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MSP: Best of the Best

Hey Minnesotans! How about them vikings?


I'm a transplanted 'Sotan living in NYC. Since moving here I've become pretty obsessed with food and am on a constant lookout for the best food in NY. At any rate, I'll be in Minnesota over the holidays and I realized that not having lived in MN since I was in college, I don't really have any idea what restaurants are considered the cream of the crop in the MSP area.

I'm looking for places that strive in imagination and flavor, not necessarily the overly expensive steakhouse type restaurants. New American cuisine, any sort of ethnic cuisine (excluding sushi)....really ANYTHING. I was trying to think of a place to get dinner with some friends when I get in and I came up with nothing...because I've never been anywhere except bars and the occasional Chinese restaurant.

At any rate, thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. Do a Midwest board search for "jfood". He's been hitting all of the "best of the best" and doing thoughtful and thorough reviews.

    My list would be similar, and for various reasons:

    112 Eatery
    Strip Club

    In "finer dining", La Belle Vie and Fugaise. Porter & Frye in the Hotel Ivy is somewhere in between.

    Saffron should be in there as well as Heartland for locally cultivated food.

    That would be my starting point anyway.

    1. New American in its most midwestern form available at Heartland in St Paul, which has been consistent and excellent, or The Craftsman in Minneapolis (though not far from st paul) which has been very good, but somewhat less consistently so - though im gonna stick my neck out and say they have the best french fries in town, and they compliment nicely a pretty great array of high end burgers and sandwiches.

      1. I'd add Heidi's to the list but make a reservation.

        If you want something you can't get in NYC consider going to Moto-i. It's the only sake brewpub outside of Japan and the food is pan-asian not sushi.

        1. Also add Restaurant Alma for fine dining, Fasika for Ethiopian, and Quang or Jasmine Deli for Vietnamese.

          1. 112 eatery hands down. I'm a brooklynite who spent weekdays the last year and a half working in MSP and 112 eatery actually outranked many of my favorites in nyc. Get the foie gras meatballs w/tagliatelle.

            Also, the sushi was an excellent surprise. If you are adventurous, I recommend doing omakase at the sushi bar at fuji ya in Uptown. If matthew is working (tall, young, ponytail on top of his head) you are in for a treat.

            1. alma & mertiage would be at the top of my list....

              and the bar at WA frost as well (you can order off of the regular menu) I enjoy the bar area more than the patio and the regular dining rooms.

              Heartland as well - I've never eaten in the main room, but the wine bar has a smaller menu - but you can order off of both.


              1. and I nonni in lilydale - excellent. New Italian American

                1 Reply
                1. re: St Paul Susie

                  I considered I Nonni as I like it alot. However, I decided to leave it off the list because NYC has such a healthy group of outstanding Italian places that really blow I Nonni out of the water.

                  I know the same can be said for the cuisine of the places I did mention, but when I factored in their atmosphere, service, highlighting of ingredients, and other considerations, I figured they would have appeal.

                2. Nordeast: Brasa (very simple, well sourced, well prepared, great indication of where the Midwest might actually be going), followed by a stiff drink at Nye's.

                  Uptown: Lucia's (bedrock local foods well before the band wagon).

                  St. Paul: Heartland or Heartland Wine Bar (not even trying to be coastal, great dedication).

                  MinneapNYCwannabe: 112 Eatery (fun and very accessible affordable menu).

                  1. In the last year, I think Heartland and Alma would be my two choices. Saffron wouldn't be far behind.

                    * Disclaimer - I haven't been to a lot of the other places listed.

                    1. Heartland hands down. Local organic cuisine that is just fabulous. Just ate there last weekend and it was amazing. (2 people with bottle of wine $150)

                      112 eatery if you want something a bit more casual. Again, inventive creations that are great. (2 people with bottle of wine $100)

                      If you are into a really nice, but expensive dinner., you will not be disapointed with La Belle Vie. (2 people with bottle of wine $300)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: beezbaby

                        I don't think there's a better meal in Minnesota than La Belle Vie, but for more reasonably priced fare, 112, Alma, Heartland, Meritage never disappoint.

