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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Chef Gavin Kaysen with his signature cotton candy at Spoon and Stable
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photo by Kevin J Miyazaki
Birchwood Cafe in Seward
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Skewered Korean street food at Cook St. Paul
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
A brunch spread at Hola Arepa.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Pressed sushi (Suzuki Oshizushi) at Kyatchi.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
A full spread at Lyn 65.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Egg in a Nest (leeks, wheatberries, and parmesan) at Birdie.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Sicillian pizza and Korean Cowboy meatball sub at Hello Pizza.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Rabbit Hole owners Kat and Thomas Kim with their daughter, Kyu Jin.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Sprouted grain dish with cabbage dashi at Surly.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Terzo’s new menu items include tajarin pasta with butter, sage, and porcini ragu.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Upton 43’s brunch of Milk & Cereal (with quince, apples, and honey) is a stunner.
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Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Milkjam’s Jam Bun with Grandma’s Blueberry Crumble ice cream, honeycomb candy, and Szechuan berry sauce sandwiched inside a sliced Glam Doll glazed donut.
If there’s one constant about the Twin Cities dining scene, it’s that it is never static. From high-profile closings to stellar openings, all served with a few sides of cook shortages and wage politics, local restaurants are still killing it across the board. Included in this year’s 50 best list are 12 pacesetters, places that are helping redefine our local dining culture.
That 112 Eatery has only been open since 2005 hardly makes sense. How could such an icon, which ushered Minneapolis out of adolescence and into being a confident, mature food city, be so young? Many of the dishes here are essential to our local food culture: the lamb scottadito, the knee-weakeningly tender foie gras meatballs, and, of course, the burger. If you haven’t been in a while, go. “Icon” may be an overused word, but when there’s one right here, we should pay attention.
Great Plate: Reintroduce yourself to the classic bacon, egg, and harissa sandwich.
With the January addition of the new day café, TBF is the full package. Chef Paul Berglund still keeps the dining room busy with eaters looking for that uniquely Northern bite. At Marvel, the basement bar, boundaries are still pushed with lively cocktails, even though leader Pip Hanson departed for London. With the café now open, the neighborhood can wile entire days away on this hot North Loop corner. Open daily until 5 pm, the café serves amazing sweet and savory pastries for breakfast and open-faced sandwiches for lunch and into the afternoon.
Great Plate: In the café, try the cured salmon toast or any of the grilled cheese sandwiches.
Year after year, this James Beard Award–winning spot known for being a solid night out has been putting up plates of dry, filled, and fresh pastas like none other. Chef/owner Isaac Becker and his wife, Nancy St. Pierre, haven’t messed with what they know people want, namely pillowy gnocchi with cauliflower served by an expertly trained staff in a dark clubhouse that sets the tone for the North Loop.
Great Plate: So elemental, the signature smoked spaghetti alla chitarra with brown butter and lobster reminds us why we keep coming back.
Tracy Singleton founded the iconic Birchwood Cafe on the principle of supporting her community in a sustainable way. That’s why she’s always worked with farmers. But this principle extends beyond the plate. Did you know about the yoga subsidy? That’s what Birchwood offers to employees who want to take a class across the street. “It’s a way for us to encourage people to do some practice that benefits them,” Singleton says. “It’s a stressful industry!” There’s also a bike benefit for employees who cycle to work, free meals for people in the kitchen, health insurance subsidies and retirement fund benefits, a standard five-day work week with two days off in a row (not the norm in the industry), and career coaching, which has resulted in Birchwood paying for everything from nutrition and life coaches to employees working in other restaurants to learn new skills. None of this is standard, so why do it? For one, Birchwood retains employees—some for as many as 15 years. Over the last few years, as other restaurants have fought for line cooks, Birchwood never had trouble finding staff. “Loyalty is a huge thing,” Singleton says. “People really care about Birchwood, everyone here always pitches in when we need help, people feel like it’s their family. I always wanted an environment where employees feel appreciated and valued. I like to think we created it.”
