Welcome to the final installment of the Star Tribune's Iconic Eats series, a two-year project that has celebrated the dishes, restaurants, markets, bakeries and even the dive bars that make our cities and state one-of-a-kind food destinations. For this last look, we honor the people who have shaped the way we eat — and who continue to lead the industry in taste-making. These are our trailblazers, those who have caused a seismic shift for the better in the way we dine; the people for whom there is a clear before and after in our restaurant world; and those who, no matter their accomplishments, keep striving to do more.
Ann Ahmed doesn't just make the foods she loves to cook from Laos and Southeast Asia. She casts a spell that transports us all to those lush and tropical places within the restaurants she builds. From the expanse of Gai Noi and the serenity of Khâluna to the vibrancy of Lat14, Ahmed's craft allows us to dip a toe into a world that's half a globe away. Her dishes dance between familiar and regionally distinctive tastes that wake up the palate — and maybe kick the brain into thinking about updating a passport.
Jamal Ansari, Khalid Ansari and Rana Kamal
The family legacy
It might have seemed like Baba's Hummus came out of nowhere, just a cute Airstream parked at the Minnesota State Fair. In truth, that velvety hummus has a long lineage. Its founders, Khalid Ansari and Rana Kamal, are the children of Jamal Ansari, the owner of Minnesota's longest-running Middle Eastern restaurant, Mediterranean Cruise Cafe. While the soaring Burnsville establishment is still going strong, the stylish siblings have brought renewed interest to the family's Palestinian cuisine. In just a couple of years, they've taken a bite out of supermarket shelf space with innovative hummus flavors and accoutrements. With the trendy Baba's Hummus House now open in Minneapolis, they've proved once again that this family knows food.
Kim Bartmann, founder of Placemaker Hospitality, cultivated her share of detractors over the three decades she's been opening neighborhood restaurants — and she knows it. "I'll just say the gastro-ceiling is in full effect," she told us in 2022 amid the controversy surrounding her nomination as a James Beard semifinalist after a now-settled overdue wage incident. Her reputation may or may not have recovered, depending on who you ask, but there's no denying Bartmann's impact. From the early 1990s on, she's launched convivial and casual gathering places with staying power, from the queer coffee shop Cafe Wyrd to the skee-ball spot Pat's Tap and 20-year-old bistro Barbette. In 2023, she took a chance on two more restaurants, both in Minneapolis neighborhoods naysayers like to deem as "dead": Pinoli in Uptown and Star Bar in downtown. But Bartmann has always operated on her own terms.
Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre
The power couple
It's a distinctive kind of sigh, the moment when that must-order dish hits. Mention Bar La Grassa, 112 Eatery or even the departed Burch Steak and regulars are instantly transported back to the moment when they last tasted their favorite dish, prepared just as it had been on every visit. Since Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre opened 112 Eatery in 2005 as the kind of restaurant they wanted to dine in, they've invited everyone in and created those favorite dishes we return to when nothing else will do. There's an art to the way they build and deliver a dining experience, a feeling others strive to recreate. Visit Daniel del Prado's restaurants or St. Paul's Gus Gus and you'll find traces of this singular brand of hospitality baked into a fresh generation of restaurateurs.
The community builder
Tomme Beevas got his start selling his grandmother's jerk chicken on Twin Cities streets before winning the Food Network's "Food Court Wars" in 2013 and landing in Burnsville Center. The former Cargill executive knows how to pivot and follow where the needs take him. During the uprising in the wake of George Floyd's murder, he found himself in the heart of a community that was hurting. From Pimento Jamaican Kitchen's Eat Street dining room, a nonprofit sprang to life, getting basic goods into the hands that needed them while striving to build a more equitable community. Thus Pimento Relief Services was born. Now, he's launched his newest venture on the shores of Bde Maka Ska, serving that spicy chicken and cozy coconut rice alongside his continued advocacy.
