MINNEAPOLIS AND ST. PAUL RESTAURANTSTaste every corner of the globe with these Minneapolis and St. Paul restaurants
When chef Sameh Wadi traveled the world, he learned about culture through cuisine. He stayed with families and cooked native dishes in their homes. He tried street food and fine dining. But when he returned to Minnesota, he wanted more. Wadi could find ethnic fare all over Minneapolis and St. Paul, but there was no one combining them, bridging the gap between cultures, and making a home in the amalgamation that was the result of his journeys.
Thus, World Street Kitchen was born, first as a food truck and later as a restaurant that made Bon Appetit’s 2012 Top 50 New Restaurants list. The success of World Street Kitchen was no surprise given Wadi and his brother Saed’s track record—a Mediterranean restaurant and an Iron Chef contest may be involved—and because of the Twin Cities’ food scene.
“I’ve been here for over 15 years now, and the dining scene has changed drastically,” says Wadi. “It’s much more vibrant and fresh right now, and I think it’s a lot more exciting than it has ever been.”
Wadi can’t pinpoint just one reason for the shift, but he does know this: Young Minnesota chefs are charging forward. Craft food has become the expectation, not the anomaly. Immigrants are changing the palate of the Twin Cities. On a macro level, big grocery stores are actually carrying international ingredients. Ten to 15 years ago, people would have to shop at a specialty store or, as Wadi half-jokes, “You needed to have a connection, a guy in a truck coming back and saying, ‘Hey, what do you want?’”
At World Street Kitchen, the Wadi brothers thrive on those ingredients. They change up the traditional meat-beans-salsa taco for beef shwarma, Arab-style pico de gallo with sumac, chilies, tomatoes, onion and a tangy sauce. They blend fried rice and curry. They make homemade desserts better than your mom. Spot Wadi out shopping, and you’ll see him picking an ingredient he has never seen so he can go home and play around with it.
Clearly, Minneapolis and St. Paul are bursting with flavors and inspiration from all over the world, and we have the talented chefs to prove it. Whether you’re craving the fusion of World Street Kitchen, the traditional dishes of a family-owned Nepalese restaurant or an upscale French bistro, pull up a seat and have some dinner with us.
Image by The Restaurant Project
Zen Box Izakaya (Japanese)
Zen Box Izakaya doesn’t do sushi. They do Japanese comfort food. The dishes are small, numerous and meant to share, following the tradition of izakaya, which loosely means “to eat together,” or as co-owner Lina Goh puts it, “The Japanese version of ‘Cheers.’” Business partners can unwind together without worrying about the company hierarchy; families and friends can bond over hot dishes and be themselves.
“This is the everyday approachable food in Japan,” said Goh. “Japanese go to izakaya every day, so you get to know the owner of your favorite izakaya in Japan. They know you by name.”
Since Zen Box’s current Minneapolis location opened in 2012, it has won OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice in 2015 and other local awards for its cuisine.
Co-owner and chef John Ng combines his culinary training with his Hong Kong heritage and Minnesota ingredients. Besides menu staples like tuna poke, braised pork belly and kimchi ramen, Ng also creates new ramen specials every Friday and Saturday. The menu is flexible to those with gluten sensitivities and vegetarian/vegan diets, so everyone can feel welcome to this izakaya.
Everest on Grand (Nepali, Tibetan, Indian)
In 2000, this family-owned restaurant became the first Nepali restaurant in the state by serving up jackfruit curry, chicken tikka masala, yak momos and more by Chef Arun Pokharel and his team.
Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine (Malaysian and Southeast Asian)
With an open kitchen setup, everyone can see how Chef Tong and his team whip together Malaysian favorites like Buddhist Yam Pot, which is shrimp, chicken, mushrooms, snow peas and more stuffed into a fried taro nest.
Central and South American
Chimborazo (Ecuadorian and Andean Highlands)
Don’t be too surprised if you find this cozy Ecuadorian restaurant packed. Cilantro lovers can find a haven here, and the warm beef or cheese empanadas fill that empty spot in your stomach (and heart). Every Wednesday is date night, so for $35 you can enjoy a bottle of wine and two entrees, such as potato pancakes or shrimp stewed in coconut sauce by chef and owner Marcos Pinguil.
Chefs Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse have earned their stripes in the Twin Cities circuit including tenures at Chino Latino and Libertine, and their first restaurant together does not disappoint. The Mexican joint features mezcal cocktails, house-made tortillas and dishes such as pork ribs, crispy fried oysters and yucca.
Image by Richard Wong at Red Dog Photography
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen (Jamaican)
From his grandmother’s kitchen in Kingston, Jamaica, to Minneapolis’ Eat Street on Nicollet Avenue, the flavors in D. Tomme Beevas’ dishes haven’t wavered. Slow-roasted jerk pork, sweet fried plantains and more await on a menu complemented by five house-made sauces. If you’re still doubting Beevas’ chops, turn to his episode on “Food Court Wars” in 2013 where his team brought home the win.
