It’s hard to keep track of all the great things to eat in the Twin Cities when new, tasty places are continuously added to the roster. There’s also something to be said for the cities’ great hidden gems, and I recently got the scoop from native and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. The Bizarre Foods and Bizarre World host dished about his favorite under-the-radar spots -- which are a lot less bizarre, and a lot more delicious.
“I think the biggest problem with Chinese restaurants all across the country is that they have like 400-item menus, and they’re really only good at 20 or 30 dishes,” said Zimmern. He suggests checking out the whole Dungeness crab or whole lobster, the whole steamed walleye, or the roast duck chow fun.
This southside staple consistently does a great job, but it’s a place that, all too often, gets overlooked. According to Zimmern, “My very typical lunch is a double order of her wings, and I always save room for [the] sweet potato pie.”
“I think they have the best true ma po tofu in town,” Zimmern said of this Chinese spot on the edge of Uptown. He also gave a nod to the kung pao chicken as a must-try.
When people hit Eat Street, it’s typically for one of its many well-known pho restaurants. But this little Cantonese spot is one worth checking out, and it's also got the goods when it comes to vegetarian and vegan dining. According to Zimmern, “I think they still have the best pan-fried potstickers in town, and their sautéed eggplant dish is out of control!”
On’s has long been a great spot for Thai food for those in the know, and it’s definitely the kind of place where you're missing out on something special if you haven’t been. Any and all of the noodle soups are excellent, and the deep-fried tilapia is also outstanding.
A longtime staple in the world of Twin Cities Chinese dining, Rainbow Chinese, owned by chef Tammy Wong, never fails to dole out consistently delicious food. As Zimmern tells it, “For a restaurant that’s been open for, like, 400 years, their Szechuan wantons with black beans are still one of the best dishes in the Twin Cities.”
Note that we’re talking about the St. Paul location and not the one located on Minneapolis’ Eat Street (which is also quite good) -- but according to Chef Zimmern, “I think their spring rolls are better and their soups are better. It’s a smaller restaurant that isn’t as heavily trafficked and it just has a very personal level of service there, and I really like it.”
The newest place from chef Erick Harcey is churning out birds and sides better than anybody else. Even though it’s new, Zimmern said it’s absolutely worth your time. “This may not be underrated because it’s new, so who’s to say. It’s only a couple of months old, but I really liked my bird.”
This little Thai restaurant made our best pho list, and with good reason. Zimmern also said it is one of his favorite Thai spots in the Twin Cities. He suggested any of Bangkok’s curries, or the larb, which is a sort of Thai-style meat salad.
This is easily one of our favorite places to hit in town, and we do so with frequency. But some of the dishes that Zimmern recommends are things we have yet to try. “They have a steamed bun with pork and quail egg with little bits of Vietnamese fermented sausage,” Zimmern said. “They do it like twice a week -- like Mondays and Fridays. It was so labor-intensive that they had to take it off the menu because it was so popular, but now it’s back.”
Another one of our favorite pho spots, Pho Tau Bay can be easily forgotten because of its location on the absolute end of Eat Street (which also happens to be a dead end). In addition to the pho, Zimmern recommends checking out one of its awesome stir-fry dishes.
A good sandwich is a thing of beauty -- and its sister sandwich shop, France 44, made our best sandwiches in the city list -- so you know this place has got to be good. According to Zimmern, “If this place were in another city, there’d be a line out the door for sandwiches” -- and he’s probably very right.
OK, so this isn’t a restaurant, but this market and food court has some of the best and most interesting eating opportunities in the Twin Cities. Zimmern said he always makes a beeline for the first booth by the entrance. “I’m there like twice a month and I never look to see what the name is, but there’s a lady that does all of the green papaya salads to order in her big mortar and pestle. I love that food court.”
