Hai Hai is one of the best new restaurants in America, according to Esquire.
The Northeast Minneapolis southeast Asian restaurant placed ninth in the magazine’s annual list of top-notch dining rooms around the country.
And the icing on the cake? Hai Hai’s chef Christina Nguyen was named Rising Star of the Year.
Esquire’s food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier selected Hai Hai for its “sunny energy.”
“Banana blossoms, sugarcane, sticky rice, and green papaya—Nguyen’s menu reads like a street-smitten ode to Southeast Asia, a pop song that can brighten up even the murkiest of days in L’Étoile du Nord.” (Hai Hai, 2121 University Av. NE., Minneapolis, 612-223-8640, haihaimpls.com)
He didn’t know anything about Nguyen before his meal there, he wrote, and was surprised to learn that she got her start in the business with Hola Arepa, which was a food truck before it went brick and mortar in south Minneapolis.
“The deep understanding of flavor that she displays at Hai Hai is the result of life experience and raw talent, not some tony pedigree,” Gordinier wrote. “In an age when far too many young chefs are phoning it in with beet salads and predictable globs of burrata, Nguyen cooks with a fresh vantage point on what it means to feed the people.”
Nguyen announced the news on Instagram, calling it “so surreal and cool” for Hai Hai to be featured.
“We didn’t have any idea that was going to happen,” Nguyen said. “We’re just totally floored and amazed and excited about it.”
Gordinier’s trip to Minneapolis didn’t end at Hai Hai.
He calls out Martina’s Marco Zappia (“lanky, excitable gent with one of the coolest names in the business”) as Beverage Director of the Year.
And he names Jamie Malone’s Grand Café as Restaurant Resurrection of the Year for “transporting diners back to the postwar Paris of their dreams” in a “hygge-forward room where Fred Rogers would’ve felt cozy in his cardigan.”
Read the full list here.