Peter Bian and Linda Cao
The viral success story
During the pandemic, Peter Bian used newfound time on his hands to do something he loved: make dumplings. He hand-pinched the labor-intensive pockets, and would drop off frozen batches for friends who encouraged him to sell them online. Thankfully, he listened. With his wife, Linda Cao, he launched Saturday Dumpling Club (now Saturday Dumpling Co.), advertising it primarily on Instagram. It blew up instantly, becoming a Twin Cities cult-food favorite. Bian and Cao have collaborated with some of the area's top chefs on inventive dumpling flavors (breakfast pizza, beef rendang, crawfish étouffée) and found a way to balance the viral boom with a recipe for sustained success. They schedule weekly pickups from a commercial kitchen, where they increasingly make and sell hot food — a proving ground for a someday brick-and-mortar that we expect will continue to redefine the restaurant model for the social media age.
Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone
The rulers of the roost
When Thomas Boemer first started dipping birds in buttermilk and flour, we had no idea there was about to be a fried chicken revolution in the Twin Cities. Back then, he and business partner/hospitalitarian Nick Rancone were better known for their fine-dining restaurant Corner Table. Yet here we are years later, and that crispy/juicy bird is a standard-bearer on both sides of the Mississippi, with three Revival locations and legions of fans. Minnesota may not have been a place known for fried chicken, but it is now.
The Broder Family
The next generation
No doubt, the Broder family crest includes pasta. What had been largely their parents' business since 1982 fully passed to the next generation during the pandemic. What's remained constant is the way the family shares Italy through its three restaurants. Charlie, Danny and Thomas Broder each bring unique skills to the family business, and it's never been better. People still crowd into Broders' Pasta Bar for plates of comfort, Terzo for tender-cooked porchetta and wine, and Broders' Cucina for proper New York-style slices of pizza. They easily could have rested on the reputation of the Broder name, but the siblings are still pushing into a fresh, pasta-filled future.
Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg
There's nothing like angling for a piece of cured meat dangling off a chandelier at a Travail dinner. When Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg first opened Travail in what was a small restaurant in a quiet suburb, antics were a big part of the experience. And though COVID may have put an end to the communal nibbling of pork, everything and nothing has stayed the same: Each Travail meal defies expectations and contains zero pretenses. Inside their modern, multilevel, downtown Robbinsdale dream home, the chef/owners continue to do what excites and drives them, from horror-themed basement dinners to flawless rooftop tastings. The result is a party we're happy to be invited to time and again.
From his early days bringing the swagger of a rock star to his "perfect" neighborhood restaurant Tilia (a rave coined by Andrew Zimmern), Steven Brown has confidently and deftly made this town a better place to eat. At both Tilia and his French bistro St. Genevieve, there's a lived-in confidence, making it hard to remember what life was like without their delicious charms. Those alone would be an accomplishment, but he was also an early investor in Red Wagon, brought fresh fare downtown with Giulia and mentored the next generation of confident kitchen talent. Brown seems to have unlocked the secret to being a chef who looms large in the industry, without ever resting on his laurels.
Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer
The seasonal vanguards
When Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer started making Indian-spiced doughnuts from a red trailer, there was only one other licensed food truck in Minneapolis. Their Chef Shack business immediately carved out a path for others to follow, and downtown lunches would never be the same. Parked at the Mill City Farmers Market, their menu is hyperlocal and influenced by their travels. And when the warm weather leaves, they pack their bags and head out of town. This plan still works with their restaurant in Bay City, Wis. It's an incredible, seasonal dining experience, perhaps made better because it's fleeting, leaving us wanting just one more bite. The couple dedicates the offseason to traveling and recharging their creative batteries, a balance not common when that red truck debuted. Carlson and Summers showed it's possible to have work-life balance in the food world.
