The 38 Essential Minneapolis Restaurants, October '14
Welcome to the Eater 18, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?"
This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines and, collectively, satisfies all of your restaurant needs, save for those occasions when you absolutely must spend half a paycheck. Over time, the Eater 18 will change, with new restaurants joining as others fall off, but we'll keep the total number steady at 18. The only hard and fast rule of engagement is that a restaurant must be open at least six months to qualify for inclusion on the list, though strong consideration is given to neighborhood favorites over fancier destination spots. And so, without further ado—and in no particular order—here is the Eater 38.
And, just in case, rather than having a stage-4 meltdown over our having excluded your favorite restaurant from the list, wouldn't it be more productive to just nominate it for inclusion next time? Discuss, debate, comment.
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It's a nightly dinner party thrown by your most charming and talented friends. Whether your agenda includes locally raised, craft cocktails, quality service, down home comfort food or refined culinary techniques, this team in St. Paul has your every dining out wish granted. This is ground zero for fantastic drinks, easy and fun service plus the food that will haunt your dreams long after the check is paid and gone.
Somehow hanging out in the proximity of Eric and Andrew Dayton has made us all a lot cooler. They appropriated our aw-shucks Midwestern style and transformed our food, art, aquavit and even afghans into the haute chic that grabs the attention of New York City. Paul Berglund's pristine plates offer clean flavors drawn from Nordic cuisine that has the entire world so smitten. Cocktails from Pip Hanson redefine what a drink can be, like nori steeped in Scotch, or low proof drinks that play with fermentation. Which is to say nothing of the glorious pastry creations from Khanh Tran. There is much talent inside these walls and we are better for it.
Surrounded by black and white tile, the heady perfume of butter and the view of a sparkling city park outside the window, it's easy to image you're in a neighborhood brasserie in Paris. However, one of the most romantic dining destinations in the Twin Cities is Meritage in downtown St. Paul. Chef Russell Klein's fare is hearty in the winter, light and lovely in the summer and decadently briney around Oysterfest time. From the more casual raw bar with the beautiful cocktails to the intimate dining room with the fat book of beautiful wine offerings to a brunch worth lingering over, Meritage always pleases.
There are only a handful of these old diner cars still available, but even fewer are still slinging the kind of grub that made them a classic. Embrace the perfume of hashbrown and oil as you tuck into the cozy red-accented booths and choose wisely. Skinny burgers topped with American cheese or America's Favorite All Day (eggs, toast and your choice of meat) are all untouched by food trends. Order a marachino cherry topped malt and taste a memory.
The crust is bubbled, charred and topped with your heart's desire. Whether you prefer the more basic pepperoni or three types of mushrooms, two funky cheeses and a dollop of truffle oil, no one makes a pie like Pizzeria Lola. Just be certain to save room for the olive oil and sea salt topped soft serve.
Every neighborhood needs a great cafe: a space for celebrations, consolations, quick date nights or long evenings of catching up with old friends. Only one neighborhood is lucky enough to claim Corner Table, while the rest of us have to travel over there to experience their flawless service and ravishing cuisine. The often rotating menu keeps chef and co-owner Thomas Boemer creatively fulfilled and means that neighborhood diners can eat here several times a week and never run out of new flavors to try.
A great sausage is a postcard from a time and place. Subtle or powerhouse flavors are as much a familial calling card from the old world as a coat of arms. The Kramarczuk's family has been serving Polish, Hungarian, knockwurst, blood sausage, linguica, chorizo and many, many more inside their restaurant for sixty years. It's still the best cabbage roll in town. Plus, no one can resist that fresh bread smell.
Everyone must at least once experience a breakfast in hell. The Ralph Steadman artwork might put some off first thing in the morning, but those in the know eagerly follow past the dark scenes towards a menu. Because that means they are one step closer to ricotta pancakes, sausage bread and the best peanut butter known to man. Debaucherous nights begin and end with breakfast inside Hell's Kitchen.
There is nothing conventional about Travail Kitchen & Amusements: the chef/servers and playing with their food, the stuffed animals wedged in the ceiling, a Nerf gun delivery system. Compelling flavors lurk behind every turn - even when they're lobbing bread rolls at your head. It's the finest of dining, although it feels like a culinary play park. The music is loud, the textures and sensations are enough to induce a giggle fit and no one is ever the same after a full on Travail tasting menu.
