Photograph by Eliesa Johnson
Lentils and cauliflower at Alma
Lentils and cauliflower with yogurt raita and tempura mushrooms at the revamped Alma.
Keeping up with the Twin Cities’ white-hot dining scene is like trying to stay on top of all the great TV and streaming series out there: Just when you think you’re caught up, something new and shiny appears. Or you realize you slept on an old favorite. But never fear, food-loving friends, our annual list of the best restaurants in town—as chosen by the best critics in town, if we do say so ourselves—is the cheat sheet you’ve been waiting for.
The Strip Club
The Strip Club
Raise a glass to the stalwarts that continue to define Twin Cities dining: Meritage, Bar La Grassa,112 Eatery, The Bachelor Farmer, Manny’s, Tilia, and The Strip Club.
It feels like a particularly fragile time to assess dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Two of our founding locavores have left the scene. Lucia Watson retired from Lucia’s, and Lenny Russo closed Heartland. Two other significant chefs known for their technique, flourish, and heart closed up their showcase spots, too. Tim McKee shuttering La Belle Vie was a blow that hasn’t softened over time. And anyone who eats thoughtfully in the Twin Cities winced when Doug Flicker announced he was closing Piccolo. Our dining future remains to be determined, but the shifting sands do beg the question: Are we still special? Were we ever?
From the late 1990s till today, the Twin Cities has had a different food identity than other hot American food cities. Our smallness sets us apart. Our tendency to want to learn and share knowledge makes our cities knowable in ways that cannot be overstated. A mildly curious diner can ask a few questions and rapidly know the chef not just at the restaurant they are in, but who that chef likes and what farmers she uses. This smallness and curiosity also means good farmers, new foragers, and promising line cooks who are fast-tracked to the top.
It’s a virtuous and unique market, and, yes, it’s still special. Local dining has always been bigger than the specific chefs and the specific restaurants. Our restaurant scene is all of us.
And though it’s natural for news outlets to focus on the aforementioned closings (and openings, too), can we take a minute to toast our standing icons that contribute to so much of that specialness? Let us raise a glass of Champagne to Russell Klein at Meritage, where French sophistication meets New York City no-nonsense, resulting in a St. Paul original that can hold its own with any in the world. Let’s send flowers to our two great downtown Minneapolis, Isaac Becker/Nancy St. Pierre–owned restaurants: Bar La Grassa, that urban-chic playground of perfect pasta, and 112 Eatery, which has astonishingly remained a chefs’ favorite for 12 years. (Do we have a better or more iconic dish in the Twin Cities than 112’s tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs? No, we do not.)
And let us raise a signature low-proof cocktail to The Bachelor Farmer, where Paul Berglund continues to redefine what it means to cook in the #North. And a big glass of cult Napa Cabernet to Manny’s, which remains the preferred wager of every friendly bet in town. “Oh, you think you can snowmobile across Lake Minnetonka faster? Loser buys dinner at Manny’s.”
Let’s raise a glass of farmer fizz (that’s small-estate Champagne, you know) to Steven Brown, whose teensy, 40-seat Tilia remains the coziest place where the best young cooks in the business try to one-up one another to the delight of everyone at the tables.
And lastly, let’s raise a final Cobra Kai to chef JD Fratzke and Tim Niver’s iconic hilltop steakhouse The Strip Club Meat & Fish, which closes in July. It’s among the places where the Minnesota cocktail revolution was born. And its small and diligent team’s deft cooking transformed the way we look at steaks and drinks, making it a pillar of Twin Cities food pride.You icons, take a bow. We see you. Though you’ve all been known to us for years, you still retain mysteries and depths of pleasure that surprise and seduce.
