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Feb 18, 2012 05:25 PM

Visit to Minneapolis

I'm going to be in Minneapolis March 15-18. Are there any food specialties I have to try? Any restaurants? Not looking for fancy, more special locals' spots and dishes. Thanks.

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    1. re: Brad Ballinger

      Thanks, Brad. I did see that thread. I asked my question inartfully. What I was asking about was more directed toward specialty dishes than particular restaurants. I'm from Philadelphia. If someone asked me the question I was trying to ask about Philly, I would say something like,
      "Well, you can't come to Philly and not have a cheesesteak. Stay away from "the usual suspects," Pat's and Geno's. You could do much better at John's or Chubby's which are both out of the way but are much better cheesesteaks. You also want to try scrapple in Philly so be sure to go to the Reading Terminal and have a seat at the Pennsylvania Dutch Counter. Great scrapple, perfectly made and priced right. Try their blueberry pancakes too. Delicious."

      I'm kind of looking for similar tips for the Twin Cities area. Hope this helps. And thanks!

      1. re: FoodProfessor

        Well, some would say you should try a Jucy Lucy, a cheese-stuffed burger which is a local specialty. Where to get one is a bit of a sticky wicket... top contenders might be Matt's Bar, the Nook, or the Blue Door Pub.

        Also the wild rice porridge at Hell's Kitchen might qualify. MN produces lots of wild rice, and the HK version is rich and delicious.

        There are more Somalis living in Minnesota than anywhere else in the US, so maybe some Somali food?

        And Vietnamese food is definitely abundant and great here....

        But there's not really anything that's equivalent to cheesesteak in terms of local foodstuffs, I'd say.

        1. re: mtullius

          Thanks! I think you've caught the spirit of my question. The wild rice porridge sounds like a winner.
          Where do I go for Somali food and what should I try? Thanks!

          1. re: mtullius

            Minneapolis/St. Paul also is home to more Hmong (a southeastern-Asian mountain-dwelling people) than anyplace else in the U.S. Hmong cooking uses many of the same ingredients as Vietnamese or Laotian cooking, but still remains different. A visit to the Hmongtown Marketplace on Como Avenue is one of the unique things one can do in St. Paul and will be well worth a couple of hours of your time. There is a "food court" that serves "real" Hmong food and even just browsing the booths is an adventure. There is a similar marketplace called Hmong Village on the east side of St. Paul; Hmongtown will be easier for you to get to from South St. Paul.

            Oh, and I guess we can't forget lutefisk (though some might want to). It's much harder to find in restaurants outside of the Christmas holiday season. Maybe that doesn't matter :-) . If you're really interested, say so and I'm sure fellow 'hounds will let you know where to find it year-round.

            1. re: steve_in_stpaul

              If you want to try Somali food, go to Hamdi on Lake Street in Minneapolis and order the goat. It will be a no-frills cultural experience.

              Similarly, I also second (or third or whatever) one of the Hmong markets (in St. Paul), which tend to be lively during the day and pretty sleepy in the evenings. (Good choices: the Hmong sausage, Lao style papaya salad, stuffed chicken wings, BBQ ribs, or those bubble tea drinks/desserts. I never remember what they are called.)

              I also second (or third or whatever) the Wild Rice Porridge (very heavy cream base, beware!) at Hells Kitchen in downtown MInneapolis, as well as their bison sausage bread. What's unique about the wild rice at Hell's Kitchen is that it's the lake-grown, hand-harvested rice (ie., not cultivated) , which is pretty special.

              If you're totally into bison and other (apparently tremendously lame) local foodstuffs, Fire Lake in downtown Minneapolis appears to be having a bit of a bison-o-rama right now They also serve Red Lake Walleye (very hard to find) and Native Wild rice. A giant walleye is what every good Minnesotan dreams of bringing home after fishing one of our 10,000 lakes... There are all kinds of restrictions on fishing commercially for walleye in MN which means most of the walleye served in restaurants is Canadian, but the Red Lake Band is allowed to fish walleye commercially. Fire Lake isn't the most celebrated restaurant in the Twin Cities, but they do do a pretty good job of showcasing some of the food that is raised locally. Might be on the "fancy" side for you...

