Best Restaurants 2013
Photography by Katherine Harris, Stephanie Colgan, Amber Procaccini, and Steve Henke
OUR LOCAL DINING TEAM assembled this Hall of Fame based on a year’s worth of eating and drinking. Dig in to see the Class of 2013 standouts: the MVP, the Most Improved, the Cutest Couple, and more.
★ NO PLACE LIKE HOME AWARD ★
Cafe Levain Under/Adam Vickerman
4762 Chicago Ave. S.,
Can you really ever go home again? Perhaps. Chef Adam Vickerman, who at the tender age of 18 first worked in the Steven Brown version of the place, left the top job at Levain in 2009. After a stint at Tosca, he left the fold for a title at Sea Change. But feeling the pull of the old stoves, Vickerman returned in 2011 and has proven to be the prodigal son. The food hasn’t been this good in a while. His French-influenced bistro fare is humble, soul satisfying, and respectful of ingredients. There’s maturity and restraint in each plate and a true feeling, for loyalists, of home.
★ UPSTART/RISING STAR OF THE YEAR ★
The Gray House/Ian Gray
610 W. Lake St.,
Eat in enough restaurants and you’ll be forced to confront cliché, repeatedly. The sameness of everything else is what makes young chef Ian Gray, at his first solo restaurant, such a standout. The complementary appetizer and relish tray is delicious, generous, and hospitable. The bread for the bruschetta is cut just right and grilled just right. The beets are roasted to the height of their sweetness. Because all the details are just right, you can relax and notice the spark, the rare flash, that’s here too. Gray has an astonishing gift for flavor, for making savory and deep dishes thrum with vitality through the surprising use of sweet: ground cherries in a tuna tartare, vanilla in a pork ragu, honey with scallops. Too much is made of chefs as artists. We’d live in a better world if most acquired the status of able craftsman. But when the craft is in hand and the art dances on top of that, you have a chef who is worth watching, joyfully.
★ MOST IMPROVED ★
119 Washington Ave. N.,
When you’re crowned as King of Meats, where can you go from there? How about making a bid
for the Duke of Kale with mind-blowing vegetarian tasting menus?
★ STILL HOT/WICKED HOT ★
Bar La Grassa
800 Washington Ave. N.,
What is it that keeps this place packed to its stylish rafters? Probably the fact that no one has knocked the innovative James Beard–winning neo-Italian pasta king off the hill yet. Any takers?
★ PURVEYORS OF THE PERFECT FOOD ★
The Kenwood and Harriet Brasserie
The Kenwood, 2115 W. 21st St., Mpls.,
Harriet Brasserie, 2724 W. 43rd St., Mpls.,
Here’s something to get behind: everyday brunch. Why should weekends get all the good egg dishes? Why does lunch have to live in dinner’s shadow instead of basking in morning’s glory? This past year, two new restaurants embraced the softer side of the midday meal by serving brunch daily, with one menu from morning to mid-afternoon. The Kenwood is a comforting plaid-clad oasis whose star is braised pork huevos rancheros. Harriet Brasserie brings a global lilt with a gorgeous crab Bennie (and perfectly poached eggs all over the place).
★ MOST ORIGINAL MENU ★
Travail Kitchen and Amusements
4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale,
This is a unique place, unique enough to get the national media to sit up and take notice. But Travail is more than a shticky concept where the kids on the line jump into the dining room and serve the food. Much more. It’s a lab. No, wait. It’s a space station. It is a universe unto itself where the chefs have put in the money and now they put in the backbreaking hours to create, push, collaborate, and innovate. They owe nothing to anybody other than to each other, so they are free to create a menu unlike any other in the metro—one that reimagines textures, flavors, basic understandings of what “chicken” is with a galloping giddiness while, maybe most miraculously, never taking for granted that someone other than themselves will be eating it. The eater is welcome on the space station.
