Things you should know about me: I love running my own photography business and I also love food. My husband is a food writer, and together we have documented the food and drink in the Upper Midwest by creating books including Lake Superior Flavors and The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin and many other local and national publications.
Besides that, I lived in Boston for several years, and routinely have friends visit from all over the country, so we take special pride in finding the restaurants and experiences that showcase the awesome food being created in the Twin Cities right now, from haute cuisine to local mom-and-pop shops.
I deeply want the Twin Cities to be showcased at their best. When you have friends and family in town for your wedding (or whenever), here are my top picks for where to send them to lunch (or a casual bite anytime).
Where to send your guests to lunch: Most casual
You walk into a Korean grocery store, go down the middle aisles, turn left, and when you are sure you have the wrong place, you will find an arched entrance to Dong Yang, the best Korean restaurant in the cities. Tasty, casual, friendly, and a little unexpected. Bring a sense of adventure. – they don’t have a website, but check out a great write on Dong Yang up here and their address is 735 45th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55421
The Twin Cities area has a huge Vietnamese and Hmong population, and we have the restaurants to prove it. You can find excellent choices all along University Avenue in St Paul, but I prefer iPho – the name is easy to remember, the service is fast and friendly, and the menus are simple – pho, banh mi, and lots of bubble tea options. Note: even the small bowl of pho is pretty darn big, so don’t think about ordering the jumbo unless you don’t need to eat the rest of the weekend. http://iphomn.com/
World Street Kitchen and Milkjam
This is always the right choice – it started as a food truck run by one of the best fine-dining chefs in Minneapolis, and is now the perfect location for high-flavor foods and some of the friendliest service you will find. Their food is food truck-style fusion – rice bowls, lettuce wraps, burritos, with flavorful mayos and hot kim chi. When you are done eating, head next door to their ice cream parlor Milkjam. You might not expect any of the flavors showcased at this super hip ice cream shop but you won’t regret any of them. Make sure to get “Black” – it’s a dark cocoa ice cream that is a visual black hole or EVV (extra virgin vanilla), a creamy take on your childhood favorite. https://www.eatwsk.com/
The Naughty Greek is a only a year or so old, but they are making simple, tasty Mediterranean fare from scratch in their totally casual spaces (in St Paul and Minneapolis). The gyro-style sandwiches on fresh warm bread are fantastic, the desserts are crazy good, and the Greek salad is excellent. http://www.thenaughtygreek.com/
Soul food in the twin cities can be a fraught topic, but there is an authentic resurgence happening and you would do yourself right to get some grits and anything with sausage at Funky Grits. Its comfortable and a little minimal. The food is excellent and not at all fussy. The grits are actually grits (something hard to find in Minneapolis). https://www.funkygrits.com/
Casper and Runyon’s Nook
Philadelphia has the cheesesteak, New Haven has the pizza, and the Twin Cities have the Jucy Lucy, a cheese-stuffed hamburger. When it is done right, its semi-molten cheese core improves on a standard cheeseburger while allowing the possibility that the cheese will spill all over onto your fries. Oh, well, now you have cheese fries. The Nook in St. Paul does this best (seriously, we wrote a book chapter on Jucy Lucys). Don’t get into a fight with others who will mention the epic rivalry between Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club, just go to the Nook and order the Jucy and house-cut fries. http://www.crnook.com/
Where to send your guests to lunch: Less Casual
There is a trend of high-end chefs opening casual second restaurants, and Brasa might be my favorite example. Started by chef Alex Roberts of Alma, Brasa has Southern-style shareable food – pulled chicken in creamy gravy, slow-roasted pork (get the green sauce!) and moist cornbread. Mostly gluten-free, way tasty, and so comfortable. https://www.brasa.us/
The Warehouse District (or North Loop) neighborhood in downtown Minneapolis is on fire with amazing places to eat and be seen. A new favorite for bold flavors and atmosphere to match is Sweet Chow. It’s a modern approach to Southeast Asian cuisine (a favorite is the banh mi with roasted pork belly). https://chowtakeaway.com/
Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza (3 locations in Minneapolis and St Paul)
True coal-fired pizza and an owner who really cares about ingredient quality makes this a no-brainer for a quick tasty pie. Their downtown location will probably have a small wait, but their Nicollet Ave location is larger and features a separate coal grill for roasting sausage appetizers. And, no joke, get the farmers market salad, which changes with the seasons. Even in winter, it is delicious. http://blacksheeppizza.com/
This neighborhood gem of a brewery and restaurant has decent beers, a lot of smoked flavor in their casual menu items, and an excellent patio. This is quintessential South Minneapolis casual, plus beer. http://northboundbrewpub.com/
Here is the thing about J Selby’s – its a very enjoyable, casual, new American style food place. It happens to be vegan. You probably wouldn’t even note it when you walk in, but by the time you browse to their cauliflower “buffalo wings” or their meat-less Big Mac style burger, you might be hooked. http://www.jselbys.com/
There are a ton of wonderful newer ramen places in Minneapolis and St Paul. Tori Ramen is straight forward, deeply flavored, and beautiful. They also don’t use pork, so most of the fare features poultry.