Food & Drink

The 23 Most Important Restaurants in the Twin Cities

Published On 05/26/2015 Published On 05/26/2015
Keane Amdahl/Thrillist

What makes a restaurant "important": is it cooking up local history? The fact it's filling a vital niche in the food community? Or is it that it's simply making MSP a better place to eat? Yes. That's why you'll find dining establishments that're doing all those things, and more, on our list of the 23 most important restaurants in the Twin Cities. Feast your eyes...

Quang Restaurant

Quang Restaurant

Whittier
Chef and owner Lung Tran has been turning on new generations of Twin Citians to deliciously prepared traditional Vietnamese food since 1989. For those of you who are counting, that’s almost 30 years, and day after day the restaurant is jam packed with people slurping down what are arguably the best bowls of pho around. To not only introduce, but to continuously enamor people, with a cuisine they might not have otherwise known is truly an important feat making Quang not only part of what makes Minneapolis’ Eat Street great, but also a worthy addition to this list.

Flickr/Kim

Matt’s Bar

Powderhorn
If you invented something as important as the Jucy Lucy, you deserve to be on this list. While we fully anticipate the blowback from all you 5-8 Club folks, we’re sticking to our guns and giving the gold to Matt’s. While both restaurants have long, rich histories, and both are local treasures, when the POTUS visits your restaurant the tie is broken and you win. Sorry folks.

Tiny Diner

Tiny Diner

Powderhorn
As a restauranteur, Kim Bartmann is perpetually redefining the concept of what a responsible business looks like, and Tiny Diner is the perfect example. In terms of going green, there’s probably no restaurant that's greener. This place is LEAD certified, solar-powered, grows a lot of its own stuff, and now it's keeping its own bees. There’s even discussion about keeping rabbits on site, which would eventually be used for food. That’s what we call innovation.
 

Mona Restaurant & Bar

Downtown Minneapolis
Chef and owner Lisa Hanson does an excellent job bringing delicious farm-to-table food to an area of Downtown that sorely lacks in any decent food options whatsoever. The restaurant is both modern and stylish while pulling in inspiration from old world charm, and the rotating menu is composed of ingredients from small local farms and purveyors.

World Street Kitchen

World Street Kitchen

Uptown
It would be impossible to do this list without the mention of the Wadi family, which has frankly done an awful lot to progress food culture in the Twin Cities via its restaurants, food truck, and more recently, Chef Sameh Wadi’s new cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. While its flagship restaurant, Saffron, would easily be worth bringing up, it’s the fast-casual concept based off its food truck that has really set things off. WSK offers a beautiful amalgam of global flavors that introduces Uptown diners to tastes of the Middle East, Asia, and the Mediterranean with additional American and Mexican influences.

Brasserie Zentral

Brasserie Zentral

Downtown Minneapolis
The newest Downtown endeavor from local eats team Russell and Desta Klein takes diners on a wonderful trek across the Eastern European palate. While we all love their flagship St. Paul restaurant, Meritage, Brasserie Zentral brings us into a world of fine dining that has not yet been fully explored in the Twin Cities and it couldn’t be a more perfect addition to the TC food scene.

Chef Shack

Chef Shack

Seward/Bay City, WI
Not only were chef/owners Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson some of the very first on the Twin Cities food truck scene, they were also one of the very first to prove that you could bring the truck concept into a traditional brick-and-mortar setting. Having launched their first truck in 2007 (of which they now operate two), their Bay City, WI location in 2012, and then Chef Shack Ranch in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood in 2013, this culinary duo shows no sign of slowing down as they continue to deliver delicious, high quality all over the place.

Hola Arepa

Hola Arepa

Nicollet
When Chef Christina Nguyen and her partner Birk Grudem first hit the streets in their bright blue truck, they brought with them something that would go on to become a revelation in the Twin Cities food scene. While the humble Venezuelan arepa might be very simple in concept, these guys take it to the next level. Now that they’ve gone brick-and-mortar, they continue to push the envelope with delicious, incredibly flavorful food that you can wash down with some of the best cocktails in the city. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Strip Club Meat and Fish

The Strip Club Meat & Fish

Dayton’s Bluff
There’s so much to be said for this St. Paul must. The food by Chef JD Fratzke is not only excellent and making an incredible use of ingredients from small, local farms, but it’s also distinctly unique and almost rustic despite its overall level of refinement and balance. The cocktails are also top-of-the line, but the service, lead by co-owner and front of house extraordinaire, Tim Niver, is always impeccable. It just goes to show that a restaurant can have a level of relaxed comfort without having to sacrifice top shelf service.