★ MOST AMBITIOUS ★
Union Restaurant and Rooftop
731 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.,
Hennepin Avenue has become the epicenter of Minneapolis’s see-and-be-seen, spend-and-be-spent-on high-end bar scene. Toss the valet the keys to your Escalade at Seven, sip a cosmo, scan the rooftop deck for sports celebrities—and then what? Now you can zip down the block for high-end cooking from one of Minneapolis’s most promising up-and-coming chefs: Jim Christiansen. No one saw this coming. When Kim and Keyvan Talebi, owners of the highly lucrative Crave chain, announced they were slotting a restaurant into the former Shinders space, all of Minnesota assumed they would open something lucrative and predictable. Instead they hired Christiansen and put him in charge of a rooftop patio (which turned out to be North America’s largest covered by retractable glass) and a fine-dining restaurant. Now the stiletto-clad cuties of Hennepin Avenue can eat just as well as the world’s snobbiest Michelin star chasers. Don’t buy it? Skitter on your Manolos up to the Union roof for delicate bowls of mussels steamed with lemon verbena, plus perfectly round donut holes (with bacon in the batter!) served with a Vasterbotten cheese fondue. Meanwhile, downstairs, serious eating is under way, with dishes such as beef tartare arranged upon a firmament of hay-smoked cream cheese and served with thick-cut potato chips for scooping, or ricotta gnocchi dumplings, as delicate as snow fallen on tulip heads. Consider Union in its entirety, with the thumping dance club of Marquee taking up the whole basement, and you’ll see that it’s not so much a restaurant as a sort of cruise ship, an enormous pleasure palace nosing its prow into waters never before explored on Hennepin.
★ BEST SEXY VEGETABLES ★
Birdhouse on Hennepin, 2516 Hennepin Ave. S.,
Mpls., 612-377-2213, birdhousempls.com
Oh la la, that croquette! Panko crisp all over, enrobed in a sultry fire-roasted red pepper sauce that is pure silk, smoke, and damn sultry. Flirty orange supremes of brightness artfully play up the eggplant, which is steamed and pressed overnight, stunningly softer than cashmere, and steeped in rich earthy aromas that defy its light breezy texture. Long on culinary attitude and short on menu clutter, chefs Stewart and Heidi Woodman’s streamlined second act at the Birdhouse, with Chef Jes Werkmeister at the burners, offers so many veg and vegan delights that even the card-carrying carnivores are begging for more.
★ PHENOM OT THE YEAR ★
Icehouse Pub Grub
2528 Nicollet Ave.,
The word casual used to signal a dialing-back of ambition. Not anymore. When Icehouse opened last year it made a splash with familiar, casual pub grub, but pub grub cooked to the most exacting fine-dining standards. Buffalo chicken wings are made through a multi-step, multi-day process that is not limited to confit-ing the darn things before dry-rubbing and roasting them. Reubens are made with corned beef similarly housemade and finely conceived and executed. And the baby back ribs—well, baby back ribs by disciples of La Belle Vie? Why, yes. Casual prices, casual atmosphere, casual menu, and so ambitious that the slouchy, mustachioed bar-backs might as well be in full tails and white ties.
★ BEST RESTAURANT FAMILY ★
4300 Bryant Ave. S.,
In a joint as small as this, with food as intense as this, wouldn’t you almost want to just sneak in and share the nightly staff meal? They all come, whether they’re on shift or not, because, you know, it’s family.
★ HEIR TO THE LOCAVORE THRONE ★
Wise Acre Eatery
5401 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.,
With Scott Pampuch out of state, who is the heir apparent to the local food scene? Chef Beth Fisher holds the keys to the locavore kingdom, or queendom. Selecting seeds and preserving the harvest, she conjures menus with wit and whimsy. Try a winter salad of fresh spinach, house bacon, and pickled eggs or another of “lucky duck” confit with horseradish-roasted beets. Sweet carrot soup is kissed with ginger; beefy chili gets a plug of habanero sour cream. In January, 80 percent of her dishes come straight from the hoop houses on the restaurant’s 130-acre farm. Wise Acre brings us to the farm, every day.
