The people of Minnesota are confident in our coolness — but aren't about to make a big deal about it. The region was built on a a sturdy base of bread, steak, gravy and milk, but modern times have given way to boundary-pushing cuisine, exquisite pastries and world-renowned chefs.
While the restaurant and city landscape has been forever changed over the events of 2020, now is an ideal time to rediscover all the good things these cities have to offer.
The cities are home to the Juicy Lucy (a burger with cheese on the inside), plenty of steaks, thriving Southeast Asian and Mexican communities, and so much more.
Welcome to the Land of Many Lakes (and Just as Many Cheeseburgers)
These two fraternal cities are similar enough that their residents are friendly with each other, but different enough that each boasts its own identity. Minneapolis is a little edgier. There's rock ‘n' roll, First Avenue (where Prince filmed Purple Rain). This is where the iconic cheese-filled burger, the Juicy Lucy, originated.
Minneapolis' popular North Loop neighborhood boasts world-class restaurants like Gavin Kaysen's Spoon and Stable, newer Italian/Japanese restaurant Sanjusan, and some of the city’s best bagels at Rise. The city’s Uptown and the Lyn/Lake neighborhoods retain a slightly tattered, scrappy cool. New North is emerging as a destination with the incredible Meteor Bar and the natural wine serving Bar Brava.
Meanwhile, Saint Paul has always been the quieter of the two cities — residents joke about being in bed by 8 p.m. at the latest. In recent years, the capital city has been experiencing a restaurant boom while retaining many of its old, classic eateries and a wide swath of great neighborhood bars.
Where to Start on Eater Twin Cities’ Top Maps
Hot Restaurant: As the fallout from the pandemic has eased, restaurants are reopening and returning to creativity. The hottest new spots right now includes Sidebar by Surdyk’s. It’s an ideal stop for both intimate date nights and gathering with reuniting with a clutch of friends. The front of the restaurant rolls back, allowing summer breezes to blow through. The snacky menu begs exploration.
Essential Restaurant: If narrowing down the Essential 38 is absolutely necessary, stop by Cafe Alma for a light breakfast or lunch. Make sure to grab a Manny’s torta, a perfectly constructed sandwich, for a midday break, and maybe a picnic at Powderhorn Park. Attempt to get a reservation at Gavin Kaysen’s extraordinary Demi, which currently has a beverage pairing done by local bar star Marco Zappia. If a more casual dinner, every single menu item served at James Beard Award nominated chef Christina Nguyen’s Hai Hai is packed with herbs, spice, and balanced flavor. Grab a seat at an oilcloth covered table at the expansive patio.
Iconic Restaurants: A visit to a classic Minnesota eateries usually involves ordering meat and having a drink. Check out these iconic dishes and dive bars of Minneapolis. Stop by for a classic steak and world-class service at Jax Cafe in Northeast. Or slide into the red vinyl booths at Mancini’s, where the room feels like its straight out of a 70’s era Vegas Lounge.
Burgers: Given the Twin Cities are in the middle of the country, this is a burger loving land. There is the cult of the ultra-rich, thin and cheesy diner-style burger at Parlour, a gourmet cheese-stuffed burgers like The Blue Door Pub’s blucy and thick patties at Lowry Hill Meats butcher shop. These are the burgers that define the cities.
Pho Sho’: After the end of the Vietnam war, many refugees from the conflict landed in Minnesota. Because of that there are the food treasures to be found in the Little Mekong neighborhood of St. Paul, as well as the Hmongtown Marketplace. There are also so, so many great bowls of Pho, the brothy Vietnamese soup. Rising star chef Yia Vang’s takeout only Union Hmong Kitchen is a fantastic feast to pack for epic backyard picnics, or even a delightful date night at home.
Coffee: Minneapolis is one of the great coffee cities and nearly every neighborhood has a great place to get caffeinated. St. Paul’s Cafe Astoria serves delicious and gorgeous coffee, with gold leaf accents and swirls of color. Minneapolis’ Five Watt has revolutionized the coffee drink with new flavors like the gin basil smash, spiked with gin bitters.
