Minneapolis "Don't Miss" Eating Experiences

The Twin Cities were recently described as “the Silicon Valley of food,” by a top food writer. We had 13 James Beard Award finalists in 2017 alone. Needless to say, a carefully planned eating itinerary is strongly recommended.

There are also some general food quirks and highlights in Minnesota listed below you should know about, as they will undoubtedly come up in conversation. 

For even more information on the Minnesota food scene, be sure to check out the Minnesota Food Guide!

Restaurants not to be missed

The rise of “New Nordic Cuisine” was, and still is, led by The Bachelor Farmer, conceived of by James Beard award-winning chef Paul Berglund. This movement is defined by the use of fresh, locally-source ingredients (their rooftop garden included) and whole-animal butchery. Their menu changes weekly, sometimes daily, but you can count on elegant, wildly creative twists on hearty dishes. 

The Bachelor Farmer rooftop garden

Breathless anticipation the likes of which Minneapolis has rarely seen preceded the opening of Spoon and Stable in 2014. James Beard Award winner, cooking superhero and Minnesota native Gavin Kaysen is both chef and owner. The menu is relatively short, with a Midwest seasonal theme and a few tantalizing seafood options. Reserve well in advance or cross your fingers for a walk-in seat in the bar which serves the full menu. 

Owned and designed by James Beard award winner Chef Isaac Becker is 112 Eatery, serving “elevated comfort fare” and designed as the type of place off-duty chefs would eat. Chef Becker’s second project, Bar La Grassa, serves a wide variety of pastas and other crowd-pleasing Italian staples. Getting a table at either of these places requires a bit of planning most nights. 

If your philosophy is there’s no such thing as too much Italian, you should also check out Monello on the opposite corner of downtown. Their kitchen aims for more sophisticated interpretations of Italian cuisine, including exceptional seafood and craft cocktails. They do a weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas.

Monello

Men’s Journal rated Manny’s Steakhouse among the “10 Best Steakhouses in the World” in 2015. Located on the ground floor of downtown’s iconic Foshay Tower, Manny’s is considered a special occasion dining experience for most income brackets, but it’s money well spent. Lust-worthy cuts of beef headline a menu that also features lobster, king crab, salmon and, yes, even chicken—if you want to ruin your server’s day.

Manny's Steakhouse

Some of the city’s most Instagramable food is served at the much-awarded Borough. Seasonal ingredients dress up lovingly prepared pork, halibut, scallops, octopus and more. Their downstairs bar, Parlour, is one of the city’s top cocktail labs, most notably “The Parlour Old Fashioned,” which has established itself as the Old Fashion that all other Old Fashions are compared to. A menu item simply called “The Burger” (two ribeye/chuck/brisket patties infused with garlic, shallots, and thyme with American cheese on an egg bun), served on both floors, has caused virtually every food critic to weep with joy. 

Borough

It’s a bit outside of downtown, but if you want to add a menu with the fingerprints of two James Bread award semifinalist chefs to your food journal in one stroke, French bistro Grand Café is worth the short drive. The menu is priced for an informal neighborhood crowd, with likeminded dishes that are refined and imaginative without being extravagant. That said, the taste and appearance of the Foie Gras Royale (traditional custard gingerly served in a hollowed out eggshell, perched on a dainty duck-footed pedestal) won’t be something you’ll forget for quite some time.

The first (and still leading) coal oven pizza in Minneapolis is available at Black Sheep Pizza. The thin crust, no nonsense pizzas gained fame for coaxing strong flavors out of few, sometimes as little as two, toppings. If minimalist pie isn’t your style, you can build your own from a generous list of ingredients. 

Brunch is not a topic Twin Citizens take lightly. There are several strong downtown representatives in this field, including Key’s Café, a Minneapolis institution, housed in a funky art-deco space. They serve American fare all day, but the breakfast menu is where it’s at, with their giant omelets and in-house bakery. Hen House also boasts an amazing breakfast and bakery. They also do lunch and a limited small plate/happy hour menu till 8pm. 

Downtown’s most (in)famous spot for food and drinks is Hell’s Kitchen, an eclectically decorated, basement joint, serving “damn good food” all day. On weekends, they have a renowned brunch menu, a spectacular Bloody Mary bar and live music.

Hell's Kitchen's original crunchy peanut butter

The Minneapolis Farmers Market, opened in 1937 at its current location on the west side of downtown (the original opened in 1876), is currently filled with 230 vendors working out of 170 stalls. Products include seasonal fruits and vegetables, beef, poultry, pork, bison, cheese, honey, eggs, wild rice, herbs, flowers and garden items. The market is open year-round, with reduced hours in winter. 