Mike DeCamp and Brent Frederick
Jester Concepts has been responsible for a number of formative food experiences in the Twin Cities. And behind those experiences are owners Brent Frederick and chef Mike DeCamp, and the many talented people they've kept in their orbit. Some of those experiences brought something new to the table. (Remember a time before Parlour ushered in the smashburger era? We don't either.) But lately, the duo has been dedicated to unearthing the pleasures of our city's collective food memories, delivering distinctive restaurants that remind us of Minneapolis' fine-dining lineage. First, they brought back the gorgeous dining room at 510 Groveland with P.S. Steak. This year, they turned Butcher & the Boar from a memory to a reconceived restaurant that honors its original chef. And they've carried that burger phenomenon from one basement bar to an ubiquitous bite of the North Loop that's found in several locations around the cities.
The taste of Buenos Aires
Not only did he change the way we eat empanadas in town, he forever changed the shape of pizza. Facundo DeFraia's exquisite Argentine empanadas were a runaway hit on the menu of friend Daniel del Prado's first restaurant, Martina. As the public was clamoring for more, he delivered with his own place, Boludo. The pizzas were oblong, pointed on the ends, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and fluffy shreds of cheese sprinkled liberally around the edges. Everything about DeFraia and Boludo is bold, and those bold pizzas garnered a cult following because of it. Their popularity has only grown — as have the locations, doubling to four this year.
Daniel del Prado
The serial restaurateur
Daniel del Prado's can't-stop-won't-stop perpetual motion is impressive not just for the ambition, but for how often he sticks the landing. Starting with the still-delightful Argentine-Italian Martina, del Prado has opened more restaurants in recent years than anyone else at this level: Colita, Rosalia, Josefina, Macanda, Blondette/Bar Rufus/Miaou Miaou, and, this year alone, Layline and Porzana/The Flora Room. Each found an excited audience salivating for his French-punk aesthetic, pasta from his childhood memories, and lesser-known Argentine cuts of unbelievably juicy steaks.
Susan Dunlop and Joan Schmitt
The neighborhood whisperers
It was a bold choice to open a romantic destination restaurant in St. Paul's quiet Highland Park neighborhood, but Joan Schmitt and chef Susan Dunlop — both steakhouse alumnae — were undaunted by the pizza-oven cooking setup in seemingly sleeping surroundings. Their hunch that the area was ready for high-caliber dining was correct. When the restaurant opened in 2011, there were few contemporaries. Now the area has grown, new restaurants are opening, and Joan's in the Park continues to innovate with stunning plates and world-class hospitality.
The name in lights
With "Fhima's" glowing on a marquee in downtown Minneapolis — already a second act success story for this longtime restaurateur who recovered from a string of high-profile closures — David Fhima gave us another new restaurant this year that raised his wattage even higher. Maison Margaux is the Parisian bistro of his dreams, literally; he had sketched out the plans years before. But Fhima has always chased after his hospitality-imbued visions. With well-known restaurants like Minneapolis Cafe, Louis XIII and Faces Mears Park to his name, there's a 30-year history of striving to share the warmth he grew up with in his Moroccan family. As he told the Star Tribune earlier this year: "We didn't feel like we truly did you right unless you remembered us."
The paradigm shifter
His fine-dining restaurants Auriga and Piccolo were at the forefront of haute cuisine in the '90s and '00s. But it was somewhere between the beach at Lake Nokomis and a corner bar in Minneapolis that Doug Flicker found his new groove. It's a left turn for those who expect a white-coat chef to keep turning out food for fancy folk, but the linoleum-floors and bubble hockey suit him. What he and his partner Amy Greeley have built in Bull's Horn Food & Drink, their neighborhood restaurant/bar, is a place where fine food doesn't have to be so serious. Where being at the top of your game doesn't have to come with a constant foot-on-the-gas mentality. And where a great burger and a karaoke corner is all you need.
The Irish impresario
The first thing you notice about Kieran Folliard is the brogue, booming and jolly. Or maybe his freewheeling quips and Irish wisdom. Either way, he's noticeable. The Ireland-born serial entrepreneur is credited with establishing the local Irish pub scene, with a one-time portfolio of Kieran's Irish Pub, the Local and the Liffey, and gave us two whiskey brands, one of which he still owns (Red Locks). Best of all, he created the Food Building, an ambitious production facility for some of the state's finest food makers. It's a place where artisans share techniques, ingredients, even waste, to continually create something new. And to Folliard, new is everything. "The emotional benefits of acting on your ideas far surpasses the safety of not acting on the ideas," he told the Star Tribune in 2021 over a sip of whiskey. "You know, I never had any good ideas over a cup of coffee."
