Our eating world has turned this year, as we have seen a bevy of openings and closings, chefs moving from stove to stove, owners with bravado claiming to be the next big thing, and young upstarts flashing new ideas while crowd-surfing for capital. Ah yes, another year in the life of our local food scene. Whether it’s the resurrection of old favorites, new consulting projects from big-name chefs, or the expanding fleet of mobile food vendors, the new kids this year are bringing their game. Our restaurant picks prove there’s a little bit of something tasty for everyone.
After so many stoves with so many names, after so many accolades but so many new gigs, Steven Brown decided to open his own joint, built with his own hands.
What he succeeded in creating is the essential restaurant that we never knew we needed but now can’t imagine having lived without. In this tiny 40-seat Linden Hills space, Brown and his band of cooks put out food that is beguilingly simple, such as shrimp with spring peas or chicken thighs. But what you get is a crafted wink, a nod, and a smirk that plays the shrimp dish with a spicy scampi sauce and kicks the chicken “sorta jerk style.”
It’s finally abundantly clear that Brown is not worried about impressing the bosses or the press; he’s just hanging with his neighbors, having fun, making great food, and taking us along for the ride. 2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
First Come First Served.
Tilia’s no-reservations rule has been the bane of foodies, but the neighborhood vibe makes waiting for a table half the fun, plus you can plow through one of the more exciting beer lists in town.
The best time to go is during the “In Between,” after lunch but before dinner. Sure, the menu offered is smaller, but there are usually quick seats available and you can snack your way through a lot of cool tastes for little cash.
Yes, the small space can get hot with an open kitchen and the funky old AC situation. Plan to shed layers or go when it chills, like now.
Stewart Woodman may or may not be an easy man to like; he makes no bones about speaking his mind regarding critics, other chefs, and politics. He may be brash and bloggerific in an itchy sort of way, but when it comes to the plate, he gives you nothing short of everything he’s got.
His newly imagined restaurant is a real departure from the one that died in the fire, and that makes him braver still. Heidi’s 2.0 has a modern, funky edge that dares you to look in the Wonkavator open kitchen and peer at the cooks, if you can take your eyes off the plate. Imaginative dishes are refined and show a strength in technique, but they never forget to deliver on flavor.
From the food to the service to the art, it’s a true full-sense experience. 2903 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3512, heidismpls.com
This new Heidi’s comes decked with a cozy bar area. Don’t skip the pre-meal seat; the bartenders are as talented with hand-pressed juices, syrups, and bitters as you’d expect them to be.
Another must is dessert. Pastry czar Heidi Woodman is the heart and loud laughter of the place, and her way with baked things is homey and refined at the same time.
Last summer brought out a more casual side to the place; on Sundays, Heidi’s patio was open for afternoon repast with special sandwiches, fries, and bloody marys for a steal. In September, the restaurant debuted brunch.
Sun Street Breads
Bakers normally get very little sleep, but when Solveig Tofte’s Sun Street Breads opened, the local bread guru could only pray to see the insides of her eyelids.
Such were the inaugural months–lines would form and bread racks would run empty, despite her best efforts to keep up. What can you do when the meatloaf Susan sandwich has become a bit of a crush for some, and others will truck across town for the Juicy Piggy with its jalapeno and jack–stuffed sausage?
You bake and you bake. You bake breads that you’ve always wanted to bake with your whole creative self, breads like apple rye or loaves with sprouted grains, and then you plow giddily forward. 4600 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-354-3414, sunstreetbreads.com
In the summer, if you want to grab a quick loaf, hit the Kingfield Farmers Market, where Sun Street has a booth.
Your Daily Biscuit.
Check the website for the daily stock of bread, pastries, and the weekly biscuit special; it might be a basil ricotta–filled crepe with roasted tomato sauce on a biscuit, if you’re lucky.
Dinner is Served
Now that she’s getting more sleep and a new sense of purpose, Tofte is extending hours and adding dinner to the menu sometime this fall.
A favorite riff from the restaurant vets: “Just because you can make good pizza for your friends doesn’t mean you can run a successful pizza joint.” Pizzeria Lola just might love being the exception to the rule.
Ann Kim was an actress in her recent former life, before diving in with considerable style to the creation of Pizzeria Lola. Her small southwest Minneapolis spot has been packing them in since day one. Is it the stylish and gorgeous copper Le Panyol oven that anchors the comfortably modern room? Is it the friendly pizza pie that plays with inventive flavors and ingredients while never forgetting it’s still supposed to be pizza? Or is it the lovely and generous Ms. Kim, smudged with soot, wielding a peel, happily chatting up guests, proving people wrong, and living the dream?
Who cares–just be thankful we have a quirky, authentic pizza joint from a quirky, creative spirit. It’s a lovely perfect storm of pizza, chums. 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com
You Old Soft Serve.
Don't skip the soft serve ice cream, touched as it is with a swath of olive oil and sea salt. Get some before heading to the photo booth in back.
In homage to Kim’s Korean roots, this pie soars with Korean sausage, kimchi, soy chili glaze, and sesame oil.
No reservations can mean a wait; check Lola out during weekend lunch.
Masu Sushi & Robata
Who knew that the hottest Japanese joint in town would come from supermarket sushi mavens? Truth be told, we knew something was afoot the minute Eagan’s Sushi Avenue hired Tim McKee to help flesh out the place. Instead of little green-paper-grass-lined sushi trays, Masu offers the workings of sushi master Asan Yamamoto, who has a deft hand with raw fish.
