Today we join Eater cities across the country in celebrating the restaurants, bars, pop-ups, and bakeries that made 2022 an unforgettable year of dining. Here in the Twin Cities, it’s a remarkable time in the restaurant world. The last three years have been marked by the challenges of the pandemic — supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, shifting mandates, and the inflated cost of ingredients — and if 2021 was a year of countless pivots and adaptations, 2022 proved itself to be a year of continued resilience. There were notable closures (not all of them pandemic-related) but many local legends persevered through hardship, buoyed by their communities, and many newer restaurants thrived. The year also had an unmistakable, hard-to-contain feeling of joy and possibility. We saw exciting openings from local chefs, massive wins for restaurants making a mark on the national dining scene, and never-seen-before debuts around the metro. That feeling is growing as we look ahead to 2023, with many hotly anticipated restaurant openings on deck.
This year, the Twin Cities Eater Awards highlight restaurants and bars that opened between fall 2021 and fall 2022 (look here for more on last year’s awards). Here are this year’s picks for restaurant of the year, best comeback bar, best supper club, most transportive design, chef of the year, and best distillery transformation.
Restaurant of the Year: Kalsada
In April, chef Leah Raymundo and chef John Occhiato parlayed their success with Café Astoria and Stella Belle into an entirely new venture: modern Filipino restaurant Kalsada. Raymundo, who grew up in the Manila area of the Philippines, makes it clear that her food is “not your lola’s cooking” — she favors creativity over narrow expectations of authenticity but roots the menu in essential Filipino flavors and dishes. The kinilaw features coconut and citrus-marinated ahi tuna tartare; the chicken adobo gets a little added truffle funk. Kalsada’s day menu is as compelling as its dinner menu, emerging as one of the Twin Cities’ best new brunches and helping cement the sweet, earthy virtues of ube in the local dining scene. The best move is to share dishes: the tender tocino with eggs and garlicky rice, the royal purple ube pancakes crowned with ice cream and mango, and the can’t-miss truffled chicken adobo. Prepare to battle for the exquisitely fatty bits of chicken skin left in the bowl.
Best Comeback Bar: Little Tijuana
After a few years marred by the pandemic, what better to celebrate than a roaring comeback? This summer, Dan Manosack, Travis Serbus, Bennett Johnson, and Benjamin Rients revived beloved Eat Street bar Little Tijuana, keeping the name and revamping the menu and cocktails. They did it with such scrappy panache that Little T’s neighborhood spirit still shines bright. Manosack’s menu pairs dense, doughy pelmeni and mapo rigatoni with killer bar snacks: craggy fried cauliflower bites, papri chaat, a fried chicken sandwich topped with a zippy papaya slaw. The cocktails are heavy hitters, leaning into mezcal, fruit, and a measured use of mushroom, orange, and café du monde bitters. The pina colada slushy machine churns beside the record player, where old vinyls are kept on rotation. The whole place is immaculately funky and fun — a perfect neighborhood bar.
Best Supper Club: Creekside Supper Club
2022 was the year of the supper club in the Twin Cities. The Creekside debuted in December 2021 as a veritable love letter to the wood-paneled, crimson-carpeted supper clubs of Wisconsin — upscale restaurants in rural areas that had their heyday in the mid-twentieth century. There’s plenty of retro ephemera: a Fawn Fleetwood cigarette vending machine, plush red booths, some choice taxidermy. But certain details make the time warp feel uncanny: the bartender humming Billie Holiday as she pours a draft of Bell’s, the brandy Old Fashioneds so true to their sweet-sour Wisco’ form they’re almost a cultural artifact. Co-owners Ward Johnson and Eddie Landenberger brought on chefs Grant Halsne and Eli Wollenzien to craft an unrivaled relish tray, baskets of eggy popovers, and a warming beef short rib with carrots and hash that’s as skillful and heartfelt an homage to Midwest cooking as there’s ever been.
Most Transportive Design: Khâluna
Khâluna is chef Ann Ahmed’s third restaurant — she’s been a champion of Southeast Asian cuisine in the Twin Cities for a long time. To bring Khâluna to life, Ahmed partnered with local firm Shea Design: Together, they created an enchanting experience that evokes the palm-tree-swathed resorts of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Stepping into Khâluna really does feel like arriving at a balmy destination by the sea — quite a feat for a restaurant on the 45th northern latitude. Domed lamps hover above a landscape of rattan chairs, plush dining nooks, and blonde wood accents. Everything is washed in the warmest shades of sandstone and gold. All this to match the stellar menu, which features a whole fried red snapper drowned in a tamarind glaze and a bucatini talay in a punchy tom yum ragout.
Chef of the Year: Yia Vang
Chef Yia Vang has had a big year. In October of 2021, he transitioned his roving pop-up, Union Hmong Kitchen, to a permanent space at Graze food hall, where his khao poon and beautifully simple zoo siab meals of tender pork belly, coarse-ground Hmong sausage, and Hilltribe chicken earned him a James Beard nomination for Best Chef Midwest. Pandemic-related delays stalled the opening of Vang’s second restaurant, Vinai, so he debuted its thoughtful menu of five-spice pastrami duck noodles and summer salad — made with Hmong cucumbers from his mother’s garden — in a residency format at Steady Pour. Over the summer, he was the first chef to bring Hmong cuisine to the Minnesota State Fair, and demand for his mov + nqaij and dej qab zib never let up. Vang also starred in Netflix’s Iron Chef, TPT’s Relish, and the Outdoor Channel’s Feral, launched a podcast about Hmong American identity, and debuted UHK sauces and spice blends in local stores. Through it all, he’s been a generous steward of Hmong culinary traditions, as committed to sharing Hmong cuisine on a national platform as he is to cooking for his communities back home.
Best Distillery Transformation: Earl Giles
Before Earl Giles was ever a distillery, it was an apothecary of sorts — owners Jesse Held and Jeff Erkkila crafted elixirs, syrups, and cordials, playing with sugar’s vital role in the cocktail glass. They finally debuted Earl Giles as a distillery, cocktail room, and restaurant this summer, infusing the entire space — a former stagecoach factory on Northeast Minneapolis’s Quincy Street — with a sense of invention and whimsy. Most everything there is house-made, like the gin in the Rabbit Kick, which tastes like a carrot Dreamsicle, and the black spruce and douglas fir elixir in the Evergreen Collins, which captures the pine-drunk essence of a day spent in northern Minnesota. Twelve sweet nonalcoholic draft drinks (like the tropical ginger beer and makrut phosphate) gush from a row of silver faucets behind the bar, making the cocktail list feel endlessly customizable. The food menu adds to the delight, with hand-thrown pizzas by chef Matt Reisinger served alongside Chesapeake crab dip and cool ranch-dusted duritos — as does the sunny, garden-like interior.