Leah Raymundo and John Occhiato

It was easy to get drawn into the orbit of Kalsada's vibrant flavors soon after it opened. It's the third restaurant from owners Leah Raymundo and John Occhiato, who have already proven success with the always-humming coffee shop Cafe Astoria, and its quick-service sister restaurant Stella Belle. But nothing could have prepared us for the splendor of Kalsada; the restaurant feels more personal and far more ambitious than their first endeavors. Roughly translated into "street," Kalsada was where Raymundo remembers her mother telling the kids to go play. And play she and chef/partner Occhiato do. While this is Filipino food, the restaurant doesn't hew closely to tradition (which, arguably, is the cuisine's origins, playing with the influences of the region and devising a whole new and wonderful thing). There are lumpia and chicken adobo, but the twists on the dishes sprinkle delight throughout the meals — and they make sense. Who knew adobo would benefit from the truffle treatment? Vivid ube pancakes for brunch always draw eyeballs and Instagram. A dinner of tofu and eggplant takes two ingredients known as background players into a wild rumpus of peanut sauce and a bright herb salad. Kalsada is both a level up for its restaurateurs and the Filipino cuisine of our cities.

Travis Serbus, Dan Manosack and Bennett Johnson

Saying you ended the night at Little T's used to mean two things: You're probably not going to be doing much the next day and you probably won't be hungry the next day. While both are still technically true, the overall feeling one takes away is now a bit higher-brow. This entirely new restaurant in Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood bears little resemblance to its Tex-Mex predecessor known for post-bar sustenance. But what remains is a heart dedicated to good times, and now there's great food to pair with it. Owners Travis Serbus, Dan Manosack and Bennett Johnson were already accomplished hospitality professionals, Serbus and Manosack as part owners of Petite Leon and Johnson as one of the opening beverage maestros at Tattersall. This venture, their first together, feels like they built a supercool clubhouse for their friends and we're all invited. There is absolutely zero pretension and a whole lot of fun for everyone who appreciates stiff drinks and great bar food. Cocktails include a martini with your own shaker and a frozen cola blender drink that's topped with bitter amaro. In the kitchen, Manosack shines remaking bar snacks he loves: a hearty chopped cheese sandwich, pelmeni topped with chili crisp, and a bunch of dishes fit for today's dietary concerns (dedicated gluten-free fryers and several options that can be made vegan).

Dana Thompson and Sean Sherman

As tornado warnings lit up phones inside the Lyric Opera of Chicago, long-coming winds of change blew Minneapolis' Owamni from the local scene to the national and international scene when it was announced as the country's Best New Restaurant winner at the James Beard Awards. Owners Dana Thompson and Sean Sherman took the stage and the award in the name of reclaiming Indigenous cuisine and pushing native foodways into the forefront of the culinary conversation, one where every ingredient is given respect and consideration. Since the award, Sherman has traveled the world, educating eager listeners about the importance of Native foods. Meanwhile, the restaurant on the banks of the Mississippi River continues to grow in popularity. Not only is it beautiful, filled with good food and fun experiences, but Thompson and Sherman are harnessing the momentum and pushing it outward, extending opportunities and expanding conversations about what we eat and value. For a restaurant rooted in local Indigenous culture, in a state that takes its name from Dakota words, in a country that has experienced the atrocities of colonialism and racism, Owamni's success continues to have profound significance, and hopefully reverberations for a better, even more delicious world.

Yia Vang

After finally scoring a permanent home in the North Loop's Graze food hall last year for his Union Hmong Kitchen, which began in a trailer, Yia Vang is now ready for his next big move, and he has lots to choose from. He's working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring his dream restaurant Vinai to fruition, and though there have been financial setbacks, he's forged ahead with pop-ups and residencies this year that have shown just what culinary magic he can conjure. Meanwhile, Vang has been crossing the globe learning how to hunt and cook invasive species as the host of a new Outdoor Channel series, "Feral." That's just one of three TV projects launched in the past month. Plus, he made a star turn on Netflix's "Iron Chef" reboot, and he's still the host of the lovely TPT show "Relish" that features Minnesota chefs. Oh, and let's not forget Union Hmong Kitchen's debut at the Minnesota State Fair, which was an immediate hit with fairgoers. Vang's star just keeps rising.

Gavin Kaysen

Before this year, we wouldn't have thought it possible for Gavin Kaysen to climb any higher in the food world. But then he went and opened Mara, the gleaming new restaurant in the even more gleaming new Four Seasons hotel in downtown Minneapolis, and dazzled the Twin Cities once again (his Spoon and Stable and tasting-menu-only Demi remain among the best restaurants in the Midwest, if not the country). He also continued the rollout of Bellecour Bakery and his collaboration with Cooks of Crocus Hill, adding an outlet in St. Paul and announcing a forthcoming Edina location. He wrote and self-published his first cookbook, "At Home," which gives home cooks the keys to some of his most beloved family favorite recipes. He went to Hollywood, taking on a producing role for Netflix's "Iron Chef," and to Chile, where he coached the winning Team USA in the Bocuse d'Or Americas competition (he heads to Lyon, France, next in January). And, to top it all off, he and his wife welcomed their third child. Anyone else feeling like an underachiever?

Honorable mentions

Pedro Wolcott got his exciting pan-Latin restaurant Guacaya Bistreaux off the ground in Minneapolis' North Loop. Adam Vickerman brought the beloved Tosca back to life in Linden Hills. Margo and Alex Roberts expanded their Alma empire with a new Alma Provisions cafe and store in south Minneapolis. Kristin Tombers gave her Clancey's Meats and Fish a big new home, 19 years to the day after the butcher shop first opened. Daniel del Prado kept busy with the opening of Wayzata's Macanda and a suite of spots at the Rand Tower Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. And Brian and Sarah Ingram opened the ambitious Apostle Supper Club in St. Paul and Duluth, are working toward an imminent opening of Spring Break, and have announced a major expansion for their Hope Breakfast Bar brand.