Sushi Fix

Sushi Fix

Wayzata
When talking about pushing the standard further, it’s really important to talk about Sushi Fix. The sheer skill of the sushi staff is impeccable and it truly shows the second a piece of fish hits your mouth and melts into a puddle of pure ecstasy. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s the skill of the sushi chef or the quality of the fish that makes the biggest difference when it comes to sushi, this is the place that will teach you that skill is of the upmost importance. Of course their fish is excellent in quality and easily some of the best that you can get in the Twin Cities, but it’s the precision with which it’s prepared that truly sets it apart from the rest.

Kyatchi

Kyatchi

Kingfield
This South Minneapolis restaurant is not your mama’s sushi bar. In fact, these guys are serious about their sustainability, and as such, their sushi menu isn’t quite as expansive as some others in town, but that’s okay, because what they do have is a perfectly concise menu that consistently features delicious, responsibly sourced products. Also, they have kickass hot dogs, ramen, and a variety of other delicious Japanese dishes, and they’re helping to fill a welcome niche in their neighborhood.

Keane Amdahl/Thrillist

Revival

Kingfield
While it was really difficult to decide between their flagship restaurant, Corner Table, or this newly opened South Minneapolis soul food restaurant, in the end, we had to choose Revival. Chef Thomas Boemer and owner Nick Rancone have designed this place to be accessible to everyone, yet the food is made with the same care, and precision as most fine dining restaurants. Sure, it’s a little bit more expensive than your local KFC, but not by that much, and it's worth it for food made with the utmost love and respect for the ingredients.

WILLIAM LAVIGNE

HauteDish

North Loop
Chef Landon Schoenefeld was one of the very first to take the North Loop gamble by opening his first restaurant in an area that, at the time, was more known for its strip clubs than it’s cuisine. Since then things have obviously changed and the North Loop has become a Twin Cities gastronomic destination. In addition to that, Schoenefeld was one of the first to show the Twin Cities that a small, relatively young group of people could launch and run an extremely progressive restaurant featuring reinventions of classic Minnesota comfort foods.

Sea Change

Sea Change

Downtown Minneapolis
This is another restaurant that is deeply rooted in the philosophy of beautiful and responsibly sourced ingredients. They're showcasing seafood in a way that the Twin Cities hadn’t seen before. Currently helmed by Chef Ryan Cook, this restaurant has also seen local culinary celebrities like Jamie Malone, Erik Anderson, and Jim Christiansen call it home.

Travail Kitchen and Amusements

Travail Kitchen & Amusements

Robbinsdale
Forever the innovators, the folks at Travail always know how to keep things interesting. Their modernist approach to cuisine has been a welcome addition to the Twin Cities food scene since they first opened the doors to their original location back in 2010. While prices have risen slightly over the years, the tag for the full multi-course excursion has remained within reach of the general public, which has helped to greatly expand the collective minds of the Twin Cities gastronomic masses!

KEANE AMDAHL/Thrillist

Spoon and Stable

North Loop
One of the newest additions to the Downtown Minneapolis restaurant scene, this places proves its importance in a few ways. The first, and most easily identifiable, is the level of culinary prowess behind the restaurant. Chef Kaysen is a national celebrity, but along with Christopher Nye in the kitchen, Diane Yang on pastry, and Rob Jones behind the bar, this is no amateur venue. Secondly, it shows that people from outside of the Twin Cities are starting to pay attention to what’s going on here and are starting to test the waters again to see if the TC could indeed be the next big culinary hotbed.

