Best Restaurants

Best Restaurants 2012

Our annual critics' picks of the top eateries in the Twin Cities


Our team of critics and expert eaters spent the past year revisiting the venerable standards, sampling the latest hot spots, snacking on the newest dishes, and otherwise digging through the eating scene to find the best of everything. This year our annual dispatch delivers 36 best restaurants plus dozens of nearby notables organized by neighborhood to help you navigate our ever-changing eating landscape. Here’s to never again having to ask, "Where should we eat?"

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North Loop

The Bachelor Farmer

The most talked-about restaurant of the year. Chef Paul Berglund courts the older set with nostalgia and the younger set with technique. His modern take on Nordic cuisine has people redefining their memories. Don’t miss the toasts, and try the meatballs at least once. But it’s the dishes you didn’t expect that will hook you. The underlying Marvel Bar writes the book on cocktail creativity.
502nd Ave. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920,


Matt Bickford and Mike Ryan aren’t just the sandwich kings anymore. Their scratch kitchen churns out killer brunch plates and an array of nightly dinner specials as well. Maybe you didn’t know they’d added beer and wine, tasting menu nights, and holiday pickup for their turducken. A nice evolution, indeed. 800 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-767-4330,

Haute Dish

A cool-kids haunt of the first order, Haute Dish is like a clubhouse for North Loop loft dwellers. The bar is well stocked with rye and whiskey, the service is laid-back, and chef Landon Schoenefeld’s seasonal menus satisfy cravings for new executions while delivering that important feel-good Midwestern satisfaction. The meat-centric menu gives way on Sunday nights to the best vegetarian tasting menu around. 119 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-338-8484,

Bar La Grassa


Isaac Becker’s second restaurant (his first is 112 Eatery; see opposite page) remains one of the hottest reservations in town. Is the James Beard Award the charm? Nah, La Grassa manages to be distinct enough for out-of-towners but comfortable enough to draw a cult of regulars. His creative pasta and snacky bruschetta have become definitive plates in our eating scene. 800 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-333-3837,

Mill District

Sea Change


Tim McKee might be the name on the door, but the name on many people’s lips is Jamie Malone, the new chef du cuisine. Since Erik Anderson left, Malone has carried on in his tradition while making the menu more fun and approachable. It’s a great spot for lunch, or take a seat at the raw bar when chef Holly Carson is in residence. It’s always a good time, meaning don’t slate it as pre-theater only or you’ll miss out. 806 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-225-6499,


0312-spoonriver_640s.jpgYes, Brenda Langton was a pioneer of local/organic food before it was de rigueur, but it’s more important to note that this chef isn’t stuck in the past. Her tiny corridor of a restaurant on the edge of the Mill City Farmers Market and Guthrie plaza keeps veggie heads and carnivores alike happy with fresh preparations that simply respect all ingredients. The lamb burger with Moroccan spices and the French toast laced with coconut milk and scented with rosewater and cardamom prove Langton won’t be limiting herself anytime soon. 750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-436-2236,

6 Nearby Notables

Simply the best sushi-driven happy hour. 251 1st Ave. N., Mpls.

Pizza Lucé
Your late-night haunt for creative pizza pies. 119 N. 4th St., Mpls.

Moose & Sadie’s
Laptoppers and design creatives live off the organic egg breakfasts and fresh, eclectic lunch and dinner options. 212 3rd Ave. N., Mpls.

Toast Wine Bar
Focusing on local, organic, and biodynamic wineries is all good, and so is the thin-crust pizza and baked polenta. 415 N. 1st. St., Mpls.

One of the most romantic and cozy spots with Old World vibe and New World food. 903 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.

Zen Box Izakaya
New to the neighborhood with a distinctive Japanese beer selection and all things not-sushi served late. 602 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.