              If you want your two worlds to collide, you could try the Bison Philly Sandwich at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. I've never tried it there... They do a lot of local sourcing at BLB, but they probably aren't the ones who do it best in the Twin Cities so if you're interested in that sort of thing, let us know and we can steer you in that direction. (Heartland Deli, Lucia's Cafe, Birchwood Cafe, etc..).

              If you feel like you just can't leave MN without lutefisk, Ingebretsens Scandinavian Gifts on Lake Street in Minneapolis has an odd little adjoining deli with all kinds of Scandi treats and usually has lutefisk in their freezer. You'd have to prepare it yourself. The deli is a hoot to peruse. You can usually get pickled herring there, too. Ingebretsen's sister cafe in Midtown Global Market (also on Lake Street in Minneapolis) usually has lefse in their sweets case (as well as lutefisk in their freezer.) They often have pickled herring, too.

              I've not had it there, but Bachelor Farmer restaurant (on the fancy side) in Minneapolis has both pickled herring and smoked lake trout on their menu. The smoked Lake (Superior) trout is hard to find in the Twin CIties, especially this time of year (out of season), but the Wedge grocery co-op claims to have it year-round and their food is always really good. I think Coastal Seafoods (fishmonger) has smoked lake trout, too. They have locations in both Mpls and St. Paul and I'd call ahead and ask...

              If you want to experience the family-friendly neighborhood bar culture of MN, which was astonishing to me when I moved to MN, you could go to a place like the Nook in St. Paul, order a(n incredibly lame) cheese-stuffed burger known locally as a "jucy lucy" or a "juicy lucy" and hand-cut fries. I don't particularly like the grease-o-rama cheese-stuffed burgers at the Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, but they do have a terrific beer list and another (probably lame too) typical bar menu item, deep fried cheese curds. I hadn't personally had fried cheese curds before coming to MInnesota. (Look out for frickles--deep fried pickles--on various bar menus around town, too).

              If you really wanted a local experience, though the food is not necessarily spectacular, you could go to an all you can eat fish fry, since it looks like you'll be here on a Friday during Lent. Personally, I prefer the fish fries that take place in church basements, but here's a listing of commercial fish fries, many of which do capture the proper spirit:

              El Burrito Mercado. Fine Mexican food, not amazing if you're used to great Mexican food. Unless you have a craving or it's super convenient (I see you'll be in South St. Paul, so it might be), I wouldn't go out of my way for it. Saigon in St. Paul just changed owners and I'd might venture to say the jury is still out. Ngon in St. Paul is the interesting intersection of "local sourcing" and South East Asian food. They have a great beer list. They are also pretty inconsistent, but when they are "on" you'll be glad you went.

              Izzy's ice cream cafe in St. Paul has some lovely house-made ice cream.

              If you want to experience the kind of wild rice soup everyone would have a potluck in their homes, you can buy it "to go" from Lunds or Byerly's grocery store.

              I've found Pearson's salted nut rolls hard to find outside of the Midwest, but they are made in St. Paul and can be found in candy machines and convenience stores all over MN.

              Kramarczuk's Deli in Minneapolis has some really awesome cream cheese or poppy seed kolaches. They've got good sausages, too, but it's the kolaches that call to me.

              Local (from either MN or WI) cheeses would be something to look out for, too.

              I feel like I'm forgetting something, but I can't remember what it is...


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                "I feel like I'm forgetting something, but I can't remember what it is... "


                1. re: MSPD

                  Nope, I wasn't forgetting Surly, but I'm glad you mentioned it. We are very proud of our Surly beer. Lots of other local beers here, too, but Surly is white hot right now. Many people on this board know way more than me about it though.

                  What I forgot was a brief discussion of "hot dish". If you listen to Prairie Home Companion, you're probably wondering about it. It's real, but not something you'd find at a restaurant. It's something you'd find at a church potluck. But...
                  Haute Dish in Minneapolis serves it ironically. I've noticed Bulldog Bar in St. Paul (and perhaps their other locations, too, I don't honestly know), has tater tot hot dish on its lunch menu. If you really must. I haven't tried their hot dish, but the food's actually not bad there. If you're going to be in Lowertown St. Paul, do stop in at Heartland's deli even if you don't end up dining at the restaurant.

