When asked why he made his hometown the headquarters of his musical kingdom, Minneapolis’ native son — that self-described “purple Yoda,” Prince — quipped, “It’s so cold it keeps the bad people out.”
That might be true, but it hasn’t stopped the Minneapolis dining scene from seriously heating up in the last few years. This Scandinavian-accented Midwestern city of 400,000 went from supper clubs serving characterless casseroles and loathsome lutefisk to some of the most exciting eateries in the country offering elevated takes on local fare.
On top of that, Minneapolis and its across-the-river “twin,” St. Paul, boast some ethnic restaurants that you can’t find anywhere else in the Midwest, thanks to large communities of Hmong people and East and West Africans. Which makes the Twin Cities one of the best spots to dine right now.
Here are the places you should be pointing your fork at on your next visit to the City of Lakes.
This north Minneapolis restaurant lives up to its name. The kitchen and dining room nearly blur, as there is little demarkation between the two. Diners can watch the handful of tattooed chefs do their work as they pass around and swig from a bottle of booze. But the food itself is intoxicating.
The 20-plus-course meals change regularly, but expect a marriage of Midwest and molecular, with dishes like Pop Rocks–encrusted foie gras lollipops and pork sausage sitting in “house-made dirt” that is actually tasty ground porcini mushrooms.
Toward the end of the night, head chef Mike Brown sometimes parades through the room in a chicken suit, pulled in a chariot to the tune of Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” a fine and fun way to end any meal.
The price for the multicourse meal fluctuates between $78 and $119, depending on the day of the week and the time.
Food-world watchers raised their collective eyebrows in 2014 when Gavin Keysen, executive chef at Café Boulud in New York City, packed up his knives and headed back to his hometown Minneapolis to open Spoon and Stable.
It went on to be named “Restaurant of the Year” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Keysen’s classic-but-contemporary cuisine has won a loyal local following with dishes like tamarind-glazed pork chop, hazelnut and squash gnocchi, and seared scallops paired with crispy chicken skin.
Set in a late-19th-century brick-and-wood warehouse in the North Loop part of town, the beloved Bachelor Farmer focuses on the food and produce of Minnesota, taking classic northern Midwestern dishes and elevating them to haute perfection.
Lake whitefish is paired with caramelized fennel, and duck breast is sprinkled with crushed toasted almonds and ginger. For a real feel (and taste) of the Midwest, head here on Sunday for their special $36, three-course supper, highlighting hearty seasonal dishes that change every week.
The rooftop garden was the first of its kind in the state. You’ll leave feeling satisfied and saying. “Oh, you betcha!”
UNIQUE ETHNIC EATS
The Minneapolis and St. Paul dining landscape has been altered — for the better and tastier — thanks to immigration, mostly from Southeast Asia and from East and West Africa. The area is home to the largest communities of Hmong and Somali people outside of their respective countries.
Below are some places to visit while you’re hungry.
It’s like stepping right into Southeast Asia. This sprawling St. Paul market offers a little bit of everything, but head straight for the food court, which is overflowing with goodness like taste-bud-incinerating green papaya salads and ground-pork-and-herb-stuffed chicken wings, among myriad other delights.
If you’re in town during the warm-weather months, stop by the Hmong-American farmers market at University Avenue and Kent Street, where Hmong people and other Southeast-Asian immigrants buy and sell herbs and spices. Afterward, visit the Hmong Cultural Center to check out the rotating exhibitions and Hmong cultural artifacts.
Walk into an unassuming storefront called African Market on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, ask about the restaurant, and you’ll be led to a no-frills back room where a delicious West African restaurant lurks. Welcome to Akwaaba, where nearly everything is a tasty bite of West Africa.
First-timers should try the pounded yam, mashed sweet potatoes paired with tender goat or lamb meat, and the huge-portioned spicy goat stew and peanut soup.
Located inside the diverse Midtown Global Market, this Somali restaurant is an exotic taste of East Africa.
Somali cuisine is heavily influenced by the trading routes that ran through Somalia. So try a sambusa stuffed with beef and cumin, not unlike an Indian samosa; the chicken wrapped in flat bread, which may have come via the Middle East; and even a few of the Italian-influenced noodle dishes that are part of the Somali diet.
Or chomp down on Safari Express’ most popular dish: a camel burger (yes, you read that correctly), which is probably less traditional than you think.