See the full list of 50 Best Restaurants in our March Issue, on newsstands now.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl on La Belle Vie
It’s a powerhouse at the height of its powers, the best restaurant between Chicago and the West Coast. And it’s not just because of the food, which is at once delicate, lilting, and vigorous. La Belle Vie has turned into one of those spots where the sum is much greater than the parts, and that’s due to the team, a core group that has been working together for 16 years or more. The servers understand the food, the cooks understand chef-owner Tim McKee’s perspective, and everyone is confident enough in their work and consistency to build on that foundation—and take risks. The 13-course grand tasting menus offer all the theater of actual theater, but with all the joy of food. Stability and longevity are not much celebrated in restaurant culture, but it’s the combination of people working in concert at La Belle Vie that makes it such an impeccable joy. 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440, labellevie.us
One afternoon last year, I sat at the bar of Victory 44 waiting for a friend. It was the middle of the afternoon, well past lunchtime, but my pal was late. I ordered a few plates and watched as two cooks—a woman with serious knives and a young man cracking wise—danced around each other, carefully and casually creating a plate that took my breath away. Bits of perfectly cooked rabbit sat among curls of zucchini and swaths of tart berry coulis. Six months on, I still think about that dish: how simple and exciting it was, how unexpected and comforting, and how it totally represents what I’ve come to expect from Victory 44. 2203 44th Ave. N., Mpls., 612-588-2228, victory-44.com
Dinner with new friends? Trying to impress an out-of-town foodie or a picky in-law? Go to Corner Table. Since buying the tiny south Minneapolis restaurant two years ago, Nick and Chenny Rancone have quietly made it shine. It helps that one of them is always working the room, and that Thomas Boemer is an exceptional chef. How do you not order the housemade bologna sandwich topped with a fried egg? Or the crispy pork belly served over pickled cabbage? Perfect food. Excellent service. Trust me, the in-laws will thank you. 4257 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-823-0011, cornertablerestaurant.com
There is an apples-to-apples problem inherent in any “best” list: It’s one thing to compare La Belle Vie to Vincent. It’s another to compare it to a small family-owned and operated scratch kitchen. Shouldn’t those restaurants make the cut when the quality of their food merits inclusion? I think they should, which is why Marla’s deserves to be here; I think it is better than half the well-known white-tablecloth restaurants in town. The food is honest and well-prepared, unique and wholesome, and the entire experience envelops you in a warm embrace of hospitality. Marla wants you to be happy when you are under her roof—and with one nibble of her roti, you will be. 3761 Bloomington Ave., Mpls., 612-724-3088, marlascuisine.com
The food at Grand Szechuan is some of the most authentic fare to be found in the Twin Cities, particularly when it comes to the restaurant’s extensive selection of Szechuan specialties. My favorite: the Chung King chili shrimp: a pairing of fresh, lightly battered jumbo shrimp and hot peppers tossed in sauce with an amazing breadth and depth of flavor. And while nose-to-tail cooking has become au courant in recent years, the wok stars in the kitchen at Grand Szechuan have been serving up tripe, tendon, kidney, belly, and ears for years. 10602 France Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-6507, grandszechuanmn.com
Though I live far from Seward, Birchwood is my neighborhood place. The minute I enter, I can relax in the vibe of this artful, simple café, where I often bump into old friends in line. Chef Marshall Paulsen’s vibrant menu matches the welcoming scene, from the seasonal savory waffles (fresh corn-studded cornmeal beauties in August; kale, kernza, and fontina in January) to the burger favored by my son or the tempeh tacos beloved by his vegan girlfriend. I go for the delicate, flaky hand-pie stuffed with roasted squash and creamy gruyere and brightened with tangy cranberry gastrique. 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com