★ MOST HOOD SPIRIT ★
337 13th Ave. NE,
As the neighborhood grows into a newfangled food destination around it, Jim Grell’s Modern watches quietly (actually, sarcastically more than quietly) what it started.
★ BEST FOOD-FOCUSED HAPPY HOUR ★
333 S. 7th St., Ste. 190,
Those seeking a happier hour of snacky small plates can dig on the great deals, but the regular menu is stacked with even more small plates worth passing. Why limit yourself?
★ BEST BUZZ OF THE YEAR ★
Butcher and the Boar
1121 Hennepin Ave.,
Minnesota has long been the land of the power steak house—which is odd given that our combination of great corn-growing lands and harsh winters makes us prime hog-raising territory, first and foremost. Into this gap of culinary logic rushed a man unafraid—chef Jack Riebel, a cheerful and often brilliant cook who has been knocking around top restaurants for years. The Butcher and the Boar debuted with all guns blazing—blazing with porkety pork hammy goodness. Think wild boar housemade ham, double-cut Berkshire pork chops with blueberry pecan relish, stuffed pig’s foot, bourbon Fresno pepper sausage, and a dozen more porky moments of bacon-tinged inspiration, including the best footlong hot dog in the history of the Twin Cities, ornately festooned with pickled veggie perky doodads of wonder. Beside the pork, there’s the other great attainment of corn: bourbon. Single barrel, top shelf, well mixed, or any way you like it. In addition to pork, B&B offers excellent steaks, oceanic inspirations, and delightful Southern-inspired veggies, but it’s really the boldness of the whole darn thing that makes Butcher and the Boar the restaurant of the year—who said the good life leads to the steak house? In Minnesota now, the fullest flower is at the pork house.
★ PARENT'S PET ★
5557 Xerxes Ave.,
Just get the little angel a pepperoni pie whilst you chew down on your Korean BBQ beauty, because here all children are above average and well behaved.
★ TOP COOKING PLAYGROUND ★
2203 44th Ave N.,
It’s a good thing for all of us when cooks get bored (would we know what Sriracha was otherwise?) and an even better thing when they have an arena like this to play in and a counter at which we can watch.
★ BEST NON-HOSTILE TAKEOVER ★
4257 Nicollet Ave.,
What happens when a smallish neighborhood restaurant evolves into an iconic city star for local farm foods, launching its chef onto the national scene, which eventually steals him away from said restaurant? Well, some people mourn and never come back because it could never be the same. But if the neighborhood is lucky, and this year has proven that Kingfield is indeed lucky, then some plucky new owners emerge and love it like it was originally loved, and work it like they live there, and cook from the bottom of their souls with skill and technique because it’s that important to them. And if they happen to carry out a bit of the original mission of locally sourced food, that’s great.
★ HOT TREND ★
In the old school days when chefs were tyrants, emperors of their stainless domain, uttering the word “collaboration” might have seemed insane. Not today in this connected community of sharing we’ve got going on. Travail (facebook.com/travailkitchen) is one big clubhouse of collaboration that seems to be clicking. And former alums Nick O’Leary and Tyler Shipton are taking that vibe to their own staff at Borough (boroughmpls.com). Recently we saw the old guard at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant (dakotacooks.com) hire Derik Moran and Kristin Tyborski as co-head chefs, and even the D’Amicos are in on it, featuring other local chefs at Gather (gatherbydamico.com) in the Walker Art Center. When Grand Café (grandcafempls.com) lost Ben Pichler earlier this year, owners Dan and Mary Hunter decided two heads were better than one and brought in Jim McIntosh and Wayne Schroeder. With all the creative juices flowing, we hope this trend keeps kicking.
★ BLOW YOUR TASTE MEMORY ★
The Bachelor Farmer
50 2nd Ave. N.,
Nostalgia is great and all that, but isn’t it nice to be able to erase some of your grandma’s dishes? Paul Berglund’s version of ham ’n’ pea soup replaces, and rightly so.
★ MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED ★
The World Street Kitchen
2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Ste. 5,
Food trucks have been the big news in the Twin Cities the past few years, but can mighty oaks grow from these little experimental food acorns? One is sprouting: World Street Kitchen, the south Minneapolis brick-and-mortar offshoot to the food truck of the same name helmed by Sameh Wadi, chef-owner of Saffron. Everything great about food trucks is here—the footloose improvisation (Moroccan fried chicken biscuit?!), the everyday price point (most everything less than $10), the casual jangle of big ideas, tossed off well (blinged-out guacamole!). More significantly, though, everything good about actual restaurants is here, too: Tables! Beer! Bathrooms! Open in the rain! The knee-jerk reaction of anyone walking in the door at WSK is, Oh, the new Chipotle. But WSK is much more interesting and significant than that. It’s chef-exuberant but real-world practical, making it the post-Crave restaurant we vote most likely to expand to Tulsa and Los Angeles—which will show them a Minnesota nice they never expected.
★ BEST HOME COOKING (NOT YOUR OWN) ★
Lucia's To-Go Roast Chicken Dinner
1432 W. 31st St.,
Just smile and nod thanks as your guests exclaim, “This is amazing! The best roast chicken ever!” while they lick their fingers and gnaw each bone. Don’t tell them you didn’t drive to the market, stuff fresh herbs under the bird’s skin, and baste the afternoon away. Don’t say you didn’t peel and mash all those potatoes to creamy, fluffy perfection. Don’t confess that you didn’t toss the verdant greens with rough maple mustard vinaigrette or that the tender, flaky piecrust loaded with plump, tangy apples isn’t yours. OK? The best homemade food isn’t always made at home.
★ BEST HOMETOWN HERO ★
289 E. 5th St.,
St. Paul, 651-699-3536,
Well cripes, how did it happen that a curmudgeonly guy from New York ended up as the culinary heir
to Garrison Keillor? Who cares. Nobody loves the local land and all it has to offer more than Lenny Russo.
★ BEER & FOOD NIRVANA EAST VS. WEST ★
EAST: Zenbox Izakaya
602 Washington Ave. S.,
If you want to enjoy small plates and unique beers while escaping the boring sameness of the popping crop of gastropubs, hit Zenbox Izakaya. The beer pairings have included the first Midwest on-tap availability of Asahi beer—the top-selling lager in Japan—plus a seasonal selection of Hitachino beer. As for the snacking part of the equation, there is an extensive list of salaryman favorites such as grilled pork belly, tender beef tataki, and even shu mai tempura. From Sapporo to Kirin, Asian beers are brewed to go with tasty food, as are their chosen local brews, such as Surly and Indeed—and that’s the principle put forward at Zenbox.
★ BEER & FOOD NIRVANA EAST VS. WEST ★
2726 W. 43rd St.,
Honestly, shouldn’t the location of a beer’s origin come second to its tasty worthiness? If you believe that, then you will appreciate the beer list at Tilia, which is just as intensely curated by chef Steven Brown as anything else in his amazing joint. Beyond a bottles/cans list that include locals, nationals, and internationals, there are 21 taps (each sold in 20-, 14-, 12-, 11-, 10-, 8- and 4-ounce pours) that go spectacularly with things like potted meats, roasted jerk chicken thighs, and escargot with mushrooms and gruyere. Not your average beer snack. Not your average beer list.
★ MOST OLD SCHOOL ★
Pig & Fiddle
3812 W. 50th St.,
Everyone is so excited about the new pub grub that maybe we should take a moment and reflect: What if pierogis were the next big thing? It makes sense, what with all the beer drinking going on, right? Shouldn’t someone do classic pub fare? Chef Stephanie Kochlin at Pig & Fiddle is all in with plates such as fisherman’s pie, brewer’s rabbit stew, bratwurst mit housemade kraut, and even roasted chicken “bubble & squeak” to go with the Kaiser-worthy list of beers. Remember, sometimes you have to go back to go forward. Now pass the pierogis.
★ CUTEST COUPLE ★
Tap Rooms and Food Trucks
If you could carry a couch with you, it might make it a troika: affordable handheld sassy food, freshly brewed beer poured by its makers, and an easy happiness that all things work out.