112 Eatery 112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-343-7696, 112eatery.com; The Bachelor Farmer 50 2nd Ave. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com; Bar La Grassa 800 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-333-3837, barlagrassa.com; Manny’s Steakhouse W Minneapolis–The Foshay, 825 Marquette Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-9900, mannyssteakhouse.com; Meritage 410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stp.com; The Strip Club Meat & Fish 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247, domeats.com; Tilia 2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
From left to right: Blood of the Wizard at Borough/Parlour, Jungle Bird at Hola Arepa, Bloody Mary at Esker Grove, Lil & Dil at Lyn 65
The Parlour Old Fashioned is to Twin Cities drinking as the Bill of Rights is to American governance—you can’t understand the latter without the former. Jesse Held—our infinitely inventive Ben Franklin of founding barmen—debuted that cocktail four years ago, and today uses Parlour for his most complex experiments. 730 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-354-3135, boroughmpls.com
The Hola Arepa frozen horchata cocktail with rum, banana, lime, and Hola’s famous creamy horchata is the best riff on a piña colada we’ve ever seen. Its Jungle Bird is equally fun and tropical, but lighter, juicier, and more modern. So it goes with all of Hola’s far-south-of-the-border cocktails. It’s the beach life all year round. 3501 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-345-5583, holaarepa.com
Even green tea at Esker Grove comes with a bit of orange peel spiraled carefully into a rose in the teacup. Add the steaming liquid and it blooms like a magic charm. Jon Olson, formerly of La Belle Vie, takes every element of his astonishing cocktail program that seriously. His aquavit brunch bloody mary is adorned with sweet-glazed lil’ smoky–sized cocktail weenies and aged cheese. And he makes one of the city’s best Sazeracs. Walker Art Center, 723 Vineland Place, Mpls., 612-375-7542, eskergrove.com
Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar
If Cheers is your fantasy bar, know that Lyn 65 does it one better. It’s not just the friendliest bar in town, often staffed by a revolving “who’s who” of the metro’s best female bartenders—it’s a temple of inventive creations. What started with the infamous Cut Cut Stab Kill cocktail has been ever topped by such charming concoctions as Lil & Dill, with its light herbal notes and powerhouse aquavit punch. 6439 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-353-5501, lyn65.com
Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Chef Matthew Bickford combines agile and surprising cooking (the savory brunch éclair weds buoyant pate a choux and ultra-rich pork belly) with serious music appreciation. Chastity Brown, JT Bates, and even members of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra regularly hit the Icehouse stage. Keep an eye out for the Revival Brunch—i.e., brunch with live music. It’s one of the best multi-generational gatherings a family could ask for. 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-276-6523, icehousempls.com
Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Mucci's Italian pizza
How do you stay competitive in the ever-changing dining landscape? You have to be nimble and able to read your guests and know what they want before they do. Mucci’s co-owner Tim Niver does this quite well. He built a small family Italian eatery on a neighborhood side street in St. Paul. Then he stacked it with saucy bricks of lasagna, crisp and rich fried pizzas, and a cult weekend donut program (holy donuts, indeed). Topping out at 44 seats, the place overflows with happy families and tipsy friends. Niver is a hospitalitarian of the first order, so if he can’t get you a table for a pizza, he’ll damn well get you a pizza for your table at home. Mucci’s freezes its fried pizzas, which can be carried out from the restaurant. Look for them soon at your local supermarket. 786 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, 651-330-2245, muccisitalian.com
Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki and Ashley Sullivan
Rabbit Hole and Stewart's
Rabbit Hole (left) and Stewart's (right)
Mercury Dining Room and Rail
Throwing out a suggestion for a downtown Minneapolis happy hour can be a little dicey. Cubemates tend to flow into the nearest watering hole and call it a habit, even if the place sucks. It’s time to break that bad habit with Mercury. It’s centrally located, the room is friendly and open with plenty of plush stools tucked at high-tops and the bar, and the service is crisp and attentive. Best of all? The bar snacks are killer: $5 ahi tuna sliders, $5 steak sandwiches, plus warm kale dip and chicken wings—all crowd-pleasers. From the rail you can expect a nice round of beers, snappy cocktails like the Tattersall Southside, and a generous amount of wines by the glass. 505 Marquette Ave. S., Mpls., 612-728-1111, mercurympls.com
