What exactly are iconic dishes?
They’re the go-to order at your favorite restaurant and the first you recommend to out-of-town guests. They’re the bites you’d stand in line for, even when it’s below zero, but won’t share. And they’re the culinary game-changers and true originals that have made the Twin Cities — and Minnesota — a food destination. They are the must-haves.
To make this list, we dined out — a lot. We debated even more. We painfully added and subtracted until the very last minute. Selecting only 40 dishes was brutal. Regrets? We’ll have a few. Some of your favorites might not be here, but like our dynamic food scene, the list will continue to evolve.
Today we are kicking off our Iconic Eats series with a focus on these Twin Cities gems. Next, we’ll leave the metro area in search of food finds that are worth a road trip. Future installments will showcase hallowed Minnesota restaurants that create an inimitable sense of place, where it’s more about the experience than a single dish. And we’ll also shine the spotlight on one of the biggest icons of them all — the Minnesota State Fair.
But first, here are the 40 iconic dishes from Twin Cities restaurants that you have to have, whether you’re a longtime resident, new to the area or just dropping by.
And, just in case you want your Minnesota flavors to go, we added 10 items — iconic, of course — that you can get in local markets to stock your pantry, fridge or freezer, allowing you to find comfort in the fact that Minnesota flavors are available whenever you’re hungry for a taste of home.
Each cup of the richly spiced Somali tea, served at two of its storefronts, is a cup of generosity. Even picking one up on the way to work, or on a rare afternoon break, it’s a taste of the hospitality that owner Abdirahman Kahin has brought to the Twin Cities with his vibrant restaurants. The milky tea is a heady mix of aromatics: ginger, cinnamon, cloves and green cardamom that demand the drinker stop whatever is dominating the day and stand perfectly still, breathing it in. The creamy sweetness washes away any swirling negativity and is best enjoyed across the table from a good friend. While you’re there, order the crispy, savory sambusas, too.
Tea from $1.74, sambusas $2.25-$5.74
Snagging a counter stool at Al's Breakfast, the 70-year-old diminutive diner wedged between buildings in Dinkytown, might be as crucial to the experience as what's on the plate (and if it's your first attempt, there's a helpful primer here). But when what's on the plate is a short stack of thin, tangy buttermilk pancakes made on a griddle right in front of you, with little blueberries crammed into every square centimeter and melted butter pooling in the middle, it doesn't even matter how charmingly old-school the place is. Do splurge for the pure Minnesota maple syrup — it's only $1.50 more.
Single pancakes start at $2.50, $3 for blueberry; cash only
Animales Barbeque Co.
A barbecue trailer run by former fine-dining chef Jon Wipfli outside a brewery might be an unexpected place to go for tacos, but the birria ones by Animales Barbeque Co. have earned a dedicated following. The irresistible tacos are served on a locally made crispy La Perla tortilla covered with tender stewed meat — aromatic with cumin, cinnamon and toasty dried chiles — then bathed in cheese that’s cooked on the flat-top grill, adding a crusty lace of toasty, gooey perfection. Served alongside a small cauldron of broth, it’s everything hot and wonderful in just one bite.
Two for $13
Soft eggs and lobster bruschetta
Bar La Grassa
Pasta might be the first dish that comes to mind when making reservations (and you must) for the sprawling, always-buzzing North Loop Italian restaurant. But once seated, you'll see plate after plate of this dreamy bruschetta coming out of the open kitchen. Griddled bread rubbed with garlic is topped with a mountain of silky scrambled eggs that have been cooked with butter, cream cheese and chopped fresh lobster meat, and finished with a drizzle of white truffle oil. It might sound like a fancy brunch item, but more than a decade in, it's still one of chef Isaac Becker's star dishes at this dinner-only hotspot. (Coming up with star dishes is right in Becker's wheelhouse; he's also responsible the famed foie gras meatballs at sister restaurant 112 Eatery.)