★ BEST DRESSED BARMEN ★
Eat Street Social
18 W. 26th St.,
There’s something about a vested and fedora-ed gentleman who shakes your icy cocktail to the highest heights. They’re serious, and so are those drinks.
★ BIGGEST OVERACHIEVER ★
5000 Penn. Ave. S.,
The next generation of Broders have the empire well in hand. Look soon for a new wine bar across the street.
★ MISS CONGENIALITY (BEST SERVICE) ★
La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Ave.,
Saying that La Belle Vie has the best service in Minneapolis seems a little unnecessary, like noting that the Foshay Tower is the best Foshay Tower. Well, duh. La Belle Vie does stand out as singularly: the host greets you by name as you walk up the grand steps and relieves you of your coat; servers are swift, deferential, and truly useful. Most significantly, from your initial step in the door to the final sweets plate of mignardises, you are made to feel like some lord of a British manor—your needs important and understood, and then well met. In fact, you could say that La Belle Vie, with its well-directed service, makes you feel just as singular as the Foshay Tower, and that’s both a neat trick and necessary to note.
★ MOST ANTICIPATED PATIO ★
W.A. Frost & Company
374 Selby Ave.,
St. Paul, 651-224-5715,
Every year we wait in our hutches to see if we glimpse the shadow of a 55-degree March day so we can call Frost to see if they have chairs out. It’s their gift and their curse.
★ BEST ESCAPE ★
Vincent A Restaurant
1100 Nicollet Ave.,
Get out of the habitrail and pass right by the fleet of food trucks. You deserve good food and real service. The prix fixe lunch changes weekly.
★ BEST GENTENARIAN ★
211 W. 7th St.,
St. Paul, 651-222-3476,
The old geezer never looked so good! A refreshed and newly styled market, a new full-service rooftop restaurant, a coming pastry and gelato shop, and still lines out the door for a good ol’ slice of flat pie.
★ INSIDER FIND OF THE YEAR ★
The Left Handed Cook
Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St.,
The true secret to our amazing culinary landscape is our invisible tractor beam. We send our sons and daughters out into the world to learn and grow. Then, when the time is right, we flip the switch and haul them back. Kat Melgaard was in L.A. with Thomas Kim when she started feeling the pull—thankfully, she grabbed him for the ride. The two landed in Minneapolis with the idea of opening a shop and bet their pocket change on a spot in Midtown Global Market. That’s a big gamble as there’s no alcohol (yet) and the crowds are mostly driven by Allina lunchers, but guess what, this food transcends all that. Comfort food played out with Asian ingredients and a little of the Angelino new punk edge has been driving foodists here for the already legendary 21-spice fried chicken and a poutine with pork belly and kimchi, among other things. This stall alone could spread out and make the market a hotter destination.
★ BEST SPLIT PERSONALITY ★
Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma and Brasa
University Ave. SE,
Brasa, 600 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-379-3030,
There are two sides of the Alex Roberts coin: one side is a refined tasting-menu Alma with gorgeously curated plates, while the other side is down-home cooking braised meats Brasa with Latino-Creole-crazy tics. You flip,
★ BEST FRENCHY MAITRE D' ★
Nico Giraud of Meritage
410 St. Peter St., St. Paul,
Nicolas Giraud is charming, smart, and wine-wise, not to mention French. Ask him to read all the Burgundies out loud—it’s worth it.
★ BEST REASON TO BREAK CURFEW ★
Masu Sushi & Robata
330 Hennepin Ave. E.,
Late-night eaters have a new haunt. The midnight hour can find itself as busy as
7 pm at Masu. This is the realm of post-event eaters and those with East Coast habits (not so much the blind drunks you’ll find a couple hours later looking for pizza). They provide a happy hum to the place as they dig into steamed buns, pork belly ramen, robata, and sushi to which a plate of cake ’n’ eggs at some greasy diner couldn’t hold a candle.