Le Grande Fromage
The self-proclaimed "Big Cheese" — the French phrase was embroidered onto his chef's jacket — Vincent Francoual rightfully comes up in most conversations about French cuisine in Minneapolis. The native of southwest France was only 29 when he arrived in the Twin Cities in 1998 and made his mark at Cafe Un Deux Trois. Next he presided over a corner of Nicollet Mall at Vincent A Restaurant, where he gave us a legendary Juicy Lucy worthy of a white tablecloth. His latest act, as a partner in Restore Restaurant Holdings, had him transforming the menu at EaTo before launching Chloe by Vincent, named for his daughter. It reaches into Francoual's memories of France with homestyle dishes such as cassoulet and onion soup. If you don't already feel like you know Vincent, you will.
The sushi storyteller
When Shigeyuki Furukawa first opened Kado no Mise, he immediately raised the bar for what sushi in Minneapolis could be. At his omakase dinners, austere plates expertly blend thoughtful ingredients with the finest and freshest seafood, drawing appreciative murmurs with every service. And with the addition of the area's first kaiseki dining experience, an intimate exploration of food, flavors and dining as meditation, Furukawa has forever altered our access and enjoyment of Japanese cuisine. It doesn't hurt that he's doing it in a cutting-edge complex of Japanese food and drink, alongside Gori Gori Peku's tiny but world-class whiskey bar and Sanjusan's all-out fun itameshi menu.
Jorge Guzmán, Ben Siers-Rients and Travis Serbus
When three industry vets came together in the midst of a global pandemic to revitalize a neighborhood restaurant, each brought years of ups, downs and hard-won experience to the table. The result is the acclaimed Petite León. The cocktails, from Travis Serbus, kick off the party by defying expectations, like using ingredients with a vegetal edge. The food leans into Jorge Guzmán's Mexican heritage, but isn't defined by it. And Siers-Rients' vision for hospitality deftly focuses on the personal. Petite León has launched each into other arenas and businesses, with Serbus' Little T's, Siers-Rients and Serbus opening Lynette next year and Guzmán plotting the Mex-Tex restaurant Chilango. It all comes from the well of convivial hospitality.
The studious cocktailer
Pip Hanson found his calling at a famous Tokyo bar, which led him on a trail and career that has taken him around the world. Yet he chose to return here, where he's created some of the most interesting cocktail programs in the city. Hanson was the founder of Marvel Bar's landmark menu, and he did it by leading a team of fellow curiosity seekers. The studious, quiet way they built cocktails gained national attention and inspired a new generation of mindful mixologists. A decade later, he was brought on to head the beverage program at O'Shaughnessy Distilling. Hanson's cocktails are still filled with limitless depths of creativity.
Born in France and raised in French Guiana, Marc Heu always had a weakness for a good pastry. While living in St. Paul during a break in his medical studies, he found his croissant cravings just couldn't be satisfied. His wife, Gaosong Heu, suggested he try to make them himself, and he was up to the challenge. It turned out, making perfect pastries was even more thrilling than eating them. Heu switched careers and headed to Paris to train. With few Asian role models in the French pastry world, Heu was determined to make his name by dealing in delicate cakes, flaky layers and tropical tarts. In just a few short years, the couple opened Marc Heu Pâtisserie Paris in St. Paul, and it rapidly became one of the area's most buzzed-about shrines to laminated dough. And Heu? He's as determined as ever to keep raising the pastry bar — and breaking the mold of who can be a pastry chef in the first place.