Building an ideally structured sandwich is a science. One false move and your left with a lap of fillings or a pile of sodden lettuce. Manny Gonzales' tortas are exactly what a hand-held food should be. Hot items are layered on the bottom: griddled meats, a swath of creamy beans are separated by a gooey layer of cheese from the crispy lettuce, tomato, shreds of raw onion, pickled jalapenos, avocado and chipotle mayo. The toasty bread imparts a satisfying crunch before unleashing the onslaught of tangy, spicy, salty, savory flavors.
Even as the Uptown landscape has changed over the years, Barbette continues to be the touchstone for area residents. The daily quiche, like a savory custard set atop a flakey crust beckons early day diners, along with fresh, dark brewed coffee. Lunch lingers over croque monsieurs and for happy hour the moules are basking in savory broth. No matter the hour or reason for visiting, one thing is certain, no visit is complete without a plate of their golden skinny French fries.
Stepping through the doorway of Sun Street Breads, it's impossible not to feel the corners of your mouth tug upwards. From the sunny mural to the sweet perfume of pastries freshly pulled from the oven, it's a darling early in the day sanctuary. Gently dig your fingers into the crust of Solveig Tofte's sourdough bread and the crackle sounds like a chorus of angels. Order the porketta sandwich and know that this is the place where happiness lives.
What started as a food truck has become a full on dining sensation. Tender corn cakes, (Venezuelan style arepas) are stuffed with tender braised meats, creamy black beans, snappy sauces and crumbly cheese resulting in a cacophony of savory flavors. We already knew we loved them from the truck, but now inside the restaurant, the menu spreads out and offers even more to love. There's an adorable salad topped with hot cheese curds. The yucca fries, misted with salt water put all fried potatoes to shame. Don't forget to save room (or at least grab a box) for dessert, where the sweet tooth dances at the edge of savory with a dreamy pineapple topped personal pie, dense chocolate cake or the Corn Pop and Frito laced ice cream cookie. Plus, the cocktail menu is one of the leading drink programs in the Twin Cities. Is there nothing this crew can't do well? Even more surprising, nothing on the menu is over $15.
Kimchi is kind of having a moment, but it's far more than a trend inside The Rabbit Hole. Chef Thomas Kim's kimchi is spicy, tart, funky, pickled heaven and when you combine that with bacon fried rice, it's enough to make the hungry heart sing. This seductively lit restaurant inside Midtown Global Market lures fans in night after night with unique Korean-influenced comfort foods created with the chef's fine-dining training. You can never go wrong with whatever nightly special the chef is playing around with, but there are several can't miss dishes on the menu including the best chili crab to be found in Minnesota (possibly the whole of the midwest).
Get ready to get cozy. This modest restaurant is tucked between two Dinkytown buildings and is just about wide enough for one person to walk through.Take any available seat at the counter and watch the magic. Gruff service is part of the charm at this iconic Minneapolis restaurant and so are the massive blueberry pancakes.
This subterranean bar churns out the craft cocktails without any of the pretentious attitude that has become the reputation of the labored-over spirits. The staff inside this spot is always friendly, quick with a pour and a smile. Which is nice, since these are the sort of cocktails worth waiting for, with expertly paired flavors and innovative techniques. The other thing Parlour is best known for is their burger, which really is perfection on a plate. Ultra rich beef is blended with little adornment, just a white and gooey bit of American cheese to hold the whole thing together. Toasty buns cradle the dish and a few house-made pickles arrive on the side, with a salty tart antidote to the luscious meat mixture. There are plenty of other bar snacks made by the chef-led kitchen of Borough, the restaurant above Parlour with whom they share a kitchen. However, to leave without tasting this burger is to tour the Louvre with one eye closed - it's an incomplete experience.
Brasa began with the radical idea that quick served food can be locally sourced from the highest quality of ingredients. Inspired by the foods of South America, the menu centers mostly around long, slow-roasted meats adorned with house-made accents like vinegary hot sauce and pickled onions. Everything is naturally gluten-free (except the sandwiches).
It's hard to decide where to dine along University Avenue. There are all kinds of eateries dotting this stretch of road in St. Paul, but so often, Ngon is the right answer for whatever you are craving. This Vietnamese bistro sources from local producers who practice sustainable farming practices. This means that only the best, grass-fed beef bones are used to create the rich and fragrant pho broth. The crispy rabbit dumpling, tender meat wrapped in a flaky crust atop a tantalizing sauce is a dish that tugs at the heart and memory, begging for a return trip to recapture this one taste along. Add a beautiful patio in warmer months and Ngon is always a winner.
