Welcome to Minneapolis: A Newcomer's Eating Tour

Minneapolis is brimming over with avant-garde cuisine, award-winning chefs and arguably the best burgers you'll find on this continent. Here are 9 restaurants that are hitting the spot right now.

Photo By: Courtney Perry ©Courtney Perry

Photo By: Courtney Perry ©Courtney Perry

Photo By: Courtney Perry ©Courtney Perry

Minneapolis for Food Lovers: The First Places to Try

In the late '90s, I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar ... at a chain restaurant whose Minneapolis outpost was one of the "it" spots at the time — famed for its chicken pizzas and chopped salads. I met my future husband there (former busboy), and we shake our heads in wonder when we think back to the sparse restaurant scene of those years. Today, Minneapolis is brimming over with avant-garde cuisine, award-winning chefs and arguably the best burgers you'll find on this continent. To help narrow down my lengthy list of don't-miss restaurants to 9 that are hitting the spot right now, I asked a few of our local experts to weigh in: Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods; Stephanie March, the food and dining editor at Mpls. St. Paul magazine; and Steven Brown, chef-owner of Tilia.

 

By Megan Kaplan

Photo courtesy of Pig Ate My Pizza

The Bachelor Farmer

Housed in a brick warehouse building in the North Loop, this is your destination for new Nordic cuisine, featuring fresh produce harvested on the rooftop garden and what Stephanie March calls "the best cocktail program in the city," helmed by drink revolutionary Pip Hanson. Sundays at The Bachelor Farmer are a local favorite for the supper, a three-course set menu with family-style entrees like whole roasted chicken or smoked pork belly, and the first-come, first-served brunch — the perfect way to cap off the weekend. Says Steven Brown, "You get this leisurely time in this great space with champagne, beautiful pastries, cured salmon and all the Scandinavian trimmings."

Photo by Charlie Ward

50 2nd Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612-206-3920

The Blue Door Pub

Taking the Lucy a step further, The Blue Door Pub has a selection of "Blucys" filled with fresh combinations like pepper Jack cheese and jalapenos, or Swiss cheese and caramelized onions. "This is where the insiders come for a creative take on the classic," says March, who recommends their signature Blucy oozing with blue cheese and chopped garlic. An impressive roster of local brews keeps the Blue Door pubs (there's one in each city) jam-packed day and night.

Photo courtesy of The Blue Door Pub

1811 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-493-1865

Corner Table

An early adopter of the farm-to-table movement, Corner Table has now expanded into roomier digs and stepped up its locally sourced menu with Chef Thomas Boemer’s Southern sensibility. "This is the essence of a neighborhood restaurant," says Stephanie March. "Chef Thomas is one of our greatest, and [owner] Nick Rancone is a wine savant," says March. "The crispy pork belly is the killer dish to ask for." It's hard to have any restraint when the menu bursts with comfort-style food, like brisket on a bed of white cheddar hominy grits, and even a vegetarian entree, the addictive crispy curried cauliflower with lentils, is rich and meaty. Save room for the sweet potato doughnuts with molasses.

Photo courtesy of Eyespye Photography

4537 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-823-0011

Heyday

The sassy Lyn Lake bistro only opened in April 2014 but has quickly become a critics' darling. Christened after a song from Minneapolis alt-rock band the Replacements, the restaurant has a rock 'n' roll theme that carries through to Chef Jim Christiansen's inventive seasonal fare and to the chill, versatile atmosphere — you can walk in off the street wearing jeans and sit at the bar with a craft drink and an appetizer, or get a table for two and call it a date night. "The African-inspired tartare and cured lamb dishes are some of my new Twin Cities favorites," says Zimmern. Another must-try: the chilled blue mussels with cucumber and dill, paired with a frozen yogurt "snow" — "one of the best dishes I’ve had all year," says Brown.

Photo by Sonia Prickett

2700 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-200-9369

Matt's Bar

We Minnesotans can get uncharacteristically boastful when it comes to our burgers, and we should. Even President Obama paid a visit to Matt's Bar, a no-frills joint that dates back to 1954 and lays claim to the Jucy Lucy, a burger with molten cheese stuffed inside the patties. In retro fashion, everything is served out of a basket here and your waiter will accept only cash.

Photo by Erick Lewis

3500 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis, 612-722-7072

Piccolo

You're pretty much guaranteed the "perfect bite" at this tiny destination, where Chef Doug Flicker is in the kitchen every night building his artfully crafted small plates. It's wise to go for the five-course meal, a real steal at $56, and let Flicker's latest wild combinations — think squid with yellow wax beans, smoked pork shank, Manila clams and okra — give your taste buds a whomp of original and beautiful flavors. "The truffled scrambled egg with pickled pig's foot might be the single best dish in the Twin Cities," says Zimmern. The only downside is that you'll be left wanting just one more bite.

Photo courtesy of Piccolo

4300 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-827-8111

Piccolo

Tilia

I'm a regular here, but so is the rest of Southwest Minneapolis. The line forms early, and the crowd spills out into the bar and onto the sidewalk with pints of beer in hand, as they wait to order plates of gastropub fare — crispy fries with tangy housemade ketchup, a fish taco torta sandwich oozing with creamy peppadew pepper slaw, the shrimp in a spicy scampi sauce. "Steven Brown has one of the best palates in the upper Midwest, and it shows at his Linden Hills Cafe," says Andrew Zimmern. "The terrines, the daily chicken thigh preparation, the octopus salad … There's not a dish on his menu that isn't superb."

Photo by Tanya Karpitski

2726 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis, 612-354-2806

Travail Kitchen and Amusements

Robbinsdale, a northern suburb of Minneapolis, has become a gastronomic destination in its own right, thanks to Travail, a roller-coaster ride of a restaurant where high-vibe execution (the liquid nitrogen tank is always smoking) is paired with performance art (a chef might appear in a chicken costume). "There is nothing like this anywhere; going to Travail is like going to a party. There might be a mariachi band, but it all comes back to the food, which is intensely focused," says March. And completely, deliciously original — one recent plate, for example, delivered a generous scallop surrounded by smears and dabs of beet, carrot, edible flowers and a "citrus cloud."

Photo courtesy of Travail

4124 W. Broadway Ave., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131

Pig Ate My Pizza

Down the street, the chef-owners of Travail — Mike Brown, James Winberg and Bob Gerken — have opened Pig Ate My Pizza, a boisterous space where the tables are communal and the pies are divine. Brown says, "It's a whole new pizza experience. These guys will blow your mind with what they do, from the brioche crust to the amazing sauce." On a recent night, we braved the mobs with our three young kids, and everyone was blissfully happy. My husband, a pizza conservative (pepperoni guy), fell for the Handsome Rob — a ginger-garlicky pie topped with crispy pork belly, gold daikons and napa cabbage — and my picky kids didn’t leave a crumb of their Cheeser pizza, which had cheese curds on top and a side of Parmesan foam for crust dipping.

Photo courtesy of Pig Ate My Pizza

4154 W. Broadway Ave., Robbinsdale, 612-246-9939

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