                  Have fun and please report back.

                  Oh, MSPD, can you talk about that Somali place in Burnsville? Ramadan I think it's called?


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I guess I'm forbidden by the Chowhound powers that be to post a link to a blog with a writeup about Ramadan.

                    Anyway, as I said in a comment before it was moderated out, Ramadan is not is Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi. I'd post the restaurant's Web site URL, but I fear that, too, will cause my post to be moderated out. Heaven forbid we try and synergize with sources of information outside of here to try and build a better food community. (And, no, I am not promoting my friend's blog simply by linking to it).

                    Ramadan is outstanding, totally under the radar, and some of the best food being put out by any restaurant in Burnsville and the south metro. It's also a great source for meat (the market side). They butcher in-house once a week. You can pretty much get whatever you want and the prices are a steal. They also purchase their beef from local farms (not grass-fed or special breeds, but it's nice to know where your meat is coming from).

                    All in all, I would recommend a visit to anyone even remotely close to Burnsville that likes flavorful food (even the lunch buffet).

                    1. re: MSPD

                      Too funny. Some Somali friends have been talking up Ramadan. That, combined with the name, led me to assume it was a Somali restaurant. But, clearly I was in error! I see that the food is Halal, though, so that aspect would certainly appeal to my Somali friends.


                      Well, one of these days I'd like to check it out. Sounds fascinating!

                      As I understand it, you're not permitted to recommend a friend's blog any more than you would be permitted to recommend a friend's restaurant...


                      1. re: MSPD

                        boy does that sound right up my alley! except the way the *^&%*) out in burnsville aspect. wonder if i can finagle a south metro field trip before gas prices get ridiculous... how about prices/availability of goat and lamb at the butcher's?

                        *quest for the perfect lamb/goat biryani continues*

                    2. re: MSPD

                      Ha ha...Great list TDQ. Maybe Whitey's or Nye's Polonaise Room? Was at Nye's once and a Patsy Cline "sing a like" took over the place!

                      1. re: scoopG

                        Believe it or not, I've never eaten at either of those two places!


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Whitey does a very decent burger and Nye's is only for the kitsch factor!

                    3. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Oh, and expect to wait for a table at either the Nook or Blue Door Pub.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        One can eat in the bowling alley too downstairs. I have never had to wait there, even on a Friday at 12pm.

                        As a side note, they have or at least had a mistake on their menu where the lucy with the most on it was the cheapest....dont know if they fixed it though. I think it had roast beef on it maybe..

                        1. re: brlattim

                          Oh, good to know that you can eat in the bowling alley. I haven't been to the bowling alley since the fire and had forgotten that!


                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                        The smoked lake trout at Cub Foods, of all places, is good and inexpensive. Cub foods in Roseville has it, I'm not sure about other store locations.

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          I had a totally uninspiring dinner at FireLake a month or so ago. Had the elk loin, which was perfectly fine and a new protein for me. But I'd never recommend it to a visitor who's anxious to try out local foods. I don't think you'd have a bad meal there, but when all is said and done, it's a hotel restaurant.

                          1. re: bob s

                            I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree that a restaurant should be discounted simply because it's a hotel restaurant. Some of our most acclaimed restaurants have been hotel restaurants, Cosmos, Porter & Frye... Now, if you think a restaurant should be discounted because you had a bad experience there, I think that's totally fair. On the other hand, I had a good experience there. And I don't know any other restaurant to recommend that routinely carries MN walleye, only Canadian.

                            It sounds like the elk should be avoided, though.