There have been odes written to the Parlour burger, the thin-pattied double cheese sensation that kicked off the local burger trend. For a long time, it was only available during the evening in Parlour, but now (maybe in an attempt to hold onto that coveted burger crown) the burger has became even more accessible, as it’s available upstairs at Borough during lunch. Glory be.
Great Plate: Don’t forget that Borough has an entire menu of great dishes like butternut soup with duck prosciutto and the cavatelli with braised lamb.
When he started having kids, chef Alex Roberts opened Brasa to be a place healthy-minded families could get real food any time. Almost 10 years and two locations later, a pickup rotisserie chicken with a quart of rice and peas is about the happiest thing a parent can get at 6 p.m., when homework’s piled up and bedtime looms. Eating-in at Brasa is an everyday luxury made simple for families with kids in tow—its meals have options for fresh-squeezed orange juice and warm cornbread. Real food is much talked about, but rarely done better.
Great Plate: You can’t lose with lively guacamole or the creamy pulled chicken in gravy.
Other location: 777 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-1302, brasa.us
Reservations at Burch can be tough to get, so it’s good to know that you can order from the restaurant’s entire menu in the basement pizza bar, where it’s much easier to score a seat. Be sure to get the schupfnudel, creamy twists of meltingly delicate pasta, the jumping seven seeds salad with brilliant circles of radish, and absolutely don’t miss a pizza. It’s good to be organized and get a reservation upstairs, but it’s awfully nice that there’s a secret way in, too.
Great Plate: The salsiccia e finocchio pizza is gorgeous with tangy olives, knobs of spicy fennel sausage, smoky mozzarella, and the crispy char of a perfectly buoyant crust.
Owners and chefs Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer are without a doubt our first ladies of food trucking, but that doesn’t mean they can’t break down a whole hog and spend the hours it takes to make a worthy brisket. These are crafts and skills learned during long careers and should not be overshadowed by their ability to shake donuts (which we have much gratitude for). A summer’s journey down to the Bay City Chef Shack is a lovely drive with a just reward: rustic French cooking served in a cozy barnwood building decked out with collected antiques.
Great Plate: Back at the Ranch in Longfellow, find a huge plate of Trucker Fries with your brisket and be happy.
Other location: 6379 Main St., Bay City, Wis., 507-358-4220, chefshackranch.com
Eddie Wu took the run-down Serlin’s Café on Payne Avenue and gave it a Pinterest-worthy makeover that brightened the breakfast and lunch spot without making it an odd duck on the block. He worked as hard to re-establish the spot with the locals as he did to attract new brunchers. It worked, and by cooking solidly hearty American diner fare, his pancakes and Monte Cristo pedigree has been verified and celebrated by the eaters. But here’s the thing, it felt like there was always this sorta side agenda, one that you could see from the bibimbap and other Korean influences played out quietly among pancakes and wild rice soup on the menu. Then there was the house hot sauce that showed up, a brilliant nearly-nuclear zing that fit as well on hashbrowns as on Korean pancakes. What’s happening here is called baby steps, and it’s brilliant! Wu is feeding the old-school with good ol’ American classics, and courting the new-school with inventive Korean and Asian dishes. On Friday nights, he occasionally opens up the usually closed-for-dinner spot, throwing pop-up dinners with either his own Korean street-food dishes or interesting food from other cooks. Lola Rosa, a kitchen team cooking Filipino food, has found a following here, as have a few cooks just testing out their far-flung food on the locals. Cook St. Paul has become rooted to our city, and slowly begun to give us wings.
In 1905, the Minnesota state capitol was built. In 1911, Cossetta’s opened. And in 1915, the Cathedral of St. Paul was completed. There’s a good argument to be made that those are the three cornerstones that define St. Paul to this day. The connection? The Italian stonemasons who built the capitol and cathedral needed somewhere to eat, and so Cossetta’s began. St. Paul has always valued substance over style, value over flash, tradition over glitz, and you see this nowhere as much as here. Want to taste the essence of St. Paul? Pop in for a bite, like everyone in town has for a century.
Great Plate: The big-as-your-face pizza slices are a steal—the crust soft and chewy, the sauce zesty and wholesome, the cheese a generous quilt of plenty.
