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Salvadoran fare from Abi’s on Lyndale Avenue.
Abi’s Restaurant

11 Underrated Restaurants to Explore in the Twin Cities

Semisecret spots for top bibimbap, smoked meats, pupusas, and more

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Salvadoran fare from Abi’s on Lyndale Avenue.
| Abi’s Restaurant

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 11 great underrated restaurants worth returning to time and time again in the Twin Cities.

Note that these restaurants are listed geographically.

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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.

FireBox

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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.

Slices of brisket.
FireBox Deli’s destination brisket.
FireBox Deli

Mario's

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Mario’s lives on a quiet block of Cleveland Avenue — it’s a sister restaurant to Estelle, another St. Paul star. When it opened last spring, it was an exciting addition to the Twin Cities’ pizza and sandwich scenes. The sandwiches are called heroes here — stuffed with mortadella, salami, soppressata et al., they’re elevated to new heights by chef Evan Vranian’s house-baked sesame seed loaves. The square pizzas are loosely Detroit-style, and the fried zeppole Oreo doughnuts are reason enough to stop by.

Square pepperoni pizza on a wooden board.
A pepperoni slab from Mario’s.
Jason Hansen

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 among 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

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.

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

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.

My Huong Kitchen

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Eat Street is a hot spot for Vietnamese food in a city that’s, well, a hot spot for Vietnamese food. Quang, a decades-old icon, resides here, as does Lu’s Sandwiches, one of the Cities’ most beloved banh mi spots. But just across the street from Quang is My Huong Kitchen, a tiny gem of a Vietnamese restaurant. The pho here is ample and lightly sweet, the banh mi are packed with springy veggies and deeply satiating. Pair a meal with a sweet French crepe or bubble tea.

Abi's Restaurant

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Chef Abi Baire takes inspiration from the women in her family — her grandmother, mother, and Aunt Maria — who’ve been cooking Salvadoran food for generations. She brought their time-tested recipes to Minneapolis in 2015, when she opened Abi’s Restaurant on Lyndale Avenue. The entire menu, which has everything from quesabirria to camarones a la plancha, is stellar, but the absolute musts are the flavor-packed pupusas. Mix and match the revueltas, the chicharrón con queso, and the queso con ayote.

A large blue sign with art and a message saying “Abi’s cocina salvadorena y mexicana.”
Abi’s on Lyndale.
Abi’s Restaurant

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, is the perfect antidote to a hot summer day (or a cold one, for that matter).

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

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.

FireBox

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.

Slices of brisket.
FireBox Deli’s destination brisket.
FireBox Deli

Mario's

Mario’s lives on a quiet block of Cleveland Avenue — it’s a sister restaurant to Estelle, another St. Paul star. When it opened last spring, it was an exciting addition to the Twin Cities’ pizza and sandwich scenes. The sandwiches are called heroes here — stuffed with mortadella, salami, soppressata et al., they’re elevated to new heights by chef Evan Vranian’s house-baked sesame seed loaves. The square pizzas are loosely Detroit-style, and the fried zeppole Oreo doughnuts are reason enough to stop by.

Square pepperoni pizza on a wooden board.
A pepperoni slab from Mario’s.
Jason Hansen

The 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 among 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

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.

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

Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine

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.

My Huong Kitchen

Eat Street is a hot spot for Vietnamese food in a city that’s, well, a hot spot for Vietnamese food. Quang, a decades-old icon, resides here, as does Lu’s Sandwiches, one of the Cities’ most beloved banh mi spots. But just across the street from Quang is My Huong Kitchen, a tiny gem of a Vietnamese restaurant. The pho here is ample and lightly sweet, the banh mi are packed with springy veggies and deeply satiating. Pair a meal with a sweet French crepe or bubble tea.

Abi's Restaurant

Chef Abi Baire takes inspiration from the women in her family — her grandmother, mother, and Aunt Maria — who’ve been cooking Salvadoran food for generations. She brought their time-tested recipes to Minneapolis in 2015, when she opened Abi’s Restaurant on Lyndale Avenue. The entire menu, which has everything from quesabirria to camarones a la plancha, is stellar, but the absolute musts are the flavor-packed pupusas. Mix and match the revueltas, the chicharrón con queso, and the queso con ayote.

A large blue sign with art and a message saying “Abi’s cocina salvadorena y mexicana.”
Abi’s on Lyndale.
Abi’s Restaurant

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, is the perfect antidote to a hot summer day (or a cold one, for that matter).

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

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