Duluth’s eating-and-drinking landscape is definitely on the upswing.
A remarkable transformation has taken place over the past few years, thanks to the combined efforts of chefs, brewers, distillers, bakers, mixologists, coffee roasters, restaurateurs and other dedicated culinary entrepreneurs.
Check out these 20 critic-tested options, in Canal Park and Lincoln Park, and from downtown’s busy Superior Street to the scenic curves of North Shore Drive.
At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe
Home of Duluth’s most irresistible pancakes, along with a long list of hearty, well-rendered breakfast favorites. At lunch and dinner, chef Jillian Forte takes a global approach (paella, Thai-style curry with tofu, lamb kefta, jerk-smoked chicken), and the bakery counter is filled with memorable pies and other temptations.
1902 E. 8th St., Duluth, 1-218-724-6811, astccc.net. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
This new(ish) and wildly attractive taproom is the place to see, be seen and enjoy some of the state’s most skillfully brewed beers. A restored 110-year-old brick-and-timber building is a hangout extraordinaire for enjoying signature and specialty ales and lagers from the bar’s 20 taps, including a robust black ale brewed with Duluth Coffee Co. cold press. There’s also a superb root beer and an ever-changing option from nearby Duluth Kombucha. A bonus: the proximity to OMC Smokehouse, which delivers takeout via a very busy scooter.
1832 W. Michigan St., Duluth, 1-218-279-2722, bentpaddlebrewing.com. Open noon-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., noon-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-10 p.m. Sun.
Canal Park Brewing Co.
This contemporary brewpub sports a slick lakeside setting, including what is arguably the city’s most pleasant (and dog-friendly) patio. Other assets include a long list of house-brewed ales, chipper service and an even longer roster of crowd-pleasing, beer-friendly food. There’s a full bar, too.
300 Canal Park Dr., Duluth, 1-218-464-4790, canalparkbrewery.com. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.; kitchen closes one hour earlier.
Corktown Deli and Brews
As the line snakes past the deli case, submit to the temptation of a handful of inventive schmears (pickled ramp, smoked salmon), but reserve the lion’s share of your appetite for the long and impressive list of sandwiches. Roast beef is taken to tantalizingly tender and ruby-red medium-rare. The star is a spectacular pastrami, brined for seven days, smoked over oak, packed with peppercorns and boasting an ideal meat-fat ratio. The Hanson family (of Duluth Grill fame) has transformed a former pawnshop into a casual, inviting setting. For dessert, grab a stout-fueled chocolate cupcake, crowned with a thick swirl of chocolate icing.
1906 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-606-1607, corktowndeli.com. Open 10:30 a.m. -9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Duluth Coffee Co.
Along with improving Superior Street’s fortunes, owner Eric Faust’s seven-year-old retail shop is the epicenter of Duluth’s third-wave coffee culture. It’s a comfortable place to talk beans, roasting and brewing, or just pick up a latté, cortado, cafe miel (made with honey from Lake Superior Apiary) or a spectacular nitro cold brew, so luscious it should be loaded with cream, yet it’s dairy-free. Drop in on Friday mornings for free cuppings. Friday through Sunday, the comfortable shop is also the place to indulge in exceptional pastries — fruit-filled hand pies, sinfully buttery cookies, knobbly scones, airy raised doughnuts, dainty madeleines — from Amanda Belcher, the talent behind the Zenith Bread Project; other days feature goodies from Positively 3rd Street Bakery.
105 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-221-6643, duluthcoffeecompany.com. Open 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. A second location, inside Hoops Brewing Co., 325 S. Lake Av. in Canal Park, is open 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.-Fri., 6 a.m.-noon Sat.
From the outside, this former truck stop appears to be a cookie-cutter chain restaurant (well, minus the planters filled with herbs and vegetables, and the parking lot trimmed in fruit trees), but the Hanson family has made it anything but. Here the emphasis is on local, seasonal ingredients and scratch cooking, served in a short-order environment that’s notable for its approachable prices and engaging service.