The Rabbit Hole
This Koreatown-style gastropub in the Midtown Global Market has an edgy but welcoming street-cart vibe. It recently reopened for counter-service lunch, with winners like Poke Mon salmon poke, Van Damme Good Brussels with a bacon vinaigrette, brisket kimchi fried rice bowl, and the Winner Two Point Oh buttermilk fried chicken. Get the chicken with gochu butter or you’ll be sorry. Midtown Global Market, Mpls., 612-236-4526, eatdrinkrabbit.com
Basement bars are hot right now. When Max Thompson decided to close and relaunch the garden-level 128 Cafe as Stewart’s, one of the best things he did was brighten the room and add a real bar. Now the spot feels like a true hideaway where you can hang out and drink modern cocktails like the streamlined Daiquiri, a simple, elegant exhibition of lime, rum, and sugar. While you’re at it, tuck into a great burger or gooey grilled cheese. 128 Cleveland Ave. N., St. Paul, 651-645-4128, stewartsminnesota.com
Sit at the bar at Sushi Fix in Wayzata, and, in addition to enjoying unbelievably fresh fish and standard-setting wagyu beef nibbles, you’ll inevitably make friends with your neighbors. The conviviality starts with owner Billy Tserenbat, a master of raucous ceremony. Whether you’re sitting at the sushi bar waiting for your George Clooney roll bursting with big eye tuna and unagi sauce or at the whisky bar sipping down the best stash of Japanese labels in town, it’s almost impossible to leave without having had the time of your life. If the restaurant’s signature Shot-Ski makes an appearance, with multiple shot glasses fixed to a waterski, those new friends could be yours for life. 862 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-473-1364, sushifix.net
No one will argue the legendary status of chef Thomas Boemer’s fried chicken at Revival, but ever since our barbecue story in August 2016—in which he recalled the food revelations that occurred during his childhood in Lexington, North Carolina—we had a sneaky feeling that the St. Paul location would raise the bar even higher. And so it has. Boemer’s barbecue roots are dug firmly into his Selby Avenue location, where he joyously unleashes gifts from his smoker: giant pork ribs, butter-dipped spare ribs, fatty hunks of brisket with bark for days. Oh yeah, there’s chicken, too. 4257 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-345-4516; 525 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-340-2355, revivalfriedchicken.com
Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Milkjam Creamery ice cream cone
Milkjam put Fruity Pebbles in its ice cream.
World Street Kitchen, Milkjam Creamery
This year, Sameh and Saed Wadi closed their iconic Middle Eastern restaurant Saffron. The brothers were sad but excited to spend more time on their other creative pursuits: World Street Kitchen (the global mashup food truck and quick-serve storefront) and Milkjam Creamery (the most creative and delicious ice cream scoop shop in the city right now). They launched these two projects—which share the same building—before Saffron closed, so you can only imagine what’s going to pop out of their heads with all this newfound free time. Here’s to forward motion, especially when it leads to Yum Yum rice bowls and ice cream squished between donuts. 2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8855, eatwsk.com; 612-424-4668, milkjamcreamery.com
Chef Alan Bergo of Lucia's
Chef Alan Bergo of Lucia's
This year, locally renowned mushroom evangelist and forager Alan Bergo took over the kitchen at locavore institution Lucia’s, after founding foremother Lucia Watson sold it. His new menus are logical updates of Watson’s food. The mushroom tarts are now layered with black walnuts, and there are new creations as well, including radish and fresh cheese–stuffed pierogies gilded with lovage sour cream. 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-825-1572, lucias.com
Heirloom Kitchen & Bar
With its pale, quiet rooms, Heirloom can feel like an art gallery. The comparison grows more apt when you consider chef and owner Wyatt Evans’s preference for treating his fine seasonal and locally procured ingredients minimally, resulting in dishes like chicken pan-roasted until the skin is taut and crisp, the flesh tender as custard, the pan sauce caramel-y and herby. 2186 Marshall Ave., St. Paul, 651-493-7267, heirloomstpaul.com
The Draft Horse
