What to Eat in the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities offer double the epicurean enjoyment. Here's where to track down the best Jucy Lucy, breakfast, pizza and more in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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Take a Bite of the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul used to be thought of by the rest of the country as little more than the frozen North. In recent years, though, these vibrant Northern Midwest cities have been gaining a well-deserved reputation as a culinary hotbed. Home to both nationally recognized chefs and homegrown soon-to-be-star chefs, the restaurants here come in all shapes, sizes and price points. What they have in common is an appreciation of the area’s diverse culture and local bounty, and an understanding of how passionate Minnesotans are about good food, good drink and especially good restaurants. If you’re new in town or just here for a quick visit, it can be hard to know where to start your culinary tour. This list should give you a good idea of what the Twin Cities have to offer.

Al’s Breakfast

While northern Minnesota may be the land of blueberries, Al’s Breakfast, in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown, is the land of, well, breakfast, at least in the Twin Cities. No visit here would be complete without a stop at Al’s, where the waitstaff is sassy, in that Minnesota-nice kind of way, and the pancakes are loaded with fresh blueberries and tons of crunchy walnuts. Yes, the food here is incredible, with highlights that include the famous “The Jose” — crispy hash browns topped with a mountain of melted cheddar, homemade salsa and a poached egg — and the addictive waffles, and the atmosphere is lively. Be prepared for a wait, though, because Al’s counter seats only 14 people. The line to get in can be long, but the wait is worth it. Besides, you may make a few friends — sharing body heat has a way of breaking the ice on a cold Minnesota morning.

Broder's Pasta Bar

Since 1994 the Broder family has been offering diners in the Twin Cities the chance to enjoy some of the finest that Italian cuisine has to offer. The Pasta Bar specializes in — you guessed it — pasta. The Broders are masters in the art of making pasta, but they also use the best imported pastas and risottos, combining them with local ingredients, some of which they grow right in their parking lot. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations and the wait for a table can be long, so you might want to go early. If you’re in a hurry, you can go to the Broders’ deli and specialty food shop right across the street to get a quick slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta to eat in or take out. If you’re short of time but would still like to sit down to a lovely meal, you can visit Terzo, the family’s newest Italian restaurant and wine bar, which is just a few doors down and serves the best porchetta in the city.

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.

Young Joni

It’s an unlikely story. Ann Kim, a Korean immigrant, one day decided to quit her day job and open up South Minneapolis’ Pizzeria Lola, which is still one of the best pizzerias in the city. The James Beard Award semifinalist followed Lola with Hello Pizza, where you can buy your pizza by the slice, and then Young Joni, in northeast Minneapolis, where the wood-fired oven dominates the menu. At Young Joni, Kim celebrates her restaurant roots by serving her glorious traditional pizzas (yes, pepperoni is an option) and also creates more inventive ones like the Korean BBQ pizza, which pairs beef short ribs with fresh arugula tossed in a soy chili vinaigrette. She also stretches her wings a bit with a selection of globally inspired, wood-fired sharable plates like grilled confit mushrooms with chestnut miso butter and grilled New Caledonia blue prawns with red chili, fish sauce and lime.

Pig Ate My Pizza

Down the street from their standout restaurant, Travail, chef-owners 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. Thought of as “the whole pizza experience,” this restaurant will surprise and delight you with what the chefs do, from the brioche crust to the amazing sauce. The inventive combinations — like a ginger-garlicky pie topped with crispy pork belly, gold daikons and napa cabbage or the Cheeser pizza, with cheese curds on top and a side of Parmesan foam for crust dipping — may forever ruin “pepperoni with extra cheese” for you.

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 one of the best cocktail programs 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.

Revival

Minneapolis isn’t thought of as the fried chicken capital of the country, but if you’ve dined at Revival, you wouldn’t know it. Chef-Owner Thomas Boemer makes the kind of fried chicken — along with other down-home delights like collard greens, hush puppies, biscuits and banana cream pie — that would make your Southern grandma proud. Come hungry, because you’ll want to try everything on the menu. Approach the Tennessee Hot Fried Chicken with caution, though; it’s so good, but it will light your fire.

Chef Shack Ranch

One bite of their Indian-spiced mini doughnuts and you’ll understand why Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer have been known as the godmothers of the Twin Cities food truck scene for years. But food trucks can be a little hard to find in the middle of a Minneapolis winter, so those in the know seek out their brick- and-mortar restaurant, Chef Shack Ranch, to get their fill of these two talented chefs’ cooking at any time of year. This casual-dining restaurant has only a handful of dishes on the menu at any given time, but every bite is packed with flavor and perfectly executed. It’s famous for its bison burger, but once you try the Brisket Melty, with smoked brisket slices, sharp cheddar and secret sauce on griddled bread, you may never go back to a bun again. Oh, and those addictive mini doughnuts? You can get them at Chef Shack Ranch too. You’re welcome.