118 S. 27th Av. W., Duluth, 1-218-726-1150, duluthgrill.com. Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Duluth’s Best Bread
Co-owner Michael Lillegard clearly has an affinity with flour. The breads live up to the name on the door, but Lillegard also turns out admirable croissants and pain au chocolat, swoon-inducing cinnamon rolls, a pecan-studded caramel roll that has to be tasted to be believed and an admirable handmade twist on the Pop-Tart. The utilitarian shop keeps limited hours, but also supplies a number of local supermarkets.
2632 W. 3rd St., Duluth, duluthsbestbread.com. Open 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
The mellow, 24-year-old brewpub that arguably launched the city’s craft beer obsession continues to focus on the small-batch ales and lagers that forged its reputation. The beer-battered onion rings and wild rice veggie burgers are as tasty as ever.
600 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-279-2739, fitgersbrewhouse.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Hoops Brewing Co.
Longtime Fitger’s Brewhouse brewer Dave Hoops has become his own boss, building a beauty of a brewery in a historic 1889 Canal Park warehouse that’s framed in priceless old-growth Douglas fir. The beer hall’s gleaming copper-topped bar is an ideal platform for Hoops’ meticulously brewed ales, creamy porters and refreshing pilsners. Be on the lookout for occasional restaurant pop-ups, and check out the free Saturday brewery tours.
325 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 1-218-606-1666, hoopsbrewing.com. Open 11 a.m.-midnight daily.
Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar
A reason to dine in Canal Park, this aims-to-please enterprise in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace emphasizes energetic, diverse menus at lunch (ceviche, kimchi fried rice, an epic burger), dinner (grilled octopus, smoked leg of lamb) and brunch (shakshuka, avocado toast). The cozy bar showcases Midwestern spirits. Happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. weekdays) boasts a handful of appealing $9-and-under options, and wines go to half-price status on Wednesdays.
394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 1-218-722-2355, lakeaveduluth.com. Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, lunch 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, dinner 5-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu. and 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Sure, there are food trucks in Duluth. But leave it to a city perched on the world’s largest freshwater lake to flip the whole Meals-on-Wheels routine into a (beached) boat. Run by the good folks behind the nearby Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar, this lakeside attraction has a nose for top-notch local fare, including flavorful hot dogs and brats from Yker Acres (the exceptional source of heritage breed pork in Carlton, Minn.), and handcrafted ice cream from Duluth newcomer Crank & Dasher. The deep fryer keeps busy with cheese curds and brioche doughnut holes, and the cooler is stocked with local beers and cider and first-rate Sprecher root beer.
510 Canal Park Dr., Duluth, lakewalkgalley.com. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. (May through October. Closed over the winter.)
At this Lincoln Park hot spot, owner Nicole Wilde creates her luscious, Instagram-friendly product using cream from the Daninger family’s Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake. The 12 selections change frequently (salted caramel and vanilla are regulars, and expect to encounter a few dairy-free options), based upon Wilde’s whim and the availability of local, seasonal ingredients: blackberries and blueberries from the famous berry farms in Bayfield, Wis., peppermint from Wilde’s hobby farm, even spruce tops from a farmers market connection. “I could go on, and on,” said Wilde. “But that’s what I love, seeing an ingredient and wondering, ‘Can you make ice cream from it?’ ” Full espresso bar, too.
1908 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-715-209-0370, lovecreamery.com. Open noon-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., noon-10 p.m. daily.
New Scenic Cafe
It’s a well-worn round of Word Association: Ask a Twin Citian to name their favorite Duluth restaurant, and chances are the response will be this newly renovated North Shore landmark. With good reason. The don’t-miss experience is crafted from a postcard-perfect setting, gracious service and chef/owner Scott Graden’s imaginative, seasonally minded, sure-handed cooking. Visit on Wednesday, when all wines — by the bottle and the glass — are half-price. Make a reservation, and, by all means, order the pie.