This eatery in Northeast’s Food Building creates its menu with delights from down-the-hall neighbors, using Red Table meats, Lone Grazer cheeses, and Baker’s Field bread to a delicious degree. Don’t miss the fried bologna sandwich, made with Red Table’s mortadella. 117 14th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-208-1476, thedrafthorsempls.com
The 20-plus-year-old Birchwood created the cult-hit food of south Minneapolis: the savory waffle. Made with kale and quinoa, served with seasonal chutney and bright lemon rosemary butter, topped with fat chunks of bacon lardoons and a soft egg, it makes breakfast for dinner an intellectual and sensual comfort, as well as a thrill. 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com
Travail Kitchen and Amusements
Travail Kitchen and Amusements
They should rename Robbinsdale “Travaildale.” After all, there’s an entire municipality of action happening within the four walls of the Robbinsdale restaurant (and down the way at sister spot Pig Ate My Pizza, home of occasional all-you-can-eat pizza feasts). And if you think you know the drill, it’s probably changed while you were smirking in your seat. Travail’s cadre of chefs is at the center of the action, cooking and presenting the food all at once. There might be a flaming meat course over on the Travail side of the room during one of two ticketed seatings per night. Or culinary fireworks at the chef’s table smack in the middle of the kitchen. And don’t miss the “Spotlight” counter, where a young gun cook executes his or her own menu for a whole month. The show continues at the bar, where cooks take turns playing with liquids. Throughout all the madness, never forget that Travail’s ultimate goal is to get you to look at food and drink and dining differently. It’s a dare worth taking. 4124 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, travailkitchen.com
Get a behind-the-scenes look of the work that goes into a night at Travail.
Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
Cook St. Paul
Cook St. Paul
Burch Steak & Pizza Bar
With all the meat joints in town, you might not have thought we needed a new version of the steakhouse. But when Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre opened Burch, it was an aha moment. It turns out steak can be part of your dinner without being all of your dinner. Burch forgoes plate-hogging cuts for smaller, higher-quality chops, which leaves room at your table for other smart dishes like the addictive crab and seabean salad, and the amazing dumplings. And if you don’t want steak, there’s always pizza. 1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-1500, burchrestaurant.com
Cook St. Paul
Should the neighborhood café evolve with the demographics of the neighborhood, or should it stay the course as an anchor? In the case of Cook St. Paul, yes and yes. When Payne Avenue lost Serlin’s Cafe it gained Cook, which keeps a foot firmly rooted in the past, and another propping the door open for the future. Owner Eddie Wu offers a sturdy stack of pancakes, but also the Seoul Cubano with Korean short ribs and a spectacular “mac & chi,” in which butter-fried kimchi drags the old favorite into the new world. 1124 Payne Ave., St. Paul, 651-756-1787, cookstp.com
The new Hi-Lo Diner in Longfellow, with its gleaming and electric ’50s-fabulous confines—could have played it safe with malts and fries. But instead, it’s brought a serious bar game that adds booze to shakes, and an all-day breakfast menu that leaves out the grease. Indulgence is fresher at this diner. You can still get chili and fries, but your eggs bennie will have Duroc pork, your French toast a hit of lavender. 4020 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-353-6568, hi-lo-diner.com
Think Swedish fare, and you picture meatballs and thin pancakes in some rinky-dink café Up North, right? Erick Harcey updates such traditional notions at Upton 43. Here, you’ll find old-time touches of lingonberries and tart vinegars as well as thoroughly modern dishes like the salmon smörgås. 4312 Upton Ave. S., Mpls., 612-920-3406, upton43.com
The Kenwood Restaurant
The Kenwood Restaurant
As an antidote to all the hip new places with hard metal bar stools, concrete floors, and overflowing bar scenes that cause a very specific clamor and din, we give you The Kenwood. The Lake of the Isles neighborhood spot has soft curtains, plaid wallpaper, a chill atmosphere, and delicious chef-driven dishes like finely tuned short ribs with huckleberry sauce, wild boar pappardelle, and delicate crab on rye toast. Your ears and your belly will thank you. 2115 W. 21st St., Mpls., 612-377-3695, thekenwoodrestaurant.com
The one-time trend is here to stay, and it's shifted the way we eat together. For proof, book a table at Heyday, Monello, Surly’s Brewer’s Table, and Birdie.