                      2. Meritage, Solera and the 112 are my all time favorites

                        1. Most of the good high-end restaurants in town are mentioned. I agree with the hounds. The only one that seems to be missing is Vincent.

                          La Belle Vie, Alma, Vincent, Porter & Frye (I've been to these in the last year and they're good restaurants in the $50-$100 / person + drinks range).

                          I hear good stuff about 112, Craftsman and Fugaise and would like to try them.

                          Some other less expensive places you might like to try in Minnesota:

                          1. Punch Pizza
                          2. Grand Cafe
                          3. The Modern
                          4. Tea House 2 (over by 3M HQ)
                          5. Satay 2 Go (down in Apple Valley/Lakeville)
                          6. Los Ocampos at Lake and Chicago
                          7. Dong Yang (consistent work by those Korean grandmothers)

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: JimGrinsfelder


                            Please take no offense -- do you think Punch Pizza, Tea House and Satay 2 Go would be at all interesting to a bonafide Chowhound from NYC? Keep in mind I really like those places, recommend them often and definitely agree that they are noteworthy for visitors from most places in the U.S. But NYC has such a wealth of great pizza, including neapolitan, Chinese and pan-Asian, I'm not sure they fall into the "Best of the Best". I don't know...maybe I'm off base.


                            1. re: kasiav

                              msp's great vietnamese restaurants, better than nyc's according to a. bourdain, on the other hand. . .

                              honorable mention to the scads of good mexican taquerias and bakeries, and msp's ethiopian restaurants, as these may be something a visitor might want to really check out and tell food-minded friends at home about. and some of the most interesting local foods cooking in the country is happening in msp right now-- heartland, craftsman, lucia's, alma, etc. have all been mentioned.

                              bagels, pizza, jewish delis. . . yeah, we're not even running those races with nyc LOL ;-P

                              1. re: kasiav

                                Shifting to the other side of the coin from my first response to Jim...I will say this...Punch Pizza (the original location on Cleveland in St. Paul) does make an outstanding pizza and *compares favorably in it's genre* (carefully worded) to other neapolitan pizzas nationwide. Simple, excellent quality ingredients, high standards for consistency and at a good price.

                                My point was that it wouldn't be notable to someone seeking our "Best of the Best", factoring in uniqueness. It's great for what it is, and would make for an enjoyable meal even for a New Yorker but wouldn't serve as a highlight of their culinary life.

                                1. re: kasiav

                                  With all due respect, I don't think anyone is arguing that MSP is going to beat out NYC oeverall in terms of restaurant quality. NYC is without question one of the top five food cities in the world -- no one is disputing that.

                                  That said, the original poster asked for good food in MSP. They didn't say they didn't want to eat if similar but better food was available in NYC . You can argue that there is better pizza in NYC than that served at Punch; I'm sure there is. Does that mean that no New Yorker could ever enjoy Punch pizza? I would hope not, because there is plenty of lousy pizza in New York as well. (Not to mention that we're not comparing apples to apples -- brick oven pizza is another category from standard NY thin pizza. Personally, If I have a choice, I'm taking Chicago style over brick oven or an NY slize any day of the week.)

                                  Long story short: we get there are better restaurants in NYC than those posted by Jim. I'm betting Jim knows that, too. But there is little point in saying you can get better food in NYC.

                                  1. re: MSPD


                                    No offense taken.

                                    I don't claim any restaurant in the Twin Cities is better than the best in the same category in NYC. If that's the bar we need to clear to recommend a place here, I don't think La Belle Vie or any other restaurant in the Twin Cities fits the criteria.

                                    The OP was asking for recommendations constrained to the Twin Cities. Since the OP asked for some that weren't overly expensive and the prior recommendations seemed skewed to the fine dining/expensive dining category, I thought I'd throw in some place that I think are good everyday places in the Twin Cities.

                                    Oh, and before you dis the Tea House 2 compared to Szechuan in NYC, I had a good meal at one of the top Szechuan chowhound board contenders in NYC (the one on 39th street, the name escapes me atm). It was a very good meal, but it did not make Tea House 2 look all that bad by comparison.