Who cares enough to make gyros from scratch? Chef/owner Anna Christopherides, that’s who. Every month she stacks a spit with carefully marinated meats—one month it might be milk-fed capons (young chickens) another month, it’s slices of lamb, then duck gyros, then pork gyros. Who does that? Christopherides does. And you’ve never really had gyros until you’ve tasted them made from scratch. The rest of the menu matches in sensibility, resulting in spectacular flavors.
Great Plate: The blood orange portokalopita cake is pretty enough to make the most cynical veteran of fast-food gyros swoon with joy.
Rare are the restaurants where you can find something new to love 52 weekends a year. But you can at this crimson strip mall palace where 200 solidly great dishes are on the menu with a handful of compelling, ever-changing specials (plus a few standard Chinese-American options for the timid). The kung pao lotus roots are pretty as lace, and dan dan noodles in soup are a slurpy, slithery wonder. That’s just one divine lunch—and enough to get you dreaming for next time.
Great Plate: Lamb in Szechuan chili broth is a fiery cauldron that will numb your mouth so intensely you’ll find new spiritual depths.
You have to love a place that’s nimble enough to recreate itself as a new restaurant every once in a while. During slower months, usually January and July, the HauteDish crew ditches the nouveau tater tots and opens with a different concept entirely. This winter, they became HauteWok for three days, serving Asian dishes that wowed. Last summer, it turned into HauteQue as an answer to barbecue as seen through chef Landon Schoenefeld’s eyes. There was even a night when they swapped kitchens with Lyn 65 and played to a whole new crowd.
Great Plate: You can’t go wrong with the Monday night vegetarian tasting menu. Go meatless for one meal, you’ll never miss it.
Locavore chef Lenny Russo has been working on his new cookbook, Heartland: Farm-Forward Dishes from the Great Midwest, for the past 20 years, and the result is astonishing. These aren’t dishes cooked easily in San Diego or Atlanta; you couldn’t make the wild rice Madeleines or the hazelnut-crusted lake cisco there. To cook these recipes, you need access to Minnesota fields and waters, neatly proving the point that Russo has been making: The taste of here is uniquely good, especially if you think of the best way to cook it.
Great Plate: If you ever see the Midwestern cassoulet on the menu, do not hesitate. Order it.
Many believe that Heyday is the heir apparent to La Belle Vie. The case is strong. Chef Jim Christiansen is a former disciple of Tim McKee, and his credentials as a national rising star was confirmed when he was named a Best New Chef by Food and Wine magazine last year. Plates from his kitchen are so well-executed and wrought with flavorful intent, that ingredients seem to dance and transform under his powers. There’s also the fact that in this new world of fine dining, where jeans are high fashion and slouchy hats de rigueur even among the moneyed, Heyday plays to that hip coolness without missing a beat in technique or expert service.
Great Plate: Make brunch classy with a solid pannekoeken because great innovators also know restraint.
Christina Nguyen is the chef behind this wildly creative ode to that South American griddled sandwich, the arepa. What started as a food truck has blossomed into a tropical-bright, always-bumping brick-and-mortar destination with the best Latin American cocktails in town. (Try the Oaxacan Manhattan, by bartender, co-owner, and Nguyen’s husband, Birk Grudem.) Hola has long been the sort of place where hipster thrill-seekers sit side-by-side with value-oriented spice-fearers in Norwegian sweaters, while everyone raves about how great it all tastes. Nguyen’s cooking has always been fearless and deft—her chorizo arepa is a story made rich with deep spice and fresh, crunchy vegetables—but lately she has started to push into surprising territory. Like with her Vietnamese arepa, where lemongrass meatballs meet banh mi vegetables including pickled daikon and carrots, or her Korean arepa, made with kimchi and slow-cooked marinated pork. Los Angeles chef Roy Choi became famous blending tacos with Korean cuisine—is Nguyen going to be the Roy Choi of Minneapolis, bringing our significant southeast Asian food heritage to modern flower through her mastery of arepas? “No,” she laughs. “We’re just having fun. A lot of what we’re doing now is just making the drinks more awesome and fun, keeping the dining room cozy and fun, getting a parking lot party going for our [two-year] anniversary.” Of course, fun and important can go hand in hand in restaurants, so keep your eyes on Hola.
