Eat and Drink Your Way Through Minneapolis' Northeast Neighborhood
Everyone “hearts” Nordeast, and you will too.
Article By Mecca Bos
Everybody loves to show off their hometown to new people, but I think Minneapolis really, really likes to do it. We like to do it because there are so many untold stories here, and there are so many preconceived notions about who we really are. 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, and specifically, of Northeast. Find the neighborhood with the highest concentration of bars and churches, and you’ll know you’re on the right path. In our town, that’s Northeast Minneapolis, “Nordeast” to the fully initiated, an affectionate nod to the Polish-accented way of pronouncing the neighborhood. Always a community of immigrants, Lebanese and Eastern European working classes arrived in the early 1900’s to work in grain mills, sawmills, factories and railroads. The neighborhood has more recently attracted a large influx of African American, Latin American and Somali populations. The end result is a captivating mix of food, culture, and excellent neighborhood bars. If I had a friend coming to town for the weekend, these are the places I would take her in Northeast. They’re packed (packed!) with wondrous eats and drinks.
If you’re staying downtown, stroll down Hennepin Avenue, then cross the Hennepin Avenue bridge into Northeast, taking note of the gorgeous neon Grain Belt sign, dating from the 1940’s. Stroll around the neighborhood, packed with bars, restaurants and shops. Get started on your Northeast food journey at Stray Dog. This is the sort of bar you need in any city to get your bearings. It's a locals hang with all the beers, all the burgers, but also a scratch food pedigree that gives, say, chicken and waffles the attention it deserves. Have a basket of hand-cut fries (regular, truffle, fennel, or togarashi ) and a brew while deciding where you want to head next.
Head to the St. Anthony Main Riverfront, where you can grab late breakfast or early lunch at a riverfront restaurant like Aster Cafe (if you happen to be here on a Sunday, take in the Swing Brunch with live music from 11a.m. to 2p.m.) or Pracna (the oldest tavern in Minneapolis, dating to 1890). Take in the sights of the rolling Mississippi, contemplating the milling history responsible for why all this industry is here in the first place.
Recommended dishes at Aster: This is the place to go if you’re in the mood for sharing and nibbling. Order a big charcuterie or cheese plate and linger over coffee and mimosas. Recommended dishes at Pracna: Known for their enormous Bloody Mary garnished with a whole pickle, be sure to order one of these—considering the history, this room was made for drinking.
Next, head up Central Avenue. The avenue holds plenty of international flavors, from tacos to Indian to Middle Eastern pizza. But for one of our true local treasures, go to Holy Land Grocery and Deli, where a hummus factory churns out thousands of tubs daily for local and international distribution, and the dine-in deli, bakery, and grocery is an ideal spot for loading up on unexpected edible souvenirs and and gifts. Holy Land has been meeting our Mediterranean dining needs since 1986.
Recommended items: Persian beef kebabs on tandoori bread; Holy Land hummus and pita bread (travels great!)
By now you ought to be thirsty, and while you’re in one of our best brewery districts, go slightly off the beaten path over to Sociable Cider Werks, where the tasting room offers locally produced hard cider, food trucks, and live music.
A short distance away, you can have dinner at Hai Hai, where young wunderchef Christina Nguyen has recently opened a Vietnamese restaurant inspired by a mashup of street food, dishes from her childhood, and classic recipes. Our large Vietnamese population is one of our famed local calling cards, but Nguyen’s “next generation” take on things will offer the “deep cuts” true Vietnamese food enthusiasts have been craving. Plus, the outdoor bar is charming as hell.
Recommended dishes: Banana blossom salad; fried wontons with chicken liver and passion fruit chili sauce.
If you’re feeling truly ambitious at this point, travel the few blocks to Young Joni, one of the country’s top restaurants of the moment. But since you’ve just dined, you won’t be partaking of this Korean-influenced pizzeria’s menu (or will you?). Instead, head into the alley, where a red speakeasy lights will indicate that you’ve come to the right place to indulge in a pitch-perfect craft cocktail nightcap. I describe this place as your cool dad’s basement rumpus room, complete with wood paneling and way better sound system. Choose from well-curated cocktail lists affixed into old-fashioned photo albums.
Recommended cocktail: Featured cocktail lists vary, currently inspired by the American bird population. Are you more of a Bald Eagle or a turkey? You decide.
An UBER or LYFT back into downtown might be in order at this point.
If you’re running on fumes but still still don’t want to say goodbye to our fair city, head back into downtown for one of our most brag-worthy nights out, Dr. Mambo’s Combo at Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill. This Sunday and Monday night house band has played the venue for thirty years, and the stage has famously boasted surprise visits by Prince and many of his proteges over the years. The music is a hard-hitting mix of soul and funk classics, and a diverse cross-section of every kind of person crams the dance floor—it’s irresistible to do anything but.
About the Author
Mecca Bos is a longtime Twin Cities based food writer and professional chef. Her work can be found locally and nationally and on her Patreon page, patreon.com/meccabos. She specializes in stories about women, people of color, and especially Black people working in the food industry. She loves a cheap wine paired with a good taco.