★ MOST DRIVEN (LITERALLY) ★
791 Raymond Ave.,
St. Paul, 651-888-2255,
She might be the hardest-working woman in the biz. It’s been a scant three years since Erica Strait pedaled—on a bike—smoothies and falafels at the Kingfield Farmers Market. This naturally led her to launch a food truck, which naturally led her this past year to open the quaint shoebox restaurant of Foxy fame. Service is lightning fast, and the food, blissfully, is deliciously slow. Starring three signature falafels crafted from sprouted chickpeas—fresh herb, fragrant curry, or brilliant beets—with a trio of sauces (cucumber mint yogurt, lemon tahini, harissa), the menu evolves daily. She’s always adding to her repertoire, recently with lamb burgers, a gorgeously thick, crisp cauliflower “steak,” and now brunch items! What’s next?
★ BEST REASON TO BOOK A ROOM ★
601 1st Ave. N.,
The splashy see-and-be-seen days may have passed on to other spots, but Cosmos is still putting out serious food and has one of the best pastry chefs in the state.
★ BEST STEAK HOUSE FOR VEGETARIANS ★
The Strip Club Meat & Fish
378 Maria Ave.,
St. Paul, 651-793-6247,
If you love your carnivore enough to eat alongside her, you’ll be happy here with the most amazing roasted cauliflower with hominy and parm, Brussels with feta, and crispy fried veg, but you will still be mocked.
★ BEST PLACE TO FALL OFF THE VEGETARIAN WAGON ★
Manny's Steak House
825 Marquette Ave.,
You tried. Applause for the effort, but if you’re gonna fall, fall hard with a bludgeon of beef or a plate of thick-cut Nueske’s bacon for starters.
★ HOT TREND ★
Beer's Plus One
Beer lovers who love their beer sometimes want to keep that love pure and simple. Let’s not fussy up our night of beer drinking with too much food, and definitely not too much fussy food. You might say that it all started in Ireland with Guinness and fish and chips, just like at our beloved Anchor Fish & Chips (theanchorfishandchips.com). But lately it has become even more simplified. Devil’s Advocate (devilsadvocatebar.com) opened this year with a dazzling array of beers and a menu focusing on meatballs, just meatballs. Now New Bohemia Wurst+BierHaus (newbohemiausa.com) has entered the game with a raucous amount of beer and a smattering of wurst with some dipping sauces for flash. Note: burgers don’t count in this discussion, as they occupy an entirely different culinary plane. They do.
★ FRESHEST CATCH ★
Sea Salt Eatery
4801 Minnehaha Ave. S.,
Truly we are landlocked . . . except from April through October when the ocean and its fruits are unleashed on the waiting hordes at Minnehaha Park.
★ BEST CHEF'S TABLE ★
2903 Lyndale Ave. S.,
There’s no better place to sit and watch the crafty machinations of one of the Twin Cities’ top chefs than in the great glass kitchen.
★ BEST NEW UPTOWN BAR ★
3001 Hennepin Ave. S.,
Things are always a-churning in Uptown, the land of the young and renting. Lately people have been bemoaning the upscaling of Uptown, with retail giants and national chains taking over the real estate once know for its local, quirky independence. Well, a local has moved back in. Matty O’Reilly spent his early 20s in a house a few blocks off the corner where he now has installed a second outpost of his popular beer hall. On the second floor of Calhoun Square, Republic doesn’t have the glammy glimmer that Bar Louie has, nor does it have the prime street-side access of Primebar. But it does have a great beer list, a low-key vibe for the non-rooftoppers, absolutely scrumptious buttermilk wings, and a local, quirky independence.
★ BEST DELIVERY ★
3016 Lyndale Ave. S.,
Maybe the best reason to get a divorce and move back to Uptown. You can’t cook if she got all the utensils, right? And that chicken with double chili pepper will burn your anger right out of you.
Meet the clever entrepreneurs who may not be in the spotlight but are making big things happen in our local restaurant scene.
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Best cheap eats, best family favorite, best off the beaten path, best splurge, and best take-out: Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's dining critics share their secret spots and go-to addresses.