The reservations-only, 10-course, $40 dinner at Icehouse has got to be the best bargain in the state for great food. This is where chef Matthew Bickford, co-owner and former La Belle Vie cook, shows off his considerable culinary skills with signature dishes like Laphroaig smoked oysters, beets with parmesan soufflé, and a series of other inventive items. And, yes, that’s only $4 a course. You’re welcome.
Great Plate: Don’t forget to come back for brunch and sink into a steak and eggs with harissa aioli, pancetta, and caramelized onions.
Every neighborhood needs a clubhouse like The Kenwood. In tumultuous times, it’s like a haven of comforting plaid. Serving daily brunch doesn’t hurt either, especially when it includes pancakes with black walnut butter. Tucked in the Isles neighborhood, chef Don Saunders has created a place that is both accessible and adventurous, making you feel like you are to-the-manner born and part of the people at the same time.
Great Plate: Huevos rancheros with braised pork define luxurious afternoons.
The most authentic and interesting sushi in the Twin Cities right now is the pressed, cured mackerel at Kyatchi. This special Japanese mackerel is imported by chef Hide Tozawa, who has developed a unique multi-stage quick cure that takes less than two hours. After letting it rest overnight, Tozawa presses the fish into a special rectangular mold with rice, a technique made common in Osaka during the 1800s. Before serving, Tozawa covers the block of fish with a gossamer white kombu (seaweed) cooked with sugar and vinegar, then slices the whole thing into bite sizes. The process makes the dish riveting, all meaty, sexy fish, just-sweet and quite mineral seaweed, on tender vinegared rice that is nutty and creamy. Just as Roman pizza is different from New York–style pizza, this Osaka sushi is distinctly different from more popular Tokyo-style sushi and from the current craze of mayo-crunch sushi. Tozawa’s sushi is everything sushi should be: pure, surprising, and providing a connection to the sea and the world across. Close your eyes when you take a bite: You’re not in this trendy town anymore, that’s Osaka you taste.
Who says all the happenings are happening in the North Loop? Why can’t there be a hot, hot spot in . . . Richfield? Well, there can be. Chef Ben Rients is that fresh restaurant owner who wanted to break out on his own, after learning everything he could from chef Alex Roberts at Restaurant Alma, but he didn’t have such deep pockets. Instead of clamoring for the big dollars and sinking it all into a wickedly tricked-out warehouse-chic space, Rients bought into a down-and-out strip mall on Lyndale in Richfield. Brilliant. Rients and his team rolled up their sleeves in creating the homey space themselves, refinishing the floors and walls and whatever else they could to keep costs low. It took longer, and was more expensive than he ever thought, but he finally opened in 2014, and the neighborhood jumped right in. Lyn 65 has since blossomed into a gem that is sophisticated and cool, yet chill and community-driven. People of all ages, backgrounds, and wallet thickness can be found there, happily eating pillowy crusted guanciale pizzas as often as they do steelhead trout with Brussels sprouts bagna cauda, or sharing both a bucket of fried chicken and the Thursday ramen special at the same table. There is no pretention. All are welcome—even if you’re from the North Loop.
Lucia’s is still Lucia’s—something we never thought we’d say after founder Lucia Watson retired and sold it last year to a collective which also owns neighboring Stella’s Fish Café. But all the goodness of Lucia’s is still there—the breads, the savory crepes, the beautiful and earthy salads at the takeaway counter, the plates of perfectly prepared eggs at brunch in the café and the snackable locavore bits at the wine bar. It’s the will of the employees and the loyalty of the eaters that has kept Lucia’s in the top tier.
Great Plate: Grab a BLT made with Fisher Farms bacon on housemade millet flax bread to understand Lucia’s quality and simplicity.