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Warehouse District


This year, Chef Sameh Wadi gave his edgy Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern restaurant a little love. He did away with the white tablecloths, installed comfy booth seating, splashed the bar with vibrant color, and followed suit on the menu. The amped-up dishes continue to rock the genre with flavor and creativity. 123 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-746-5533,

112 Eatery

Yes, it’s still hot. It may be a bit easier to get a reservation, but 112’s simple modern food is still packing them in. It doesn’t hurt that chef Isaac Becker won the James Beard Award last year. 112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-343-7696,

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Nicollet Mall


Never mind that you’ll have to jockey with badge-wielding Target employees for one of the best lunch deals in town (three courses for $10), Masa is still one of the friendliest rooms on the Mall. Like a big box of light, coupled with fresh guacamole and vibrant Mexican flavors, it’s one of the best places to combat the staycation blues. 1070 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-6272,



Attitude reigns supreme here, as far as service goes, but that doesn’t mean execution isn’t heeded with the utmost professionalism. Likewise, the steak is star for sure, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up the scallop Benedict, the short rib chili, or lunchtime’s prime burger deluxe, all of which have kept the more than 20-year-old joint rooted in the minds of the next generation. 825 Marquette Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-9900,


Say what you want about French food—it’s poised for a comeback and there’s no place in Minneapolis that is as ready to be your tour guide. This kitchen cooks with confident ease, putting out great plates with Gallic influence, from pot-au-feu with shaved smoked duck to buttery, slippery garlic-decked escargots. 1100 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-630-1189,

3 Nearby Notables

The Dakota
Kristin Tyborski are still new to the kitchen, but they’re showing signs of good things ahead. The jazz is as hot as ever. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

The tequila den is a hot happy-hour spot, and lunches on the patio are a rite of spring. 925 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

Butcher & The Boar
Too new to review, Jack Riebel’s meat and bourbon-centric American craft cook shop is worth a peek. It’s a good bet that the beer garden will be packed this spring. 1121 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.

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Loring Park


Don’t count lunch out. It doesn’t have to be a bad salad in the skyway now that the Walker’s Gather is here to bring fun to the midday meal. Plates are creative and terrifically satisfying with little kicks of flavor, like the sweet corn empanadas with a smoky ancho tomato sauce. If you’re set on dinner, Thursday nights will have to do, but don’t skip the guest chefs’ creations that change monthly. 1750 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-253-3410,

La Belle Vie

A stalwart fixture in local fine dining, LBV keeps trucking. Tim McKee’s baby is entrusted to chef du cuisine Mike DeCamp (aka Young Chef or YC) on a nightly basis, a smart decision. His tasting menus get raves for the creative, forward glimpse he gives to French-Mediterranean fare. And, of course, the lounge remains one of the best rewards to which one can treat oneself. 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440,


Blue Door Pub


If the Juicy Lucy stuffed burger is a Minnesota tradition, consider the Blue Door its color guard. The restaurant’s Juicy Blucys playfully riff on the classic (cheese only), stuffing the Cajun with pepper jack and jalapenos, the signature Blucy with bleu cheese and garlic, and the Bangkok Blucy with coconut milk mozzarella. Add a great beer list and an eat-10-the-next-is-free punch card and you can see why the place is jam-packed. 1811 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-493-1865,

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Grand Avenue


Big, bright, and roomy, Alex Roberts’s St. Paul Brasa is like the Nordeast location all grown up. The menu is slightly different—St. Paul gets mac and cheese and fried catfish—but for the most part it’s the same locally sourced, all-natural, homey slow-roasted meats, plus Southern/Latin American sides that make you wish you were raised by Roberts’s mom. 777 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-1302; 600 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-379-3030,


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Swede Hollow

Strip Club

A tucked-away meat joint on a hill, The Strip Club is the steak house for people who don’t go for the big steak house vibe. It’s understated, dark, and dare we say hipsterish, feeding the next generation of carnivores with grass- fed steaks. Creative cocktails flow from the bar, which is often manned by one of the owners, for whom hospitality is a way of life. 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247,