This is another one of our favorite spots, and quite possibly the best Korean food in the Twin Cities -- and Zimmern agrees. There’s nothing on the menu that isn’t delicious. The tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes) are just as crazy-good as the pancake-like pajeon, the bibimbap, and the grilled short ribs. If you haven’t been yet, it’s located inside a Korean grocery store, and is 1,000% worth the trip.
Eastern European food is something that is sorely underrepresented on this list, but this Northeast mainstay has been doing it up good and proper since the middle of last century. “There are the devotees, but I can’t tell you how many people I bump into that don’t know that you can actually go in there and get a big kielbasa or a griddled sausage with peppers and onions actually in their cafeteria, which is one of the best price values in the Twin Cities.”
The cabbage rolls are also arguably are one of the best things you can get in the Twin Cities.
When it comes to Cambodian cuisine in the Twin Cities, Zimmern is assured that this is the spot. It’s all about the noodle soups, which “are much different from the soup bowls and hot pots at other Asian restaurants.” You’ll have to taste ‘em for yourself to find out why.
Trieu Chau is another great Vietnamese restaurant with a crazy-delicious bowl of pho that made our best-of list (and its egg rolls are pretty solid, too). Once you’ve had those, be sure to check out some of the other soups, stir-fry dishes, and buns, all of which have been nothing shy of stellar.
West St. Paul
We just recently added this to our best new restaurants in the city list, and according to Zimmern, it is indeed a spot that you should consider hitting. Check out the Machete, a fried taco that’s over a foot long and filled with all kinds of delicious. Of course, the other more classic tacos are pretty great, too.
More tacos! It’s always great finding a new place to grab a set of one of our favorite foods, and if you haven’t hit up Pineda yet, maybe now’s the time. According to Zimmern, the chicken and chipotle tacos are where it’s at.
If you’re looking for delicious dim sum, Zimmern suggests hitting up this little strip mall out in Bloomington that, on the weekends, features a variety of delectable dumplings and small bites. During the rest of the week, the menu features a ton of classic entrees.
We’ve been singing the praises of Heyday since it opened its doors and, in our opinion, it’s easily one of the best places in the country. The food is of the highest caliber, and the prices are extremely reasonable, given that you’re being served food that recently blew away major chefs Ferran Adrià and José Andrés. “For a restaurant to have such a famous chef that Jim [Christiansen] is over at Heyday, I’m always surprised how... most Minnesotans in the mainstream only talk about a handful of restaurants in town and don’t include Heyday,” he said. “I think that Heyday is the most underrated restaurant of any kind in the Twin Cities, and you can quote me on that.”
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1. Shuang Cheng1320 4th St SE, Minneapolis
2. Marla's Caribbean Cuisine3761 Bloomington Ave, Minneapolis
3. Szechuan Spice3016 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
4. Evergreen Chinese Restaurant2424 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
5. On's Kitchen Thai Cuisine1613 University Ave W, St Paul
6. Rainbow Chinese2739 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
7. Pho 792529 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
8. The Dirty Bird4312 Upton Ave S, Minneapolis
9. Bangkok Thai Deli333 University Ave W, Saint Paul
10. Quang Restaurant2719 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
11. Pho Tau Bay2837 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
12. Saint Paul Meat Shop1674 Grand Ave, Saint Paul
13. Hmongtown Marketplace217 Como Ave, Saint Paul
14. Dong Yang Oriental Foods735 45th Ave NE, Minneapolis
15. Kramarczuk's215 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
16. Cheng Heng448 University Ave W, Saint Paul
17. Trieu Chau500 University Ave W, Saint Paul
18. Taco Libre1221 Robert St S, West Saint Paul
19. Piñeda Tacos2150 E Lake St, Minneapolis
20. Mandarin Kitchen8766 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
21. Heyday2700 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
Shuang Cheng is your classic, casual Chinese restaurant located in the heart of Dinkytown. You'll find plenty of college kids spilling into this laid-back spot, chowing down on authentic dishes, including favorites like whole Dungeness crab, whole lobster, the whole steamed walleye, or the roast duck chow fun. It all comes with a side of friendly and efficient service. And fortune cookies, duh.