Ice Cream: To pick out the Minnesotan in a crowd, find the one eating ice cream in January. Whether it's the rock n' roll stylings of chef Sameh Wadi's Milkjam, the Instagram-inviting fun of MN Nice Cream, or the dense and luscious offerings from Sweet Science in its new location the cities love ice cream.
Pizza: Most Minnesota slices come square cut. Picture a round pizza, sliced into little bites where the corners are the most coveted pieces. For the so-weird-it’s-good Rueben pizza at Skinner’s Pub or Mucci’s deep-fried pizza, both in St. Paul’s popular West 7th neighborhood. Vegan and gluten-free slices abound at Pizza Luce, located all over the metro. Young Joni, a pizza restaurant for the modern age with a fantastic speakeasy bar in the back.
Beer: Taprooms have sprung up in every corner of the Twin Cities. These are the essential places to grab a beer and often a bite from a nearby food truck. These are the essential taprooms of the Twin Cities, including the good-time party vibes of Bauhaus Brew Labs and even the non-beer fun at Sociable Ciderwerks.
Cocktails: Drinking is a method of survival when it’s cold for six months out of the year. Dive bars are a part of the fabric of the community and the downtown cocktail scene is on par with some of the finest drinks poured the world over. Top shelf drinkers in Minneapolis have downtown options like Monello and its subterranean sibling spot Constantine, or the hallowed elegance of P.S. Steak. The hottest of the moment remains the creative classics at Meteor, a new bar with a dive bar sou. High class in St. Paul means stunning sippers with French flair at Meritage or a brief but spectacular cocktail list at the always warm and friendly Saint Dinette. Although, a West 7th bar crawl is an opportunity to get the true flavor of the neighborhood.
Making a Difference:
The events of 2020 forever changed the landscape of the Twin Cities and the way we view ourselves. The reckoning after George Floyd’s killing is a scar we will carry, and his legacy demands we all do better. In the midst of the chaos, people took to the streets and night, then showed up with food, supplies, and brooms to sweep away the glass the next day. It was a breathtaking scene to behold and encapsulated all the good and the hardship of being from here. Places like Pimento Jamaican Kitchen carries on in creating hope and fighting for justice. Its relief fund still holds healing spaces at places like the elementary school where Philando Castile made sure kids always had a meal.
Placed like Provisions Cafe is a pay what you can model. Cafe Racer, continues to serve once a month free meals to those in need. Hope Breakfast Bar donates 4% of its profits to those in need and has a restaurant industry relief fund. Project Black and Blue, from Craftmade Aprons donates money and help to chefs dealing with mental health and well-being challenges.
Twin Cities Food 'Hoods to Know
The intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street is a public transportation-friendly part of town, packed with restaurants. Check out Lyn/Lake Brewery for beer, rooftop views and a bite, World Street Kitchen for five star chef food on a college-student budget, and the next door Milkjam ice cream - that has some fantastic flavors and dairy-free options. Nearby Nightingale is perfect for lingering nights over snacks and drinks. Up/Down has classic arcade games and beer.
This quiet pocket of the city is shockingly dense in adorable shops and fantastic restaurants. It's home to James Beard Award nominee Steven Brown's Tilia, wood-fire fueled Martina, the lovely little patio for evenings with wine and a slice of famous tres leches cake at Harriet Brasserie, plus tasty pizza at Rosalia. Or grab a famous Clancey’s sandwich and head to the Lake Harriet Bandshell for music and a picnic.
Nicollet Avenue is dotted with fantastic restaurants including Hola Arepa, one of the pioneers of the food truck community, now set with a permanent space, and popular patio to serve its arepas. The newly opened Petite Leon has been drawing rave reviews as an intimate neighborhood cafe, with a spectacular burger. Nighthawks gives all the grown up diner vibes.
Northeast - or “nordeast” as long-time residents have known it, has long been a blue-collar area with a vibrant arts community. The eclectic restaurants mirror the sprawling area. There’s a whole barbecue scene over here with Animales, Minnesota Barbecue Co., Beast, Market BBQ, and the new Boomin’ Barbecue all inside this area. Don’t miss the vibrant Mexican breakfast and lunch options at Vivir or the hopping scene at Sidebar by Surdyk’s.