Photograph by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Surly Brewer's Table
Surly Brewer's Table
Remember the early ’90s, when it was all about bang for your buck and value on your plate? That’s what catapulted locally spawned Buca di Beppo to a national chain powerhouse slinging huge bowls of spag for $14. At Buca, your doggie bag was a grocery bag! But just after the new millennium, something happened: The chefs took back the plates. Instead of slamming a jaw-droppingly large protein and carb center stage, they pared things back and added a tight artistic focus. But this small plates “trend,” we were told, was just that: a trend. It would eventually fizzle out the way most trends do. And yet here we are in 2017 with small plates stacked on every menu.
So did the plates lead the trend or was it the other way around? Was it the chefs’ desire to focus more on flavors and techniques that simply can’t shine on a larger scale? Was it a subversive message that Americans were becoming too fat? Was it the shift in focus to better ingredients that were also more expensive and thusly only profitable doled out in smaller bites? We’d say it’s all of the above and one more thing: our communal love of grazing.
With smaller plates, you’re apt to order more, which adds more choices to the table and encourages the passing of manageable bites among your tablemates. Call it bonding through grazing. Of course, it doesn’t always work. There are small plates that are too pricey and lack enough bites to pass around, and thus lead to the Taco Bell run on the way home. But thankfully, we have no shortage of great small platers who have figured the game out, with the right portions of the right quality at the right price point. These include Heyday, where Jim Christiansen has an innate knack for pairing what you might think are subversive flavors in an articulate dance on a plate (think salty and rich aerated gouda dotted with honeycomb). Monello does it right, too, playing with pasta and Italian flavors that create elegant bites which seem to pull back the curtain on the cuisine. His torchio with braised rabbit will make previously bunny-averse eaters swoon.
Small plates work best in a tasting menu, where the chef guides you through multiple courses and you float happily along with barely an idea of what’s coming next. Jorge Guzman at Surly’s Brewer’s Table excels at pairing whimsical plates with complex beers. For example, swirls of smoked parsnips appear atop a dusky pile of duck barbacoa that’s washed down with a double IPA infused with cilantro. Somehow, it all works.
Across town, the ladies at Birdie execute best on a grand scale. Take your seat at a table in a side room off the kitchen, and welcome plate after plate of cunning and flavorful combinations. One minute it might be a take on the Japanese okonomiyaki pancake with uni mayo, and the next a savory éclair with black garlic and truffled mascarpone. By the time plate number 10 arrives, you’ll be more than glad for its small size.
Nighthawks/Birdie 3753 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-248-8111, nighthawksmpls.com; Heyday 2700 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-200-9369, heydayeats.com; Monello 1115 2nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-353-6207, monellompls.com; Brewer’s Table 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Mpls., 763-999-6526, surlybrewing.com.