South of downtown, a roughly 10-block strip of Nicollet Avenue has been designated “Eat Street,” and for good reason. It’s a veritable Grand Tour of international food, where you can eat for weeks and never get bored. Frequent buses run up and down Nicollet, connecting downtown with Eat Street and beyond, or you can work up an appetite on the way there with a brisk walk. You can read about Eat Street in greater detail here, but here’s a quick sampling of what’s available:

    • Little Tijuana - A quick lunch and late-night wind-down Mexican favorite for 40 years. 
    • Christos - Voted “best Greek restaurant” by Mpls. St. Paul magazine in 2017, come here for a wedge of moussaka or precision-sliced, tender gyros.
    • My Huong Kitchen – Just one of several places offering excellent, bargain-priced Vietnamese cuisine. Eat Street Social – A recent arrival, serving bistro fare and cocktails in primary colors.
    • Rainbow Chinese Restaurant and Bar – Skillfully prepared, upscale Chinese food. 
    • Harry Singh’s - Courageously spicy Caribbean food, inspired by loving island grandmas. 

A short drive east of downtown, clustered around the intersection of Cedar-Riverside, are several more inexpensive, authentic international options. If you find yourself in the area, look out for Dilla’s Ethiopian Restaurant, which gets high marks for affordability, authenticity and their combination platters; Lucky Dragon serving lovingly prepared, giant Vietnamese dishes; Malabari Kitchen for southwestern Indian food like biriyani (mixed rice dish), seafood and HOT curry; and the grab-n-go, hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean Deli, serving falafel, sambusas, lamb gyros and a few West African dishes. 

Finally, if it’s a cold, creamy reward you need, Izzy’s Ice Cream, across the street from Gold Medal Park, near the Guthrie Theater, is a locally adored place serving hand-crafted ice cream. 

Izzy's Ice Cream

Foods you should know—a Minnesota primer

Walleye is a freshwater fish with white flesh similar to halibut and we love it here. The overall flavor is thick, sweet and mild, making it ideal for a wide variety of inventive preparations. Accordingly, many local chefs include their signature walleye dish on their menus. Fun fact: most of the walleye consumed in Minnesota is actually imported from Canada. 

Jucy Lucy (A.K.A. “Juicy Lucy”) is both a wondrous style of hamburger preparation and point of contention among Twin Citizens. The burger is prepared by pinching two thin patties together around a hunk of cheese, creating a somewhat dangerous molten center when grilled. (Give your Lucy a few minutes to cool off before biting into it or your food tour of Minneapolis will be drastically altered—or ruined.) 

Two local bars have been feuding about who invented the Lucy since the 1950s: Matt’s Bar (they of the infamous “Jucy” spelling) and the 5-8 Club, both located on Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis. Now a signature Minneapolis food experience, featured on pretty much every cable TV food show that comes to town, other restaurants have gentrified the Lucy with imaginative beef and cheese center combos. Nevertheless, the originals still outsell them all. Matt’s Bar reportedly prepares more than 400 Lucys a day.

Juicy Lucy at the 5-8 Club
Juicy Lucy at the Blue Door Pub
Jucy Lucy, Matt's Bar; Photo by Jason Tesauro

Lutefisk is a traditional dish in some Nordic countries, which has famously enjoyed a rebirth in Minnesota. It’s made from whitefish (usually cod), which is soaked in lye and water for days. The result is a gelatinous, foul-smelling glob that is not agreeable to most palates, to put it gently. Andrew Zimmern, host of the popular traveling food show Bizarre Foods and long-time Twin Cities resident, has declared it to be “one of the worst foods in the world,” which is really saying something. 

Lutefisk is generally only available around the holidays, served in the basements of Lutheran churches and fraternal lodges. Its main consumer demographics are elderly people of Scandinavian descent, though presumably there’s a small element of people eating it on an alcohol-fueled dare. You’re unlikely to encounter lutefisk (on purpose) during your visit to the Twin Cities, but this dish is a frequent punchline for locals, so it helps to know this context. 

Lefse (pronounced lef-sah), another import from Norway, is a labor-intensive, soft flatbread, made with potatoes, flour, butter, and milk (or cream). It’s usually served with butter, with some people adding sugar, jelly or lingonberries. It’s also mainly served around the holidays. 

Minnesota’s wild rice has grown to a degree of fame with cooks that you may have already eaten it in your home state. It’s taste and versatility has made it into something of a delicacy, popularly served as a bed for other ingredients or in soups.

Hot dish is effectively a casserole, usually containing meat (ground beef or tuna are most common), vegetables, some kind of starch (hash browns, tater tots, etc) and canned soup. It’s rare to encounter hot dish outside of private homes or large gatherings of people like family reunions and church dinners. Like lutefisk, it is often used as a Minnesota food punchline, though hot dish is considered to be vastly more edible. Minnesota’s national congressional delegation has held a bipartisan, highly competitive hot dish competition each year since 2010.