The price of beef has only increased in recent years, which makes going out for a big steak a treasured and rare experience for many. For what it can cost, the night should be special, and Manny’s will be the place where, even when choosing the lowest priced dish on the menu, you will be treated like royalty. There is no “lower class” at Manny’s. And the smart single diner knows there is nothing quite like the old-school love you get from the gents at the bar.
Great Plate: Neuske’s bacon chop is a side that eats like a gloriously porky, fatty, unctuous meal.
It can be tricky to pick a taco at the freshest, most friendly family-run Mexican joint in Minneapolis: Should your taco be filled with pollo enchipotlado, a smoky stew of tender chicken in a chili sauce? Or do you go for the rich, all-day roasted tender barbacoa? Or any of the other half-a-dozen dazzling options? Our advice? Set a schedule, and work through them all.
Great Plate: Visit on Sundays for the all-you-can-eat buffet, with the hot pans of great stews and Jell-O cups.
Can we all agree that Meritage is something special? It’s the reigning French restaurant of the Twin Cities, and it manages to be both plucky and refined. The burger arrives without pretention alongside a cassoulet that would make you forget long winters. Owners Russell and Desta Klein are sewn into the fabric of St. Paul and wouldn’t be given up without a revolution.
Great Plate: Oysters, dozens of them, should be ordered in the bar while sipping sparkling rosé or a cocktail.
As Paleo, the Whole 30, and gluten-free foods have been ascending, pasta lovers may have felt the need to keep quiet about their love for great noodles. But they can sing high the praises at Monello, where chef Mike DeCamp makes exquisite pastas such as squiggly little torchio and chewy tangles of bucatini. At Constantine, the bar downstairs, things get funky, with a thin cheeseburger, baskets of tots, and wildly inventive drinks.
Great Plate: Plump purses of cappelletti filled with buttercup squash and served with brown butter and foie gras are both elegant and warmly satisfying.
The pho battle is real. There are those who would spend hours hotly debating whose pho is superior in broth, in meatball, in noodle, and herb. Might we suggest you let them debate, and instead spend your time tucked into a bowl at Ngon’s bar? Slurp deeply of the lemongrass-scented broth and feel good about the locally raised meat on your spoon. Plus, there are cocktails for the win.
Great Plate: For a perfect sip with your pho slurping, order the barrel-aged Bistro Bijou Jewel with gin and chartreuse.
Chef Landon Schoenefeld might have truly hit on the perfect new restaurant paradigm for generations to come. He first opened Nighthawks in Kingfield, a modern diner celebrating the simple beauty of a reimagined classic. Sit at the kitchen counter at brunch and watch the man make pancakes. He makes it looks so easy, but consider the hours that preceded the sizzle on the griddle, the time spent behind the scenes perfecting just the right recipe that culminates in a stack of airy, tangy cakes riddled with bacon and kimchi. And the burger, which is a sexy decadence of dripping cheese over beef, is so planned and constructed to illicit a sigh when you first see it. Schoenefeld created Nighthawks to feed your soul, and then he opened Birdie to feed your brain. Next door to Nighthawks, in a small room that essentially is a prep kitchen with two long tables and a record player, Schoenefeld and his cadre of cooks throw a 10-course dinner party for 12. Ticketed seats win you plate after plate of stunning food that will nearly leave you speechless (if you weren’t having so much fun). Carrots turned into pasta, potatoes delivered in ways you’ve never seen, bits of pork smoked in a hotbox a few feet away. This is the inventive space where Schoenefeld plays with his creative powers and lets his team stretch their skills. It’s fine dining redefined, and it’s a full evening’s worth for $100. This yin-yang joint is the one-two punch that is best poised to win hearts and minds.
This University Avenue super-authentic Thai spot might not be much to look at, but the food is nothing but gorgeous. The nam thok, similar to a steak salad, sizzles more sunnily with fresh lime and more perky with chili. The kaou jub rice noodle soup is a glorious concoction of rice noodles rolled up like little croissants, chewy in the middle and silky at the edges.
Great Plate: The tom ka soup is clearer, lighter, and brighter than others, like a note played on a flute versus one spoken plainly.
