Birria + Ramen = Birriamen
Southeast Asian street food wows in former strip club
When Hai Hai opened, it was immediately buzzworthy -- given that it opened inside the dilapidated Deuce Deuce strip club. The restaurant, whose name means “two two” in Vietnamese, was the second venture for Chef Christina Nguyen of Latin eatery Hola Arepa. Hai Hai quickly took off, landing on Thrillist’s Best New Restaurants 2018 list as well as other national restaurant lists. Nguyen’s Vietnamese heritage as well as her travels inspired the Southeast Asian menu, which features fried wontons, water fern cakes, banana blossom salad, and Balinese cauliflower. The eclectic decor -- bright aqua walls, palm frond wallpaper, and straw fan lights -- along with boozy tropical sushies makes it feel like you’re on vacation without ever having left Minnesota.
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 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.
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.)
Lowertown St. Paul
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. The decor is something to marvel at too, from the glowing orb lighting to the giant jellyfish mural taking up a full wall.
Argentinian-Italian fusion without the passport
A mix of rustic and refined, the first venture by Chef Daniel del Prado (previously of Bar La Grassa and Burch) honors both his Argentinian and Italian roots. Seafood, pork, and meat are cooked over a wood-fire grill and pastas like carrot gnocchi and spaghetti with lobster are all handmade. Since opening in late 2017, Martina quickly became a hard table to score -- not only at dinner, but also at brunch. Begin morning meals with chilled seafood for the table and then watch del Prado whip up a crab benedict, smoked salmon bagel, or lobster toast. No matter what time of day you dine at Martina, you’ll find unusual and flavorful South American food.
Nordic-inspired, locally sourced seasonal fare in a brick warehouse
Brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton opened this spot near the Mississippi in 2011, and it’s been going strong ever since. Serving a locally sourced, mostly-organic menu that changes seasonally, diners can count on different dishes with each visit. Expect smoked whitefish, root vegetables, popovers, pork, and poultry. Every Sunday, The Bachelor Farmer also offers a pork dinner designed to be shared family-style for about $30/person. And, don’t forget about Marvel Bar in the basement -- a destination in and of itself with a “secret” back door, the bar remains one the Cities’ swankiest speakeasy-esque cocktail lounges.
Spectacular Italian food from an award-winning chef
Old-school Italian classics meet condo-dwelling millennial sensibilities at Bar La Grassa -- and for more than a decade, the results have been nothing short of spectacular. James Beard Award-winning Chef Isaac Becker is behind the menu, which includes gourmet bruschettas and perfectly crafted pastas. The most talked-about item is hands-down the fresh, hand-made gnocchi with cauliflower and orange -- but don’t sidestep the “secondi” choices, including the strip steak and pork ribs. The long wine list also ensures conversation will keep flowing along with the rich Italian pours.
French bistro with a bakery to boot
Yes, you have to venture to the ‘burbs for a meal at Bellecour, but everything is so beautiful at Chef Gavin Kaysen’s French bistro, it’s 100% worth it. After opening Spoon & Stable (scroll down for more) Kaysen created a second space inspired by his mentors in Lyon as well as an adjacent bakery with amazing, freshly baked breads. Bellecour standouts include escargots, steak frites, bouillabaisse, and mussels -- plus, of course, seasonal French macarons. Even though it opened in 2017, prime reservations are still sought-after, so plan ahead for special occasions.
High (steakhouse) and low (pizza bar) in one spot
Building off Bar La Grassa’s success, Chef Isaac Becker set out to create a new restaurant in the old Burch Pharmacy building about five years ago and ever since, it’s been a crowd-pleaser. A unique concept -- a steakhouse upstairs and a pizza bar downstairs -- Burch offers the best of both worlds. The steakhouse menu features several different types of beef (grass-fed, prime, wagyu) in a variety of cuts and sizes so you can really choose-your-own-adventure, and the pizza bar serves up wood-fired Neapolitan pies with unusual ingredients like hazelnuts and tuna. No matter how dressed up you want to get, Becker’s two-restaurants-in-one brainchild delivers.
Meet the meat -- and devour it
Carnivores wanting to consume massive amounts of meat need look no further than Butcher & The Boar. Since opening in 2012, the restaurant has been named a James Beard Award semifinalist/finalist as well as one of America’s best bourbon bars. From the moment you walk in to the main dining room (the floor is paved with pennies,) the smell of meat wafts to greet you: smoked beef long ribs, wild boar sausage, smoked double-cut pork chops, and bone-in New York Strip. Even better for your budget, there’s a 5,000 square-foot beer garden out back that’s open year-round, featuring the “beer, brat, and a shot” combo for just $12. Just be prepared for the inevitable post-meal meat sweats.
Perfect for a fancy patio or fine dining date
The best word to sum up Lurcat would surely be stylish -- the sprawling dining room and seasonal patio along Loring Park are the perfect spots to see and be seen. The bar features more than 200 wines by the glass as well as gourmet small plates to share over happy hour. If you’re doing dinner, bring foodie clients and expense it- the artisanal American menu is not cheap, but it is carefully curated. Miso sea bass, hanger steak, and scallops are standouts, as are desserts like apple pavlova and custard cream. If you’re craving a sophisticated night out but limiting your spending, visit Lurcat on a Sunday -- they do a three-course date night for just $55 per couple.
