The Twin Cities' Best New Restaurants of 2018
Another year, another new crop of restaurant openings -- but this year, they’re as varied as the neighborhoods they serve. From street tacos in a super-hip former factory, to modern Vietnamese at an old strip club, to barbeque from an all-seasons food truck outside a brewery, the new options in the Twin Cities are pretty diverse. Some are second or third concepts from established restaurateurs like Tim Niver and Thomas Boemer and others first-time ventures by seasoned chefs opening their own place. (There’s even an international chicken chain on the list.) No matter your taste buds or budget, there’s a new restaurant in the Twin Cities that fits the bill from this year’s list.
Stepping in the doors of this former adhesives factory, you have two choices, and you can’t go wrong with either. Popol Vuh (named after the Mayan book of creation) is the fancier of the two: a beautiful, earthy brick-and-wood space serving a four-course tasting menu in addition to the regular one. Chef Jose Alarcon’s dishes are inspired by his Mexican heritage -- get the Chuleta (pork chop with huaxmole) or Costilla (short rib with avocado leaf masa cake) and make sure to pair it with one of Popol’s mezcal-based cocktails.
On the other side, you have Centro -- the concept’s fast-casual sibling -- offering counter service and $3-$5 street tacos. The Nopales (cured cactus) will wow even non-vegetarians and the Carnitas en Adobo (pork with pineapple and salsa verde) is as colorful as this side of the restaurant, with bright pink accents and a large floral cross-stitch. Centro is also open Sundays for brunch (10-2) with a DJ, making it the newest daytime hotspot.
Food truck BBQ at its finest
Who says you need a lot of space to be a great restaurant? Animales, a food truck parked permanently behind Able Brewing, knocks it out of the park with delicious, inventive barbeque. The menu is hand-scrawled on a kraft paper sign outside of the trailer, with items crossed off as the truck runs out -- and they run out, so get there early. Former chef at Bachelor Farmer Jon Wipfli whips up to-die-for hickory-smoked beef ribs, pork shoulder street tacos, and Texas Twinkies (jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon). When you see people waiting in line outside of the truck in all types of weather, you know it’s gonna be good.
Argentinian-Italian fusion without the passport
Formerly the home of Upton 43, Martina’s space feels much warmer than its cool Scandinavian predecessor -- quite literally when you factor in the wood-fire cooking. The food is so good and so well executed that it’s hard to believe the restaurant was chef Daniel del Prado’s first solo project, having previously worked at Bar La Grassa and Burch under James Beard Award winner Isaac Becker. Honoring his Argentinian and Italian roots, del Prado created a menu that manages to take you to South America and the Mediterranean at the same time. If you’re with a group, the chilled seafood platter is a must as an appetizer, followed by braised lamb fusilli, grilled octopus, and spaghetti with lobster. Martina also has a standout bar program directed by up-and-comer Marco Zappia with house-blended spirits and innovative cocktails.
Korean-style fried chicken on the cheap
Yes, that Bonchon. When the international fried chicken chain announced it was opening its first Minnesota location earlier in the year, people were checking the spot on Lake Street daily to see when the lights would go on. After much ado, Bonchon Uptown opened in the fall to ridiculous lines and ridiculously good double-fried extra-crispy chicken. Whether you prefer drummies, boneless, or bone-in, you’ve gotta do half soy-garlic and half spicy for the true Bonchon experience. The best part is you can get full for $10-$20 -- so probably smart that a second location is opening near the U early next year.
Southeast Asian street food wows in former strip club
The only thing left over from the windowless Deuce Deuce is a nod to the old dive and topless bar’s name; “hai” means “two” in Vietnamese. Opened by Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem, originally of Hola Arepa food truck and then bricks-and-mortar Hola Arepa, Hai Hai -- which also made Thrillist's Best New Restaurants in America list -- is inspired by the couple’s travels to Southeast Asia as well as Nguyen’s Vietnamese heritage. As soon as you step inside, you feel like you’re on vacation -- bright aqua walls, palm frond wallpaper, and straw fan lights set the vibe and a boozy slushie from the bar seals the deal. Try the fried wontons with passion fruit chile sauce, banana flower blossom salad, or lemongrass-ginger beef grilled in a betel leaf. Over the summer, the tropical patio bordering the back of the bar was always predictably packed and now that it’s winter, bright brunch dishes like the Thai Fried Chicken and Biscuit and Laska Shrimp and Grits provide the perfect escape from Minnesnowta.
Like living off the land inside a food hall
When Keg & Case Market opened this Fall in the historic Schmidt Brewery, it quickly became a destination for both foodies and families alike. But, with the fall opening of Chef Thomas Boemer’s (Corner Table, Revival) new restaurant In Bloom, the hottest food hall got even hotter. Designed as a seasonal, farm-or-forage to table concept, Boemer cooks everything from vegetables to venison over a twenty-foot open hearth -- there isn’t an oven or stove in sight. Start off with the grilled trout or barigoule with cattails, for sure order the 45-day dry-aged long-bone ribeye for the table, and if you’re into wild game, there’s local venison and pheasant. It’s kind of like being in the Northwoods, but with fancy wine pairings and velvet booths.