                            If you're thinking the restaurant is somewhat without charm, I agree with that, but Fire Lake does work really hard to feature seasonal and local ingredients. And not just local-esque, but actually local. There are a lot of chef-driven restaurants in the Twin Cities doing the local thing, too, and quite creatively, for sure, but I still think I'd send someone to Fire Lake if they really wanted to try a couple of local food items they couldn't find elsewhere. Probably for lunch, though.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Cosmos and Porter & Frye and (and, to some extent, Manny's and D'Amico Kitchen - although each of them has an audience and reputation that they brought with them to the hotels in which their located) are the exceptions that prove the rule. And I give each of them their due. But for each of those great restaurants, I can name you 3 or 4 hotel restaurants that serve unadventurous meals that are competently prepared and served and that I would never recommend to a visiting person interested in exploring the local food scene. I continue to maintain that, by and large, hotel restaurants in the Twin Cities are generally not destinations meriting much attention.

                              Unfortunately, in my experience (and that of the party that I was with), the end result of Fire Lake falls into this category. I give kudos to the Minneapolis Radisson for trying it. They were at the front edge of the local food movement before it was trendy and that's even more impressive given the size of the organization that surrounds it. It's great that they're trying to feature local foods and regional items that are not generally available. I just wish we were happier with what appeared on our plates.

                              And the elk was not bad. If I was eating there again, I would certainly consider it. But first, I'd see if I could convince my companions to try someplace else nearby instead.

                              1. re: bob s

                                Sorry, for some reason, I misread what you said about the elk.

                                Where would you send someone for MN walleye in the Twin Cities if it was something they wanted to try?


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  I'm not up on where Minnesota-caught walleye is served, so I can't answer that. If someone were set on that I guess Fire Lake would be fine.

                                  But I don't know whether or not having Minnesota walleye instead of Canadian walleye makes much difference from the diner's perspective. (Obviously, there are other reasons why one might want to promote economic prosperity for the Red Lake Band.) Can anyone tell the difference in taste between "domestic" and "imported" walleye (or zander for that matter)?

                                  1. re: bob s

                                    As far as appreciating the finer qualities of "real" MN walleye, I've had it only once, so I don't know if I've had enough data points to draw a conclusion. With one exception, the zander/Canadian walleye I've had hasn't been very good--it's been battered and deep fried to death and drowned in tartar sauce. (I've never had the good fortune to be part of a fishing party that landed a walleye, alas). It makes it pretty hard to compare. The walleye I had at Fire Lake was pretty unadorned. It was nice. But, it's still not that exciting a fish. Very mild.

                                    I can, however, say that I can tell the difference between the "wild" wild rice and the cultivated "wild" rice. So, I wouldn't rule out that a person with a discerning palate could actually appreciate the nuance of MN walleye. I'm not claiming to have such a palate though. :).

                                    But, if you want to try walleye, and you've got one shot, you might wish to know where to get the real thing. Or you can go to Tavern on Grand in St. Paul and get it battered and fried to death... :) (Actually, TOG serves it baked, too.)

                                    I really do understand your point that Fire Lake isn't some charming, exciting chef-driven restaurant. It's nothing too flashy, and it's all very competent. But, you're probably not going home to wherever you came from and rave to your friends about your dinner at Fire Lake. But, if you wanted to try real MN _________ (whatever), you'd do fine at Fire Lake.

                                    If you go to FIre Lake, go to Candyland next door and get some Chicago popcorn mix.


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      P.S. Garrison Keillor once said (paraphrasing) that "pumpkin pie is the epitome of mediocrity"... because "the best pumpkin pie you've ever had just isn't that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you've ever had."

                                      I sometimes wonder if you could substitute "walleye you didn't catch yourself" for "pumpkin pie."


                2. It would help to know what area you'll be staying in, how far you're willing to travel, what kinds of things you like, etc.

                  Without any particular restrictions, I'd say the places you should really try to get to are Ngon Bistro (Vietnamese/French), the Craftsman (mostly local/seasonal American), and Al's Breakfast (eggs, pancakes, etc.). Maybe Bachelor Farmer which is upscale Nordic (I haven't been yet but I hear it's good). Bangkok Thai Deli and Hmongtown if those are cuisines you'd enjoy.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: LiaM

                    Lia, I'll be in South St. Paul. I have car transportation. As for things I like, it would be easier for me to tell you the things I don't like which are calves' liver and whole chickpeas (I do like falaffel and hummus). I can get most cuisines between Philly and New York. I'm looking for what you folks eat in the Twin Cities area I can't get elsewhere. Thanks for the help!