What was once a collective of old buildings housing artists and not a lot else has been reborn as the epicenter of St. Paul dining and home of a brand new minor league baseball stadium for the Saint Paul Saints (a team part-owned by Bill Murray.) Try Saint Dinette for some of the best hospitality in town, and famous burger. hospitality.
St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood is so-named because it's in the shadow of the city's cathedral (those St. Paulites are so clever). The area is filled with stunning old-city architecture, stately homes and a beautiful stretch of street dotted with delicious eateries. Minneapolis' fried chicken sensation, Revival, opened its second location here in 2016. There is fabulous coffee from Wee Claddagh. J. Selby’s wildly popular vegan fare. And W.A. Frost’s iconic patio.
Stretching out of downtown St. Paul, this area was once best known for neighborhood bars and old school eateries. The area has experienced a revitalization where new shops, restaurants and craft breweries are setting up shop alongside some of these classic spots. Brake Bread and Mojo Monkey Doughnuts serve early morning treats, Cafe Astoria offers incredible coffee in a chill setting while spots like Mancini’s and Cosetta’s save the old school flavor of this neighborhood. This guide will help dive bar fans explore that scene as well. West 7th is also home to the newly restocked Keg & Case that houses a collective of eateries from mac and cheese to an ice cream shop.
Glossary of Twin Cities Terms:
It sounds good, but it's the local practice of offering to give outsiders directions to anywhere except to our homes. Nice, but only on the surface. The winters are cold, so it takes natives awhile to warm up.
All seasonings more flavorful than salt.
Two hamburger patties fused into one around one molten center of cheese.
Beer and a bump:
Order inside one of our many dive bars like a pro. Choose a beer and a secondary shot of booze, preferably whiskey.
An excellent way to pass the time while drinking. Neighborhood bars are known for having booths where these little tear-off tickets are sold. All the proceeds benefit a charity - as is the Minnesota law. We love to legislate fun around here. Stop by Doug Flicker and Amy Greeley’s exceptional neighborhood pub Bull’s Horn to give these a try. Remember, if you win, it’s customary to buy a round for friends and tip the pull-tab booth worker.
He was the chef at the Michelin- starred Cafe Boulud in New York City before shocking the world with the announcement that he would return to his hometown and open a new restaurant. He has since opened Minneapolis' Spoon and Stable, Demi, and Bellecour bakery.
The city’s pizza maven. A former actress turned chef, she has created three of the best pizza restaurants in town with Sooki & Mimi, Young Joni, Hello Pizza, and Pizzeria Lola. She gave a legendary acceptance speech when she won Best Chef Midwest at the James Beard Awards.
Daniel del Prado:
A chef poised to dominate the food news of 2021. A longtime local chef he has opened Colita, Martina, Rosalia, Josefina, Sanjusan, and Cafe Ceres in a matter of years. All have been loved at first bite.
Birk and Christna began as food truck operators with Hola Arepa. He was an experienced bartender and chef, she was a savvy business creative who possesses a preternatural way with sauces. Their fluffy Venezuelan arepas gained a massive following. Ultimately, the truck got parked in favor of a full-time Minneapolis restaurant. A couple of years later, they opened Hai Hai, a Southeast Asian restaurant that has only grown in popularity. Her work there has garnered Nguyen some James Beard recognition. And a full meal on the patio at Hai Hai is a number one summer must.
What began as a revolutionary chef collective, the same crew cooking and serving all of its food inside a small Robbinsdale restaurant, have grown to be a dominating force in pushing cuisine forward in the Twin Cities. Above all things, dining with Travail is fun. Now ensconced inside its newly constructed building, tasting menus continue to dazzle, whether up on the rooftop or down in the basement. More of the restaurant will continue to open, and evolve, as the pandemic recedes. The crew also owns Pig Ate My Pizza, some seriously good pizza and a brewery across the street.
After a star-making turn on Top Chef this Saint Paul based chef has continued to expand both on TV and in the local food scene. His original restaurant Handsome Hog is perpetually popular.
Blue Plate Group:
A company that has built a business on supplying neighborhoods with the exact restaurant they need, including, The Lowry, The Freehouse, Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill, Highland Grill, Groveland Tap, Mercury Dining Room and Rail and Three Squares.
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