Revisiting these metro-area restaurants is like being a tourist in our own town. Whether you've spent your whole life here or are a relative newcomer, every bite is an education, and this is your lesson plan. From the venerable supper clubs that have slung steaks and martinis for generations to energetic delis that have long served a taste of home to immigrant communities, they are the fabric of our dining scene. And the food is pretty great, too.
Some restaurants made the list because they are steeped in history and tradition, such as the Black Forest Inn; others because they have changed the food conversation, like Travail. And others just do one thing remarkably well, like the Lion's Tap and burgers. But most have landed here for their inimitable sense of place — the unmistakable feeling that you've come to the right spot and there's nowhere else you'd rather be.
However, a list can only be so long, and you might notice some absences. That's because many beloved locales have already landed on our previous lists of iconic dishes, summer must-eats and Greater Minnesota mainstays: Matt's Bar and Murray's, Monte Carlo and Meritage, Maynard's and Midtown Global Market. And those are just the M's. Be sure to revisit those lists, where you'll find many of your favorites.
Other restaurants were cut only after much debate. After all, what's a good meal without good conversation? Please join us at the table for the latest installment of Iconic Eats.
When Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre opened 112 Eatery in the Warehouse District in 2005, it was built to please a chef and serve industry folk. Certainly, plenty of dishes were enticing to all, but the restaurant was to be open late and serve food that would draw in hospitality workers. Instead it became a wildly popular mainstream restaurant that brought Becker a James Beard Award and launched a beloved restaurant company that includes Bar La Grassa, Snack Bar and the deeply missed Burch Steak. And it trained a generation of Twin Cities hospitality professionals in the fine art of service and fantastic food. 112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 112eatery.com
What began as a 1928 speakeasy has grown into a Juicy Lucy empire. The 5-8 Club may or may not be the inventor of the cheese-stuffed burger, but the original Minneapolis location is certainly the place to experience the breadth and depth of what a crusty, beefy burger packed with goodies can be. Originally named the 58th Club, for its location on 58th Street and Cedar Avenue, the 5-8 now has four locations, each with a menu loaded with Juicy Lucy options. We love being able to customize the cheesy interior with pepper Jack, blue cheese and even peanut butter. (Don't knock it till you've tried it.) 5800 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., 5-8club.com
When Barbette opened in 2001, Uptown was still a neighborhood brimming with creative energy. The space had once been Cafe Wyrd, a coffee shop known for its queer pride, and Barbette evolved into a casual French-influenced bistro covered in art. There's a lifetime of stories in these walls, and plenty of those stories ended with a plate of pommes frites. The city and restaurant have weathered a lot since those early days, but Barbette continues to serve the neighborhood as it has continued to evolve. 1600 W. Lake St., Mpls., barbette.com
Black Forest Inn
No need to long for a bier, brat or sauerbraten from a cafe in Germany — we have the goods right on Minneapolis' Eat Street. Serving housemade sausages, spaetzle and other German mainstays since 1965, the Black Forest has remained comfortable but not stagnant. The restaurant's charming interior has been a showcase for artists (including the famous bullet-riddled Richard Avedon photo), its event space hosts German film festivals and recitals, and its stellar outdoor patio was one of the area's first and is still one of the best. But the Black Forest's longevity can be attributed to one thing: It serves outstanding food (and beer) that happens to be German. 1 E. 26th St., Mpls., blackforestinnmpls.com
Brit's Pub & Eating Establishment
It's not every bar where the most happening time to hang out is in the a.m. But Brit's is practically operating in another time zone. Nicollet Mall's 32-year-old ode to U.K. hospitality is also a hotbed for soccer — ahem, football — enthusiasts, with international matches streaming before many Minnesotans have had a cup of coffee. (World Cup games run through mid-December.) The Britishness continues on the menu — get the chips and curry — and up on the rooftop green with lawn bowling. 1110 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., britspub.com