Saint Dinette

Saint Dinette in St. Paul is a bit of a riddle, but one you’ll want to figure out, although it may take you more than one meal to do it. The menu is both eclectic and homey, ranging from lamb chilaquiles and trout en croute to shrimp and grits and fried bologna sandwiches. The riddle isn’t just what’s on the menu, but how the kitchen manages to execute each dish to perfection. With so many intriguing options, you might be tempted to skip past the cheeseburger, but don’t. It’s beefy, oozing with melting cheese and topped with housemade pickles, all encased in a worthy bun. You’ll just have to try it yourself to understand how good it is, because that description doesn’t do it justice.

The Lexington

Supper clubs may be a thing of the past in many parts of the country, but in Minnesota and Wisconsin they are alive and kicking. Most of these old-style restaurants, where every meal starts off with a stiff drink and a relish tray, seem like something right out of Mad Men. While The Lexington shares the supper club traditions, it brings them into the present by using local ingredients, perfectly prepared, and served by a waitstaff that knows what you want before you do. Classic dishes like Steak Diane and Liver and Onions are on the menu, but at their finest. The steak is cooked perfectly to order and served with a heavenly mushroom, cognac and cream sauce, and the liver is actually seared foie gras served with caramelized onions and bacon-pecan brittle. So come to The Lex, sit down, order an old fashioned (made with brandy in this neck of the woods) and prepare to be pampered.

Benedict's Morning Heroes

Yes, this place is called Benedict’s, and yes, it has some mighty fine hollandaise-draped poached eggs (not to mention the Cubano Benedict, with its arepa bottom topped with black beans, carnitas, poached eggs and hollandaise), but there’s so much more here. Whether you’re craving Elvis pancakes, with bacon, peanut butter and maple syrup or some of the best huevos rancheros in the Twin Cities, there’s something for everyone, and day drinking is encouraged. Try the breakfast sangria (kinda sounds like it’s good for you, right?) or the Benedict’s Bloody Mary. Both will have you rethinking the rest of your day, in the best way possible.

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; Swiss cheese and caramelized onions; and, of course, their signature blue cheese and garlic. An impressive roster of local brews keeps the pub jam-packed day and night.

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 sophisticated spin on comfort-style food, like seared bison carpaccio with horseradish espuma, white beet and pastrami spice, or brisket on a bed of white cheddar hominy grits. There are always vegetarian options, too. Save room for dessert — you won’t want to miss the sweet potato doughnuts with molasses.

Birchwood Cafe

Birchwood has been serving “Good Real Food” since 1995, using locally sourced, sustainable, organic ingredients. In that time, it’s become not just an iconic restaurant in the Twin Cities but also a place where neighbors can gather and visitors feel like they’re home. The menu changes eight times a year to reflect the changes in seasonal produce. Try the savory waffles, topped with bacon, eggs and whatever else is wonderful at the moment. Or, since Minnesota is the turkey capital of the country, try one of the seasonal turkey burgers like summer’s Tour de France burger or fall’s Thanksgiving delight with cranberry pear chutney, root vegetable puree, leeks and Brussels sprouts. They’re all so good you won’t have trouble gobbling up turkey at any time of year!

Fika

No trip to Minnesota would be complete without a stop at the American Swedish Institute. Located in the historic Turnblad Mansion, the ASI is a gathering place for people to share the arts and culture of Sweden. Come hungry, though, because the ASI is also home to one of the best restaurants in town, Fika. In Sweden, fika is a daily break, traditionally involving coffee and pastries. While Fika embraces that spirit, it goes far beyond a coffee break. If you come in the morning, you can enjoy your coffee with egg tarts and Swedish-inspired housemade pastries (the cardamom bun is worth the price of admission) for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, fresh salads, innovative soups and signature dishes such as Swedish meatballs and gravlax are on the menu. Whatever you order, make sure to wash it down with the housemade Aquavit. Skoal!

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro

Minnesota is home to a large Vietnamese and Hmong community, and with the wave of immigrants came some incredible food traditions. Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat, is one that Minnesota has wholeheartedly embraced. St. Paul’s Ngon Vietnamese Bistro serves one of the best bowls of pho in the Twin Cities. Hai Truong, chef and owner, was 5 years old when his Vietnamese-Chinese family landed in Minnesota in 1979. He learned to cook in his family’s restaurant, and now he owns his own restaurant that focuses on both Vietnamese and French fare. Chef Truong uses locally sourced beef bones as the basis for the pho-nomenel pho broth, cooking them 36 hours for maximum flavor, before ladling the broth over noodles and your choice of meat. Fear not, vegetarians — Ngon also serves a meatless version that’s just as delightful.