Brasa Rotisserie

Brasa

Northeast/Summit Hill
Chef Alex Roberts helped redefine fine dining in the Twin Cities with his flagship Restaurant Alma, since then however, his soul food inspired creation, Brasa, has been bringing delicious, all-natural food to the masses. Not only that, Brasa has also helped give a new face to the fast-casual concept showcasing that fast food doesn’t have to suck, and others have started following in Robert’s footsteps creating delicious food for those on the run. Rotisserie chicken has never tasted so good!

The Bachelor Farmer

The Bachelor Farmer

North Loop
These guys were arguably on the forefront of brining Scandinavian-inspired cuisine to the Twin Cities, and they opened Minneapolis’ most notorious speakeasy-style bar, which has since inspired an entire lineage of basement libation rooms. Their penchant for innovation continues with the addition of their café set to open sometime mid-soon.

Keane Amdahl/Thrillist

Heyday

Uptown
Chef Jim Christiansen and his team at Heyday are ushering in a whole new era of approachable fine dining in the Twin Cities. Their flavors are world class with Chef Christiansen being one of many disciples of the great Tim McKee -- having spent time working at several of his restaurants including La Belle Vie, Solera, and Il Gatto (of which McKee was a consultant). He also spent time working at Copenhagen’s Noma, which has been named best restaurant in the world on multiple occasions. Christiansen brings his wealth of knowledge and technical expertise and injects them into every plate that leaves the kitchen leaving lucky diners knowing that they’ve just eaten something truly special.

Piccolo

Piccolo

Southwest Minneapolis
Before everybody and their mother started serving small plates, there was Piccolo, but that’s not necessarily where its legacy lies. The masterful culinary prowess of Chef Doug Flicker can be tasted in every single small bite and continues to run through course after course. Piccolo is one of a handful of chef-driven restaurants that has helped to catapult the Twin Cities into the national spotlight with fistfuls of James Beard Award nominations and being featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Continuously sparking inventive new life into its food by harmoniously combining both modernist and classical technique, Piccolo’s refined level of fine dining is second to no other.

Tilia Mpls

Tilia

Linden Hills
When it comes to the Twin Cities culinary scene there is but one Godfather, and his name is Steven Brown. This chef has helped mold a seemingly endless supply of culinary talent. Young chefs all across town continuously point to his unending mentorship and dedication to the craft. Tilia is the embodiment of his hard work, where you can see a multitude of young chefs working the line and cranking out amazing and approachable dishes one after the other.

Shaun Liboon

Heartland

Lowertown
Chef Lenny Russo is one of the leading authorities on what it takes to be a true farm-to-table restaurant in the Twin Cities. Having long ago nixed big box purveyors in lieu of sourcing from small family farms and artisanal producers, this St. Paul institution serves two different prix fixe menus that change daily yet maintain a consistent level of top quality food. This much is evidenced by the handful of James Beard Award nominations it's received over the years. In fact, the JBAF really needs to just get on with giving the guy his well-earned medal and call it a day.

La Belle Vie

La Belle Vie

Loring Park
It’s impossible to imagine a restaurant any more important in this town than Tim McKee’s La Belle Vie. Not only did it introduce the Twin Cities to a whole new level of fine dining, but the number of chefs that have come through its ranks that now own and operate a lot of the other restaurants on this list is staggering. It's also responsible for master cocktail wizard Johnny Michaels, without whom our rapidly growing cocktail scene would certainly not exist. Oh yeah, let’s not forget about its legendary service, wine program, and basically everything it's ever done or tried. The folks here are the masters of fine dining in the Twin Cities and we tip our hats to all of the La Belle Vie crews; past, present, and future.

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1. Quang Restaurant 2719 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (Whittier)

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.

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2. Matt's Bar 3500 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407 (Powderhorn)

Matt's is your classic small town dive bar serving up a killer version of Minneapolis's famed Juicy Lucy. This spot actually claims to have invented the knockout burger. Take a very careful first bite and let all of the molten cheese speak for itself. After, grab a PBR or a pint of Premium to help relieve you from your imminent cheese burns.

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3. Tiny Diner 1024 E 38th St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

Tiny Diner is not, in fact, a literal, miniature diner, but a small restaurant in Powderhorn Park that's all about sustainability, from the way it sources its food to the way the restaurant itself is built. Using mostly its own garden to grow its ingredients, this spot provides the freshest fare possible in the form of all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner. Aim for a patio spot when you come here so you can admire the view of the garden out back while you polish off your country scramble or scallops.