A small and unassuming corner spot in Powderhorn, it's easy to overlook Marla's, but trust us, you'll want to put this caribbean fare at the top of your list. Marla is a native Trinidadian, so her meals are the real deal -- from jerk chicken and curry beef to vegetarian and vegan options like curry channa & potato. Everything is tailored to the level of spice you're willing to admit you can handle. Most important: be sure to save room for the sweet potato pie.
With possibly the best and most authentic ma po tofu in town, this warm and inviting Chinese spot on the edge of Uptown is well worth a visit. The menu is packed with spicy Sichuan dishes that will keep you sweating and coming back for more. A must-try? The kung pao chicken.
You're probably hitting up one of the many popular pho restaurants when you pay a visit to Eat Street, but make sure you switch things up and check out Evergreen Chinese next time, a tiny and authentic Cantonese spot. Its vegetarian and vegan dishes are addictive, particularly the pan-fried potstickers, which are some of the best in town, and the sautéed eggplant dish.
If you haven't checked out On’s yet, go. Go now. If you have been, you know that this spot has some of the best and most authentic Thai food around. It may not look like much from the outside, but that goes for all the greatest hidden gems, right? Inside is where the magic happens, anyway -- we're talking a variety of excellent noodle soups and a scrumptious, deep-fried tilapia.
Rainbow Chinese takes everything you'd expect of an average Chinese joint, from the decor to the menu, and ups the ante. Polished wood floors, crisp white tablecloths, and plenty of plant life set the scene for Chinese food that's too good to put right in a takeout box. The menu's split into rices, noodles, and several meat options, and unlike the plain orange chicken that you're used to, the spicy cilantro pork and curried chicken won't be cooked before you order them.
The number one place in the Twin Cities if you're craving pho, this Thai and Veitnamese Eat Street spot has a menu boasting tons of options for pho, specialty soups, and rice dishes with crispy shrimp or tofo and succulent pork or beef. In addition to serving some of the best noodles in Minneapolis, they've also serve can't-miss chicken wings, slathered in house-made sesame sauce and seeds for a refreshing fusion of American and Chinese fare.
Speaking of Chef Eric Harcey, his other new restaurant (located directly behind Upton 43), is serving up rotisserie chickens with all the fixin's. Its menu changes frequently, but the daily soups, sandwiches, and other goodies that rotate through make it worth checking out as often as possible. Also, those birds are just damn good.
This Thai spot looks a little silly sitting inside the remnants of an old Burger King (they've still got the original brick flooring and bright blue exterior), but the spice and flavor levels of their food is anything but. Stir-fried rice and noodle bowls with curries, meats, and vegetables command the menu alongside pho-style soups at this South Frogtown restaurant, and they aren't kidding when they label an item with those three little chili peppers.
Since '89, this south Minneapolis restaurant's been slinging bahn mi sandwiches, soupy, sticky pho, and spicy platters full of chicken, beef, shrimp, veggies, and fried rice way under the radar. With its bare, practically unlabeled concrete exterior, it's not wonder Minnesotans have been driving past this massive hidden gem blindly for decades, leaving most of its seat open for the taking most times of the day.
Housed in a barn-like, white-shingled house on West 29th, Pho Tau Bay's packing some of the best pho this side of the Kinh Thay River. This trinket-bedecked, hidden -- like, really hidden -- gem of a Vietnamese joint is mostly known for its pho bowls with flavorful noodles, runny eggs, and smoky grilled pork, but it's also got full and delicate rice paper rolls, fried rice, and bahn mis for days.
A neighborhood butcher shop and deli, St. Paul Meat Shop partners with local farms to source its tender, flavorful, and unique meats, which the team here uses to make some crazy-good, hearty sandwiches, like the pastrami on rye and meat shop reuben. Its sister shop, France 44, even made our best sandwiches in the city list. There's also plenty of cheeses, from-scratch sides, and other curated grocery items to take home with you, too.