Kramarczuk’s

While most people think of Scandinavians when they think about Minnesota’s immigrant communities, Eastern Europeans have been settling here since the 19th century, bringing their hearty cuisine with them. The Kramarczuk family arrived in a wave of Ukrainian immigration following WWII and soon after opened a delicatessen, bakery and restaurant. Over 60 years later, Kramarczuk’s is a Minnesota institution and the best place to go when you crave a taste of the hearty foods of Ukraine. Whether it’s sausages or varenyky (pierogi-like dumplings) you’re looking for, you can get it at Kramarczuk’s north Minneapolis location. Or, if you find yourself at the beautiful Target Field, watching the Twins play on a warm summer day, you can get a Kramarczuk’s polish sausage there, where over 1,500 links are sold during the average game.

St. Genevieve

Whether you’re having a late lunch with an old friend or a dinner to celebrate a milestone, South Minneapolis’ St. Genevieve will transport you beyond her plaster walls on a culinary journey. The experience is made all the more enjoyable by the kitchen brigade, led by Chef-Owner Steven Brown, who expertly produce Parisian-inspired food that is at once familiar and innovative, contemporary and thoughtfully sourced. Enjoy the rabbit ravioli with carrots, or the salmon tartine, with beet-cured salmon that looks so beautiful you almost don’t want to eat it. You will, of course, and perhaps enjoy it with bubbles. St. Genevieve has an extensive Champagne-by-the-glass program and a wine list that focuses on the smaller, lesser-known regions of France. Bon appétit!

Tilia

We love to eat at this neighborhood restaurant, and so does the rest of Minneapolis. The line forms early, and the crowd spills out into the bar and onto the sidewalk with pints of beer in hand as patrons wait to order plates of gastropub fare — crispy fries with tangy housemade ketchup, a fish taco torta sandwich oozing with creamy peppadew pepper slaw, or any of the irresistible soups on the seasonally changing menu. Chef-Owner Steven Brown has been a force to be reckoned with in the Twin Cities restaurant world for years, and one meal at Tilia’s will show you why.

Travail

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). Needless to say, going to Travail is like going to a party. And while there might be a mariachi band roaming around, it really is all about the food, which is intensely focused. 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."

Bellecour

From the team behind Spoon and Stable comes Bellecour, a French bistro and bakery located in the heart of downtown Wayzata, near the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Whether you’re in the mood for brunch or dinner, a buttery croissant or perfectly cooked steak frites, this is where you want to be. Chef Gavin Kaysen has created a restaurant where you can expect to find comfort in simplicity, a profound respect for ingredients, gracious hospitality and a rich nod to history in every detail.

The Lynhall

The Lynhall is a lot of things. It’s a market-inspired cafe, bakery, event space, kitchen studio and incubator kitchen. For our purposes, though, we’ll focus on the cafe and bakery, which serve some of the best pastries, desserts, sandwiches, rotisserie meats and tarts, both sweet and savory, to be found in the Twin Cities. The breakfast sandwich, made with a savory scone and packed with ham and egg and a sage-cheddar sauce, will blow your mind. Don’t pass on the salted cheddar honey roll, which sounds like an unlikely combo but turns out to be crazy good. If it’s lunch or dinner time, don’t miss The Lynhall’s famous roasted chicken, served with homemade bread and a selection of sides. You won’t need to be told to save room for dessert. When you see what’s in the glass case, you won’t be able to resist something sweet.

6Smith

6Smith, with its great food, great drinks and great view, hits the trifecta of Minnesota restaurants. Located in Wayzata, on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, this is a place to get the full Twin Cities experience. Enjoy watching the lake from the upstairs patio in the summer or from inside in the winter, looking out through enormous windows, as you eat Miso Marinated Seabass or Hanger Steak Chimichurri. If you want to try a Juicy Lucy, the famous inside-out Twin Cities burger, know that the Kobe-and-venison version at 6Smith, stuffed with smoked Gouda and topped with bacon, caramelized onions, jalapenos and mushrooms, won't disappoint.

Heyday

This sassy Lyn-Lake bistro opened in April 2014 and quickly became a critics’ darling. Named 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. Don’t miss the chicken liver mousse tart with sweet and savory preserves or the rhubarb sorbet with wildflowers, angelica and honeycomb.

Spoon and Stable

Living in the upper Midwest teaches you something about seasons. They are well-defined, and when they change, everything changes, not just the weather. The entire landscape transforms, and with it the local bounty. Chef Gavin Kaysen knows that only too well. In fact, that’s one of the reasons this James Beard Rising Star Chef came back to his hometown, after years working with some of the best chefs in the world. There is nothing quite like the frenetic and fleeting seasonality of the upper Midwest to inspire a talented chef, and you can taste that inspiration in dishes like grilled pheasant breast withwild rice porridge or roasted carrot salad with sunflower tahini and cranberry caraway crumble. In every bite, this sophisticated restaurant delivers on what makes this this part of the country special.