You know what’s great about Piccolo? It’s familiar and new at the same time. Chef Doug Flicker has been around the local industry for years and remains one of the most influential role models for young cooks and restaurateurs. He executes beautiful food and runs a kitchen that puts out serious plates, without taking themselves too seriously. They have fun and you can see it in the dishes that push the edge of modern cuisine while delivering on depth of flavor.
Great Plate: Get the scrambled eggs with pigs feet and you’ll never be sorry.
We are eagerly awaiting details of chef Ann Kim’s next spot—all we know is that it’s next to Dangerous Man Brewing Company in Northeast, it will have fancy cocktails, and there will be a connection with Korean cuisine. With those scant details, why is everyone in a tizzy? Because when Kim’s first restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, opened six years ago, it instantly elevated the pizza scene in town with pies that are lighter, airier, crisper, breadier, and more intensely flavored than anyone else’s. It’s silly to call pizza art, but a Pizzeria Lola pizza is nothing short of a symphony in crust and bubbling cheese. Her second spot, Hello Pizza, offers up modern slices and proves she can produce serious volumes of food while keeping the quality sky high. If she can do those two things, what else can she do? “I’m not ready to talk about the new place on the record,” Kim says, “but I can tell you we’re really focused right now on the human infrastructure: support infrastructure, leadership infrastructure. The craft, the repetition, the philosophy of paying attention to detail and intentional execution is the most important thing. Getting that message across, and getting people to live that message with you, is what I’m doing now.” That core of intentional execution is what makes Kim’s food so much greater than pizza and why it feels like such an unusually sure thing to say that whatever comes next is likely worth waiting for.
It’s hard to believe that it was just four years ago that Thomas and Kat Kim packed up their life’s belongings in L.A. and moved to Minnesota. Maybe it’s harder to believe that they haven’t looked back since. Setting down roots near Kat’s family, the duo opened the Left Handed Cook, a counter spot in Midtown Global Market serving a small menu of Korean street food. The 21-spice chicken tenders earned them much love. What came next was a fuller version of their original spot, when the team opened Rabbit Hole just down the hallway. The Koreatown-style pub and kitchen came to life at the same time as their new baby girl, Kyu Jin. The restaurant has a special energy that’s edgier than the rest of the market. There’s a little bit of street wisecrackin’ to the names of dishes and some punk verve throughout the dark space that keeps things exciting, all the while understanding that most local eaters are still neophytes to Korean food. (You can still find fries, wings, and burgers, though they’ll be kicked up with funky flavors.) But from Harold & Kumar poutine (with pork curry gravy and kimchi) to Yuki vs. Winter (a steaming spicy brisket stew with shiitakes and sweet potato noodles) they continue to invite us along their riotous ride.
In 1999, chef Alex Roberts opened Alma with the fresh idea of offering Minnesota farm foods prepared with techniques he’d learned from New York City kitchens like Gramercy Tavern. We responded with great devotion, solidly booking seats for the next 17 years, and cheering as it scored a James Beard Award. Alma is now embarking on major changes: Besides adding a liquor license and debuting an innovative line of low-proof cocktails, it’s on the cusp of nearly doubling in size with a new casual café for breakfast, lunch, and pastries.
Great Plate: A great sipper, the drink Somewhere in the Bergamot is luscious with Barolo chinato and skewers of charred kumquats.
All hail the fried chicken kings of Kingfield! Think no one goes out for lunch anymore? Think again. This small spot packs them in daily for chef Thomas Boemer’s spectacular fried chicken, whether it’s Nashville Hot or regular hometown fry.
Great Plate: Up the value of the seat you finally score, order the burger that has been seducing people away from the bird since day one. Also, order some bubbles for lunch—we approve.
The finer efforts of chef Sameh Wadi and his family are celebrated at our only upscale Middle Eastern restaurant. Saffron has been quietly educating people for years about the beauty and intricacies of spice and lamb that go so far beyond any quick-service kebab shop they might recall from college. And as a perennial participant in Restaurant Week, Saffron is friendly to those who would slip in for an introduction at a great price.
Great Plate: It has the best lamb tagine this side of Chicago.
