tasting appointment is necessary for groups of 10 or less.

    Jeremy Beck | Executive Chef, Signatures, Winona

    Photo courtesy of Signatures

    Culinary background: I started helping my grandma with her catering business when I was nine. When I was 15, I worked as a dishwasher at the Winona Country Club, eventually moving to prep cook and garde manager chef—a demanding job requiring the ability to create and execute dishes. When Signatures opened in 2005, I was promoted to sauté and grill cook, sous chef, and finally, executive chef.

    Little-known fact about Signatures: We have our own herb garden and regularly pick fresh herbs during the summer.

    What regional dish do you recommend people try? Our duck and sous-vide lamb dish. Both are from local farms.

    What wine or beer would you suggest as a pairing?
    Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon with the duck; Steele Wines Writer’s Block Syrah with the lamb.

    People should come to Signatures because … of amazing views of the golf course and surrounding hills, and the quality of our food and products. [We take pride in being awarded the AAA Three Diamond Rating.] Our staff is extremely helpful and accommodating in their efforts to exceed the expectations of our customers.

    Twin Cities Area

    Ever since the 1800s, Lake Minnetonka has drawn visitors to the Wayzata area. And unlike many trends that have become obsolete over the past two centuries, the appeal of Lake Minnetonka still remains. In the summer, the lake comes alive with fishing boats, pontoons, sailboats, and yachts. The lake is a lifestyle here. Visitors—and residents—not only love the lake, but enjoy excellent dining and shopping options (many of the restaurants and shops are locally owned and operated) and the Luce Line Trail, a former railroad grade popular for biking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and skiing.

    twin cities area
    Photo by Todd Buchanan

    • Date night: At Sociable Cider Works in nearby Minneapolis, cider is made with a specific selection of Minnesota’s sweet and sharp apples including the Haralson, Honeycrisp, and SweeTango varietals. This summer, enjoy a flight of cider in the taproom, play bocce on the patio, listen to live music, and nosh on food provided by chef Ian of The Curious Goat Food Truck.

    Gabe Stockinger | Executive chef, Lunds & Byerlys Kitchen, Wayzata

    lunds and byerlys chef wayzata     lunds and byerlys wayzata
    Photos courtesy of Lunds & Byerly’s

    What are your thoughts about the Twin Cities culinary scene?
    There’s been an explosion of big talent in the Twin Cities area, young chefs really pushing the envelope. It’s exciting.

    What regional dish do you recommend people try when they come to your restaurant?
    Try the pancakes. Really, they might be the best you ever ate. If you’re going for comfort, we have beef tenderloin tips and make our lobster pot pie in-house with cold-water lobster tail. If you try only one thing, though, our pub burger is one of the best in town. 

    What wine or beer would you suggest as a pairing?
    The lobster pot pie would be good with an oaky Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon with the beef tenderloin tips, and one of our local beers with the pub burger.

    People should check out Lunds & Byerlys Kitchen because … it’s a one-of-a-kind concept and experience in Minnesota.   


    For a full list of dining options, brewpubs, taprooms and wineries in the state, visit

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