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4. Mona Restaurant & Bar 333 S 7th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (Downtown)

After paying her dues in the intense restaurant scene of New York, chef & owner Mona took her talents to MSP and is serving up delicious American small plates in a classic environment. Go local with elk rib eye or try something new with the chicken & waffles.

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5. World Street Kitchen 2743 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (Uptown)

WSK offers a beautiful amalgam of global flavors that introduces Uptown diners to tastes of the Middle East, Asia, and the Mediterranean with additional American and Mexican influences, all in a fast-casual brick and mortar version of their food truck that started it all. “Fusion” menu items include Bangkok burritos, yum yum rice bowls, and the sweet onion stuffed falafel burger. It’s a family-run joint, and the Wadi family certainly has done an awful lot to progress food culture in the Twin Cities via its restaurants, food truck and cookbook.

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6. Brasserie Zentral 505 S. Marquette Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55402

The menu's full of dumpling and spätzle and other European comfort foods from Chef Klein's heritage.

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7. Chef Shack Ranch 3025 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55406 (Seward)

Not only were Chef Shack’s chefs/owners some of the very first on the Twin Cities food truck scene, they were also one of the very first to prove that you could bring the truck concept into a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, thanks to a dedicated following for their rich, succulent meats and sides. Meaty, juicy, sticky, sweet, smokey, and just a bit spicy, these ribs are a South Side treasure. Plus, CSR uses local and organic whenever possible, and is vegetarian friendly.

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8. Hola Arepa 3501 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (Downtown)

Originally a food truck, the brick and mortar incarnation has a menu is stuffed with long-braised meats, crumbly cheese and their fiery sauces. They've got a great drinks menu too.

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9. The Strip Club Meat & Fish 378 Maria Ave, St. Paul, MN 55106 (Downtown St Paul)

Grass-fed beef is the name of the game at St. Paul’s premier meatery, an independent St. Paul chop and fish house, helmed by chef JD Fratzke. Strip House exhibits incredible use of ingredients from small, local farms, but it’s also distinctly unique and almost rustic despite its overall level of refinement and balance. The drink menu changes seasonally and the results are always spectacular, but even the long-standing staple drinks, like the Cobra Kai, are simply stunning.

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10. Sushi Fix 862 Lake St E, Wayzata, MN 55391

It’s almost impossible for us to wrap our heads around the fact that one of the best sushi restaurants in the Twin Cities (okay, Wayzata) started out as a sushi-slinging food truck, but it did. The brick-and-mortar serves an assortment of nigiri. The rolls are equally delicious and if you’re going that route, we’d suggest the Silly Billy named after owner and goofball extraordinaire, Billy Tserenbat.

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11. Kyatchi 3758 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409 (Southwest)

Kyatchi lives to serve Japanese-style cuisine with an American twist. The Minneapolis sushi hotspot dishes out soups, salads, small plates, grilled fish and seafood, meat skewers, rice, noodles, and, in a true cultural mélange, hot dogs. If you’re intrigued, good; hot dogs, like the kimchi dog with mustard, sesame oil, and Japanese mayo, all come with Japanese potato salad, whose savory flavor gives any typical ballpark frank a run for its money. If it’s more traditional cuisine you’re craving, try veggie or pork ramen, or scallop yuzu kosho, with raw scallops, veggies, chili pepper, yuzu peel, and sea salt. Kyatchi emphasizes sustainable ingredients and delivers them to you in a casual, open dining space decorated with Japanese artwork.

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12. Revival 4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409

This place is serving fried chicken and other fine Southern fare.

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13. HauteDish 119 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (Downtown)

The much-lauded Dish, between the Warehouse and Gateway districts, rocks a menu with artfully presented, reinvented takes on Midwestern classics like mac and cheese with king crab and truffle oil, blackened fish tacos and, steak and potatoes. Perfect for empty stomachs at any hour, Haute offers choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if you go in after the late evening, you'll be able to choose from a long list of house cocktails and dozens of draught beers from nearby breweries.