Ann Kim, chef at Young Joni
Ann Kim of Young Joni
One of the hottest restaurants in town right now may be a pizza joint on the surface, but step inside and Young Joni’s soaring wood ceilings, high-design chairs, and shimmering Japanese glass tiles surrounding the oven and grill reveal it as something greater. The menu takes it to 11, with solid wood-fired pies and smaller Korean-influenced dishes like grilled whole fish and sweet potatoes with bonito flakes. Plus, there’s a semi-secret back bar serving high-caliber cocktails in what looks like your (super hip) neighbor’s garage. 165 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-345-5719, youngjoni.com
Get the feel for Young Joni's secret bar:
Photography by Caitlin Abrams
Rose Street Patisserie
Rose Street Patisserie
Unlike the founders of Paris, the trailblazers in our cities saw the big river and decided it should be for work, not beauty. Our bakery culture followed suit, more focused on the sturdy than the splendorous. But then internationally acclaimed pastry chef John Kraus came to town to shine a light on the error of our ways. With Rose Street Patisserie, he’s created a gathering spot that offers amazing, artisanal loaves alongside elegant pastries and delicate refined chocolates. Grab a hearty pot pie with a shattering crust, and then a canelé de Bordeaux on your way out the door. 2811 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-259-7921, rosestreet.co
Broders' Pasta Bar, Broders' Cucina Italiana, Terzo
Clockwise from upper left: The Broder family at Terzo, Arctic Char at Terzo, Terzo, Polenta at Terzo
Broders’ Pasta Bar, Broders’ Cucina Italiana, Terzo
The Broder family has created the blueprint for how to run an Italian empire in the North. Some 35 years ago, they opened a cucina featuring all the ingredients and gems of Italian cooking, raising three kids in the process. Next, the family crossed the street and opened a pioneering fresh pasta bar, then crossed the other street and opened a slip of a wine bar that those kids now run. Through it all, they’ve remained some of the kindest people in the industry. Broders’ Pasta Bar, 5000 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-9202; Broders’ Cucina Italiana, 2308 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-3113, broders.com; Terzo, 2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330, terzompls.com
Rib-Eye Pho at Ngon Bistro
As our adopted local soup, this pho bridges cultures and uses locally raised beef. Ngon Bistro is a winner not only for including pedigreed local ingredients, but for having a full bar and cocktail program to boot. 799 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonbistro.com
Chicken 65 at India Spice
Out in Eden Prairie, India Spice House is a sleeper spot located next to an Indian grocery store. Good thing, because it seems to use the entire spice aisle on the food. The vibrant and redolent Chicken 65 sets the bar high. As does the service (the staff always asks about your heat preferences). 8445 Joinner Way, Eden Prairie, 952-942-8010, indiaspicehouseep.com
Pork Ramen at Zen Box
Ramen obsessives will find kindred spirits with Lina Goh and John Ng of Zen Box Izakaya, who travel to Japan on ramen trips and host the city’s popular Ramen Attack. Get the weekend special ramen before it runs out, or go for the standard-setting tonkotsu that wins every time. 602 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-3936, zenbox.com
Pozole at Maya Cuisine
It’s not just a taco bar situation at Maya Cuisine. There are so many more gems in this jewel box, like the pozole, which is both light and satisfying, and cuts through any chilly day. 1840 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-789-0775, mayacuisineusa.com
Yum Saam Grop at On’s Thai
Walk into On’s Thai and you might wonder if you’re in the right spot. The décor has seen brighter days. But sit down, order the food, and you realize you’ve found the best Thai in town. This dish in particular is a riot of fresh herbs, crispy fried seafood bits, and just the right spice. 1613 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-644-1444, onskitchen.com
Fava Beans at Gardens of Salonica
Gardens of Salonica clicks through all the Greek and Mediterranean flavors thanks to the diligence of chef Anna Christoforides. Something as simple as a bowl of pureed fava beans delivers an elegant simplicity. 19 NE 5th St., Mpls., 612-378-0611, gardensofsalonica.com
Ma Po Tofu at Grand Szechuan
Grand Szechuan has been bringing heat and authenticity to Bloomington for ages, and this classic Chinese dish is no exception. 10602 France Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-6507, grandszechuanmn.com
Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
Spoon and Stable