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Downtown St. Paul


It’s funny what the addition of a few bivalves can do for your reputation. With the opening of the oyster bar, and the ensuing raucous Oyster Fest street festival, Meritage has unleashed a boisterous side unto downtown St. Paul. Fear not, you can still have your moules frites and cassoulet, but now if you so choose, there are gorgeous libations and all manner of raw delicacies for your luxe fun. 410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670,

Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market

The evolution of Lenny Russo’s vision for Heartland is as nourishing to the community as his plates are to the eater. His restaurant continues to create imaginative food from local ingredients while the farm market offers tricks of the chef’s trade in the form of stocks, cured meats, lard from heritage pigs, and canned goods straight from the kitchen. Don’t forget the bar, as if you could. 289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-699-3536,

Black Sheep

It’s the eastern outpost for the North Loop standard, and it’s the newest and shiniest. Maybe you thought there’d be a side of soot with your coal-fired pizza? Nope, all you get is a perfectly balanced crust with a nice chew, fresh and interesting toppings, plus a farmers’ market salad that changes daily. The meatball ricotta pie is iconic. 512 N. Robert St., St. Paul, 651-227-4337; 600 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-342-2625,

6 Nearby Notables

Cafe Latté
A cafeteria only by definition, its salads, soups, and hunks of cake are worth the line. The pizza/wine bar is full service after 5 pm and Saturdays. 850 Grand Ave., St. Paul

The Lexington
It’s had a tumultuous year with changing chefs and owners, but word on the street is that it’s back up to snuff. 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul

128 Café
Ribs aren’t what you’d expect from this cute basement eatery, but ribs are what you should get. Stunning. 128 Cleveland Ave. N., St. Paul

St. Paul Grill
You can’t go wrong sitting at the bar, staring at a giant collection of scotch and bourbon. Old school, baby. 350 Market St., St. Paul

Amsterdam Bar
This new music bar has fun Dutch-influenced food—eat diminutive broodjes sandwiches (get two) and drink from the well-curated Belgian beer list. 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul

A Japanese noodle house for your soba, udon, and ramen cravings. 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul

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Heidi’s 2.0 is always pushing the envelope—in the bar, in the kitchen, on the blog. Chef Stewart Woodman and his pastry chef/wife Heidi have managed to open a fine-dining restaurant in a time when everyone said fine dining was dead. It’s easy, actually: just continue to passionately execute to the highest of your abilities (even on a simple egg sandwich during brunch), create a space that is uniquely your point of view, and deliver an experience that people remember as a “dining moment.” 2903 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3512,


When you sit down for a meal at Lucia’s, it’s like coming home. It’s warm, inviting, and comfortable. You look at the menu and realize you’re hungry for so many things, how will you ever choose? Local farms, seasonal ingredients, modern yet simple preparations that stay elegantly accessible—this is real food that makes you wonder why it’s been so long since you’ve been back. 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-825-1572,


Linden Hills


What can be said of Tilia that hasn’t already been said? Chef Steven Brown’s stab at a neighborhood eatery has turned out to be what every hungry citizen wanted: a simple space with stylish details, casual service with efficient manner, and a whole host of food that surprises with flavor but plays down self-importance. Take the simply satisfying shrimp with peas, the gorgeous Reuben, the sorta jerk-style roasted chicken thighs: These dishes aren’t created to be admired, they are cooked to be enjoyed. 2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806,

6 Nearby Notables

Uptown has brought the party topside. Rooftop patios are all the rage, but the nicest for now is Cafeteria’s. 3001 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.

The sake brew-pub’s best-kept secret is its high-quality ramen and low-priced happy- hour snacks. 2940 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.

Muddy Waters Bar
From coffee shop by morning to buzzing pub by night, the food here is way above average tavern fare. 2933 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.