                                    1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                                      (Not that anyone in this thread is arguing that we should), I don't think we have to roll-over and die just because we're not NYC or Toronto, but whose to say that the best carnitas in the U.S. and Canada at this very moment can't be along Lake Street in Minneapolis or that the best bowl of pho can't be found on Eat Street in Minneapolis or on University Avenue in St. Paul? I think we have at least a couple little ethnic restaurants that could hold their own against the best of the best in NYC or L.A. or Chicago or Toronto or S.F... Say, one or two of the Mexican or Vietnamese or Somali spots. When money isn't the differentiator, I think we can compete. While we may not have dozens in each category, but we've certainly got one or two.

                                      These other cities can beat the Twin Cities hands down on breadth and volume, but I would be proud to take my friends from those cities to a number of spots along Lake Street (included Los Ocampo, that Jim recommended above) in Minneapolis, for instance.

                                      We even have a few restaurants that offer cuisines that are hard to find in those other places. Go find the "Man Eats World" guy who posted on the LA Board about how many days he could go eating a new cuisine every day. Look at the lists of cuisines he hit (over a hundred) and then figure out how many more he could have hit if he'd worked in a trip to the Twin Cities. At least a few, I think.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Sri Lankan. We had The Curry Leaf deli on grand ave. in St. Paul. When it was hitting on all cylinders, it was the most amazing food. And not expensive. They said we had the only two Sri Lankan restaurants in the USA back then (1990's).

                                      2. re: JimGrinsfelder

                                        Thanks Jim.

                                        Yes, the thought behind my original post was less about NYC quality, but rather pointing towards experiences, atmospheres, ingredients, specific menu offerings etc. that are more rare elsewhere in the country.

                                        I think everyone's suggestions and comments along the thread have been excellent and all hopefully very helpful in johnsofats' quest.

                                    2. re: JimGrinsfelder

                                      Seeing that my post was deleted (considered a violation because I disagreed/dissed :) MSP pizza?) I do just want to restate for the record that many on the list above can be and are done pretty well in NYC and might want to be skipped. I ONLY bring up this counter point because I think it is important to be informed about a differing perspective from someone (yes, just one) person who has eaten in both NYC and MSP. It also may help to call out specific dishes, ie the vietnamese pho above (save the bahn mi eating for nyc, though).

                                      As a food fan and a frequent traveller, if I am visiting a place for a short amount of time, nothing bums me out more than eating somewhere that a local recommends as really awesome or a place that I should check out before leaving and realizing that the food there really isn't any different (or worse yet, poor in comparison) to restaurants I can eat at any day. Punch pizza was specifically one of those places I was told I 'had' to eat at in MSP - it was not bad pizza at all, but I kind of felt like it was a waste of a meal I could have spent checking out somewhere really special to the city, you know?

                                      That being said, it is a great point that there are also some amazing ethnic genres in MSP that really should be tried that new york really doesn't do - Somali and Sri Lankan being two right off the top of my head and are detailed more below. Just wanted to throw in my hopefully constructive criticism.

                                      1. re: kasiav

                                        I must playfully assert that you are full of carp.

                                        Since The Curry Leaf shut down years ago, the remaining Sri Lankan in Mpls is sub-par. The Somali here is easily topped in NYC.

                                        And Punch holds up to the best Neapolitan pizza in NYC.

                                        And none of that is relevant because the original poster is asking where to eat in MSP, not where to eat in MSP that's better than NYC. And it's a good thing because there are quite probably no places to eat in MSP that can't be topped by a similar place in NYC. That doesn't mean nothing in MSP is good, but you can find as good or better in NYC. So what? The fact that NYC has something better in the same category does you absolutely no good if you happen to be in MSP at the time.

                                        Next time you're in NYC and you're feeling like Broders is top-notch, stop in at Di Palo's and get some dry sausages. OMG, it's so good. I filled a small suitcase with it to bring home and ate it all in like 3 weeks (I'm kinda fat).

                                        1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                                          hahaha fair enough. We can agree to disagree on the pizza :)

                                          I will say for the price point I was amazed with my MSP sushi experience. I really can't replicate the experiences I had at Fuji-Ya in NYC, and have kind of been ruined forever. lol.