Think pink. A relatively new addition to the local ice cream scene, Ben Spangler and Gabriella Grant-Spangler's scoop shop Bebe Zito came roaring out of the gate in 2020 with inventive ice cream flavors so packed with mix-ins they were basically ready-to-go sundaes. The Animal Frossting (named after the Animal Crossing video game), inspired by those ultra-sweet, pink-frosted animal crackers no one eats past age 8, became an instant classic. It's more sophisticated than it looks — not that there's anything wrong with a cotton candy-pink scoop studded with rainbow sprinkles. Circus animal cookie bits and housemade ganache frosting are swirled into the creamiest sugar cookie-flavored base, and more sprinkles and a whole cookie crown the top. It's a Technicolor treat that defies age.
Scoop $5.95, pint $10-$12, cake $55
Vanilla Crêpe Cake
It began as a brunch gem, displayed proudly on the counter in front of the open kitchen at Spoon and Stable on Sunday mornings, and it quickly became the best of many reasons to move heaven and earth to get a table there. Ten ethereal layers of alternating crêpes and cloudlike vanilla cream from Diane Moua, one of Minnesota's best pastry chefs, went from tantalizingly hard-to-get to available on the daily when Moua and Gavin Kaysen spun off a bakery across the street, and later St. Paul, in Cooks of Crocus Hill stores. And our cities are better for it.
Slice $8.50, whole cake $80.
- 201 N. 1st St., Mpls.
- 877 Grand Av., St. Paul
- Also available for brunch at Spoon and Stable 211 N. 1st St., Mpls.
Brown butter-glazed brioche doughnut
Bogart's Doughnut Co.
You could try Anne Rucker's fluffy brioche doughnuts stuffed with Nutella or vanilla buttercream, but the simple raised ring under a thick coat of glaze made with browned, almost burnt butter is mandatory at the South Uptown shop. Though it's light and airy, eating one of these speckled giants can be a two-handed affair, and the nuttiness of the brown butter delightfully lingers. In a brilliant pandemic pivot, Bogart's began making brown butter-flavored soft-serve, too. And it’s everything we hoped it would be.
Doughnut $2.50, cup of soft-serve $5
Selecting a condiment for this list is not to say that Brasa's other offerings aren't worthy. The ultra-moist rotisserie chicken is stellar in its own right. But no Brasa dish — not the creamy beans and rice, not the slow-roasted pork, nothing — would be complete without a healthy drizzle of Alex Roberts' take on the pan-Latin-American green sauce. The unspecific name, save for color, dips into the myth surrounding this magic mayonnaise, which is simply blended with cilantro, lime, onion, ginger, garlic and jalapeños. (Roberts provided his recipe to Food & Wine magazine.) Altogether, it's a tangy, herbaceous hero of all leftovers. Order extra.
Included with many meals; extra sides 35 cents, half-pint $2.95, pint $5.50.
Roast beef sandwich
Clancey's Meat and Fish
The elevation of a good sandwich to handheld icon comes when all the ingredients are at the top of their game and work together to create flavor alchemy. That's exactly what this roast beef sandwich does. A fresh and crusty baguette (from Patisserie 46!) is splayed with blushing roast beef — this is a butcher shop, after all. Then the ingredient roster swells with mustard, horseradish, sliced onions, peppers and a savory bottom note of Swiss cheese, with a splash of vinegar to liven up the party. Each bite is a symphonic crescendo of flavor. Head in early, because when the bread is gone, the sandwiches are done for the day.
Located inside the stately American Swedish Institute, much of Fika's menu changes with the season. But there are always, always Swedish meatballs. Different from their cousins in other cuisines, Swedish meatballs are plush pillows of beef, pork and veal gently seasoned with hints of warming spices and bathed in a luxurious cream gravy. If your only experience with this dish comes from shopping for a new Poäng, put this at the top of your To Do list. Served on top of a silken snowbank of puréed potatoes and enlivened by a requisite dollop of tart lingonberries, it's a comfort food win. To seal the hygge deal, be sure to get a cardamom bun or six to go.