As the era of formal fine dining in town came to a close with the shuttering of La Belle Vie, Spoon took the torch and hasn’t looked back. It sets the tone for the next generation of upscale diners who want a vibrant bar scene, a gorgeous and lively (but not too loud) space, and menu options that range from bison tartare to smoked pork tacos. It’s not about strict coursing or appropriate forks or dinner jackets anymore; it’s all about flexibility, sharing, and acceptance for diners in denim. The ease and aplomb with which chef Gavin Kaysen’s team handles it all, while maintaining efficient, authentic hospitality, is a good sign for things to come. 211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com
Who would have thought that a former KFC on Nicollet and 46th would become one of our best fine-dining spots in town? Certainly, in the new era, the shell doesn’t matter as much as the guts. Just look at how Corner Table excels at both food and service. Nick Rancone runs his place with an easy confidence that oozes with credibility and trust in his service team. Staff members don’t have uniforms, come in all flavors and walks of life, and are knowledgeable guides for your memorable night. Don’t eat gluten? They’ll happily rework, say, the cassoulet, so you still can eat like a king. Don’t know which wine to order? They’ll ask the right questions to find your perfect match. First time there? Of all the servers in town, we trust them the most to run a great meal from start to finish. 4537 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-0011, cornertablerestaurant.com
There’s a magical combination happening at Saint Dinette in Lowertown. Owner Tim Niver is a fully committed man of service who cut his teeth at finer establishments all over the country. General manager Laurel Elm is a La Belle Vie alum and as gracious as the day is long. The final element is the place itself—a buzzy, open, and minimalist room serving loft-dwellers and ballpark fans a mix of burgers and salad Lyonnaise. It could, and by all rights should, be a chaotic and loud jumble. And yet the servers whisk about the room, knowing when to say yes, when and how to say no, and keeping the equation working for all eaters. 261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415, saintdinette.com
Joan’s in the Park
This small, family-run place on Snelling in St. Paul is unassuming from the outside, but loyalists have known for years that Susan Dunlop and Joan Schmitt have a knack for pampering that goes well beyond perfectly cooked steaks and a well-respected wine list. These are longtime vets of bigger restaurants who opened their own spot because—and here’s the key—they like people. 631 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-690-3297, joansinthepark.com
A great server can read your table. The team at St.G is particularly in tune with this and is always ready and able to ferry you through a delightful meal. Which means they will never—never!—mock you for a mispronunciation of tartine, and will always be forthcoming and honest about how many orders of frites you’ll really need for the table. The place is easygoing but as spotless as you’d expect from chef-owner Steven Brown. 5003 Bryant Ave. S., Mpls., 612-353-4843, stgmpls.com
Photo courtesy of Carrie Summer
Chef Shack food truck
Chef Shack’s Trucks and Restaurants
Chef-owners Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer have put together an enviable collection of restaurants and trucks. In Bay City, Wisconsin, their Chef Shack restaurant has heirloom garden beds and serves fine dining–caliber food in a cozy cottage ringed by flowers and fruit trees. In south Minneapolis, their urban Chef Shack Ranch hosts community meetings and serves some of the cities’ best tacos and veggie curries. Then there are the Chef Shack food trucks, with their celebrated mini donuts and fabled bison burger. High, low, rural, urban, wheeled, and anchored—it’s the most diversified tasty empire in town. Chef Shack Ranch, 3025 Franklin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-354-2575; Chef Shack Bay City, W. 6378 Main St., Bay City, 715-594-3060, chefshackranch.com
Chef Alex Roberts
Restaurant Alma, Cafe Alma, Brasa Rotisserie
Alex Roberts has a bone-deep understanding of how Minnesotans like to eat. That is, cleanly and well, with an eye on value, ethics, and transparency. You find those strengths on display at all his places. Restaurant Alma is the pioneer of the three-course tasting menu for the price of two courses, home to exquisitely refined food that’s so straightforward it can read as unadorned when it’s clearly not. Cafe Alma offers world-class cocktails, lunchbox-ready brownies, and terrific sandwiches. And the two Brasas (one in Northeast, one in St. Paul) are where rotisserie chicken and slow-roasted pork achieve culinary heights at Chipotle prices, with local farmer connections. Restaurant Alma and Cafe Alma, 528 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-4909, almampls.com; Brasa Rotisserie, 600 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-379-3030; 777 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-1302, brasa.us