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MSP "Best of" Lists

My husband and I are moving from Chicago to Mpls and the one thing I worry about is lack if truly good food. I guess we could be considered "foodies" and have eaten in some of the best restaurants in both Chicago and New York. But we are definitely looking forward to finding great places to eat in Mpls too! I would love to get locals and Chicago/New York transplants opinions on the best places for good food within all price ranges. We would really like to stay away from chains (we have eaten at Au Bon Pain and Buca plenty of times). What are your picks??

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  1. I think you'll find a lot of great suggestions as you comb through this thread. As a New York transplant I've been quite happy with the food offerings in the cities. I do sometimes wish there were more restaurants, since you'll see the same names come up over and over, but there are great restaurants here.

    My favorite places in absolutely no order are:
    Alma (great for a special evening out)
    Tanpopo (light, clean, different)
    Holy Land (great middle eastern comfort food)
    Pizza Nea (light yet tasty pizza)
    Fasika (the only place that will satisfy my intense craving for Ethiopian)
    Lucia's (great use of local produce, wonderful spot for wine and cheese)
    Barbette (I haven't been in about a year but it's always a battle b/t here and Lucias)
    Khyber Pass (Afghani food - great when you want something Indian-ish but lighter)
    Little Szechuan (the strongest and spiciest flavors in the cities)
    Town Talk Diner (fun for drinks, atmosphere and the food has been good to great)

    15 Replies
    1. re: katebauer

      Yes, I agree kate. It seems the same names keep coming up.
      Your list looks great.
      One type of food that seems to be lacking in Mpls (and completely abundent in Chicago) is Italian and Mexican. Do you have any Italian and/or Mexican recommedations?

      1. re: kellybeegee

        I was flabbergasted when CityPages announced Buca de Beppo as Best Italian??!! Really?

        1. re: kellybeegee

          note that the original, flagship buca is in downtown mpls. and from what i understand, it does not suck dead penguin butt as bad as the rest of the nation's chain-spawn bucas. just for what it is worth.

          italian is a big weak area in msp dining, and we need an italian deli scene pretty bad. doubt you'll be impressed with the red sauce italian options here, although if you hunt, you'll discover some neighborhood gems for informal pasta and limited traditional menus. if i was a chi-town transplant i wouldn't even try msp italian for at least a year, instead exploring vietnamese, east african, and regional contemporary american cuisines in msp-- these are our riches here. after a year my palate & expectations would have adjusted to where i'd be able to handle to the east st. paul red sauce dives and mn square cut pizza with humor rather than disdain. :)

          to kate, MSPD, and TDQ's excellent lists i gotta vociferously (i'm getting hoarse) add the craftsman and ngon bistro. obento-ya for a neighborhood gem on par with my beloved tanpopo. other faves as well!

          welcome. we love to talk restos here in msp!

          1. re: soupkitten

            Notes to self:

            1. Call Izzy's and get on their flavor list for salted caramel.
            2. Try Kallyste before it moves at end of September.
            3. Pick up the moon cakes I ordered from Bravo Bakery; try one of their mock fish dishes and a slice of their-gorgeous-looking mango cake.
            4. Try Craftsman!

            ~TDQ

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              same list as me, practically! go to craftsman in the evening on the weekend when there is a 99% chance mike phillips will cook your meal-- i did hear about one bummer meal on a tues or something :)

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Welcome - I transplanted 10+ years ago and there are some excellent spots in MSP.

                Broder's Pasta Bar was our home away from home for years when we were in South Minneapolis. There are great spots over there.

                Alma is the top spot for me all the time.

                Traditional Italian is still a challenge - I basically don't eat as much pasta as I did when I could walk to the North end of boston with 10$ and get a glass of red and a great plate of pasta.

                Welcome to the land of less traffic! and more reasonable house prices!

                And I am laughing hysterically at the penguin butt.

              2. re: soupkitten

                Incidentally, good dead penguin butt is another thing you just can't find in MSP.

                (That was friggin' hilarious soup!)