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14. Sea Change 818 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (Uptown)

We could spend all day slurping oysters at this Downtown raw bar and dining from its seasonal selection of fresh seafood dishes. With a focus on freshness, Sea Change serves fish that only comes from sustainable stocks— SC is the kind of restaurant that’s elevated seafood in the Twin Cities a true craft. Who doesn’t want to sit and look out at the river and the scenic Stone Arch Bridge while drinking a tasty beverage and noshing on top-shelf seafood? Plus, there’s a happy hour Tuesday through Thursday from 3-6pm, and a late-night happy hour every day of the week from 8-11 pm.

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15. Travail Kitchen & Amusements 4124 W Broadway Ave, Robbinsdale, MN 55422 (Near North)

The gastropub rocking a chalkboard menu oft-scrawled with duck, quail, and rabbit (all of which's perpetually served by the chefs themselves) serves up a rotating selection of adventurous eats in Robbinsdale.

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16. Spoon and Stable 211 North First St, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (North Loop)

The crew puts a lot of work and effort into the array of exquisite dishes and cocktails at this Downtown/Northloop. While nabbing a reservation might still be a little difficult, walking into the bar hasn’t ever really been an issue -- and you can order the full menu there, or choose from the equally delectable bar-only menu. The pastries are a solid choice for brunch, and mix up your typical Sunday mimosa morning with a Coffee 43 cocktail, which features cold-press coffee, Licor 43, tequila, and cream.

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17. Brasa Premium Rotisserie 777 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (Summit Hill Crocus Hill)

For whatever reason, the folks at Brasa can do no wrong. They serve Creole-insprired comfort food. One dish you must try? The mac & cheese. There’s absolutely nothing fancy about it. It has macaroni and it has cheese. The end.

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18. The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar 50 2nd Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (North Loop)

Upstairs, at the Bachelor Farmer, you'll find a friendly brick-and-wood restaurant offering a variety of organic dishes made with ingredients from its rooftop garden and other local growers, while downstairs is a dimly lit speakeasy with expertly crafted cocktails. There, at Marvel Bar, you'll want to order the signature cocktail, Oliveto, which features olive oil, egg white, lemon, Licor 43, and Gordon’s gin.

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19. Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar 289 5th St E, St. Paul, MN 55101 (Downtown St Paul)

Heartland Restaurant is committed to serving a menu of ingredients indigenous to the American and Canadian Midwest. This menu changes nightly and features two fixed price options as well as extensive a la carte selections. Heartland’s food selections mix and match small plates, large plates, and sides, ranging from soba noodles with autumn harvest vegetables and mushroom broth to a house charcuterie selection with pickles and Summit beer mustard, as well as chorizo sausage with kraut, cornbread, and honey mustard. The interior is elegant yet understated, with glossy light wood parquet floors and soaring ceilings with exposed beams.

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20. Heyday 2700 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (Uptown)

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.

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21. Piccolo 4300 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409 (Southwest)

Piccolo is one of a handful of chef-driven restaurants that has helped to catapult the Twin Cities into the national spotlight; it has several James Beard Award nominations and has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Continuously sparking inventive new life into its food by harmoniously combining both modernist and classical technique, Piccolo’s refined level of fine dining is second to no other.

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22. Tilia 2726 W 43rd St, Minneapolis, MN 55410

New American plates are doled out at Tilia, a breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot in Linden Hills. The lunch and dinner menu offer potato leek soup, potted meat, bacon cheeseburgers, and Parmesan agnolottim, but Tilia’s best meal is its Saturday and Sunday brunch, which leans heavily on savory flavors apart from the glazed brioche donuts and custard dipped sweet potato brioche French toast. Try a fish taco torta or buttermilk biscuits to complete your belly-filling meal. Tilia also offers over 15 beers on draft and as many bottled brews.

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23. La Belle Vie 510 Groveland Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (Downtown)

Critically acclaimed La Belle Vie on the outskirts of downtown is the birthplace of two of the finest culinary careers in the Midwest: Chef Tim McKee and Sazerac slinger Johnny Michaels.

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