The corner of 50th and Penn in south Minneapolis has become synonymous with the Broder family, owners of three establishments, each with their own slice of Italian-American identity. First there's the casual, family-friendly deli that started it all in 1982. The pasta bar came in 1994, with its numbered menu that takes spaghetti in every imaginable direction. And the 2013 addition, Terzo, has dishes — and a killer wine list — that stay truest to the cuisine of the motherland. There's only one thing to do when you're in the area: Mangia. Broders' Cucina Italiana, 2308 W. 50th St., Mpls., broders.com; Broders' Pasta Bar, 5000 Penn Av. S., Mpls., broderspastabar.com; Terzo, 2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., terzompls.com
Bryant Lake Bowl
There aren't a lot of vintage restaurant-bowling alley-theaters kicking around these days. Even fewer that have served as the backdrop of a viral drone video that zips in and around its distinctive interior. Throughout its long and storied lifetime — the original opened in 1936 — Bryant Lake Bowl has served as a meeting ground for Uptown and much of Minneapolis. It remains one of the all-time great spots for a first date — its pioneering Monday Cheap Date Nights includes food, beverages and a round of bowling. The theater hosts intimate shows and the vegetarian chili still rocks. 810 W. Lake St., Mpls., bryantlakebowl.com
Buca di Beppo
One could argue that a national chain has no business on this list. One could also argue that a national chain launched by a non-Italian in a Minneapolis basement in 1993, one that winkingly salutes Italian-American culture past the point of tackiness and, for better or worse, became the benchmark for Midwestern red-sauce joints, is as iconic as it gets. Dive into a family-size platter of spaghetti and meatballs at any of the 68 U.S. locations — preferably the one on Harmon Place that began it all — and discuss. 1204 Harmon Place, Mpls., bucadibeppo.com
Cafe and Bar Lurcat
Cafe and Bar Lurcat have two of the most charming bistro-lighted patios in the Twin Cities, one facing the green oasis of Loring Park, and the other in a cobblestone alley straight out of a Hollywood set. Inside, the bar is just as magnificent. Dangling crystal chandeliers, black-and-white tiles and starched white linens exude a kind of glamour befitting its storied past as the onetime artist haven Loring Cafe. With a global menu and longtime hits such as the apple, cheese and chive salad and a steak frites for the ages, the Lurcat remains a hallmark in the D'Amico restaurant group's portfolio. 1624 Harmon Place, Mpls., lurcatminneapolis.com
Peter and Linda Quinn opened their first coffee shop on Grand and Victoria in St. Paul in 1982, when coffee-shop culture was nothing like it is today. Two years later, they added Cafe Latte across the street and captured the hearts and stomachs of the city's residents. Today, the sprawling, cafeteria-like Cafe Latte is practically a lunch factory, and though fresh-baked breads, cozy soups and wood-fire pizza are mainstays on the menu, the real attraction is and always will be the beloved cakes. (And sister bakery Bread & Chocolate is still across the street.) 850 Grand Av., St. Paul, cafelatte.com
The clock seems to stop when you step up and into this Highland Park deli. It could be 2022 or 1949, the year Cecil's opened, and the only clue would be the way other customers are dressed. The counter is always lined with people picking up fresh bread orders, selecting how they'd like their pastrami sliced or flanked by kids hoping for a hamantaschen for the ride home. In the restaurant, the matzo ball soup still tastes like bubbe made it. In a land with a dearth of Jewish delis, we wouldn't want to live without Cecil's. 651 S. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, cecilsdeli.com
Looking up at the multilevel structure in downtown St. Paul, it's hard to imagine Cossetta's as a tiny Italian grocery store, but that's where this story began. Now, it's hard to imagine a trip to the area without a stop here. Whether standing in the lively line downstairs for a slice or scoop of the famous mostaccioli or heading upstairs for an evening of fine dining with a view up the hill of the Cathedral, Cossetta's is unquestionably a part of the fabric of St. Paul. There's still a market, too. 211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, cossettas.com