            2. re: kellybeegee

              Italian is pretty weak, unless you want "red sauce eye-talian" in which case you can find a lot in St. Paul. There are a couple of standouts (the Broder's Cucina and pasta bar are our favorites) but it is otherwise tough. (We do have Neopolitan Pizza down, Punch v. Nea is our version of Cubs v. Sox)

              Mexican food is mostly focused on the immigrant community. You can find a lot of taquieras along Lake Street. You'll find occasional table service, at places like Me Gusta and El Nuevo Rodeo, but we're more a taqueira kind of town.

              Overall, we're much more of a chowhound town than a foodie town. There's certainly some foodie favorites (112 Eatery!) but you'll find more chow gems than foodie gems.

              As for Citypages - Dara's picks are great. The reader polls... not so much.

              1. re: kellybeegee

                There are a couple of camps on Italian in MSP. One group will recommend cheap, red sauce places and say there is no "great" Italian here. My opinion is that the cheap red sauce places aren't worth the time if you come from a city with good cheap red sauce places (in which I include Chicago). For Italian, I stick with the higher end offerings all of which are excellent to good. Three come to mind:

                Osteria I Nonni in Lilydale (just south of St. Paul)
                D'Amico Cucina in Minneapolis
                Campiello in Uptown (Mpls) or Eden Prairie

                Broder's in Edina is very good too as mentioned.

                For Mexican, you really have to dig into the holes in the wall. The stretch of Lake Street between I-35W east almost to the Mississippi River is rich in taquerias and Mexican "mercados". There is a nice grouping of good Mexican places south of St. Paul at the intersection of Robert Street and Cesar Chavez. The Mexican food scene is still emerging but you can definitely find good staple foods: taquerias, tortas, tamales, etc. As I mention in my earlier post, not ubiquitous, but you'll find a few favorites for each kind of food. It just takes some time and effort.

                p.s. -- please, please ignore all readers' polls including City Pages.

                1. re: MSPD

                  I agree 100% about Campiello. The meal that I had there a few weeks ago was as fine as any I have had In any Italian restaurant in America, at least so far. This includes my review:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/430781

                2. re: kellybeegee

                  One thing I've had to adjust to is that the Twin Cities is a much smaller metro area than the one I came from--and certainly much smaller than Chicagoland. The Twin Cities metro area is only what I'd call a mid-tier metro area (not that I'm an expert in such matters, but, nevertheless, that's how I think of it), whereas, as you know, Chicagoland is huge. The resident population and tourist traffic in the Twin Cities just can't support the same volume of restaurants that the bigger cities can. So, I think this is why a lot of the same restaurant names keep coming up in discussion. There might only be a dozen or a half dozen Szechuan restaurants (I too, love Little Szechuan. Also, Tea House) in the Twin Cities and not all of them are great.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: kellybeegee

                    Al Vento, near Lake Nokomis, is my favorite Italian restaurante in the cities. Campiello and Broders are really good too.
                    For Mexican, I second whomever said that any place along East Lake St. is good. I have a goal of hitting every restaurant along that strip. My favorite tacqueria is Gorditas el Gordo, at lake and 35W--best empanadas ever! I also like Manny's tortas for some really tasty sandwiches. El Paraiso, at 35th and Nicollet has really fresh ceviche and a lot of seafood options.
                    I'm not sure when you're moving here, but if it's soon, you should try to get in a meal at Sea Salt or the Tin Fish. I love their fish tacos.
                    You also have to try a Jucy Lucy (do a search and you'll find endless posts on this). The Nook in St. Paul has my favorite.

                    1. re: drew13000

                      Can you help me find Gorditas el Gordo? Appox how far & which direction off 35? =)

                      I had some really fun empanadas in DC, and haven't been able to get them here in any version but beef or cheese 'cept frozen @ SuperTarget ;)

                      1. re: reannd

                        It's on Lake St at about 2nd Avenue in Minneapolis. It was discussed (with some photos) in this thread--maybe that will help. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/384857 MSPD also has a thread out there about it, if you want to search on it.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          AWESOME - Thanks.

                          La Mixteca (previously know as Taco Morelos) started serving huaraches this summer.. I'd never even knew about 'em. They're awesome.

                          Thanks again.