Chef and Hai Hai co-owner Christina Nguyen appreciates that food doesn't have to be vaulted into austerity just to be good. At her destination-worthy restaurant, occasional specials explore munchies through the lens of Southeast Asia, alongside a menu stacked with favorites from that part of the globe. The shrimp toast began as a limited-time snack, but fans demanded that it earn a permanent place on the menu. A succulent shrimp mousse is spread on squooshy white bread and fried until the whole thing is crispy and craveable. Garnished with a spicy jam, toasted coconut, slices of jalapeño and cut into four squares, it's a must-order to kick off every visit.
Toasted Sausage Bread
Nothing Hell's Kitchen does is ordinary. The subterranean downtown Minneapolis restaurant was founded by Mitch Omer, an unconventional chef with a love of Ralph Steadman art. While Omer died in 2015, his rebellious spirit lives on in the now-employee-owned eatery. A slice of toast with bison sausage and dried nuts baked into it might not seem like an obvious breakfast choice, but this oddball dish works wonderfully. Be sure to take advantage of the housemade condiments. A swipe of crunchy peanut butter and a schmear of jam make a hearty bite that’s salty, savory and sweet.
At the venerable Ukrainian deli in northeast Minneapolis, you might find up to three dozen sausage varieties behind the counter: fresh, smoked, dried; Icelandic, Moroccan, Chicago-style; liver, apple, wild rice. You really can't go wrong, but if there's one link that achieves icon status, it's the Polish kielbasa, simply because the garlicky pork-beef blend with an irresistible snap is the epitome of baseball season. Kramarczuk's is one of the original vendors at Target Field, where the smell of brats and Polish sausages, along with onions and sauerkraut, wafts through the stands. Back at the deli, feel free to branch out: The kovbaca sausage is filled with shreds of pork so coarse, it's practically a roast.
$5.75 in the restaurant, $9-$10 for a four-pack from the deli
Lat 14, Khâluna and Lemon Grass
Chef/owner Ann Ahmed isn't sharing the ingredients of the spice blend that makes these wings so delicious. The meat is shrouded in a shatter-crisp tempura batter that's fried to a deep brown. The lively spice blend tingles across the tongue, implying some Szechuan peppercorns. But the zip of spice comes in waves, followed by the mild and succulent meat, crashing and retreating across the palate. Mixed in with the wings are batter-fried jalapeños and shiso leaves, making it an utterly snackable first course, one that's thankfully available at all three of her metro-area restaurants.
- Lat 14: 8815 7th Av. N., Golden Valley
- Khâluna: 4000 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
- Lemon Grass: 8600 Edinburgh Centre Drive, Brooklyn Park
- Lemon Grass
Smoked Chicken Pot Pie
When new ownership was taking over the Lexington and giving the iconic restaurant a refresh, there was one loud demand for the menu: There had better be pot pie. Fans needn't have worried, because co-owner Jack Riebel, who died late last year, knew the neighborhood and understood the power of crust and savory chicken. A buttery shell surrounds lightly smoked chicken and tender-crisp vegetables dressed in a rich and creamy sauce. The crust is finished with a sprinkling of salt and it's all served alongside a simple salad.
The first and last bite from the culinary wealth of East Lake Street — an area dotted with taco trucks, small restaurants and fast-food eateries — needs to be a Manny’s torta. Manny Gonzalez and his sister Victoria have owned several restaurants over the years, but their Midtown Global Market stand is the place to grab one now. (They have a State Fair booth, too.) It’s a perfect specimen of the art of Mexican sandwiches. Crusty bread is piled with a cornucopia of toppings: crispy meat, onions, pickled jalapeños, a swipe of beans, chipotle-spiked mayo, a thin layer of cheese and then the crispy goods of shredded lettuce, tomatoes and avocado held away from the warmth, keeping it crunchy and cool.