Fuji Ya
There’s a festive vibe at happy hour in one of the oldest yet sassiest sushi joints in town. 600 W. Lake St., Mpls.

It’s bohemian in that Uptown way, meaning no one looks sideways at you for eating fries as your main meal. 1600 W. Lake St., Mpls.

Ingredients are rarely given as much reverence as they are in this tiny family-run Thai charmer. 2812 W. 43 St., Mpls.

The sandwiches, the high-quality meat, the sandwiches, and the sandwiches are top reasons to stop. 4307 Upton Ave. S., Mpls.

Turtle Bread/Tosca Trattoria
Sink into fresh pasta and seasonal dishes at Tosca, or pick up soups, breads, cheese, and all manner of goods at the bakery next door. 3415 W. 44th St., Mpls.


Broders’ Pasta Bar


Really, it’s the entire Broders’ complex that earns the award. Both corners. The cucina draws those who soon become addicted to the creamiest, lightest mascarpone sitting innocently in the deli case. Across the street, with the religiously hand-made pastas and convivial atmosphere that hasn’t died down once in nearly 18 years, the pasta bar may be Italian in theme, but it’s owned by that neighborhood. 50th & Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-3113 (cucina), 612-925-9202 (pasta bar),



It seems amazing that Piccolo is already two years old. Maybe that’s because every dish put in front of you is so new and innovative, presenting you with ingredients you may have never seen: pine syrup, swordfish belly, pickled pigs’ feet. Doug Flicker’s menu is the antithesis of boring and complacent—he’s artfully reinventing the place every night with ideas and flavors on small, impactful plates that make this place a standard-setter for the food set. 4300 Bryant Ave. S., Mpls., 612-827-8111,

5 Nearby Notables

As eclectic as the neighborhood. Banh mi, fish tacos, and French onion soup all coexist quite well on the menu. 3800 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.

Café Ena
An undersung joint with Latin American flavors and a warm, pretty space. The medianoche sandwich is spot on. 4601 Grand Ave. S., Mpls.

Wise Acre Eatery
Farm-fresh isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life when you have your own farm supplying the kitchen. 5401 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.

Kings Wine Bar
The neighborhood clubhouse has seen a rotation of chefs, but the food remains fun and easy with a late-night menu served until midnight. 4555 Grand Ave. S., Mpls.

Corner Table
The iconic farm-to-table restaurant has recently changed hands, but the commitment to local food remains the same. 4537 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-0011

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Patisserie 46

If you don’t know anything about fine European pastries, you have a hole in your sweet tooth that can be filled by John Kraus and his team. From flaky sablée to rich and sticky caneles, your education will be complete. Then you’ll feel free to sidle up to the open-face tartine sandwiches or grab a gorgeous hunk of traditional miche bread or perhaps beer bread that evokes nothing of those bad mixes from college days. 4552 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3257,

Grand Café

Would that more neighborhood eateries pay as much attention to brunch as Grand Café does. It’s the extra reach of the dishes, like a good morning stretch, that puts local pork confit on huevos rancheros, truffle cream with gruyere in eggs en cocotte, and a perfectly fried egg on top of the grass-fed brunch burger. 3804 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260,

Pat’s Tap

To take a dive bar and make it into a better dive bar seems like a worthy notion these days. But here’s the thing: When you’re Kim Bartmann—and you install a big list of great beer and a menu that has such things as buffalo chicken terrine, lamb meatballs, and pork belly skewers—you’re only achieving “dive” if you mean crazy-tasty skee-ball house of fun. 3510 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-8216,

Sun Street

When Solveig Tofte’s little bakery that could started to get a lunch reputation, she knew she had something. With the hire of chef Annette Colon, a Lucia’s alum, the bright and airy café that puts up dense and lovely loaves by morning is now throwing down with delicious and homey plates at night. Don’t miss the signature Red Hen salt-roasted chicken with bread pudding. 4600 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3414,