The Strip Club kids have done something really special in Lowertown. They unleashed chef Adam Eaton on the city, with his La Belle Vie pedigreed cooking techniques and his penchant for making fussy food accessible and everyday food spectacular. The humble double cheeseburger gets dressed in a cheese sauce that you would swear is made from unicorn tears—it’s that magical. But don’t overlook the duck tartare made modern with Ritz crackers and the house hot sauce.
Great Plate: The burger. And then the bologna sandwich. In that order.
Chef Steven Brown’s new casual French spot has a great list of bubbles, stackable small plates, and a vibe that makes it feel like a new classic.
Great Plate: The Madame tartine, made with Red Table Jambon Royale, is worthy of an afternoon snack.
At a time when the fine dining stalwarts were languishing, chef Gavin Kaysen came home and redefined what dining finely could mean. Spoon and Stable is comfortable, it’s warm and welcoming, it’s buzzy and fun. It’s full of action and never takes itself too seriously, evidenced by the massive cotton candy cone delivered to birthday revelers gratis.
Great Plate: The duck meatloaf sliders have been on the bar menu since day one for a reason.
So what happens to an old girl when the chef/owners get kicky to open flashier new spots? Nothing but good things if it’s co-owners Tim Niver and chef JD Fratzke. The duo introduced much-loved Saint Dinette last year, and then reported back to work in the kitchens and the floor of The Strip Club, letting the other team run the new show while they returned to deliver the hospitality and thoughtful meaty cooking that people have come to define them by.
Great Plate: The fried chicken sandwich, with pickled onion and mayo on a milk bun, is wickedly undersung and totally cult-status worthy.
We all knew this was going to be a sure thing. When Surly opened its massive beer hall brewery complex last year, the fervent and passionate Surly Nation packed the place daily for creative cool beers and snappy beer bites, like those hog frites. Sure, the Surly crew could have then rested on their laurels, but they didn’t, because that wouldn’t be Surly. Instead, they pushed boundaries even further by opening a finer dining restaurant on the upper level, where chef Jorge Guzman creates astoundingly complex and creative plates to pair with beer and only beer. Surly beer. Now having that cannon of beers is much like having a full cellar of wine, and the challenge was getting eaters and drinkers to see that. Through amazingly intricate techniques and beautiful construction, the kitchen team at Brewer’s Table has won over food and beer snobs alike. Suddenly whole groups of people who wouldn’t be caught dead standing in line for a release of Darkness, are booking up tasting dinners and seeing how beer and food can interact in a whole new way. Take note taprooms, the bar has been irrevocably raised (by Surly, again).
You gotta cheer for a Minnesota dynasty. Especially one that has kept us so well-fed for more than 30 years. The Broder clan rules the 50th and Penn neighborhood where three corners house the family’s eateries. Molly Broder is the matriarch and a leader in our local industry, but her sons Thomas and Charlie have recently taken up the charge, especially at Terzo, the newest addition on the block. You might be worried that the younger generation might go off on some wild scheme of foams and molecular tomfoolery, but this wine bar fits right in, with a delicious glimpse into the future of where the family business might take us. Witness the introduction of a cheeky walk-up window, where the hungry can score spicy porchetta sandwiches during the day when the bar is closed. A recent overhaul of the menu moves away from snacky wine plates toward fuller dishes that push the boundaries in a more contemporary direction than what’s served at the pasta bar across the street. It’s a tricky balance, owning the past but leaning into the future. But if anyone knows how to do it, it’s the Broders: You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going.
Seats are still difficult to score at the hip and elegant Tilia. In that box of hipster finesse, pink German bubbly is poured into giant glasses, grilled octopus is offered up succulent and sensuous, and leek soup is a tune played in cream and onion. It’s clearly a well-practiced waltz with a little wiggle in its step. “If I could be my own customer, Tilia would have been the place I’d make for me,” says owner and chef Steven Brown. “It continues to be the most important thing in my life, it’s where my heart is.”
Great Plate: For all the elegance, there’s something remarkable about how a humble fried fish sandwich is washed down with a stellar tap beer.