The music alone is enough to draw anyone into this nationally renowned jazz club. But the Dakota has always been a place where music and food both commanded the spotlight. The impressive culinary run began with chef Ken Goff at the helm for the club's first two decades, followed by the late Jack Riebel. Derik Moran ran the kitchen for 10 years before the pandemic, and now Remy Pettus is turning out the cuisine of his family's Carolina heritage. Come for the Bad Plus, stay for the buttery grits. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., dakotacooks.com
DeGidio's is a master class in how a historic restaurant can stay true to its Italian red-sauce roots while also courting today's diners. The restaurant harks back to the speakeasy days of Prohibition, when St. Paul was a gangster haven. But the cozy dining room and comfortable bar have gotten a relatively recent refresh and is now a modern, crowd-pleasing destination. The red sauce still tastes like nonna made it, but there are also craft cocktails and a seriously good burger and chicken Parm sandwich. 425 W. 7th St., St. Paul, degidios.com
El Burrito Mercado
This restaurant began in the back of a family station wagon. Tomas and Maria Silva were among a group of Mexican immigrants who had landed in St. Paul and missed the tastes of home. When there were no fresh tortillas, no tomatillos and certainly no cilantro, the Silvas traveled to Chicago to source them. In 1979, they opened El Burrito Mercado, which grew to include a bakery, deli and eventually a full restaurant serving family recipes. Those once hard-to-find flavors of the Silva home have now become a part of our collective culinary wealth. 175 Cesar Chavez St., St. Paul, elburritomercado.com
Slipping into the small dining room at Eli's feels like coming home. The restaurant has been around since 1960 and continues to serve as a quintessential neighborhood watering hole and eatery in a part of town that didn't always feel so neighborly. This excellent date-night destination delivers casual vibes and quality food and drink — look for the rotating specials, dishes, wings and wines on a chalkboard. This slim eatery threads the line between chic and casual, just as perfect for a date night as it is for a quick beer and burger after work. 1225 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., elisfoodandcocktails.com
Emily's Lebanese Deli
When this unadorned corner cafe closed for a few weeks earlier this year due to a family illness, we were flooded with distraught emails from readers, lamenting what they feared was the loss of a northeast Minneapolis institution — and some of the best tabbouleh this side of the Mediterranean. Fortunately, the 50-year-old deli came back, spinach pies and Lebanese chicken dinners and all, and our weeknight takeout plan has been the better for it. 641 University Av. NE., Mpls., emilyslebanesedeli.com
On the list of supposedly "cursed" Minneapolis restaurant spaces, those that have cycled through many tenants, only one glitters like a roaring Art Deco wonderland. The former Goodfellows, Forum Cafeteria, Scottie's on Seventh and, long before that, the Saxe Theater, is now Fhima's Minneapolis. And with resilient restaurateur David Fhima calling the shots, the curse has surely been broken. Eating Mama Fhima's paella under geometric frosted glass chandeliers, amid gleaming pale green and onyx tiles and mirrored etchings of Minnesota motifs — is an all-out stunning experience. 40 S. 7th St., Mpls., fhimasmpls.com
In 1985, the term organic wasn't at the forefront of anyone's mind. Yet that was the year this Minneapolis mainstay became the country's first certified organic bakery. The cafe on Lyndale Avenue opened in 1990, and has remained a steadfast place to find hearty meals and baked goods with an eye toward dietary concerns. (There were vegan items in the bakery case long before "plant-based" was a common phrase.) While the cafe has expanded to include Bluestem Bar and a second location in St. Paul, it's the heart and intention of the original French Meadow that carries on. 2610 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., frenchmeadowcafe.com
Gardens of Salonica