                3. kelly (and husband), welcome! I may chime in on some of the ensuing comments other will make but the best advice I can provide is the one overwhelming thing I have learned in my 17 years living in MSP: Abandon any expectations or preconceived notions.

                  In my experiences having lived on the east coast, in and around much bigger cities and having traveled extensively, you have to approach MSP are dining from a different angle. In NYC, Chicago, London, San Francisco, no matter where you are at any given time or hour, you will have several options for a great pizza, fine dining locale, burger, hot dog, authentic Chinese restaurant, etc. You are never far from options.

                  MSP is a little different beast. It takes much more time, effort and massaging to satisfy your chow needs. In my mind, I can get a good-to-great version of nearly every food I desire (not including bagels, Jewish delicacies, soul food and corned beef/pastrami sandwiches). But I rely on having found "favorites" for each. If I want a good thin crust pizza, I go to Brianno's in Eagan. If I want neapolitan, I go up to Punch in St. Paul or Buon Giorno Market in Lilydale if I'm in a hurry. If I want quick NY Style by the slice I go to Cossetta's in downtown St. Paul or Fat Lorenzo's in South Minneapolis (only early in the day -- they tend to lose their appeal as the day goes on). BTW, we don't have a good Chicago deep dish pizza source here. I can't get a spectacular pizza on every corner, but I'm not SOL if I want one. I just have to know where to find it. I have "my" pizza place. Others here have "theirs" (Pizza Nea, Savoy, etc...you'll hear them all).

                  In Chicago, you have 50 places all around town in every neighborhood where you can get a top-quality gyro. Here, we have 50 places to try, and you'll find that 5 of them offer a top-quality gyro. Then, you continue to go there when you want a gyro. That doesn't mean you should stop trying, just that you will come to treasure "your" gyro place.

                  In San Fran and environs, every corner has a James Beard winner/nominee/future nominee using locally-grown/raised ingredients. Here we have a couple that do work on par with great places on the coasts that we then cling to fiercely (Alma, La Belle Vie, Lucia's).

                  You won't find Alinea, WD-50, Per Se or the French Laundry here. You also won't find Topolobampo, Nobu, Matsuhisa, Morimoto, Jean-Georges or Masa (the extravagant NY one...we have a wannabe-Bayless place called Masa here).

                  But, you can go to a JGV place (Chambers Kitchen) and order ambitiously, or to Puck's 20.21, or get the tasting menu at Fugaise or La Belle Vie and you won't be disappointed (especially since you'll have paid 1/2 to 1/4 of what you'd shell out at the big city places).

                  You'll discover, in the cities, really fun and delicious neighborhood places. The Birchwood, Riverview, Longfellow Grill, My-T-Fine Cafe, Colossal Cafe, Heartland, Hot Plate, and others you'll hear about or discover. Satisfying bakeries (Rustica in S. Minneapolis should be a first stop, then Turtle Bread Co., Franklin St. Bakery, Cupcake, and others to explore) and a half dozen amazing ice cream joints. But again, they're not ubiquitous like in big cities. Get a great road map, dig deep into this board and start putting dots on the map. Taqueria here, burger joint there, gyros place, bakery, ice cream, etc. Even the suburbs have something to offer.

                  You'll find that you can eat very well and satisfy MOST (not all) of your cravings if you really want to. Not any time, any place but you'll learn to plan accordingly.

                  One last thing...along those lines. I've found that, on this particular board, if you ask "where's a good place to eat with friends for $25 per person" your results will be scattered and disappointing. If you ask "where can I find a great (insert food or type of food here)" you'll usually spark a lively conversation that will lead you to exactly what you're looking for. It may be clear across town, but that's how things go around here.

                  Again, welcome and we look forward to your joining in on our "little group" here!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MSPD

                    How does Duplex in Uptown (if you have been) compare with most Mpls restaurants?
                    I was there and thought it was average....

                    1. re: kellybeegee

                      I think Duplex is average as well. I liked the atmosphere and the food was fine but in the uptown neighborhood I would choose Lucia's, Campiello, Pizza Nea or Cafe Barbette over duplex any day.

