Our best dining experiences
From old favorites to new places, dining out had a deeper meaning after a rocky 2020. Our food writers share their best moments.
Many progressive, small-plate restaurants have popped up in the past decade. Make no mistake: The Twin Cities has become a more progressive dining destination because of it. Yes, much of what Alma chef/owner Alex Roberts offers is small-plates dining. Yes, it's priced to match. But it's one of the Twin Cities' best dining deals ($85 for a family feast), and not in the way you'd expect — especially for a restaurant whose style has remained unchanged in the 20-some years since it debuted to well-deserved fanfare. Roberts takes the ubiquitous farm-to-table (ish) theme and runs circles around it. During my most recent visit, I quietly marveled at the simplicity of his antipasti (bright, snappy olives; spiced almonds; great breads) and the way he made Koginut squash sing. I realized that if chefs were to cook game birds the way Roberts does (lacquered, with a sweet and mildly acidic kick), they'd bring back the '90s and glaze their quails with balsamic again, as Roberts masterfully does. In fact, he excelled on almost every front, and probably has every year since Alma has been in operation. A meal was a revelation then as it is now. Go.
A summer lunch at this St. Joseph, Minn., newcomer — it opened in 2020 and is about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis — was a revelation. Chef/owner Mateo Mackbee's culinary lodestar is his mother's cooking, which is rooted in her New Orleans heritage. It's a testament to Mackbee's skills that, months later, I can still succinctly recall the spirited mosaic of flavors and scents emanating from spectacularly rendered crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice, gumbo and collard greens. Dessert? I headed next door to Flour & Flower Bakery, the restaurant's sibling establishment, and lost my self-restraint in a parade of baker Erin Lucas' dreamy pies.
When it first opened in 2019, Demi provided an opportunity for local celebrity chef Gavin Kaysen and a small team to lean deeply into their creativity. At the time, it felt like a bit of a fine dining flex, lovely if you could swing the impossible-to-pin-down reservation and pay the price of admission. After the pandemic, it was one of our first returns to fine dining and the meal was transcendent. The intention poured into every item on a plate recalled the wonder of dining inside a creative sphere, where every note of hospitality was personally geared to each diner. With rising prices across the board at restaurants, this small, intentional dining experience felt not only perfectly suited to the COVID-cautious, but also a rare evening of reclaimed joy.
During its first opening days this summer, it was hard not to be happy soaking in the surroundings — sun, river, patio and first-class architecture — of this much-anticipated restaurant from Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson. And that's before we ate a bite. But it was the second visit and a timely revisiting of Sherman's award-winning cookbook that truly had me smitten. With each inventive bite, I felt I understood Owamni's mission to spotlight Indigenous food a little more. It was purposeful cooking and eating at the highest level. Among my favorites: Bison Tartare and Chochoyotes and Mushrooms, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to still thinking about the rotating flavors of Choginyapi, open-faced corn sandwiches. I can't wait to see what each season brings. (Nicole Hvidsten)
When my much anticipated reservation at Daniel del Prado's new Japanese-Italian spot in the North Loop had me wedged between strangers at the counter, I opted instead for a socially distant dinner at the empty bar. It was the right move. Guided by expert bartenders, I worked my way through a gobsmackingly flavorful menu with one hit after another, each an unexpected marriage of two distant cuisines, from bar director Megan Luedtke's study on Japanese spirits (personal favorite: the Mekarushi, a Cor Cor Red Okinawa rum daiquiri with shio koji and black lime) to the crisp little foie gras gyoza and the juiciest meatball yakitori. I'm planning my return, and this time, the bar is my first choice.
To see more of our look back at Minnesota's food scene in 2021, including our Restaurant of the Year, standout chefs, beloved neighborhood spots and more, use the drop-down navigation bar at the top of this page.