Wander Off the Eaten Path: Dine like a Local in Minneapolis
Take the roads less traveled and find these Minneapolis restaurant gems.
Article By Mecca Bos
While it’s tempting to stay near the safe confines of downtown or the hotel district when traveling, heed my late hero Anthony Bourdain’s words, and “get the hell away from the hotel.”
Doing so will get you deeper into our local immigrant communities, where all of the most interesting food can be found, and you’ll fortify yourself with not only the best eats, but the best stories to take home about how Minnesota is way spicier than you ever could have known.
Did You Know?
The Twin Cities is home to the largest urban Hmong population in the world, a quarter of the country’s Somali residents live here, and with an influx of Vietnamese immigrants since the 1970’s, we think of steaming bowls of pho and delicious banh mi sandwiches as our birthright.
Minneapolis is one of the fastest growing food cities in America, and many of our new restaurants are national attention-getters with top name chefs. But I’m not here to (necessarily) tell you about those places. As a born and raised Minnesotan who has been writing about our local food scene for 15 years, it’s one of my life’s great pleasures to continually expose the authentic, nuanced soul of Minneapolis.
This itinerary will take you to “Eat Street,” so named for the side-by-side clusters of restaurants that line the avenue; East Lake Street, our delicious Mexican enclave; the East and West Bank, where students and people from all walks of life eat and drink exceptionally, and Uptown, where a hidden speakeasy awaits, along with a Palestinian-owned ice cream parlor.
Choose your own adventure by strolling over to Eat Street, where you’ll find top-notch coffee at Spyhouse, classic diner breakfast at The Bad Waitress, or my best recommendation, a light lunch of pho or banh mi at either Quang, or Lu’s Sandwiches. The former being one of Minneapolis’ most famous Vietnamese eating institutions, the place does a brisk business of a thousand customers on a busy day. Or, watch the true sandwich artists at Lu’s build a banh mi just the way you like it. I recommend plenty of their handmade pate and mayo with your choice of meats or tofu on their also outstanding made in-house bread.
Quang: Pho, and a frosty and sweet Vietnamese coffee over ice
Lu’s Sandwiches: Made to order banh mi or rice noodle bowls
If you’re in the mood for an afternoon cocktail, stroll to the far end of Eat Street and pop into Rainbow Chinese, a three-decades running gem owned and operated by the one and only Tammy Wong. If you’re still hungry, nibble on the best chicken and chive dumplings in town, or some crisp, 5-spice calamari along with a refreshing Hibiscus Martini or Mango Margarita. If Tammy is in the house, be sure and say hello. She’s not just a local, but a national treasure, and a dear friend of mine. She’ll be yours too, in short order.
Next head over to the nearby Midtown Global Market, where an afternoon’s worth of strolling, snacking, sipping, and shopping await. The market lives up to its global name, and is home to restaurants from Morocco, Mexico, and Somalia to name only a few worldly attractions. This is a great place to get some shopping done, whether you’re looking for African art or Norwegian pastries.
On the way back, take East Lake Street and hit up some of our best Mexican offerings for dinner, which happen to be out of the taco trucks lining the thoroughfare of this bustling Mexican enclave. My two favorites include Que Chula es Puebla, selling huge Cemitas, a Pueblan specialty sandwich bursting with fried meat cutlets, cheese, chiles and avocados; or Tacos El Primo, consistently my favorite tacos in town at unbeatable prices. The scene in the parking lot alone is worth the price of admission.
Uptown & Lyn Lake
Heading back towards the Uptown area, make a stop at Lake and Lyndale, and bypass all of the many bars and restaurants in favor of Volstead’s Emporium, which has no signage, and no storefront, but instead hides down an alley and opens through a heavy back door with only eye slots to indicate you’ve arrived. The speakeasy often hosts live jazz bands, and make sure you find the secret passageway into the secret cocktail room. I’d tell you how, but then it would remain a secret no more.
Have that all-important late night bite at nearby and walkable from Volstead’s World Street Kitchen (WSK) where Palestinian chef Sameh Wadi pays homage to street food from around the world. Get spicy bites inspired by Mexico, Korea, the Middle East, and more. Instead of a nightcap, grab a cone or a shake from Milkjam, WSK’s adjacent ice cream shop, where handmade inspirations like passionfruit lychee swirl or hibiscus lemonade keep fans lined up down the block well into the night.
The daily special at WSK, and at Milkjam, try “Black” the deepest cocoa ice cream.
South Minneapolis & Cedar Riverside
You’ve been logging plenty of hours, steps, and miles, so if you want to sleep in a little, it’s totes understandable. Get a bit further off the beaten path, and jump on the blue line towards the Mall of America. But don’t go all the way to the Mall. Instead, jump off at 46th Street Station, and walk the block or so to Bull’s Horn, where top chef Doug Flicker has taken things delightfully lowbrow, and made updates to a longtime neighborhood dive bar. Inside, scratch bar food meets zero pretense (pull tabs and an original jukebox) for a relaxing lunch over tap beers. Think ring bologna, fried chicken gizzards, and meatloaf for eats.
I love the “Daily Trays” with rotating platters of mains (fried chicken, pork shoulder) and sides (baked beans, macaroni salad) appropriate for sharing.
Since it’s your final day in town, do a little afternoon, instead of late night bar hopping for a reasonable bedtime and relatively pain-free travel morning. Get back on the train towards downtown, and disembark at Cedar Riverside.
Palmer’s Bar is a West Bank neighborhood live music and drinking institution dating from 1906, and is always a scene of some kind with a diverse cast of characters and good tunes. If it’s nice out, check out the sunny back patio. Across the street, find the Nomad World Pub, a favorite for soccer fans and more live music. Out back near the bocce court, Marla’s Caribbean serves Trinidadian favorites out of a food truck on weekends.
University of Minnesota Campus
For dinner, get back on the train towards St. Paul, and get off at Stadium Village, where there are are plenty of commons areas for just lounging around if you’re in the mood for a break. When your appetite inevitably surges, head over to Bar Luchador or Afro Deli, almost directly across Washington Avenue from one another. I love Bar Luchador for its nostalgic homage to Mexican fast food, made way, way better. Order the house made queso for a life-changing experience, paired with the best scratch Margarita in Minneapolis.
Or, if you want something more specific to Minneapolis, head to Afro Deli, where East African favorites get the fast-casual treatment, and you can try things like Somali Rice or chicken suqaar (Somali stir-fry) served in a chapati wrap or bowl.
About the Author
Mecca Bos has been writing about the Twin Cities food scene for more than 15 years and she’s been cooking in professional kitchens for almost as long. If there is something to be tasted in town, she’s tasted it. She loves few things more than bragging about her beloved hometown and food cities, Minneapolis/ St. Paul. Her work can be found both locally and nationally, and at meccabos.com.