                  2. Welcome!

                    As a recent’ish transplant from another chowish city, I can assure you you will not go hungry. There is wonderful chow available in the Twin Cities as long as you are willing to explore and occasionally get in your car and drive across town(s) (both of them.)

                    I have found it helpful to remind myself (often) that the strengths and weaknesses of this town aren’t the same as the town I moved from. There are some things I really miss about my home town (friends and family more than chow, frankly), but I stock up on and pig out on those things when I go home for visits; but I’ve been introduced (frequently by other chowhounds) to some new things I’ve learned to love, too, and that I’d miss if I moved away from here. I still have plenty of learning and exploring to go, of course, but exploration and discovery is the essence of being a chowhound, I think.

                    You’ve already tapped into one great resource –Chowhound—and the replies you’ve already received in this thread thus far are from folks who have earned their chow credentials living in and traveling in other cities and/or thoroughly exploring the Twin Cities. Other resources that I’ve found helpful are City Pages (Dara, the food writer, is a multi-time winner of the James Beard award for food writing) –her reviews come out on Weds http://citypages.com/ I also like this resource, which is a consolidator, I guess, of the local critics’ reviews and restaurant news for the week. http://wtle-minneapolis-stpaul.blogsp... they seem to do their posts on Tuesdays. I don’t always agree with the critics, but reading them does give you a sense of the food trends in town.

                    There is a stretch along Nicollet in Minneapolis nicknamed Eat Street that has many restaurants, almost all casual, of a variety cuisines. Not all of them are great, but some are, and it’s fun to explore: http://www.eatstreetminneapolis.com/

                    There is a stretch along University Avenue in St. Paul from the Capitol to a little beyond Snelling Avenue that is packed with all kinds of eateries, particularly Southeast Asian, but others, too, that is fun to explore. It is a bit "scruffy" to borrow an expression from another poster, though slightly out of context, if I might, but it's where a lot of recent immigrants have set up their shops. The Twin Cities have had a huge influx of Hmong and Somalis in recent years and our dining scene definitely reflects that. Here’s a recent’ish thread (with links to some other recent’ish threads) about University Avenue. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/389014 Here's another important University Avenue thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/306116

                    We have a new’ish Market called “Midtown Global Market” that features all kinds of small mom and pop food stands and specialty grocers featuring a variety of cuisines that is fun to explore. http://midtownglobalmarket.org/

                    The stretch of Lake Street from about 2nd Ave (to the West) to a little beyond Cedar (to the East) is a lot of fun—packed, again, with lots of eateries, including, but not limited to, Mexican. (Including the fantastic Mercado Central—a Mexican market.) Lake Street, too, is a bit "scruffy", but there is a lot going on there. To get you started, here’s a thread from this spring on a taqueria crawl we did along Lake Street. We didn’t get very far…so much more exploring yet to do! http://www.chowhound.com/topics/384857

                    We have a reasonable variety of farmers markets, coops, good grocery stores and specialty retailers. Here’s a recent post to get you started. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/439171

                    And this pdf list, maintained by one of our Duluth ‘hounds, is quite the kick. He isn’t necessarily recommending these places, but simply listing out places he eventually wants to try: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/41220...

                    Please do come join us here on the Midwest board and share your thoughts and discoveries with us. We're a friendly bunch.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. What I think is cool about Minneapolis/St Paul & at least the first ring suburbs is that the food is almost neighborhood-y. Someone wants to open a little restaurant of their own favorite foods (cafe-style, or some latin american type is becoming more common) & they try it in a neighborhood.

                      On the other hand, there's other areas in Minneapolis/St Paul offer like 10 restaurants w.in 10 blocks that offer the same menu. Each with a little different recipe.. it's kinda fun to taste which you like best. Mostly mexican on E Lake & Asian on Eat Street or University in St Paul, and Indian up on Central. It's fun to explore :)

                      Which section of town are you actually living in the area? With that we can give you a heads up at neighborhoody places to explore & which chains they top.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: reannd

                        I am thinking we will settle in South Minneapolis.
                        A couple of years ago we went to a place two blocks from my husband's parents called "Grand Bakery". It is closed now, but it did give me a glimpse into the nieghborhood rest scene there. I really liked it, too bad it closed...