There's a sausage party going on in downtown Minneapolis and we're all invited. This spot was a hit from the word "go" and we haven't stopped loving the meaty menu accentuated by their fabulous bourbon drinks. Inside sports a full menu with more elevated dining options, while the outside beer garden party has paper boats with food fit for a few brews all year round.
Chef Steven Brown has forever changed the Minneapolis dining scene. From the many restaurants he has helmed to the many more he is mentoring. Nothing compares to this singular Linden Hills place that serves the neighborhood. Whether looking for a special evening out, a comfortable lunch with the kiddos or the opportunity to geek out over flawless cooking technique, Tilia is the answer to every question. It's not fancy, it's just really good.
Why settle for just one street food culture, when you can dip your tastebuds into the best from around the world? From brothers Sameh and Saed Wadi's food truck to this uptown hot spot, the Yum Yum bowls are piled high with savory ingredients atop tender rice and a quivering poached egg. The Moroccan Fried Chicken sandwich (aka The MFC) will banish all hunger from your being in a crispy, juicy, decadent manner. Vegetarians and omnivores fall hard time and again for the squash and mushroom tacos, so delicious you'll never miss the meat.
When Zen Box Izakaya first opened, we barely knew what an izakaya was. Nearly all Japanese restaurants in Minneapolis were serving singularly sushi. Now we know we couldn't live without a cold Sapporo in one hand and a piece of chicken kara age in the other. This is also ground zero for great ramen. Chef and co-owner John Ng has traveled all over Japan to feed his ramen obsession and brings all those flavors back to our chilly little burg in occasional specials and the yearly Ramen Attacks!
Your mother called and she's worried about the amount of polka in your life. Get your fill inside this untouched-by-time bar and restaurant in Northeast. (That's pronounced "nordeast" for those from out-of-town.) On the restaurant side there are swank gold vinyl booths for tucking into a massive hunk of prime rib alongside a dirty martini. The piano bar beckons crooners and those who aspire to be and next door the most dangerous polka band in the world holds court.
Crawling into a booth inside Quang is the culinary equivalent of slipping it a roomy, warm sweater on a cold day. Giant plates of Vietnamese comfort foods are available for a shockingly small sum. A wind whipped face is quickly thawed over a massive bowl of their rich, brothy pho, perfumed with star anise, lime juice and cilantro.
Just order one of everything. No matter what the menu lists for ingredients, everything inside Piccolo is a culinary treasure waiting to be unearthed. Chef and owner Doug Flicker has long been a part of the Minneapolis food scene and his talents have only been honed with every passing year. The plates here are a play on textures and flavors that can be unexpected and new. The astounding scrambled eggs with pickled pig trotters blows us away time and again (the only item that's remained on the menu from day one, because unlisting it would likely cause a riot.) Best of all, the modest sized plates, makes eating here affordable enough to frequent several times a year.
For years there have been vicious rumors regarding the demise of fine dining. True, many of the greats have passed into history, but La Belle Vie remains the shining beacon of greatness. Service that moves with Swiss watch precision delivers spectacular wine and the edible artwork that comes from James Beard Award winning chef Tim McKee and chef de cuisine Michael DeCamp. The full tasting menu is a glory to behold and a pleasure to be savored. Fine dining is alive and well amid the crystal, chandeliers and marble of 510 Groveland.
Nothing satisfies like a perfect plate of pasta and the Broders family has been in the business for multiple generations. They have transformed their corner of South Minneapolis into an Italian eating destination. Broders' Pasta Bar remains one of the best, affordable date nights in town. Handcrafted noodles are draped in sauce and served with a generous pour of great wine in a cozy, comfortable room.
W.A. Frost is a magical place. Whether tucked into the English beauty of their expansive, shaded patio, snuggled into the bar on a snowy night or settled next to a roaring fire as crispy leaves swirl outside, the setting always seems apart from time and space. Inside here no one exists except you, your companions and the nice fellows delivering polished, gratifying foods.
All great dive bars should come with a killer lobster roll. It's not a logical pairing, but when Josh Thoma first pulled his Smack Shack food truck into the kitchen at the 1029 Bar and started sharing dishes featuring the east coast caught crustacean, the genius was evident. Order up a pile of pasta, rendered gooey by a head mix of cheeses that includes pungent Taleggio and hunks of succulent lobster and pair with a great beer. Elbows on the bar, with a full view of the bullet hole riddled cop car door and the bevvy of bras and tell us this idea wasn't genius.