Leave it to chef/impresario Daniel del Prado to find a way to breathe new life into French fries. Crossing the workhorse potato with the lovable Latin American pastry, the Argentine chef reinvented the side dish by piping, and then deep-frying, a steamed potato-rice flour mixture. He has claimed that the result, which takes potatoes to crisp new heights, is inspired by the McDonald's hash brown. While the churros are among the most emblematic brunch dishes in the Twin Cities, a plate of them with ketchup and spicy mayo should be consumed whenever and wherever you can get them. (At Cardamom, del Prado's newest restaurant, they accompany the kids' meal. We ordered them anyway.)
“Fear the cheese.” That’s one bit of advice about how to navigate the molten center of this Minnesota-invented burger. No matter which Jucy Lucy/Juicy Lucy you are committed to — and the rivalries are very real — taking a bite should be handled with care. But here's why Matt's Bar's version makes this list above all others: It's not every dive bar that beckons a sitting U.S. president. Whether you believe the Jucy Lucy was invented at Matt's or not, cozying into a booth, ordering off a barely-there menu, only deciding between onions or not (and smelling of said onions the rest of the day) is simply a Minnesota rite.
$9.25. Cash only
Soupe à l'Oignon Grâtinée
In the longstanding French tradition of taking humble ingredients and elevating them to fine-dining cuisine, the Soupe à l'Oignon Grâtinée at Meritage is a stunner of a meal in soup form. Onions are cooked into glorious oblivion with stock and a little wine, eventually becoming heaven on a spoon. Chef/co-owner Russell Klein expected the dish to appear only in the colder months, but it is wildly popular all year round. Buttery toast with long strands of gooey cheese make it a dish of rich deliciousness. (And if that sounds a little too much, try the seasonal matzo ball soup when it’s available.)
The Monte Carlo
In the pantheon of great wings, there is a paper-lined wicker basket where the wings runneth over. Massive wings are dredged and fried before being tossed with a mystery seasoning that's a mix of savory and sweet — and unlike anything else. In fact, the misnomer came courtesy of Monte Carlo owner John Rimarcik. Inside this gorgeous restaurant with the throwback vibes, he came up with the seasoning blend on a whim, and named it for a place possessing food he loved. It's more the idea of Beijing than an authentic representation, but it's all good once that crispy, warm spice hits. These are best paired with an absolutely filthy, ice-cold martini and the hum of a neon sign.
Silver Butter Knife Steak
It's a misconception that this 28-ounce strip sirloin, the name of which glows perpetually on a sign in downtown Minneapolis, can be cut with a silver butter knife. Instead, this crisp-crusted piece of beef the size of a loaf of bread is sliced tableside with a steak blade. The moniker comes from a competition the steak won in 1956, though Murray's was around more than a decade before that. One of Old Minneapolis' landmark restaurants continues to deliver on all counts: classic, upscale vibe; impeccable service; and a mouthwatering 28-day-aged steak for two (or more) that can best be described as "butter-forward" and 100% worth it.
$120, includes soup/salad and two sides, for two people
Crispy Rabbit Dumplings
There are a handful of must-order dishes on the menu at Ngon, a French-Vietnamese bistro in St. Paul's food-rich Frogtown neighborhood, but the crispy rabbit dumpling is the one to start with. Tender, juicy rabbit is enshrouded by a shatter-crisp lumpia wrapper and placed in a basin of yellow, warming coconut curry sauce that's as bright as a summer day and then dotted with chunks of acidic tomato. It's a dish that pairs splendidly with the charming dining room, with light wood floors and walls adorned with a rotating selection of local art.
