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A black plate with green rigatoni noodles garnished with shaved parmesan and parsley.
A bright bowl of pasta at Giulia.
Giulia

9 Underrated Restaurants to Explore in the Twin Cities

Semisecret spots for top bibimbap, smoked meats, lamb curry, and more

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A bright bowl of pasta at Giulia.
| Giulia

As exciting as it is to check out the new and exciting restaurants around Minneapolis and St. Paul, there are certain neighborhood gems that anchor our dining landscape. These spots fly a little under the radar, but if you’re in search of fragrant pork ragu pappardelle, a classic chicken adobo, or tender, thin-sliced bulgogi, look no further. Here are 9 great underrated restaurants worth returning to time and time again in the Twin Cities.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine

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Ann Ahmed has captured imaginations and appetites with her second restaurant Lat14, and third Khâluna, but Lemon Grass was her first and is just as delicious and buzzworthy. Try the zippy papaya salad, the tom kha (a coconut milk-based soup with galangal) or any one of the roast duck preparations.

A towering salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine
Silver noodle salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine.
Lemon Grass Thai

FireBox Deli

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Don’t let the no-frills vibe fool you. This family-run deli is known for its can’t-miss, perfectly-smoked meats. Expect friendly-counter service, pork ribs with a balanced sweet-smokey glaze, and brisket so tender you can cut it with a plastic fork. Multiple locations.

Tender smoked brisket at FireBox Deli
FireBox Deli’s destination smoked brisket.
FireBox Deli

While Giulia is a hotel restaurant in sleepy downtown Minneapolis, it pretty much stands on its own. Giulia shares its vaulted space with the Emery’s lobby, but the hotel overlap stops there. The focus on northern Italian flavors are precise and spot on — think virtually faultless ricotta meatballs, a play on arancini (here, named suppli) paired with apple, and maltagliati: homemade, silky ribbons of pasta with a tonkotsu-style Japanese stock that’s wildly flavorful.

A bowl of green noodles at Giulia.
A bright bowl of pasta at Giulia.
Giulia

The Harriet Brasserie

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This charming restaurant serves deeply satisfying, comforting dishes. The setting is an old firehouse, with decor representing all the neighborhood icons that define Lake Harriet. Expect staples dishes, like salmon rillettes, grass-fed burgers, gnocchi with a glossy beurre blanc, or slightly more adventurous options, like a clams and bison sausage. Don’t leave without plunging a fork into the coconut tres leches cake.

A big burger and a beer at The Harriet Brasserie.
The bountiful burger and a beer at the Harriet Brasserie.
The Harriet Brasserie

One of many standout spots on Nicollet Avenue, Apoy serves traditional Filipino cuisine and a few original dishes of its own. Start with the classic lumpia or tender, caramelized tocino. The Shrimp Bicol Express pairs creamy coconut with piquant ginger in a tantalizing sauce. For dessert, the halo halo, a shaved ice medley of coconut, plantains, jackfruit, and sweetbeans (plus a scoop of ice cream on top) is the perfect antidote to a hot summer day. (For a special occasion, make a reservation for a kamayan, a traditional Filipino feast.)

Korea Restaurant

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Nearly lost in the menagerie of PR-backed restaurants that populate Dinkytown, Korea Restaurant keeps quietly chugging along with a glorious assortment of bibimbap, bulgogi, and potstickers. Lunch is mayhem, but worth every second of wait time. Prepare for self-service and generous helpings, and don’t be shy to refill on the side dishes.

The Bungalow Club

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There isn’t anything quite like the Bungalow Club in the Twin Cities. Kudos to Italian chef-owner Andrew Kraft for pushing the envelope on dining formats. There’s a family feast, a Wednesday burger club, and a Sunday night menu devoted to handmade pasta, Kraft’s specialty. His ragus are one of the most flavorful and robust in the Twin Cities.

Various dishes and cocktails at The Bungalow Club.
An assortment of plates at the Bungalow Club.
Bungalow Club

Khyber Pass Cafe

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Find perhaps the Cities’ best Afghan cuisine in this cozy restaurant just off of Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. Khyber Pass has a lovely interior — the walls are draped with traditional Afghan tapestries — but since the pandemic began, it’s been takeout only. Try the sabzi korma, an organic lamb curry, or the kebabs. Dishes like the vegetarian shola and aushak (leek dumplings) make this a favorite spot for vegetarians. A side of the cilantro and walnut chutney is a must.

Cheng Heng Restaurant

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Tucked into a petite stone building on University Avenue in St. Paul, Cambodian restaurant Cheng Heng is a Frogtown gem. Try the fiery red kor koo noodle soup, or the machu angkor, made with winter squash, pineapple, and lotus stems. Save room for the thuck kaw chuew: Beans nestled under sweetened condensed milk and crushed ice.

Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine

A towering salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine
Silver noodle salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine.
Lemon Grass Thai

Ann Ahmed has captured imaginations and appetites with her second restaurant Lat14, and third Khâluna, but Lemon Grass was her first and is just as delicious and buzzworthy. Try the zippy papaya salad, the tom kha (a coconut milk-based soup with galangal) or any one of the roast duck preparations.

A towering salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine
Silver noodle salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine.
Lemon Grass Thai

FireBox Deli

Tender smoked brisket at FireBox Deli
FireBox Deli’s destination smoked brisket.
FireBox Deli

Don’t let the no-frills vibe fool you. This family-run deli is known for its can’t-miss, perfectly-smoked meats. Expect friendly-counter service, pork ribs with a balanced sweet-smokey glaze, and brisket so tender you can cut it with a plastic fork. Multiple locations.

Tender smoked brisket at FireBox Deli
FireBox Deli’s destination smoked brisket.
FireBox Deli

Giulia

A bowl of green noodles at Giulia.
A bright bowl of pasta at Giulia.
Giulia

While Giulia is a hotel restaurant in sleepy downtown Minneapolis, it pretty much stands on its own. Giulia shares its vaulted space with the Emery’s lobby, but the hotel overlap stops there. The focus on northern Italian flavors are precise and spot on — think virtually faultless ricotta meatballs, a play on arancini (here, named suppli) paired with apple, and maltagliati: homemade, silky ribbons of pasta with a tonkotsu-style Japanese stock that’s wildly flavorful.

A bowl of green noodles at Giulia.
A bright bowl of pasta at Giulia.
Giulia

The Harriet Brasserie

A big burger and a beer at The Harriet Brasserie.
The bountiful burger and a beer at the Harriet Brasserie.
The Harriet Brasserie

This charming restaurant serves deeply satisfying, comforting dishes. The setting is an old firehouse, with decor representing all the neighborhood icons that define Lake Harriet. Expect staples dishes, like salmon rillettes, grass-fed burgers, gnocchi with a glossy beurre blanc, or slightly more adventurous options, like a clams and bison sausage. Don’t leave without plunging a fork into the coconut tres leches cake.

A big burger and a beer at The Harriet Brasserie.
The bountiful burger and a beer at the Harriet Brasserie.
The Harriet Brasserie

Apoy

One of many standout spots on Nicollet Avenue, Apoy serves traditional Filipino cuisine and a few original dishes of its own. Start with the classic lumpia or tender, caramelized tocino. The Shrimp Bicol Express pairs creamy coconut with piquant ginger in a tantalizing sauce. For dessert, the halo halo, a shaved ice medley of coconut, plantains, jackfruit, and sweetbeans (plus a scoop of ice cream on top) is the perfect antidote to a hot summer day. (For a special occasion, make a reservation for a kamayan, a traditional Filipino feast.)

Korea Restaurant

Nearly lost in the menagerie of PR-backed restaurants that populate Dinkytown, Korea Restaurant keeps quietly chugging along with a glorious assortment of bibimbap, bulgogi, and potstickers. Lunch is mayhem, but worth every second of wait time. Prepare for self-service and generous helpings, and don’t be shy to refill on the side dishes.

The Bungalow Club

Various dishes and cocktails at The Bungalow Club.
An assortment of plates at the Bungalow Club.
Bungalow Club

There isn’t anything quite like the Bungalow Club in the Twin Cities. Kudos to Italian chef-owner Andrew Kraft for pushing the envelope on dining formats. There’s a family feast, a Wednesday burger club, and a Sunday night menu devoted to handmade pasta, Kraft’s specialty. His ragus are one of the most flavorful and robust in the Twin Cities.

Various dishes and cocktails at The Bungalow Club.
An assortment of plates at the Bungalow Club.
Bungalow Club

Khyber Pass Cafe

Find perhaps the Cities’ best Afghan cuisine in this cozy restaurant just off of Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. Khyber Pass has a lovely interior — the walls are draped with traditional Afghan tapestries — but since the pandemic began, it’s been takeout only. Try the sabzi korma, an organic lamb curry, or the kebabs. Dishes like the vegetarian shola and aushak (leek dumplings) make this a favorite spot for vegetarians. A side of the cilantro and walnut chutney is a must.

Cheng Heng Restaurant

Tucked into a petite stone building on University Avenue in St. Paul, Cambodian restaurant Cheng Heng is a Frogtown gem. Try the fiery red kor koo noodle soup, or the machu angkor, made with winter squash, pineapple, and lotus stems. Save room for the thuck kaw chuew: Beans nestled under sweetened condensed milk and crushed ice.

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