                    1. re: FoodProfessor

                      Maybe some local food? Like Heartland, Lucia's, etc. Do you have a dollars limit?

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Let's assume for the moment that I'm on an expense account so I'm playing with house money. Thanks!

                      2. re: FoodProfessor

                        You should scour the board here then for Vietnamese recs - the Twin Cities offers a much more vibrant Vietnamese scene than NYC or Philly.

                    2. I think Fasika is the best East African restaurant in the Twincities. My favorite is the lamb sampler and the veggie sampler.

                      There's other stuff that which would be considered ethnic favorites but I feel the above is a better value.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: kuan

                        I'll respectfully disagree: Fasika is fine for Ethiopian food, though in my experience it's average at best compared to what one can find in most major metro areas. Somali food is not something I have much experience, but there are places along Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis where one can find some... but I'll let others weigh in on that.

                        Anyway, my point is: if Ethiopian is all we can offer the OP (and not specifically Somali food), I'd just skip it. And if I were determined to have Ethiopian food, I'd go to Flamingo over Fasika in a heartbeat.

                        1. re: mtullius

                          Flamingo? Didn't know it existed. I'll have to give that a try.

                      2. We've had this discussion on here a million times, but it's worth mentioning that this area doesn't have a "defining" cuisine. We have a couple populations (Hmong and east African) that we have the highest per capita presence, but per capita here is still a small number. There are a few other things that people will try and claim as the "Minnesota Dish" (walleye, cheese-stuffed burgers, etc) but they are all tremendously lame.

                        Lutefisk is a very traditional dish that is uncommon around the US, but it's more of a Fall tradition. I can't think of any restaurants that serve it and you certainly wouldn't want to make a meal out of it (and I LOVE it, BTW). It's usually served in family style church suppers with Swedish meatballs, lefse, mashed potatoes, etc.

                        I do concur with the Hmong Marketplaces. They are both reasonably easy to get to from South St. Paul. I'd recommend going to the one on the East Side just for variety sake -- take Hwy 52 north, follow the signs to East 7th Street (going right). Go a couple miles and turn left on Johnson Parkway. It's at 1001 (intersection of Phalen Blvd). 10 minutes tops...don't worry if things look a little warehouse-y/seedy for a bit. Strongly recommend pho (whichever stall looks inviting) and the papaya salad from the stall way down at the end on the right (as you are facing the stalls).

                        The Hmongtown Marketplace on Como, just north of the Capitol, is where I usually go. The Mr. Papaya Kitchen stall makes outstanding pho. It's a little rougher around the edges than the new one on the east side, but still great food.

                        Also very close to there is the Strip Club. This isn't relevatory nor unique from an ingredients perspective (although it is all very nicely sourced including the local grass fed beef), but it is a nice spot, very welcoming, and will give you a good flavor of St. Paul (both literally and figuratively). This is the kind of place I love to find when I'm on business travel.

                        Again, not "unique to MN" but at the intersection of South Robert Street and Cesar Chavez has El Burrito Mercado which is outstanding cafeteria style Mexican (not Americanized) in a grocery store. They also have a sit-down restaurant. Very, very close to South St. Paul.

                        I always recommend folks dismiss trying to find the "unique to Minnesota" foods and just go to the places that are putting out great food.

                        1. I second a Jucy Lucy. If you can go on an "off" time, I'd definitely try the Blue Door and get some tots or deep fried greenbeans or pickle cheese. For Vietnamese, I'd go to Ngon and get some pho or Bun but if you're on a budget, perhaps Saigon. I'm not sure if you like Korean; there are a few good places. As for local meats, I wholeheartedly recommend taking part in this unique area where you can get some really good meats. I've had a great potted meat/rillete at the Sample Room which also has some delish root veggies and cheeses and Brasa has a great local meat menu too. I would pair a Surly Furious or cynic beer or a Crispin. I've had a great meal at Maritage and Tampopo is a favorite as well, both in St. Paul. For a lunch, I recommend the Birchwood or Namaste. I think the Twin Cities has a strength in small local sourced good food restaurants and great Vietnamese/Hmong. Have fun!