There are a few generalizations you can make about Minnesotans that are almost always true: We will complain bitterly about the weather, even though we know in our hearts there is nothing we can do about it; we have a smug confidence that our way of doing things is better than, say, the way it is done in Iowa; and we like to eat. And the increasing diversity of the community means that an exotic evening out doesn’t mean picking up chow mien anymore. From Turkish delights to Mongolian entrées to the cuisine of different American regions, Minnesota dinning can be as varied as you want it to be. And if you just want a plate of comfort food? You can get that, too.
Minneapolis’s Eat Street may be the nexus of this new cuisine, as more than 50 restaurants offering a world of choices are packed into a few blocks along Nicollet Avenue. In the district, you can find a variety of Asian offerings, from Chinese to Japanese to Indian. Swinging further south, there are African eateries and restaurants dedicated to the Middle East. Europeans aren’t left by the wayside, with a number of countries represented along the way. And if you want the food of the Americas, there are Mexican-American eateries, places dedicated to southern “soul food” or heavy-duty barbeque. And you don’t just have to dine out on Eat Street. There are also several unique grocery stores catering to different interests.
That’s not the only district of note, of course. The rest of downtown Minneapolis (not to mention the many neighborhoods nearby, such as Uptown and the West Bank) features exciting options. For the vegetarian or organic-loving eater, there are numerous options sprinkled throughout the city. The same goes for St. Paul, where intriguing restaurants seem to be nestled at every corner in a multitude of neighborhoods. Not only can you explore great food at these eateries, but recent years have seen an upswing in quality wine and drink offerings in the area. No cheap wine out of a box at these places. Instead, you can thrill to some of the great tastes from the United States and the rest of the world.
If you are looking for a concentrated, indoor experience, check out the Midtown Global Market, located near the intersection of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis. Situated in an old Sears department store, the market offers plenty of opportunities for shopping and dinning—either eating in or taking out. The market also plays host to cultural events and artistic demonstrations, so it truly is like a new world every time you visit.
Summertime is when Minnesotans toss off their winter shackles and embrace the great outdoors. This just doesn’t mean trips up north to the cabin or some favorite vacation spot (though points outstate do offer more eating options, including a mix of new and traditional Minnesota fair), but also includes the numerous festivals held within the Twin Cities. During these months, the streets of many neighborhoods are turned over to music, shopping, and eating as well. You can try traditional Native American food; recipes with roots deep in the old country; and, if you take a trip down to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, the decidedly not-historically-accurate-but-still-tasty turkey legs.
One of the biggest—and oldest (2008 will be its 26th edition)—is the Taste of Minnesota. The annual to-do on Harriet Island in St. Paul draws in thousands of visitors each day during its midsummer run. There, you can find dozens of area restaurants offering their wares for sale. There is also music throughout the day, and fireworks every evening to cap off the festivities.
Then again, you can’t get much more Minnesotan than the annual State Fair, held each August in St. Paul. At the fairgrounds, you can not only take in great traditions—breakfast at the 4-H building, deep-fried cheese curds and milk as far as the eye can see—but the recent craze to serve anything remotely edible on a stick has taken food engineering to towering new heights. Leave your mundane memories of corndogs at home, the State Fair is the home of exotica-on-a-stick, from lobsters to pickles to candy bars to potatoes (both sweet and non-sweet) to steak to who knows what they will come up with this year.
The State Fair isn’t just a place to eat, however. It’s also a time to celebrate those who grow the food, raise the animals and perfect the cooking arts that we love so much. The fair’s agricultural barns, housing everything from champion chickens to awesome vegetables, are an important place to stop, look and wonder at all the hard work it takes to bring the food to the table.