5461 North Shore Dr., Duluth, 1-218-525-6274, newsceniccafe.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Northern Waters Smokehaus
A must. The menu at this tiny counter-service treasure in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace boasts more than two dozen sandwiches, and the range of their building blocks is enormous and impressive: smoked and curry-rubbed leg of lamb, dry-cured gravlax, smoked Berkshire ham, exceptional salami and mortadella, a rich country-style liver pâté, even a fabulous smoked tofu. The deli counter contains riches that rival the precious gems cases at J.B. Hudson, including dry-cured pepperoni and chorizo, feisty andouille sausage and expertly smoked Lake Superior trout, whitefish and Cisco. In just 20 years, this modest-looking operation has blossomed into a Duluth institution. “Our goal has always been to represent Duluth, and Lake Superior,” said owner Eric Goerdt. “With all of our products, we try to capture a taste of Minnesota.”
394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 1-218-724-7307, northernwaterssmokehaus.com. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.
The Hanson family, the folks behind the nearby Duluth Grill, are playing a major role in reviving the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. At their instantly popular barbecue joint (the restaurant’s name is shorthand for Oink, Moo, Cluck, symbolizing the kitchen’s obsession with pork, beef and chicken), the smoke insinuates, but never overpowers. The brisket cuts like a dream, the pulled pork shoulder is tender and succulent, and while the beautifully seasoned ribs are impressive on their own, try the house specialty, which dredges them in flour and egg and finishes them in the deep fryer, country-fried-style. Chicken sports an admirably crispy skin covering juicy, plentiful meat. “Letting the meat stand for itself, and having fun with sauces, that’s barbecue at its finest,” said Louis Hanson. “The simpler you can make it, the better.”
1909 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-606-1611, omcsmokehouse.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
PortLand Malt Shoppe
A well preserved service station, dating to 1921, is now home to what may be the most adorable walk-up scoop shop in the land, one that’s conveniently located next to a Lakewalk staircase. A long list of cones, sundaes, malts, shakes and floats are prepared with ice cream from the Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co. in Madison, Wis.
716 E. Superior St., Duluth, portlandmaltshoppe.com. Open April through October.
Ursa Minor Brewing
Brothers Ben Hugus and Mark Hugus are the forces behind this Lincoln Park newcomer, where the roomy taproom features more than a dozen stouts, IPAs, lagers, sours, pilsners and saisons. A wood-burning oven turns out a half-dozen pizzas, the thin crusts blistered and piled high with a wide range of toppings, including wild rice sausage, pickled onions and smoked pork loin.
2415 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-481-7886, ursaminorbrewing.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Sun.
Yes, the screen porch is a terrific gaze-at-the-lake perch. But this 14-year-old crowd-pleaser offers much more: a pasta- and panini-focused kitchen, a great kids’ menu and a full bar. The gelato scoop case is stocked with a dozen housemade flavors, including a rotating vegan vanilla.
734 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-722-1518, vabenecaffe.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
For those in search of masterful mixology, look no further than this 21-and-over Canal Park playground. Distiller Joel Vikre channels Lake Superior’s pristine waters into distinctive gins, aquavits, vodka and whiskey, then uses them as the foundation for a wide variety of vivacious cocktails. There’s a first-rate cheese plate, and don’t miss the fascinating free tour, daily at 5:30.
525 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 1-218-481-7401, vikredistillery.com. Open 2-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon- 11 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Housed in an arts complex that is contributing to downtown’s continuing renaissance, this stylish and lively restaurant and bar specializes in pretty salads, well stocked rice bowls, an eclectic array of small plates and a wide range of burgers at lunch and dinner, along with a first-rate weekend brunch. Proximity to the NorShor Theatre also makes the Zeitgeist an ideal pre- and post-curtain destination for that newly restored Superior Street fixture.
222 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-722-9100, zeitgeistarts.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch Sat.-Sun.