Martina’s smokin’ Tex-Mex sibling
Between Popol Vuh & Centro and the fall opening of Colita, it’s clear “elevated Mexican” is buzzworthy right now. Hot on the successful heels of Martina (see above), chef Daniel del Prado and mixologist Marco Zappia teamed up once again -- this time, turning an old gas station in South Minneapolis into an Instagrammable beauty. Best described as both a Mexican-and-BBQ joint, Colita serves ribs, tostadas, and tacos using smoking techniques from all over the world. Start with crispy masa chips and corn elote, then order the shrimp al pastor, chicken tinga tostada, or bone-in short rib. Zappia’s bar program is probably the most unique in town, featuring odd drinkware and garnishes like the rubber ducky in his Naked Dani. Make sure you don’t leave without snapping a pic in front of Colita’s “living wall” of plants.
Wood-fired bagels star at Jewish deli
The corner building that once housed Tinto and Spill the Wine struggled with a concept until restaurateur Tim Niver (Saint Dinette, Mucci’s Italian) and chef Adam Eaton’s brainchild Meyvn hit it big. The restaurant’s name refers to being an expert or connoisseur and uses the Yiddish spelling, reflecting the food’s Jewish inspiration. The space feels like a slightly cozier IKEA cafeteria, with an all-day menu served on tin trays. Start the morning off right with a chewy, crunchy wood-fired bagel and schmear for just five dollars, or top it off with some protein for an additional $3-$8 (the pastrami salmon is a must-try). If you’re going for lunch or dinner, you can’t beat deli classics like the Reuben and Rachel or plates like latkes with apple butter.
Neighborhood spot focused on fresh pasta
Named after the bungalow-style houses in the surrounding area, The Bungalow Club is Chef Andrew Kraft’s (formerly of Grand Cafe) first venture. The building used to be home to The Craftsman restaurant, but found new life this year as a neighborhood spot with really good handmade pasta. Kraft changes the menu with the seasons, but it’s organized by the numbers one, two, and three, indicating starters, pastas, and entrees, respectively. This season, the octopus and fennel salad is a great first course, followed by sweet potato agnolotti and cavatelli with Red Table salami, a nod to The Craftsman’s former chef who left to start that meat company. It’s rare you can get such great pasta without leaving a small neighborhood like Longfellow, so if you’re close by count yourself lucky.
Seafood standout lets you fish for dinner
James Beard Award-winning chef (formerly of La Belle Vie) Tim McKee has done something special inside the new Market House Collaborative: put a fishmonger’s shop next to his restaurant so you can purchase your own catch and then have it cooked right away. It’s a novel idea and one that sets Octo Fishbar apart from other seafood shops. But, if you prefer to order off a traditional menu, you can do that too: multi-level raw towers like the Underwater Love (oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels) are ideal for sharing as are small plates like the shore lunch sunnies. For the main course, Maine lobster, Skuna Bay salmon, and octopus bolognese are all standouts, and dessert features selections from neighboring Salty Tart Bakery. The decor is something to marvel at too, from the glowing orb lighting to the giant jellyfish mural taking up a full wall.
The Cities’ best burger crosses the river
Tucked beneath big-brother Borough, the small Parlour Minneapolis quickly established its own reputation as the purveyor of the Twin Cities’ newest best burger. It was only a matter of time before the restaurant crossed the river, and when it did, it was obvious they’d need more space. Parlour St. Paul opened in the spring, transforming three separate storefronts into a flowing dining experience, from counter seating bordering the kitchen to a more traditional main room to a cocktail bar in the back. It’s hard to order anything other than The Burger -- ground chuck, ribeye, and brisket topped with white American cheese -- and a Parlour Old Fashioned. But, if you venture beyond the predictable, the new location has an expanded menu with other options including brunch. Parlour cheekily offers a “bowl of Chef’s cereal” as well as build-your-own loaded waffles and brisket hash. (Obviously, the burger’s on the brunch menu too.)
A slice of thin-crust heaven above a brewery
It doesn’t get much simpler -- or better -- than beer and pizza done right. Fortunately for us, 2018 saw the opening of a pizza parlour on the second floor of Surly Brewing’s 50,000 square foot complex named, appropriately, Surly Pizza Upstairs, and it’s splendid. Cranking out what they call New Haven-style pizzas, the thin-crust pies are made with same yeast used to make Surly’s beer, fermented for four days in a cooler, and charred under high heat. Pizzas are named after characters in pop culture, like the Walter White, the McFly, and the Kevin (plain cheese). When summer rolls around, people pick up their pies and sit outside in Surly’s massive beer garden.
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