First it was bison. Then venison. And when Owamni’s spring menu debuts, there certainly will be a spot for a tartare that highlights game indigenous to North America. The dish, a staple of the still-new and already world-famous restaurant from chef Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, showcases exactly what decolonized cooking is all about. Sherman plates the velvety chopped meat dazzlingly, with dollops of duck egg aioli and crisped and pickled vegetables to match the season. Its bursts of color have lit up social media, beckoning diners to the shores of the Mississippi River to experience Native American cuisine at long last.
Served as part of a $85 tasting menu, returning to a la carte this spring
Patisserie 46 and Rose Street Patisserie
John Kraus is a dynamo of French pastry, and anything behind the counter at either of his bakeries will be so tasty and grounded in technique that you might as well be ducking in from the most charming Parisian street for un cafe et un croissant. But why stop there? Kraus' cakes are world-renowned, since he led a team of American bakers to a medal at the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie, the prestigious baking competition in France. One of his entries was this impeccably layered (and, incidentally, gluten-free) creation, built from a crunchy hazelnut cookie base, 72% chocolate ganache, flourless chocolate cake and a 72% chocolate mousse. Calling it a cake almost feels crude. It's more than that. It's the Chocolat.
$7 a slice, $40 for a cake
A slice of pie
Pie & Mighty
After years of baking in a church basement, chef Rachel Swan and co-owner/spouse Karen “Ratchet” Mattison opened a storefront on Pi Day, March 14, 2020. Days later, the pandemic shut everything down. Two months after that, George Floyd lost his life just down the street, forever changing the neighborhood and the city. But this little shop, with a sunny demeanor and the promise of pie and joy, still stands. An extraordinary crust of flour, lard and butter is lovingly rolled out by hand by a small crew of workers. Whole pies are sold through a weekly lottery, but the shop also sells a limited number of slices on Fridays and Saturdays. Join the hopeful line of fans and walk away with pie — and new friends.
Slices $6, whole pies $35
Kingston-Style Jerk Chicken
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen
Tomme Beevas' Jamaican restaurant, which began under a backyard tent and became known citywide for its jerk chicken, was already a class act. Its fire-grilled and distinctively spiced jerk-marinated meats, which come with hearty portions of coconut rice and vanilla-glazed plantains, are the essence of island cooking Up North, and a loving tribute to the chef’s family recipes. Then came the murder of George Floyd and the uprising that followed. Beevas offered the restaurant as a space for the community to convene, heal and replenish supplies for nightly protests. That effort turned into Pimento Relief Services, which brings together organizations and individuals working to combat racism in the Twin Cities. At Pimento, that incredible jerk rub comes with an order for justice.
Korean BBQ pizza
Pizzeria Lola/Young Joni
Employing tart and tangy kimchi as a pizza topping at her first restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, was one way chef Ann Kim turned one of America’s favorite foods into a “gateway” to the Korean flavors she grew up with. Another was this signature pie, which tops a sauceless wood-fired crust with mozzarella, beef short ribs and a salad of arugula, scallion, sesame seeds and soy-chile vinaigrette. Pizzas have certainly broken the mold since she opened the neighborhood spot in 2010; so have Minnesotans’ tastes for sweet-and-savory meat and fermented funk. Kim — and this pie — can be credited, to some extent, with kick-starting that revolution.
- Pizzeria Lola: 5557 Xerxes Av. S., Mpls.
- Young Joni: 165 13th Av. NE., Mpls.
La Belle Vie Lamb Burgers
Once upon a time, there was a lauded fine-dining restaurant that sat like a glittering jewel at the top of Minneapolis hospitality. La Belle Vie was a legend during its 15-plus years in the Twin Cities. At P.S. Steak, the lamb burgers remain as a tribute to the halcyon days of its restaurant predecessor. Diminutive burgers spiced with ras al hanout and dressed with a mint yogurt sauce topped with roasted poblano peppers are served alongside skinny French fries. They remain an ideal bite while enjoying the gilded age elegance of this storied restaurant lounge.