                        1. re: kellybeegee

                          Actually, the place was previously called "Bakery on Grand" (although the old sign didn't match the name). They did close, but have reopened under different ownership (go the the website below and click on the "news" links to get up to speed on the changes). It's still well-regarded although I don't have enough personal experience to qualify as an authority.

                          www.grandcafempls.com

                          1. re: kellybeegee

                            You'll be glad to hear that they're open again! Grand Cafe is the name now. The original owner sold the place to some staff members; they're still turning out great food.

                            Web site: http://www.grandcafempls.com/

                            1. re: kellybeegee

                              You'll be right near Victor's 1959 - great Cuban breakfasts, but like Al's in Dinkytown it's always crowded.

                              1. re: Loren3

                                ooh ooh, you're lucky. tons of neighborhood joints in the south :) depends on which side of 35W you'll be on as to whether things are walkable in wintertime, but you'll have fun regardless. we live just south of there in richfield (cheaper property tax!) ;) - but tend to go that direction for food :) houses are cool, too.. but more airport noise, watch out for that.

                                1. re: reannd

                                  I really liked Victor's but HATED the Bad Waitress

                              2. re: kellybeegee

                                Great. I'm glad you'll be living in the neighborhood. One thing we do have in MSP is a food writer who is too good for us. Dara in the City Pages you can check out her columns on line and hopefully put to rest your fears of moving here. http://articles.citypages.com/2007-09...
                                My favorite spots in So. Mpls are
                                bakeries: Rustica & Turtle bread
                                Neighborhood chef-driven: Corner Table and First Course
                                Italian inspired: Broder's and Al Vento
                                That being said while there are plenty of good places to eat here and we have a pretty good representation of most cuisines except Italian you will probably suffer from a little lack of variety. While in Manhattan you can probably find excellent choices for every type of cuisine within walking distance, here you might have to drive across town for the one place that fits your needs.

                                1. re: mnitchals

                                  there seems to be no shortage of bakeries and sweets in Mpls!!
                                  Seems one would be able to find a place to appease their sweet tooth quite easily....

                                  1. re: kellybeegee

                                    You must be referring to what John Kessler of the AJC calls our "culture of pastry."

                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/44197...

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      Funny, but no I did not read that article...I just noticed the great supply of coffeehousee and/or bakeries on lamost every corner or block.

                                      1. re: kellybeegee

                                        Exactly! I think it's fascinating that two "outsiders" noticed the same phenomenon about the availability of bakeries and baked goods.

                                        ~TDQ

                            2. No mentions of Thai yet...any recommendations on MSP Thai Rests??

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: kellybeegee

                                True Thai on East Franklin has the best (deep fried) spring rolls I've ever had. Tum Rup Thai in Uptown is my second favorite.

                                1. re: kellybeegee

                                  Thai Bazil in St Paul is the most authentic.

                                  It's not fancy, but it's cheap & tasty.. and really nice folks run it.

                                  Arrival of food can be a little slow, but it's because they make things like baked fish in banana leaves from scratch - it takes a bit of time.

                                  Best Tom Yum around, and really good seafood salad. Actually we've tried close to 20 things on their menu and haven't had a bad one yet. Even their fried rice is amazing (almost smokey, they've got the best-seasoned wok around!)

                                  They have a unique offering I have yet to find around town - a whole section of their menu focused on Laos-style food (Thai-Isaan). It's wonderful.

                                  There's a bunch of others... but I'll leave that to the team =)

                                  1. re: reannd

                                    I second Thai Bazil as a good place to go. At the same time, I like a dive on Selby - Taste of Thailand - for their pad thai and their excellent spring rolls. They also serve decent curries, but again, spotty service - they seem to work in "batches".

                                  2. re: kellybeegee

                                    I've always enjoyed King & I thai as well - downtown behind the hyatt. Fun drinks as well....

                                    1. re: kellybeegee

                                      Other board favorites include Amazing Thailand (in Uptown) and Chai Thai on the West Bank (Cedar-Riverside).