In Season

In a space that no one thought could be a restaurant in the first place, Don Saunders is happily slaving away in a postage stamp–size kitchen, from which creative seasonal dishes, such as pumpkin lasagna and elk goulash, seem to fly. Sophisticated without the stuffiness, comfortable but stylish, this small-seater has earned loyal, loyal fans. 5416 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-0105,

Pizzeria Lola

What a shocker that one of the best newcomers to charm our local taste buds would be a pizza joint. Lola brought something new to the game—call it whimsy, call it sincerity, call it an eye for fun. However you drill down on the magic of that place and those pizzas—the Lady ZaZa with Korean sausage and kimchi or the pot roast pizza appearing as a special when it’s cold—the bottom line is that oven maven Ann Kim has opened our eyes to new pizza possibilities. 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338,


Grand Szechuan

0312-grandszechuan_400-(1).jpgKitchen politics aside, it’s great to see more hot and spicy Szechuan eateries opening up in our blond state. Grand Szechuan recently opened a second location in the west metro, and it’s firing all guns: Dan dan noodles, ma po tofu, and spicy pork seem to kick it in any location. 10602 France Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-6507; 187 Cheshire Lane N., Plymouth, 763-404-1770,

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Travail was recently named a best new restaurant by Bon Appetit magazine, and those of us who were waiting for it to quiet down a bit so we could get a table gave a bittersweet hurrah. Given the plates of affordable, dead-on modern food, the ebullient atmosphere born of natural camaraderie, and the bare-bones beauty of the space, we’re not surprised lines form at 4 pm and Bon Appetit came knocking. 4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131

Victory 44

Like any chef, Erick Harcey has had his share of ups and downs, but now his focus is squarely on his north Minneapolis eatery, and we are grateful. Not only does his chef-driven menu continue to pump out winners, but he’s annexed the coffee shop next door to expand his repertoire with breakfast offerings that will knock you into your day. Biscuits and gravy aren’t pretty, but they eat so good. 2203 44th Ave. N., Mpls., 612-588-2228,

4 Nearby Notables

Anchor Fish & Chips
It’s the fish and chips. It’s the helicopter burger. It’s the Guinness. 302 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.

Northeast Social
It feels like a giant dinner party here every night. 359 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.

Gardens of Salonica Anna
Christoforides is quietly putting out some fresh and tasty Greek food that will surprise: think braised octopus and wild- caught cod. 19 NE 5th St., Mpls.

Aster Café
Live music, light café eats, tea-infused cocktails, and the best Parisian-flavored patio in town. 125 SE Main St., Mpls.

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Northeast Minneapolis

Masu Sushi & Robata

It’s fun to see modern, edgy Tokyo design in a Japanese joint, and Masu lets the vibe carry through to the food. The sushi is stunningly creative and artfully delicious, and the small-plate izakaya dishes can be excitingly odd. Shredded dried squid with mayo and masago? At a time when there seems to be a sushi den opening on every corner with the same requisite list of rolls, Masu is nicely pushing to the next level. 330 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-332-6278,

Restaurant Alma

Brasa stems from chef Alex Roberts’s upbringing, but his Restaurant Alma seems to stem from his soul. The space remains tranquil and humble, much like the James Beard Award–winning chef who avoids the limelight. But it’s the plates that sing with a perfected balance, flavor, and technique executed with an unassuming complexity. Dinner here is sustaining. 528 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-4909,

Modern Cafe

It’s quirky but not affected. That’s because authentic neighborhood guy Jim Grell has played his own game just to see if anyone wants to come along for the ride. Recently, finally, he’s added a full bar and cocktails, which means Wednesdays can now become meat and whiskey pairing night. There’s some kind of magic in this 18-year-old place known for its pot roast, which continues to court new generations of eaters. 337 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-378- 9882,

Video Tour: Best Restaurants 2012

Take the video tour of six outstanding Twin Cities restaurants.

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Best Restaurants 2012: Readers Poll

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