Each pho broth tells the story of the chef and is a snapshot of a time and place. Quang's is a taste of family, home and hope. Lung Tran immigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. with her husband and children in 1978. She opened the original Quang in 1989 and moved to its current location a decade later. The legacy of this beloved neighborhood eatery, named for her late husband, is carried on by her seven children. The pho continues to be one of the most popular dishes. A generous bowl is served with an overflowing side of items to add in: purple basil, jalapeños, bean sprouts, and Sriracha and hoisin sauce to build up a feast that's as spicy or sweet as you like. Or keep it simple and order a cup of the anise- and cozy-spice-scented broth.
Pho from $11, broth $5.50
Chef/owner Tammy Wong's restaurant has served Minneapolis so long (since 1987) that its bright mural has become a steadfast landmark even as the landscape around it has changed. Every dedicated diner has their own favorite dish, but for us it's the Szechuan wontons, a dish worth driving across town in a blizzard to attain. Thin, supple wrappers cuddle ground pork and hunks of shrimp that are bathed in a garlicky black bean sauce. While the dumplings are technically an appetizer, it's best to double the order if there are plans to share. It's hard to give up too many of these roly-poly little pockets of flavor.
$12 for eight, takeout only
Bittersweet chocolate cookie
Who hasn't been about to settle up at Rustica, only to see a deeply dark chocolate cookie next to the checkout and think, why not? It's happened to the best of us, and there were never regrets. These cookies have been legendary among Twin Cities' sweets since the bakery opened in 2004, and rightfully so. Like a crinkly brownie, so dense with chocolate you could make a small meal of one, the sweetness comes mainly from the sanded sugar sprinkled on top like autumn snow. An ingenious pandemic addition to the menu is take-and-bake dough, so these beauts can be enjoyed whenever the craving hits.
$2.50 each, $10.75 for six, $9 for take-and-bake eight-pack
There's a bit of magic that happens when humble bologna hits a hot pan, emitting a tantalizing sizzle: The lunch meat picks up a toasty flavor that ratchets up the yum factor a few ticks. Here the bologna sandwich begins with chef Adam Eaton’s glorious housemade meat, a mix of pork shoulder, ginger, allspice and cinnamon, that’s piled high on a plush buttery bun and blanketed with a singular slice of cheese that’s the color of sunshine. The dish has been a star of the menu from day one and works for brunch or late-night eats, a nice complement to the singular hospitality found inside this Lowertown restaurant.
Trung Nam French Bakery
A stellar sandwich requires incredible bread — and there might be none better than the crusty, pillowy baguettes found at this St. Paul institution, open since 1989. The bread is so popular that other restaurants buy it to try their hands at sandwich domination. Rather than hunting around, go straight to the source. Inside the bánh mì are shreds of pork, pickled carrot and radish, jalapeño and earthy pâte. Trung Nam’s menu might be concise, but there’s no reason to reach beyond the classics when you’ve become the standard-bearer.
Uncle Franky Dog
It's a little bit Chicago, a little bit New York, a little bit Philly and a whole lot of Northeast. Uncle Franky's, a neighborhood legend, doesn't look like much more than a shack, though you'll find a few tables next to the long counter. And while the area has some spruced-up eat and drink nearby — Able Seedhouse + Brewery, Animales Burgers, Minnesota Nice Cream, Centro and Indeed Brewing — Uncle Franky's and its signature hot dog remain steadfastly low-key and solidly good. The all-beef dog comes slathered in yellow mustard and topped with raw onion and impossibly green relish. And ketchup is required, "because this is Minneapolis," the menu proclaims. It's a hot dog that knows its audience.
Union Hmong Kitchen
Next to cooking, chef Yia Vang's specialty is storytelling. His tales of learning to make sausage from his war-hero father are particularly heart-rending. Vang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, and came as a child to the U.S. Here, his father taught him to coarsely chop pork belly and shoulder with two knives, blending the mix with ginger, shallots, lemongrass and Thai chiles, and stuffing everything into casings using the top of a Coke bottle as a funnel. At his North Loop food hall stand, the sausage is served with his signature purple sticky rice. Vang may have streamlined the sausage-making, but the stories of his family and his people are still blended into every bite.