The bartender's bartender
Running beverage programs for the highest-profile restaurants in Minneapolis would seem to be the pinnacle of a career. Instead, Robb Jones took his next step in an unexpected direction by opening the dive bar Meteor. So many bartenders were eager to work for Jones, he hardly had to hold interviews. It's no wonder Meteor has become the late-night industry hang. What they knew, and we've since found out, is that too often highbrow cocktails are missing one of the most important ingredients: fun. From pop culture pop-ups and a hot dog-centric food menu to the seasonally changing yet classically steeped cocktail list, Jones' vision is once again at the forefront of what's next in Twin Cities cocktails.
The deli dreamer
How incredible would it be if the Twin Cities could have an Afro Deli & Grill on every corner? The warm, spiced smell of Somali tea beckoning outside its doors. Generous portions of creamy Chicken Fantastic spilling over plate edges. Corners of sambusas in hand for the best kind of eating on the go. Since Abdirahman Kahin opened the original location in Cedar-Riverside in 2010 — there's now three more — his restaurants' fresh African fusion has been filling a gap in the Twin Cities' food landscape. But why stop there? Kahin, who immigrated here from Somalia in 1996, hopes to take the concept national. And after the Biden-Harris administration named him the National Small Business Person of the Year for 2023, he's well on his way.
For sports fans, it was the Super Bowl sweeping into town that made our little corner of the world feel big. For food fans, it was the arrival of Bloomington's own Gavin Kaysen. After a lauded early career at the highest-profile places, Kaysen made a move that had national food media wondering: Why Minneapolis? There was such a rush of enthusiasm as Kaysen opened his first restaurant, Spoon and Stable, that reservations broke records. Soon after came bar-raising French food at Bellecour and next-level, intimate dining at Demi. Last year, the Four Seasons followed his trail to our city and Kaysen delivered Mara. All along, Kaysen has modeled what restaurant ownership can look like and how staffing operates. He's still a big advocate for Minnesota, drawing bold-named friends like Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Kristen Kish to cook in his kitchen at big-ticket dinners and share their knowledge at the purposely affordable Synergy Series talks. There's no question we have B.G.K. and A.G.K. eras in the Twin Cities.
When Ann Kim took the stage at the James Beard Awards, she wasn't alone. Standing behind her was every woman, immigrant, undervalued cook and person possessing a dream that was almost too big to believe in. For all of us who ever wondered if we were enough, she spoke of almost opening a franchise sandwich shop. Instead, she swore right in the face of fear and blazed her own path — one lined with dough and kimchi. Kim wove her story and heritage into humble pizza, and she influenced Minnesotans' appreciation for spice and funk. Pizzeria Lola quickly became the hottest seat in Minneapolis, followed by the universally lauded Young Joni. Her stable of eateries has continued to grow and evolve, and her newest, Kim's, promises to be another delicious chapter in her story.
The beverage ringmaster
Sometimes it feels like Nick Kosevich is everywhere. The boisterous bartender is leading the beverage good times at Mr. Paul's Supper Club (where he's part owner) and its offshoot, the endlessly wacky Balloon Emporium; tinkering with tinctures in the apothecary at Earl Giles distillery (where he's CEO); and behind the bar at one of the scores of places around the country for which he's written cocktail lists and consulted. Since his early Town Talk Diner days at the forefront of the craft cocktail renaissance through the co-founding of Bittercube and beyond, Kosevich has been all about building unexpected layers of flavors in a glass — and having the most fun while doing it.
The elite baker
There were croissants in town before John Kraus, and there were croissants in town after John Kraus. The turning point was the seismic shift he brought to the local pastry world when he opened Patisserie 46. Trained in France, Kraus is a globally recognized master of delicate tarts, exquisite cakes and laminated dough. He became the first American-born member of Relais Dessert, an exclusive club of worldwide pastry chefs who adhere to strict standards of excellence. And he's continued to apply those standards right here at home, with wife and partner Elizabeth Rose. Their Pat 46 and Rose Street Patisserie embody the Parisian ideal of a neighborhood patisserie, with eye-catching pastries worthy of glass dome displays. His impeccable, crusty loaves stock co-op shelves. And in his Bread Lab, he trains the next generation of high-caliber bakers, continually upping the Twin Cities' twirly croissant game.