There's something magical about the sunshine that has poured into this dining room for the past three decades — it's as if it bounced off the azure waters of Greece and landed in northeast Minneapolis. The warm, wood walls, balanced with impressive multimedia sculptures, act as a backdrop to the incredible Greek fare from chef/owner Anna Christoforides, who leans into local sources for dishes like the Hidden Streams lamb chops, grilled and served with petimezi sauce. There's a roster of Greek classics, and the bar serves an impressive array of Greek wines, too. 19 NE. 5th St., Mpls., gardensofsalonica.com
Minneapolis has a reputation for erasing historic buildings, but when Gluek's burned down to its shell in 1989, the building remained and the room was rebuilt. Gluek's itself is a landmark brand for the city, with the original brewery dating back to 1857. The restaurant as we know it, with its blue-plate menu that draws in enthusiastic sports fans and downtown workers for lunch, hasn't changed much since it reopened post-fire in 1990. And that's not a bad thing. 16 N. 6th St., Mpls., gluecks.com
Hard Times Cafe
Generations of Minneapolitans have been introduced to the punk aesthetic of the cafe and the vegetarian fare that it's been serving since 1992. Worker-owned, cash-only and unrepentantly independent, Hard Times has served as a post-show hang, early morning study spot or community organizing rallying point throughout the years. The vegetarian and vegan fare has never tasted better, and the coffee is served strong and without preamble. It used to be a 24/7 spot, but the riverside cafe is now open more reasonable hours, until midnight on weekends. 1821 Riverside Av., Mpls. facebook.com/hardtimescafe
Isles Bun & Coffee
If a worker behind the counter asks if you'd like extra frosting on your cinnamon roll, the correct answer is "yes." For years this small cafe near Lake of the Isles has been packing in early morning fans and making office heroes out of those who stop in for takeaway boxes of twisty, cinnamon puppy dog tails, giant sticky buns, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. Twin Citians have been able to count on these morning brighteners since 1993. Maybe someday we'll even branch out and try a scone instead of the cinnamon-scented treats. 1424 W. 28th St., Mpls., islesbun.com
The jewel of Northeast with a cozy bar feels like a throwback to the 1940s. Steak takes center stage, but sometimes shares the spotlight with lobster tails. This is a place for slow Manhattan sipping and dressing up for dinner. The Kozlak family can trace the restaurant's roots back to 1910, and it's that kind of generational hospitality that's built into the way servers care for diners here. 1928 University Av. NE., Mpls., jaxcafe.com
J.D. Hoyt's Supper Club
This chophouse feels like it's been on the same Minneapolis corner forever, with its marquee-lit sign and its position among other Warehouse District legends. (You've got Monte Carlo across Washington, and Bev's Wine Bar down the street; even the neighboring Deja Vu strip club feels historic.) Oozing a kind of mid-'80s glamour, what was the 301 Bar long ago is still, four decades later, a see-and-be-seen hangout for sports celebs, local rockers and fans of enormous pork chops and two-martini happy hours. 301 Washington Av. N., Mpls., jdhoyts.com
The legacy of this Cantonese restaurant — takeout only since the pandemic — is far bigger than its size. Paulina and Sunny Kwan opened the narrow Cedar-Riverside bakery, then restaurant, and then fortune cookie factory, in the early '80s. For 40 years, the kitchen has been defying the expectations of those who walk in expecting just another place to get chow mein and egg foo yong. Instead, Keefer Court offers an abundance of sweet and savory pastries and barbecued meat-heavy dishes originating from Hong Kong. 326 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., keefercourt.com
It's been Uptown's go-to for egg rolls and pad thai for more than 35 years, but earlier this year it looked like we might lose it. First opened by her Vietnamese immigrant parents, owner Dathao Phan and her husband now run the restaurant, which struggled during the pandemic and civil unrest. In February, their son started a Go Fund Me that raised more than $33,000 to keep the doors open. The campaign became a rallying point for them and others who shared an increasing familiar tale: undersung neighborhood spots on the brink. For many businesses, coming back after the pandemic wasn't quite as simple as turning the lights back on. 2755 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., kinhdorestaurant.com