Image by The Bachelor Farmer
The Bachelor Farmer (Nordic and Minnesotan)
When brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton opened The Bachelor Farmer six years ago, they wanted their restaurant to embody Minnesota, which meant getting back to the state’s roots: Nordic cooking. However, as time passed and the accolades piled up—more recently, head chef Paul Berglund was the 2016 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef in the Midwest—the vision started becoming more about defining what being Minnesotan looks like today.
For The Bachelor Farmer, that means a locally sourced and ever-changing menu, although regulars are always relieved when the Swedish meatballs return. It means dealing with the crop-less winters we share with our Northern ancestors (with help from local greenhouses). It means using local art and design in the full restaurant and making unique dishes and drinks for its cafe and award-winning Marvel Bar.
“Nordic [cuisine] will always be a part of it, as Nordic as Minnesota is, but that’s not the only thing Minnesota is,” Eric Dayton says. “We never set out trying to open a restaurant that was pretending it was in Copenhagen or Stockholm. We really wanted to do something for Minneapolis.”
Moscow on the Hill (Russian)
In St. Paul, Moscow on the Hill serves up the three staples of Eastern European eating—meat, potatoes and cabbage. A favorite is Chef Jeff Theissen’s stroganoff; instead of dishing the creamy, comfort sauce over noodles, it’s over mashed potatoes, just like in Russia. Pelmeni, or dumplings, also takes center stage, but what really opens the eyes are the hundreds of vodkas available, earning them multiple best vodka awards in the metro that go nicely with their best martini and best ethnic dining awards.
Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (German)
For more than 50 years, people have been leaving the downtown bustle to make their way to this restaurant tucked into Stillwater’s forest. Chef Tom Kane’s dinner menu is chock full of hearty German fare, so if you don’t know what to order, get the Bavarian Favorites Platter: jägerschnitzel, rahm puten schnitzel, knackwurst, potato dumplings and red cabbage.
Bar La Grassa (Italian)
Owned by James Beard Award-winner Isaac Becker and raking in local food awards, Bar La Grassa is nothing but cool as sunlight streams in from tall windows, highlighting the unfinished brick and wood-paneled walls. The open kitchen provides looks at the antipasti, bruschetta, protein and 19 pasta dishes served up on white, floral-trimmed plates.
Image by Moroccan Flavors
Moroccan Flavors (Moroccan)
Once you enter the restaurant, you’re surrounded by swathes of calming blue hues, inspired by the northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen, where all of the buildings are blue. The city has become a traveler’s paradise, so perhaps owner and chef Hassan Ziadi is hoping to transport you far away when you taste his signature tagine, a traditional slow-cooked stew.
Beirut Restaurant (Lebanese)
Pile your plate high with falafel, gyros, grape leaf rolls and more—everything at this family-owned Lebanese restaurant is homemade. Besides good eats by owner John Khoury, make sure to sip some Arabic coffee as you take in Saturday’s belly dance show or the occasional live Arabic music.
Image courtesy of UBEREats and Som Taste
Som Taste (Somali and East African)
When owner Jama Abdikani dishes up a plate of tender, off-the-bone goat meat with vegetable, rice, salad and fresh, house-made chapati bread for only $12, you know you’ve come to a good place. The goat meat is cooked, soaked in marinade, grilled and seasoned just like his grandmother did back in Somalia. In fact, every recipe in the restaurant comes from her.
“My father owned restaurants in Somalia, in Mogadishu,” Abdikani says. “My brother and I had this dream that maybe one day my dad would give the business to us. It’s kind of an old love, you know.”
While his dream never happened in Somalia, Minneapolis is lucky he took his passion to Hiawatha Avenue South, a location he hopes will allow him to bring both old- and new-timers to the cuisine.
Besides the goat meat entree, other favorites are the vegetarian ugali and sakuma, a mix of white corn, potatoes and carrots seasoned by coconut milk, and Abdikani’s made-to-order sambusas, which are triangle-shaped pastries filled with ground beef and veggies you simply must try.
Fasika is the four-time winner for the Twin Cities’ Best Ethiopian Restaurant, and its owners Atnafu Yeshidagne and Menderine Gebretsadik have perfected its menu of lean meats and vegetarian dishes, both made with netir kibe—butter cooked with garlic, ginger, cardamom, coriander and other Ethiopian spices.
City Afrique (West African)
Chef Bea Karngar ran a catering business in her home country Liberia, and she has been using those same skills to bring fish, cassava—also known as tapioca—and togborgee, a stew with palm oil and bitter ball berries, to life in Minneapolis.