With more than a dozen booths and stalls to check out, this market and food court has some of the best and most interesting eating opportunities in the Twin Cities. You'll be surrounded by fresh and scrumptious eats from noodle bowls to fried chicken to papaya salads (you won't want to miss these). You can also peruse a wide selection of clothes, kitchen goods, toys, plants, and jewelry while you're here.
This Hilltop place is slightly off the beaten path, but it’s worth the trek in order to get your hands on some serious Korean food. Located at the far back end of a Korean grocery, you’ll find that the cafeteria-style restaurant offers up classics like bibimbap served in smoking-hot stone bowls, delicious and succulent kalbi beef, and a variety of different Korean soups, all presented with a variety of different kimchi options. You can also find a few other dishes that are lesser known in these parts, like ddeokbokki (rice cakes in spicy gochujang chili sauce), pa jun (Korean-style pancakes), or gogalbi (spicy Korean-style mackerel).
This Northeast mainstay has been cooking up Eastern European specialties for decades. It's both a Polish deli where you can pick up homemade sausages and imported goods, and a cafeteria-style restaurant serving traditional plates like hot bratwurst sandwiches with sauerkraut and pierogi-like varenyky dumplings. Don't overlook the beef, pork, and rice cabbage rolls.
This is your go-to spot in the Twin Cities for authentic Cambodian cuisine, plus some Chinese staples. A cozy and casual space, Cheng Heng has a diverse range of items on the menu, including noodle soups, papaya salads, and tamarind stir-fry with chicken. Served up by a warm and friendly staff, all of these dishes here are the real deal.
Beautifully rare and tender slices of beef are set adrift in this beautiful bowl of blissful broth at this diner-style spot in St. Paul's South Frogtown. Hints of star anise and clove peak through the curtains of the beef-steeped-stock that controls most of the flavor options, while fresh herbs and optional jalapeños add depth, freshness, and spice, so those who come hungry really reap the most rewards here.
Taco Libre, credited for bringing Mexican food back to life in West St. Paul, offers almost 20 kinds of taco with both standard meat filling and a few adventurous vegetarian options (Mexican truffle and pumpkin flower to name a couple), all topped with onions, cilantro and lime. For the daring, Taco Libre's signature dish, The Machete, is a massive, fried tortilla stuffed with lettuce, sour cream, Oaxaca cheese, salsa and your filling of choice. This place has a reputation for is speedy takeout but if you've got time to kill, it's worth sitting down to enjoy the kitschy luchadores adorning the walls.
A hidden Lake Street gem, Pineda keep things simple with their menu. You needn't be asking yourself anything but, "do I want a burrito, or do I have a large burrito?" It all depends on how much cheese you can handle with you two meat fillings. If you fear the post-burrito regret, you can always opt for the less intimidatingly sized chimichangas or a taco combo to get more than your stomach's worth of carnitas, onions, and cilantro.
It's easy to miss this strip-mall spot in Bloomington, but you'll definitely want to add it to your list of must-tries in the area. Locals swear that the team at Mandarin Kitchen is serving up the best and most authentic dim sum around, plus your favorite classic Chinese entrees, including fresh seafood dishes made from the creatures in the in-house tanks. Plus, on the weekends, the menu features a variety of scrumptious dumplings and small bites.
When it comes to affordable yet elegant cuisine, Heyday is your spot. It's easily one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities, if not the country. Head to this rustic-chic space (it sports exposed brick and a gorgeous wooden-beamed ceiling) for favorites like the chicken liver tart, chilled blue mussels, and grilled quail, which all help to create a downright exquisite menu. Be sure to leave room for at least one of the inventive desserts including pea shell sorbet, and wash it all down with a creative cocktail like the Don't Think Twice with pisco, aperol, grapefruit, and elderflower.