Lindey's Prime Steak House
The neon sign over the door of this 60-year-old Arden Hills mainstay says Lindey's is "The place for steak." Indeed it is, and not much else. The menu is so short, it's printed on a sign that servers reposition around the homey cabinlike dining room, with its wood paneling and stone fireplace. But when the first item is Lindey's tender sirloin, there's little reason to keep reading. Digging into a 16-ounce tableside-carved hunk of meat while looking out at the woods surrounding Lindeys' high corner perch, one could forget it's only 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. 3600 N. Snelling Av., Arden Hills, theplaceforsteak.com
Forgive this characterization, but Lion's Tap feels like it's in the middle of nowhere. It rises like an oasis on a stretch of road past Flying Cloud Airport, sandwiched between a wildlife refuge and a conservation area that's especially beige this time of year. An enormous yellow billboard is all that points the way to "Famous hamburgers." And yet walking in gives you the unmistakable feeling that you've arrived somewhere. That would be a jam-packed diner with a long bar and wooden booths, stained-glass windows and the occasional wildcat painting. Napkin dispensers hold menus that have, since 1958, consisted of only one thing, burgers: single or double, cheese or plain, fries or none. You won't even find a fork and a knife in the building. Who needs it? 16180 Flying Cloud Drive, Eden Prairie, lionstap.com
Mancini's Char House
The 1960s-era sign hums a welcome. The interior gives Frank Sinatra vibes, while a '70s Vegas-style bar swings with a live band and twirling dancers. In the deceptively large dining room, the Mancini family's sense of hospitality runs deep. Steaks arrived cooked to order, sides are simple and comforting, and there is always a white frosted cake on hand for birthdays. When patriarch Nick Mancini died in 2007, W. 7th Street closed for his funeral procession. They don't make restaurants like this anymore, and we're lucky that the Mancini's tradition lives on, serving new generations with old-school class. 531 W. 7th St., St. Paul, mancinis.com
Go on a weekday and you'll find a vast selection of Cantonese fare, seafood dishes and glistening roast duck dangling over the counter. But on weekends, the place becomes a palace for dim sum, with large back ballrooms playing host to huge groups at round tables as carts stocked with dumplings, steamed buns and chicken feet weave in and around them. Die-hards line up early for this, in any weather. 8766 Lyndale Av. S., Bloomington, mandarinkitchenmn.com
Mickey's Diner by Willy
Most people zip by this distinctive building, featured in a 2020 Super Bowl commercial with Winona Ryder, on their way to the airport. But what elevates Mickey's Diner by Willy, which opened in 1960, is its quick service and dependable, classic food. The thick shredded hash browns are always crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside. Eggs are served your way, and the milkshakes whir up at lightning speed. Depending on the time of day, the 24/7 diner hosts families, college students, third-shift workers or night owls, and the one thing they have in common is a smiling face when their order is set on the table. 1950 W. 7th St., St. Paul, mickeysdinerbywilly.com
Moscow on the Hill
Dim-lit and red-tinged, like a Slavic cave of wonders, Moscow on the Hill has been St. Paul's ground zero since 1994 for hearty platters of dumplings, beet-stained bowls and more pickled fish than you ever thought you needed. And vodka, so much vodka, infused with the earthy flavors of Eastern European home cooking — caraway, garlic, dill, horseradish. It's almost a pity to leave behind the billowing ruby curtains and step out into the light of the charming backyard patio — almost. Just follow the accordionist, order a plate of cheese-covered pelmeni and a flight of vodka shots and take a cab home. 371 Selby Av., St. Paul, moscowonthehill.com
Driving by the distinctive 7 Up sign on Hamline Avenue, there are almost always people milling about outside waiting to get into the Nook on weekends, which starts with fish-fry Fridays and finishes with kids-eat-free Sundays. The restaurant supposedly began as a horse stable, but it's been serving people food since 1938. It became Casper & Runyon's Nook in 2000, and would build a dedicated following for humble bar food done very well — and one massive burger known as a Nookie Supreme. 492 S. Hamline Av., St. Paul, crnook.com
Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge
The only authentic thing about Psycho Suzi's is that it is authentically Psycho Suzi's. This sprawling, 15,000-square-foot kitsch shrine is overloaded with tchotchkes and twinkle lights and the bars are flowing with syrupy tropical drinks that may or may not transport you to another world — no, not the South Pacific, but a 1960s-style rec room of the mid-mod imagination. In Minneapolis, there's nothing else like it. (Look past all that and you also get a fabulous patio right on the Mississippi River, a shocking scarcity in this river town.) 1900 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., psychosuzis.com
Alex and Margot Roberts' Restaurant Alma began as a chef-led experience in the year of Prince: 1999. At the time, it was part of a trend of chefs stepping into ownership, forging partnerships with farmers and creating menus based on what was in season. The venture earned Roberts a coveted James Beard Award in 2010. From an expansion to include a bakery/cafe/boutique hotel to its new Alma Provisions concept in south Minneapolis, this restaurant remains just what it strove to be: grandness without pomp, fine dining without fussy, and simply one of the best. 528 University Av. SE., Mpls., almampls.com
St. Paul Grill
St. Paulites love to get dolled up for an occasion, and there's nothing like putting on your finest and having the dressed-to-the-nines valet open the door to the St. Paul Hotel. Overlooking Rice Park, the St. Paul Grill has been serving steakhouse classic dishes since 1990. The menu is filled with familiar Minnesota favorites, including pan-fried walleye and ultrarich creamy wild rice soup, and the Scotch list behind the bar is built for the good old days of deep expense account meetings. 350 N. Market St., St. Paul, stpaulgrill.com
This Linden Hills restaurant feels older than it actually is. When chef Steven Brown first opened this cozy eatery in 2011, he was a well-known chef who had worked in plenty of bold-name kitchens. But this was the space that would be entirely his. The aesthetic leaned away from his highbrow reputation and into the kind of place he could bring his family, including a coursed children's meal to suit his daughter, who was 4 at the time. The restaurant also heralded an era in Linden Hills, which remains one of the best restaurant neighborhoods in the city. 2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., tiliampls.com
Travail Kitchen and Amusements
It's only been around 12 years, but it's hard to imagine what fine dining in the Twin Cities used to look like before this trailblazing collective of chefs came on the scene, with their raucous tasting menus and creative bites that spun haute cuisine on its head. The trio of Mike Brown, James Winberg and Bob Gerken made it OK to play with your food, and started a cycle of constant reinvention that followed them down Robbinsdale's main street into three homes, the latest of which was envisioned as a roving dinner party. At Travail, change is the only constant. 4134 Hubbard Av., Robbinsdale, travailkitchen.com
W.A. Frost and Co.
When W.A. Frost opened in 1975, its Cathedral Hill neighborhood was in the midst of a revitalization. The stately mansions that had fallen into disrepair were being lovingly restored. The restaurant would also rise in a historic building, and like the surrounding homes, become a jewel of the area. Whether reclining under the giant trees on its stately patio, snuggled inside by the fire or catching up with neighbors and friends inside the ornate bar, this beautiful space is made for luxuriating. 374 Selby Av., St. Paul, wafrost.com
We'd be remiss not to give a nod to the restaurants of yesterday that are the definition of iconic. From the glorious front doors of the Sri Lanka Curry House to summer nights at the Dari-ette, here are places that are gone, but certainly not forgotten.
Lincoln Del, Fuji Ya, Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale, Nankin, La Belle Vie, David Fong's, Ichiban, Lucia's, Cafe Brenda/Spoonriver, Auriga, Forepaugh's, Cafe Un Deux Trois, Vincent, Saffron, the Strip Club, the Oak Grill, D'Amico Cucina/Campiello, Chouette, Pronto, Town Talk Diner, Porkys, Camdi, Azia.
What places are iconic to you? Let us know in the comments.