Farm-to-table magic in this neighborhood spot
Easily the best farm-to-table dining experience in the Twin Cities as well as one of the longest-running (nearly 15 years,) Corner Table is a neighborhood gem. A relatively small, humble footprint belies the restaurant’s big flavors, and in 2011 big-deal chef/owner Thomas Boemer took over Corner Table and made it his own. The prix-fixe-only menu features a choice of a first, second, and third course for just $50/person, or you can choose the “I’ll have what she’s having” chef’s tasting menu for $145. Of course, being farm-to-table, dishes are ever-changing, but expect the best of the best when it comes to seasonal produce and locally-raised beef and bison.
A Twin Cities icon still standing
The Lexington isn’t just a restaurant -- it’s an institution. Since opening in 1935, it’s been the place to celebrate a special occasion in St. Paul for decades. But, after getting a bit worse for the wear, it closed for a couple of years and then reopened after a facelift in 2017. Today, it’s back and better than ever -- with a fancy formal dining room, live jazz, and acclaimed co-owner/chef Jack Riebel’s cooking. All entrees can be made “old school” -- coming with soup or salad just like they used to. Anything on the Lex Specialities menu stands out, but if you’re not holding back, get the solid Steak Diane or Lobster Imperial along with a Bathtub-Style Old Fashioned. The Lexington may have evolved for the 21st century, but you can still picture Mad Men of days gone by smoking in a back booth.
If you want a Jucy Lucy, go here
This list could hardly be legit without a nod to Matt’s, a local landmark and the home of the Jucy Lucy. Sometime in the '50s, Matt started stuffing a slice of cheese inside his patties when making a burger and the epic, gooey Jucy Lucy was born. Since then, celebs from Chrissy Teigen to former President Obama to Al Roker have come to Matt’s to try the burger -- and Super Bowl 52 really put it on the national map. If you go, know Matt’s is basically a neighborhood bar so space is at a premium during prime times. Also good to know -- Matt’s only accepts cash, so hit an ATM before you go so you don’t wind up disappointed.
Kingfield (Minneapolis) & Cathedral Hill (St. Paul)
A shrine to fried chicken
Minnesota wasn’t really known for fried chicken -- that is, until Revival came to the Kingfield neighborhood in 2015, and Revival St. Paul opened across the river a year later. Chef Thomas Boemer (also of Corner Table) grew up in the south and wanted to bring authentic comfort food to the Midwest- hush puppies, johnnycakes, fried green tomatoes, grits, and of course, chicken. Revival serves it up four flavorful ways: southern fried, Tennessee hot, “poultrygeist,” and gluten-friendly. Both locations have a kitschy, 70’s vibe -- and neither take reservations, meaning there’s regularly a wait of an hour or more. Tough it out by grabbing a sweet tea or local brew and be patient- trust us, it’s worth it.
A nationally recognized dining establishment, so reserve ahead
Five years after opening inside a renovated horse stable from the early 1900’s, Spoon and Stable continues to wow. The North Loop hotspot has made dozens of national dining lists, including Food & Wine’s “40 Most Important Restaurants of the Past 40 Years,” and earned Chef Gavin Kaysen his second James Beard Award as top chef in the Midwest. The restaurant’s seasonal, modern American menu features dishes like duck, lamb, and snapper. Reservations are still very much in demand, so book early -- but if you can’t snag a table the bar is always first-come, first-served. In addition to pouring some of the best craft cocktails in town, you can also order off the restaurant’s full menu.
French bistro with a fantastic champagne selection
This intimate French bistro is tucked away in the small, quaint Lynnhurst neighborhood, but those who seek it out are richly rewarded by Chef Steven Brown’s cooking. St. Genevieve does a mix of classic and contemporary Parisian plates, from the wild burgundy snails to the Tartine Madame to the Parisienne gnocchi. Of course, it’s also all about the bubbles, be it a champagne cocktail or the “champagne du moment” -- house choice. The space is also nothing short of chic, with a gold-crossed “STG” crest inlaid in the beautifully-tiled floor and tons of white marble. You could easily blink and swear you’re in the South of France instead of South Minneapolis -- and you’ll definitely want to plan a return trip.
Experimental theatrics, at the restaurant table
Where is Robbinsdale, you ask? Exactly. Travail Kitchen put the northwest Minneapolis suburb on the map in 2010, and is about to do it again. At the end of last year, Travail left its space for a temporary residency in Lowry Hill while owners revamp the building across the street. The new concept is expected to open in Robbinsdale in late July or early August, with the aim to become a Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s been described as a “lavish, immersive dinner party” that is theater-like and experimental. Travail has always been known for pushing the envelope -- and we can’t wait to see what comes next.
Wood-fired pizzas fueled by flavors from around the world
James Beard Best Chef nominee Ann Kim hit it big with Pizzeria Lola, then fast-casual Hello Pizza, but her third fine-dining-meets-pizza concept Young Joni really brings all her talents together. Kim’s cooking is inspired by her Korean heritage as well as her travels -- bringing together global flavors in a series of small plates and wood-fired pizzas. The pies use ingredients like prosciutto, gruyere, honey, almonds, and Calabrian chilies while the “other delights” section of the menu offers things like Korean beef short ribs and Thai sausage skewers. Equally impressive are the strong cocktails at Young Joni’s speakeasy-like Back Bar- marked only by a red light in the alley. When the light’s on, the bar’s open...we think that’s as good of a system as any.