For those days where everything goes wrong from the start: the dog ate your shoe, the fire alarm went off before the sun came up, everyone and everything is awful, there is an antidote. It is a meal inside this sunshine colored Lowertown restaurant and bakery. The Buttered Tin has a perfectly frosted cupcake to heal all cosmic boo boos. The breakfast and lunch are filled with familiar favorites like hash browns, poached eggs, bacon and wedge salads, except inside here, each is the best version possible. Seriously, there is bacon inside the pancake butter and syrup. Hearty and wholesome, like mom giving you a kiss and sending you on your way.
The warm months are fleeting and that's why we must seize every opportunity to enjoy the out of doors. Nothing says summer sanctuary like a meal at Sea Salt. Freshly shucked oysters arrived on piles of ice. Crawfish po' boys spill their contents all over the table. Fresh fish tacos are lively and lush. Add a pitcher of Surly and relax to the soothing sounds of nearby Minnehaha Falls.
The dining room at Heyday captures the effortless cool, rock n roll aesthetic that is singularly Minneapolis. The service is easy and attentive. The cocktails are beautiful, but the star attraction here is co-owner and chef Jim Christiansen's food. He plays with expectations and keeps diners at the edge of their seat as they plunge fork into plate time and again capturing alluring flavors that are both familiar and new. The rabbit and carrots are two flavors that seem classic, but with his deft preparation, the carrot caramel, the tender rabbit, a stunning terrine; it's made into something unlike anything ever tasted before.
Even on a cloudy day, there's something about the interior of this restaurant that still feels like a sun drenched afternoon. Maybe it's the lively lemon spiked Greek soup, or perhaps it's the malt vinegar over the herb flecked, crispy. This family owned restaurant sources ingredients locally and whips them into Greek favorites like the tyro served with fresh, hot pita bread or the lamb as tender as a spring morning. Opa, indeed.
We don't like to brag or call attention to ourselves here in this little corner of the world. Most of us are working hard for what little we have and appreciate the opportunity to let loose (just a little) on the weekends. This family owned bar and restaurant is located in St. Paul, but it could easily be transported to any corner of Minnesota or Northeastern Wisconsin. The drinks are cheap, the fried food delicious and the pizza is cut into proper squares. The difference is here they do have the St. Paul specialty: sauerkraut and sausage pizza. Don't knock it until you've had a few Crown Royals and PBR tallboys and tried it. Or, stop by at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday for the $2.50 tacos, fried flour tortillas wrapped around crumbled chicken meat topped with cheese, crispy lettuce and tomatoes.
When a steak craving hits, it's almost dangerous to dine out. There are only too many ways that an order can come out different than what is desired. That is why the steak menu inside Burch is ideal. No matter your preferred cut or source (grass vs. corn fed) the idea cut of meat is on the menu. Even more to branch out beyond the standard Midwestern sides and explore the entirety of this menu: the sea beans with crab meat continues to be one of the best bites of food to be found in the Twin Cities. House made sauerkraut is topped with a glistening poached egg. Tender and toothsome dumplings harbor wondrous caverns of flavor within them.
Chef and owner Alex Roberts' Restaurant Alma is a perennial favorite of those who love dining out. The dishes are served with a delicate touch, elegant and seasonally evolving. The golden, low light and manageable decibel volume and exquisite, affordable wine list makes this a favorite spot for dinners to linger over.
Chef and owner Don Saunders restaurant just blocks from Lake of the Isles perfectly suits this beautiful part of town. Just as the tall green topped trees shelter the stately homes, his comely seasonal dishes hearten hungry diners. Brunch means black walnut flecked pancakes or a pretty plate of hash featuring house-smoked fish, crispy fried shreds of potatoes and celery root, poached eggs and radishes and pickled onions that adorn the plate like edible jewels. Dinner includes pheasant like grandmother never made it, delectable meat mixed with local bacon and properly cooked wild rice.
Thank you, Birchwood Cafe, for giving us the savory waffle. Using local food is more than just a slogan or trend for this restaurant. They not only know their farmers, but partner with them, champion their efforts and organize crop mobs for harvesting the bounty of the seasons. Those crops are then incorporated into fresh, family-pleasing fare, including the aforementioned waffles.