The Minneapolis Food Scene May Be ‘Minnesota Nice’ But It’s Certainly Not Boring

The upper Midwest has never been considered a mecca for foodies. Anyone who’s driven through to visit family or stopped over for a work trip might consider it a meat-and-potato-kinda place. A destination where spices don’t venture far from the salt and pepper shakers on the table. But the Minneapolis Food Scene is making waves.

The Minneapolis Food Scene is America’s most intriguing culinary and drink city that no one’s talking about

For those who haven’t made a recent stop into one of the cozy breakfast spots, fresh cocktail bars, or scrumptious eateries inspired by this cultural melting pot are missing out. Welcome to the Minneapolis food scene that’s redefining what a good Midwestern meal looks—and tastes—like.

In an article prepping visitors descending on the Twin Cities during last year’s Super Bowl, Escquire called Minneapolis “America’s most intriguing food and drink city that no one’s talking about.”

Here are a few things that make Minneapolis’ food scene exceptional.

Stellar chefs call the Twin Cities home

Minneapolis-St. Paul may be known for its extreme temperatures (from triple digits in the summer to double digits below freezing in the winter), but that hasn’t scared away some of the world’s top chefs who’ve made their home in the Twin Cities.

And they’re drawing the spotlight.

Several Twin Cities chefs and restaurants have won James Beard Awards, the so-called Oscars of the food world that celebrates excellence across 21 categories. Ann Kim, a Korean immigrant who grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, won the 2019 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest.

She and her partner opened Pizzeria Lola, named after their dog, in South Minneapolis in 2010.

In her acceptance speech, Kim shared her journey as a first-generation American, “if my work has made what has been traditionally narrow path a little bit wider, a little bit more inclusive, than that will be my greatest achievement.”

A roundtable of cuisine

But Kim is not the only local who’s been honored. In the past year alone, nine Minnesota chefs and four Minnesota restaurants were named James Beard semifinalists. Including Kim, seven Twin Cities chefs were semifinalists for The Best Chef Midwest award last year: Thomas Boemer of In Bloom in St. Paul, Steven Brown of Tilia in Minneapolis, Jamie Malone of Grand Cafe in Minneapolis, Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai in Minneapolis, Daniel del Prado of Martina in Minneapolis, and Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table in Minneapolis.

Also last spring, local chef and author Sean Sherman, CEO and founder of The Sioux Chef was honored with a James Beard Award for Leadership. The award recognized his cookbook, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen“. A unique read devoted to indigenous foods in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Sherman grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and later moved to the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis chefs dare to be different

Some may be surprised to hear Minneapolis’ food scene is packed with chefs and restaurateurs who are unapologetically bold in what they dish up. Just a stroll along Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis to find eateries that celebrate food from around the world.

“Yesterday’s sausages, pierogis, and cabbage rolls have transformed into today’s tacos, kabobs, and kimchi as the worldly cuisine of Central Avenue has expanded.”

Eater Twin Cities

Six miles of goodness

Favorites along that 6-mile stretch include Dong Yang Oriental Foods, which serves authentic Korean stews, grilled meats and rice bowls. El Taco Riendo, translated as “the laughing taco,” is known for serving 13 varieties of meats and everything from tacos and quesadillas to tortas and empanadas. Nearby, Sen Yai Sen Lek combines traditional Thai cuisine with a contemporary vibe and a focus on local, sustainable products.

Those who really want to bend cuisine boundaries should stop by Crescent Moon Bakery. Where you can try Afghani pizza, soft dough topped with cheese, meats and veggies and baked in a moon shape.

The Herbivorous Butcher - Aubry and Kale Walch - Minneapolis Food Scene
In 2015, siblings Aubry and Kale Walch opened The Herbivorous Butcher, an all-vegan restaurant in the heart of Minneapolis. [Courtesy of The Herbivorous Butcher]

And just a couple of miles south, a brother-sister duo is making national press with their all-vegan market, The Herbivorous Butcher. Talk about bold.

In an interview with Cheddar, Kale Walch said he and his sister were making their own vegan “meats” and “cheeses” because there were few tasty options in stores or restaurants. And the siblings decided to sell their products at a farmers market which in 2015 became The Herbivorous Butcher.

“It’s obviously an oxymoron,” Walch said of the name choice. “It will piss them off or they’ll be excited about it, but either way they’ll tell someone.”

The Minneapolis food scene knows its roots

Minneapolis’ tastes have expanded. But it certainly hasn’t forgotten what it does as one of the best food cities: comfort food. Here are a few twists on traditional Midwestern dishes that have become a favorite of locals and visitors.

Scandinavian food     

It’s not hard to find food that celebrates the Twin Cities’ Scandinavian roots. To do it justice, one must try dishes like lefse, pickled herring, gravlax or Swedish meatballs. They live at Tullibee, American Swedish Institute and The Bachelor Farmer, respectively.

Tater Tot Hotdish

In the Midwest, a hotdish is a casserole, and serves best with crispy-on-the-outside, soft-in-the-center tater tots. (I know, right?!) While most school cafeterias dish up their own version, we suggest trying The Bulldog and The Mason Jar.

The Juicy Lucy

The Twin Cities are home to the battle of the Juicy Lucys (or Jucy Lucy). It’s a rivalry between Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club for the best cheese-stuffed burger in town. One should try both to see who does it best. Undaunted? Venture to one of the other Juicy Lucy hot spots around the city, including Blue Door Pub.

Wild rice

The grain of Minnesota is paramount in anything from soups to pancakes. Firstly, try the wild rice pancakes from The Mill Northeast. Secondly, try the wild rice porridge from Hell’s Kitchen. Thirdly, try the wild rice burger at Common Roots Café. Lastly, or the wild rice-crusted Walleye—another local favorite—at FireLake Grill House.

Cheese curds

In Minneapolis, you don’t have to go far to find cheese curds—really just battered and fried balls of cheese. Most American fare restaurants in the Twin Cities offer them as an appetizer or side dish. Meet Minneapolis suggests Red Cow’s curds, paired with their berry ketchup.

While you’re at it, order a pint of cold beer from Minneapolis-based Surly Brewing Company.

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