$17 as part of Zoo Siab (Happy) meal, $8 Hmong sausage yaki skewer
Ropa Vieja breakfast
Victor's 1959 Cafe
This tiny Cuban diner in south Minneapolis has been a neighborhood gathering spot for more than 20 years, and the graffiti-adorned booths tell the stories. Whether you're celebrating, recovering from a debauched night or just brimming with promise, each day is better when it starts here. A Fiestaware plate arrives teeming with slow-stewed, deeply spiced flank steak with peppers and onions, and it’s all topped with a couple of eggs and served with toast and sweet plantains. This breakfast is even better when paired with a steaming cup of cafe con leche. It’s working-class food, meant to sustain throughout the day, and it’s packed with love and care from the cook.
Yum Yum Rice Bowl
World Street Kitchen
Brothers Sameh and Saed Wadi were among the first to kick off the local food truck renaissance, offering crave-worthy mashups of global cuisine as a less formal follow-up to their groundbreaking restaurant Saffron. A decade later, they're still at it, but with a permanent home, too. The signature Yum Yum Rice Bowl is loaded with pan-Asian-inspired toppings — Korean barbecue short rib and lemongrass meatballs are two favorites. Sweet, sour, spicy, crunchy and creamy, thanks to a lightly poached egg that binds it all together, it's the kind of reliable and, well, yummy meal we keep going back to. (The duo also has Milkjam Creamery next door; a Yum Yum Rice Bowl and a scoop of Cereal Killers is a delicious one-two punch.)
When Wrecktangle unleashed its Detroit-style pizza on Minneapolis in 2019, it induced a new city-wide craving. The pillowy crust is wedged into a rectangle-shaped tin and, in the case of the Shredder, is layered with bright tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, pepperoni disks and slices of jalapeños. When it bubbles up inside the oven, a glorious lace of fried crunchy cheese materializes. The pizza is then drizzled with hot honey and cut into fat squares. Each bite is the best of all worlds: buttery-crisp base, airy dough, gooey cheese and salty, meaty satisfaction.
Yum! Kitchen and Bakery
The lure of the simple vanilla-frosted Patticake, named for owner Patti Soskin, is unavoidable at any of the three Yum! locations; the bakery cases always have one on display. If a slice has been removed — as well it should be — it reveals the blackest-cocoa yin to the snow-white frosting yang in the form of a bittersweet chocolate cake that turns fudgier with every bite. A whole Patticake (or its cousin, the chocolate-frosted Baker's Man) is an impressive guest at any party, but no occasion is needed to pop into the bright and welcoming cafes for a slice.
Slice $5.95, whole cake $42
Zen Box Izakaya
Inside Zen Box Izakaya, the greetings are warm and sincere — and an inkling of the hearty comforts that pour out of the kitchen. Ramen is a full-blown obsession for chef John Ng, who co-owns the restaurant with spouse Lina Goh. A onetime architecture student and visual artist, Ng throws all of his studiousness and creativity into every bowl, where the flavors and rich textures are served in perfect harmony. The tonkotsu ramen dishes up noodles with a welcome spring and succulent pork belly chashu while a slow-cooked egg bobs in the liquid, spilling its lustrous yolk into the soothing, creamy broth.
Icons to go
Fill your Minnesota to-go basket with these homegrown items, available in grocery stores and shops throughout the metro area:
Its debut of loaded hummus bowls took the 2021 Minnesota State Fair by storm, but Baba's Hummus goes way back. Now available in supermarkets, the ultra-creamy dip originated at Burnsville's Mediterranean Cruise Cafe, one of Minnesota's longest-running Middle Eastern restaurants, founded in 1979. The "creamy dreamy" original lives up to its name, but don't be afraid to get a little flavor of the State Fair; Sriracha and dill pickle hummus are now on shelves.