                                          But that's the big difference - in my mind, I do think that there are restaurants in MSP that ARE better than what you can find in NYC when you factor in the prices with the quality of food. Of course there will always be a Gramercy Tavern or Per Se with amazing food, but when the check comes at La Belle Vie or 112 Eatery, its kind of a steal in comparison.

                                          Also, re: your comment about somali in NYC, can you elaborate? I haven't had anything great in my area and was pretty impressed with the dishes I had in MSP that some Somali friends had recommended. Now that I'm working back on the East coast I'd love to find something comparable.

                                          Edit: ha - oops. Just reread the initial post. My sushi plug is completely irrelevant :)

                                          1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                                            "The Somali here is easily topped in NYC."

                                            I did a search for "somali restaurant" in New York and I only found one. There are probably at least a dozen Somali places in Minneapolis. Unless one of the apparently few Somali restaurants in NYC is extremely good, I find that a hard claim to believe.

                                        2. re: JimGrinsfelder

                                          Punch is Chipolte with a wood oven, and without the food ethics. I'm not saying either is low quality. Both are true to their missions and consistent overall, but you can find many restaurants with more personality, individualized flair, and better grub. Brasa for instance. You can also find a lot of restaurants with lots of flair and crummy food so let the buyer beware....

                                        3. Izzy's ice cream is also a must

                                          Really excellent.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: St Paul Susie

                                            I am a New Orleans transplant, and a total foodie! I have been exploring lots of places since I have lived here-2 years. My main beef is consistency here. But there are some good finds that will not disappoint.
                                            1. Meritage, St Paul. Nice atmosphere, huge windows overlooking wonderful holiday lights. Fabulous non-stuffy French fare, with great service. A lovely low key bistro feel.

                                            2. Ngon, st Paul. Also mellow atmosphere, great French-vietanmese fusion.

                                            3. La belle vie-Sit in the bar area for a less stuffy atmosphere. The food is wonderful, the best in Mpls.
                                            4. 112 eatery also a fav. can be hit or miss.
                                            5. Broders pasta bar, I have only tried it once, but had great fresh pasta. Had a lamb lasagna with mint and a creamy tomato sauce. Simple but delicious.

                                            good luck!

                                            others....for lunch, I really like Barbette in uptown. Great Keish! I also really like Brasa, for good soul food/south american fare. Very mellow but good food.

                                          2. Jfood would have to listthe following as his favorites, in no particular order

                                            - Alma
                                            - 112 Eatery
                                            - Meritage
                                            - Nonni

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              going to 112 for the first time tomorrow night. any recommendations?

                                              heard great things about the burger, the prawns and the cauliflower fritters.

                                              1. re: DukeFan

                                                My favorites to date are the gnocchi, the tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs, the lamb scottaditto, and the butterscotch budino. That's one of the best desserts on planet Earth.

                                                1. re: DukeFan

                                                  Oops missed this one sorry.

                                                  foie gras meatballs are the best - half order
                                                  gnocchi are out of sight
                                                  steak is to die for especially if you use the wasabi
                                                  burger (plus fires) is the best so far in MSP
                                                  lamb chop app

                                                  and that's from a Hoya who is not a big fan of Duke but contributes to the cancer research.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    thanks for the recommendations. we went last night. will be posting the full review in another thread

                                              2. I know it's out of favor on this list and I've been dissed for mentioning it before, but Solera is still my favorite place in town and it's cheap. You can eat quick and casual or a full long meal and it's excellent food.

                                                My other favorites concord with others on the list including yes Punch pizza, quanq vietnamese, fasika ethiopian....
                                                I don't agree with 112 though - it's fun but I don't get what the fuss is about.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: stpaulbreadman

                                                  I really like Solera and have had nothing but good experiences there. I appreciate that they shake up their menu from time to time.

                                                2. As someone who grew up in Saint Paul and is now living in Brooklyn, I will say that yes, New York City has absurd amounts of wonderful food. We also live very proximate to Queens, so overindulge in said ethnic foods all the time. However, two foods we find to be better in Minnesota are Mexican and Vietnamese. Those are two regions where MN has got NY beat. We particularly love Los Ocampos for tacos and tortas, and Quang for pho. The finer dining in MSP is not as interesting to me as those places are everywhere in NYC, but we do go to the Midtown Global Market every time we are in town.