Jamie Malone was already one of the most respected chefs in the Twin Cities before she began her nationally lauded reign at Grand Cafe. After it closed during the pandemic, it wasn't hard to imagine she might just open another restaurant. Instead, she's forged an entirely new way of bringing her defining French classics to diners. Untethered by a restaurant address, she continues to develop her singular style, serving historic French recipes through a global and modern perspective at Paris Dining Club events, in make-at-home entertaining kits, and even among the paintings in the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Over the past few years, Malone has shown that her artistry can't be contained by four walls.
In the local culinary world, Tim McKee is a full sentence. His name equates to some of the best fine dining anywhere, our first James Beard Award winner, and a leader who has cleared the way for others to follow and grow. With the weight of all that praise, one might expect an inflated ego. Instead, McKee continues to do what he does so well, building restaurants we love to linger in and fostering talent that continues to expand our culinary landscape. Case in point: his standout guest stint this year at Sanjusan, where he collaborated with an up-and-coming team on new menu items, all while serenading guests at an intimate omakase. Next is a whole planned complex of McKee establishments, all Basque-influenced food and drink at the forthcoming West Hotel.
Since she was 10, Shawn McKenzie has been on a quest to unlock all the mysteries baking could reveal. It's a borderline obsession that has gifted Minneapolis with marvelous baked goods that often make use of unexpected ingredients we didn't know we needed, like cookies that wove toasty tahini and nutty rye into the mix before either was commonplace. She landed here from Portland, Ore., taking the one-time Burch Restaurant by storm with a rum cake to end all rum cakes. Since then, she's partnered in Cardamom at the Walker Art Center and launched her expanding business Café Cerés during the pandemic. After a major national James Beard nod this year, McKenzie continues her quest, and we're all readily walking down that road with her.
The pastry star
When Diane Moua sets her mind to something, she makes it happen. As a young chef, she began working the pastry station inside La Belle Vie, then the pinnacle of fine dining. Through determination, deft control with sugar and flour and the delicate nuance of flavor, she rose through the ranks to run the program. Once at the top, she moved the goalpost and headed up pastry at Spoon and Stable, mastering bread and service on the national stage. From there it was to Bellecour, building what's become known as one of the best French-style bakeries in the metro, and Demi, where she routinely wowed with two plated desserts and half a dozen confections a night. "Quintessential Moua," the Star Tribune wrote in its review of Demi. Next, she moves the bar again, hopping over to the savory side of the menu, pulling from her Hmong heritage with the 2024 opening of her own restaurant, Diane's Place.
John Ng and Lina Goh
The ramen ambassadors
Their story began in a small slice of the skyway, a place where Lina Goh and John Ng created a gyoza sensation and developed a fiercely loyal following. At the bigger Zen Box Izakaya, their dedication for putting Minneapolis on the national ramen stage has drawn chefs from around the world and raised the bar locally for rich Japanese broths swimming with noodles. This year, they joined forces with the Bebe Zito team to open Eat Street Crossing, giving us two new concepts on top of the downtown Minneapolis Zen Box that's still going strong: Ramen Shoten, a ramen counter; and Sushi Dori, home of the innovative sushi sando.
Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem
The culinary cruise directors
The Minneapolis food truck scene was still in its infancy when Hola Arepa pulled its distinctive turquoise restaurant on wheels onto the streets. Long-cooked fillings in those fluffy masa handhelds were just the first taste of what the Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem would do for the city. With the Hola Arepa brick-and-mortar, followed by Hai Hai, the couple created stellar eateries that proved big flavors don't have to come with giant price tags. The inventive and tropically influenced menus showcase Nguyen's mastery of flavorful sauces and Grudem's singular work with cocktails, making both restaurants beloved parts of our dining world.
