Rising to the challenge

After a crippling 2020, these restaurants and makers forged ahead, only to re-emerge.
While 2020 was the death of all expectations, 2021 was a year when a clever few looked into the ashes and, instead of retreating, decided to go into full phoenix mode. The mythical bird is admired for its ability to cycle from glorious plumage to smoldering cinder, only to return — and thrive — as a newly born being. These restaurants and makers cast their lots into the abyss and rose triumphant, filling our dining world with new wonder.

Owamni — Restaurant of the Year

A return to the land of the first people, this Mississippi riverfront restaurant, which was years in the making, rose from the ruins of the mill town constructs that had manipulated the sacred waters and erased all evidence of the people who originally lived here. Owamni not only represents a crowning achievement for chef Sean Sherman, bringing together decolonized cuisine with fine dining, but it also represents a new era for the United States that respects those who lived, loved and thrived in this region before colonizers forever changed the landscape. (JS)

Sooki & Mimi

Ann Kim continues to master coloring outside the lines. The chef/owner built a remarkable reputation with both humble and revolutionary restaurants rooted in the power of pizza. With her newest restaurant, she took the rule breaking even further, delving into the former Lucia's restaurant at a time when historic conflict surrounded its Uptown Minneapolis neighborhood. Kim took care and paid painstaking attention to detail in building Sooki & Mimi, studying the Mexican cuisine she was inspired by, opening its stunning dining room and then admitting that the yearslong process had taken a toll. At the height of its dining menu changes, she went on sabbatical. She continues to act as a leader in the industry by both defying expectations, and making the bold move to attend to her whole health. (JS)


The intention of Myriel was simple: Karyn Tomlinson, who had been the longtime chef at Corner Table, would open a quaint neighborhood restaurant that would serve St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood exceptional food drawing on her Scandinavian roots. However, 2020 would prove to be the undoing of even the most laid-back plans. After a year of providing takeout meals, and some remarkably tasty cinnamon rolls, she methodically labored to build a larger kitchen, and worked with a friend to design a serene dining room that sets a humble stage for the alluring dishes that pour out of the kitchen on both an a la carte menu or a drawn-out tasting menu. Eventually she hired a staff largely made up of long working and displaced hospitality professionals to open a lovely restaurant where one can feel right at home sitting at the bar, chatting with neighbors who just ambled down. (JS)

Petite León

After the 2017 closing of the Brewer's Table — his trailblazing restaurant-within-a-restaurant at Surly Brewing Co. — James Beard Award-nominated chef Jorge Guzmán spent two years in La Crosse, Wis. Happily, he returned to the Twin Cities to open Petite León in south Minneapolis. Leaning into the challenges of launching a hospitality enterprise during the pandemic, Guzman (collaborating with drinks magnate Travis Serbus) is deftly using his menu to explore and celebrate his Mexican heritage, creating a singular dining experience that we didn't realize we were missing. (RN)

Rosalia, Josefina, Sanjusan, Cafe Ceres, Cardamom

We couldn't highlight just one new entry from Daniel del Prado and his associates, simply because of the astounding volume of restaurants they have opened since the pandemic, beginning with the darling Linden Hills neighborhood pizzeria Rosalia in fall 2020. The first Café Cerés, with pastry chef extraordinaire Shawn McKenzie, launched at the cusp of the new year. In spring, Roman-inspired Josefina came to Wayzata, Sanjusan brought Japanese-Italian to the North Loop, and a second Café Cerés opened in Minneapolis' Armatage neighborhood. The Walker Art Center's Cardamom, also with McKenzie, rounded out the list this summer. And here's the thing: They're all really, really good. With two now-beloved restaurants, Colita and Martina, anchoring the portfolio, del Prado seems to have stumbled upon a winning formula: Partner with rising talent and keep creating fearlessly. And, whenever the opportunity arises, make pizza. (SJ)
To see more of our look back at Minnesota's food scene in 2021, including our Restaurant of the Year, best dining moments, beloved neighborhood spots and more, use the drop-down navigation bar at the top of this page.