Cry Baby Craig's hot sauce
In a landscape littered with hot sauce entries, one stands above them all. Cry Baby Craig's was born when a chef got an overabundance of habañero peppers and decided to ferment them. The result is a spicy, but not murderously hot, sauce that's dominated by the alluring floral heat and a garlicky spike of flavor that kicks up everything from cold pizza to Buffalo wings.
$6.99 for a 5-ounce bottle
Golden Fig lavender lemonade
This St. Paul storefront has been a haven for food lovers and stumped gift givers since 2006. Every inch of the shop is stocked with gourmet treats from small makers — including the cooler case. Owner Laurie Crowell makes small-batch chilled beverages like the lavender lemonade, a sprightly taste of spring that's just begging to be topped off with a little spring water, or spiked with a dose of craft vodka.
Frozen pizza preference is highly subjective. But if Minnesotans had to pick a favorite, the choice would overwhelmingly be Heggies. Familiar fare at dive bars and countless fundraisers, the cracker-thin Heggies had a humble start — in 1989 in an Onamia garage. Most often crisped to the brink of burntness, with a thick layer of cheese underneath the char, it tastes like easygoing Minnesota sustenance any way you slice it.
Lunds & Byerly's wild rice soup
You'll find three versions of this Minnesota comfort food. Two of them sound almost identical, but fans know the difference between "chicken wild rice" and "wild rice with chicken" (the third is with ham). It all comes down to variations on creaminess. As the market clearly knows, people like their wild rice soup just so. Home cooks take liberties with vegetables, proteins, the amount of wild rice and yes, heavy cream. And while a heat-and-serve version might never replace a cook's intuition, these legendary soups come close.
$8.99 a quart fresh, $3.79 for 10 ounces frozen
There are excellent locally made tortillas, but chef Chef Gustavo Romero’s nixtamalized heirloom corn tortillas have been a game-changer, popping up on restaurant menus across the Twin Cities. Romero uses the ancient technique of nixtamalization that makes the grain easier to grind and increases its nutritional value. The result is a celebration of corn, and a sturdier, earthier tortilla than the supermarket fare. Find them at Twin Cities co-ops and other small grocers, or pick them up from Nixta's northeast Minneapolis tortilleria. Grab a family dinner while you're at it.
$6-$8 per dozen
Salted Nut Roll and Nut Goodie
This is the candy bar built for the salty snacker. Peanuts and creamy caramel sheathe fluffy white nougat, making each bite crunchy, creamy and sweet with just a tiny hint of savory. Chocolate lovers should veer toward the Nut Goodie: peanuts and milk chocolate envelop maple-flavored nougat for a flavor that's been mimicked in bar form at many a church potluck.
From $1.29, original size
Sweet Martha's cookie dough
Is there any food more synonymous with the Minnesota State Fair than fresh, hot mini chocolate chip cookies from Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar, served by the bucket? Fortunately, the cookies named for co-founder Martha Rossini Olson are available year-round as frozen dough. And, when made at home, in far more reasonable quantities, the fresh-hot factor goes way up. A bonus? Frozen dough balls come in five flavors, four of which you won't find at the fair.
Sweet Science dark chocolate sorbet
Science is what makes this cult-beloved ice cream brand such a hit. The pints are hot commodities and the dark chocolate sorbet is a paean to everyone's favorite flavor. With a welcome edge of bittersweet and a gorgeous, soft texture, it's remarkable that this sweet treat is also dairy-free.
Top the Tater
The lime green tub is a symbol of creamy good times to come. There’s no party that can’t be upgraded with a scoop of this irresistible chive-onion sour cream dip by farmer-owned Mid-America Farms. Go peak Minnesotan by pairing it with Old Dutch rippled potato chips, the sturdier the better.
$2.95 for 12 ounces