Tim Niver says out loud what other restaurateurs are only thinking. With his palpable charisma and passion for the industry he loves, Niver takes to the microphone on his podcast, "Niver Niver Land," and coaxes difficult conversations from fellow tastemakers, humanizing the struggles of the industry. By drawing on years of experience, from his early Aquavit days to the legendary Town Talk Diner and the Strip Club, Niver advocates for those who toil to create great dining. This public championing is an extension of the hospitality he has fostered at his current restaurants, Mucci's and Saint Dinette. Guests are warmly welcomed in these small communities, where every person who crosses the threshold has a place to belong.
Alex Roberts probably knows what you're craving right now. The James Beard Award-winning chef has helmed Restaurant Alma for 20-plus years, with its always inventive and globally inspired tasting menu continually proving its relevance in a turbulent restaurant landscape. If that weren't enough, he, with spouse and partner Margo Roberts, continues to expand Alma from a single restaurant to an entire experience. They added a boutique hotel upstairs, and an all-day cafe next door. The latter evolved into Alma Provisions, a shop in south Minneapolis, bringing its breakfast sandwiches and housemade apothecary and pantry goods to another corner of the city. Meanwhile, Roberts' Brasa, a slow-cooked, quick-service crowd-pleaser of a restaurant, is now up to four metro locations. Our take? Keep 'em coming.
Jeffrey Rogers, Alex Rogers and Breanna Evans
The coolest squares
When bartender-turned-chef Jeffrey Rogers teamed up with his brother Alex Rogers and his girlfriend and "sunshine director" Breanna Evans to open Wrecktangle, his pan-baked pizzas became a Twin Cities phenomenon. So much so that spelling "rectangle" without the "w" feels wrong. From the early days as a stand inside the North Loop Galley food hall to a winning turn on "Good Morning America's" national pizza competition, Wrecktangle continues to reinvent what a pie shop can be. Their new St. Paul spot Wrestaurant, in partnership with First Avenue, has the team serving hot slices from a window, along with an expanded menu of gorgeous pastas, smoky wings and just about anything else they deem yummy. Because when it comes to what we want to eat next, they are always wright.
The nixtamal hero
Nixtamalization wasn't common in the Minnesota lexicon before Gustavo Romero came to town. Now, nearly every tortilla here has an origin story. Romero was born and raised outside Mexico City, and trained as a chef in Italy and top restaurants in Oakland, Calif. It was there he delved into the ancient practice of processing maize to make a better tortilla, one that honors the sacred grain. Romero used the shutdown of 2020 to turn his attention to those thick, almost nutty tortillas, giving them out with every family-style meal he sold from Nixta, his northeast Minneapolis storefront. Fast forward to today, and they're in grocery stores and on restaurant plates, including those at his and wife and partner Kate Romero's groundbreaking new restaurant, Oro. And nixtamalization? The multistep process is becoming a new standard. "It's really hard for me to go to a store and buy a pack of tortillas," Romero told the Star Tribune in 2020. "I just can't do it anymore."
He's working to shape the global conversation around the power of food in Indigenous communities and beyond. That conversation might begin at Owamni, Sean Sherman's groundbreaking and much-recognized Minneapolis fine dining destination, but it doesn't end there. In emphasizing a pre-colonial pantry, he has given diners the tools they need to start examining the complicated history of food. With the nonprofit NATIFS and the new Indigenous Food Lab at Midtown Global Market, Sherman has put vital systems in place to empower other Native chefs to explore the same in their own communities. Most recently the recipient of the Julia Child Award (with a $50,000 prize he donated to World Central Kitchen), Sherman continues to work on untangling the tentacles of outside influence on Native cuisine through education, advocacy and cooking nourishing meals.
The comfort-food creator
If chicken soup is for the soul, Yum Kitchen and Bakery has been spooning out soul in the suburbs for almost 20 years. And behind every bowl is Patti Soskin, who owns Yum with husband Robbie Soskin. Her always-busy, quick-service cafe began in St. Louis Park in 2005, and its expansion has been deliberate, adding a Minnetonka outpost in 2015, a St. Paul location at the end of 2021 (the outlier in that it's in the city), and Woodbury just this fall. Now, almost every quadrant of the metro has access to Soskin's classic and wholesome menu — including Yum mainstays like chicken soup with matzo balls, egg salad sandwiches, challah and Soskin's signature Patticake — and to her ethos that food and traditions, when shared, equals happiness.