2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
The Travail crew throws the greatest food party in town at their Robbinsdale compound. Those mad molecular gastronomy skills are on display at nationally loved Pig Ate My Pizza, just as at brother-neighbor Travail, the first local restaurant to trade reservations for demand-priced tickets. And now add Copper Table: a single table in Travail that acts as its own restaurant. It runs $1,529 for six eaters who should be ready for a fully interactive night with some 35 courses, including trips to a basement room that may be an oyster bar on one night, and a charcuterie cave on another.
Great Plate: At Pig Ate My Pizza, try the Hot Gandhi, topped with chicken tikka masala.
Pig Ate My Pizza, 4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-537-7267, travailkitchen.com
Although this restaurant opened in December (read the full review in the upcoming April issue), Upton 43 is already a standout for a few reasons. First, the Scandinavian-inspired space is unique, nestled in with its Linden Hills neighbors. The old Settergren’s hardware is hardly recognizable except for the hardwood beams inside the sleek, white, and airy room where the kitchen is open to the dining room. Then there’s chef Erick Harcey, whose Victory 44 helped define new standards for service and continues to deliver really great food. Here, Harcey draws from memories of his grandparents’ Swedish cooking to inspire plates that, so far, have been staggering in execution and perfectly homey in taste. Swedish pancakes dusted with bits of rye, fermented lettuces with a powder of egg yolk, and meatballs with a light cucumber salad recall their Nordic flavors lyrically, while challenging us to see the foods of our heritage in a contemporary light.
Don’t think of chef Erick Harcey’s Victory 44 as the red-headed stepsister to his shiny new Upton 43. If anything, the old spot has benefitted from a shot of new life. The space has been given a fresh facelift, cleaning up the scuffs and giving it a more modern color scheme. Don’t worry, you’ll still find Devils on Horseback, and that Perfect Burger is a steal on Monday nights. But now you won’t have to do any math: Tipping has been replaced with a living wage supplied by the restaurant.
Great Plate: The boneless, crisp, and piquant fried chicken here should be more famous.
There’s something about Frost that makes it a “hot find” every time a new generation discovers it. Sure, the patio is legendary, but the downstairs lounge makes you feel like you’ve scored a secret date with some rich Summit Avenue Zelda.
Great Plate: The duck banh mi and the togarashi spiced shrimp sandwich with kimchi aioli will feed all the hungry explorers.
Hard to believe Sameh Wadi is only 32 and he’s already blazed one of the most interesting and unpredictable trails in the history of Minnesota food. “What?” he asks, rhetorically. “The most logical thing you can do is go from a fine dining Middle Eastern restaurant [Saffron] to a food truck [World Street Kitchen] to a casual modern restaurant [World Street Kitchen, the restaurant] to a catering company to an ice cream company [new Milkjam]. Totally logical. It’s what everyone does, right?” Of course, no one does that. World Street Kitchen’s Yum Yum Bowl is a Palestinian riff on bibimbap that’s an object of local foodie obsession, and the spanking-new ice cream shop serves things no one knew they wanted—vegan toasted coconut sorbet floating in Cava—but anyone can instantly see were totally necessary. “We want to do what seems like fun, making what’s yummy, but in a position where none of our restaurants are competing with each other,” says Wadi. “Everything has to have different price points, different styles, and then I have to like it. That’s all.” Who wants to place bets on Wadi’s next venture—bouillabaisse hut? Raclette shack? It’s staggering to think he may well have another 50 years in local restaurants ahead of him, as we’ve already seen the illogical brand of logic Wadi uses to make a very tasty magical impact on our Cities.
Ramen is the hottest dish of the year, and no one is doing it better than John Ng and Lina Goh. From Kanazawa to Osaka, the co-owners have traveled to Japan countless times, undertaking a massive international study of ramen. They’ve become fast friends with some of the biggest names in the ramen business and have a reputation for putting together bowls of significant flavors. The broth is the key, carefully balanced with accompanying herbs and oils.
Great Plate: The weekend ramen special features creative twists on regional specialties, but it’s available only in limited quantities.