Many visitors come to the Twin Cities of St. Paul and
Minneapolis in the course of a year. Most of them come
for business purposes, and don’t stay very long. Others
come in the spring, summer and autumn as tourists to
see the Twins baseball team play, to shop at the Mall of
America, to visit the famed State Fair in August, or to
attend a play at the Guthrie Theater, among many other
cultural and professional sports events throughout the year.
Of course, whether in the Twin Cities for business or
pleasure, one has to eat, and that means to eat out. As a
large metropolitan center, the Twin Cities have innumerable
restaurants of all kinds, quality and prices, as do all other
large metropolitan centers in the U.S., but the questions
remains: what are the best of the most unique dining
experiences in Minneapolis and St. Paul, experiences unlike
what a visitor might encounter at home or elsewhere?
As the dean of the Twin City food critics (I have been
writing about the restaurant scene here since 1973), I have
come up with ten best suggestions for where to go or what to
try for something very special, something that visitors probably
don’t have wherever they’re from, or if they do, not as good.
1. COSSETTA’S PASTICCERIA & DELI (St. Paul)
This spectacular emporium of Italian food specialties
in downtown St. Paul features on the first floor a popular
southern Italian cafeteria (with tables on the second floor)
and on the third floor is an upscale Italian steak house
dining room. All this is the product of the restless vision
of St. Paul restaurateur Dave Cossetta. Also on the first
floor is a breathtaking Italian pasticceria/gelateria and
adjoining Italian deli featuring the best imported cured
meats, cheeses, olive oils, condiments, baked-on-the-
premises breads, and authentically-prepared Italian
specialties for take-out.
2. CREMA CAFE/SONNY’S ICE CREAM (Minneapolis)
Famous for its nationally-known superb ice creams,
sorbets and gelati of the highest quality and original
flavors, the Cafe also serves excellent brunches and
dinners, hard-to-find bottles of outstanding wines, and
rich desserts in one of the Twin Cities most charming
and intimate dining spaces, including a magical outdoor
patio during the warm weather.
3. TILIA (Minneapolis)
This outstanding Linden Hills neighborhood bistro
serves some of the best food in the Twin Cities with a large
and original menu, excellent service, and one of the few
area fine dining restaurants that is kid-friendly. The
kitchen’s changing specialties are invariably delicious,
and it is clearly a dining room where everyone, staff
included, is having a good time.
4. B.T. MCELRATH’S CHOCOLATES (St. Paul)
One of the nation’s top artisan chocolatiers, Brian
McElrath and his devoted crew produce a large variety
of award-winning chocolates. Although they have no retail
outlet of their own, they do hold twice-a-year special sales
at their factory location, and their chocolates are available
at most of the top grocery and fine food outlets in the Twin
5. GHORKA PALACE (Minneapolis)
A terrific Himalayan restaurant with two women
Nepalese chefs who create masterpieces of unusual
flavors with Asian herbs and spices and all-natural,
organic top quality meats and vegetables. Lunch and
dinner, and the best buffet lunch in the Twin Cities, and
by far the outstanding local restaurant for this cuisine.
6. KRAMARCZUK (Minneapolis)
This Slavic deli, meat market and cafeteria is a popular
destination for made-in-house and preservative-free
sausages and eastern European specialties. The popular
cafeteria offers hearty goulashes, stuffed cabbage, pierogi,
and plates of bratwurst and caraway sauerkraut. Some
were surprised when this location recently won a James
Beard Award, but it is a distinctive Minneapolis dining spot
and deserves its accolades.
7. MANCINI’S (St. Paul)
A classic old-time Italian steakhouse in downtown St. Paul
with a neighborhood flavor and clientele. Excellent steaks at
reasonable prices. Still family-run, the legendary
paterfamilias of the Mancini clan is gone, but his sons and
grandchildren are on the premises every night in the kitchen
or to greet the regulars and first-timers with warm
Mediterranean charm. A true St. Paul experience.
8. BLACK SHEEP CAFE (South St. Paul)
Probably the best coffeehouse in the state, this creation of
barista (and now professional singing star) Peter Middlecamp
sets the Minnesota standard for the finest coffee and espresso
drinks, imported teas. There are excellent home made breakfast
and lunch specialties, too. A Clover coffeemaker and Dietrich
roaster ensures the highest quality, and international-awarded
barista/proprietor Middlecamp gives it a special touch.
Food and pastries are prepared on the premises. A bit of a trek
to South St. Paul, but worth it for coffee aficionados.
9. MINNESOTA STATE FAIR (St. Paul)
One of the largest state fairs in the nation, it runs from
mid-August to Labor Day. Virtually a fifth of the whole
state turns out for Minnesota specialties-on-a-stick, local
dairy, meat and produce items, exhibits, a grand Midway,
big-name music entertainment, and old-fashioned summer
fun. For a taste and flavor of the state, not to be missed.
10. TRAVAIL & ROOKERY (Robbinsdale)
Perhaps the most original and provocative kitchens in the
region, these two dining rooms, side-by-side under the same
roof provide innovative prix fixe menus filled with the
often-unexpected and delicious creations of the numerous
chefs who also serve as waiters. There is always an element of
fun and whimsy in the many small plates which compose the
multi-course dinners. A unique Twin Cities culinary experience.