Instead of commonplace donburri and teriyaki offerings on the hot menu, Masu offers smoky grilled robata meats and oh-so-cheffy ramen with pork belly and poached egg. Match that with a slick design package that delivers a Tokyo vibe, and you'll soon wish Masu was taking over your local strip-mall sushi joint. 330 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-332-6278, masusushiandrobata.com
Sure, there’s a list of stellar sake choices, but Johnny Michaels was brought in to design a cheeky and fun cocktail menu that screams for attention. Try the Gummi drinks, which do indeed taste like Gummi Bears.
The small-plate menu is where you’ll find the authentically interesting ingredients—shredded dried squid, Japanese pickles, and tuna jerky.
California Roll Rut.
This is the place to try some new sushi. Let the knife wielders show you their way with Arctic char, seasonal abalone, or barramundi.
Imagine the confidence builder when you’re hired to replace a celebrity chef. The D'Amicos, already empire builders in their own right, humbly took over the former Wolfgang Puck 20.21 space in the Walker Art Center and created Gather, a museum restaurant open mainly for lunch.
Without trying to one-up the Puck, Gather dials it back and quietly executes great plates of modern food that lean to the local palate while keeping a global edge. Then, in a we’re-all-winners move, Gather opens the kitchen the first Thursday night of the month to other notable local chefs who contribute a dish or two to the menu. Would Bobby Flay or Gordon Ramsay do that? Walker Art Center, Mpls., 612-253-3410, walkerart.org
When open, the rooftop patio has a captivating view of the Basilica, Loring Park, and downtown. An artful vantage point, to be sure.
D'Amico has also put its spin on the quick nosh Garden Café and Garden Grill.
Free For All.
If you gather at Gather for dinner on First Thursdays, the Walker and all its modern wonders are open for free wandering.
The thing you have to remember here is that there are usually no more than two guys in the kitchen. One of them is Don Saunders, which goes a long way, but still, two guys. Two guys who take each order and build plate after plate of scratch, technically dead-on French-inspired modern food. Sure, the house is small, but it is often packed to its comfortably stylish rafters with a buzzy neighborhood crowd that seems happy to leave louder, larger restaurants to everyone else.
Cooking seasonally allows Saunders to hone his menu to make the biggest impact with a smaller number of dishes. Still, it’s amazing to watch plates fly from the kitchen with surprising and balanced food that pays homage to the season and palate with a simplicity necessitated by the gift and the curse of a small space. 5416 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-0105, inseasonrestaurant.com
Seasonal, Get It?
The menu changes with the seasons but is more about the way the daylight and temperatures make us want to eat rather than a strict locavore statement. When you’re craving braised meats and hearty stews, bet that In Season will too.
There are no terms like "appetizer" or "larger plates" on the menu. Instead, you are encouraged to sample according to your hunger. It’s fun, but do inquire about the size of the dish–some are filling and some are not.
Although not listed, a tasting menu is available for roughly $60 if you call ahead to let them know you’re interested. Small kitchens like to plan ahead.
The Bachelor Farmer
Eric and Andrew Dayton opened a new restaurant last summer that celebrates all the old ways in just the right new light. 50 2nd Ave. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, bachelorfarmer.com
Don’t be afraid to go through the back door, past the garbage area, in order to get to Marvel Bar, the sister mixology lair run by Pip Hanson.
Urban Gardens Above.
Bachelor Farmer’s rooftop is an urban garden where many of the Farmer’s herbs and ingredients are grown.
At the end of your meal, you will receive a Moleskine diary in which to record a note, a love song, a rant, what have you. Go ahead, be un-Minnesotan and tell them what you really think.
Best New Food Trucks
Not all of the cities' best new restaurants pay property taxes. Here are some mobile bests for those of you with restless legs.
Hola Arepa (@HolaArepa)
The crew in the bright aqua truck stuffs griddled corn cakes with slow-roasted meats and sassy sauces. The double pork Cuban with Swiss and pickles is a special—snag it if you see it.
Vellee Deli (@VelleeDeli)
These guys were the sleeper hit of the summer—that curry burrito is one fat hunk of tasty fusion.
Nate Dogs (@Nate_Dogs)
Half the charm of these dogs is their all-natural goodness; the other half is chatty Nate who sells them.
The Twisted Sister House of Hunger (@HouseofHunger)
Loaded fried potatoes come with cheddar sauce, sour cream, and applewood-smoked bacon. Hit it with the signature polygamy sauce to take it to the next level (except in Utah).
Untamed Cart (@Untamed_Cart)
You’ll have to endure an inner war to choose between the Mexican pot roast sandwich with aioli or the porketta on ciabatta with arugula. Really it’s a win-win.
Cupcake on the Go (@CupcakeOnTheGo)
Despite tons of cupcake flavors, including a few vegan and gluten-free options, you could just mainline your sugar rush with a frosting shot.
Potter’s Pasties (@PottersPasties)
It’s a flaky, rich chicken pot pie you can eat with your hands. You’re welcome.
Gastro Truck (@Gastrotruck)
A chef loves his sliders, and Stephen Trojahn’s dead-on smoked meatloaf sliders prove the rule.
Saucy Burt’s (@SaucyBurts)
It started with a girl, a cart, and a missile of a saucy meatball sandwich. Now that there’s hearty fresh pasta soup, all that’s missing is a slice.
Mr. Mustachios (@MrMustachios)
The truck may be hard to locate, but its crispy Belgian frites are a mess of hot, salty addiction.