The hospitable chef
There's a long-practiced rural ideal of keeping something special on hand should visitors knock on the door. Any afternoon could become an occasion for a slice of pie and a cup of fresh-brewed coffee. While Karyn Tomlinson's Myriel is a beautiful restaurant steeped in her French kitchen training, it's also a building that houses these moments, where a basket of pastel-colored eggs become a dish that stirs murmurs of praise. The hospitality holds space for any dinner to become a meal shared with your favorite people. The quiet confidence of her roots, mixed with the deep appreciation for the local farms that produce the food she serves, creates an ambience that's the next best thing to an invitation into a warm kitchen. It's no wonder she's garnered national attention.
At first glance, Billy Tserenbat is the man at the head of the table at Minneapolis' biggest sushi party, doling out "kampais!" and bear hugs to customers, and mugging for selfies with major celebrities as they pass through town. Lift back the curtain a bit, and inside his North Loop restaurant Billy Sushi is a burgeoning mogul with a full-time video production staff and carefully curated portfolio of businesses that not only raise his profile, but that of others in the industry he loves. With two new partnerships on the books for 2024 — a barbecue brick-and-mortar with Animales' Jon Wipfli and Tender Lovin' Chix's new spot — Mongolia-born Tserenbat is constantly on the lookout for the next big thing, whether that's the bluefin tunas he brings in to share, or his massive floating ATV that delivers sushi to boats on Lake Minnetonka.
The everywhere chef
His business began as a small pop-up, a trailer outside a cidery, and generated a lot of buzz for the vibrancy of the Hmong flavors he brought to comfort food. Now, Yia Vang is pretty much a household name. He has two television shows ("Relish" and "Feral"), stadium stands, and a breakout presence at the Minnesota State Fair. And that trailer? Union Hmong Kitchen is now a permanent restaurant and food hall entity, while his long-awaited, deeply personal restaurant Vinai is finally headed to northeast Minneapolis. For anyone who has experienced the juicy snap of his Hmong sausages (now available through Kramarzcuk's) or eased into the slow-build zing of his mom's hot sauce, this Hmong American chef's eats have left an unforgettable stamp on our cities. We are living in the Vang era, and we suspect the best is yet to come.
Sameh Wadi and Saed Wadi
Where these inventive brothers lead, others will follow. The Wadis' downtown Minneapolis Mediterranean restaurant Saffron has now faded into the annals of great-and-gone fine dining, but in its day, no one else was making hummus at that level. With Sameh as the chef — he's the author of "The New Mediterranean Table" — and Saed on the business side, the duo went from highbrow to the streets, opening World Street Kitchen as one of the city's earliest food trucks and serving global street food that added "Yum Yum Bowl" to our vocabulary. With Milkjam, they inspired a new generation of ice cream makers unafraid to experiment with next-level ingredients like coriander, rose water and pear butter. (Plus, the no-dairy community would like to offer up thanks for that Black cocoa flavor.) Ice cream has never been the same.
Aubry Walch and Kale Walch
The butchers of expectations
It took guts to call themselves butchers in those early days, when Guam-born siblings Aubry and Kale Walch started selling their Herbivorous Butcher vegan meats at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Eyebrows raised at the notion of opening a plant-based "meat" shop, but the pair created a landmark business in northeast Minneapolis that kicked off a nationwide trend. Now with their Herbie Butcher's Fried Chicken, vegan comfort food spot J. Selbys, a State Fair stand, and a cookbook with the keys to their meatless proteins, even self-avowed omnivores are becoming fans of their recipes for dishes like "faux gras" and "sham and eggs."
What happens when a fine-dining-trained chef, hunter and cookbook author gets his hands on a smoker? Minnesota gets some serious barbecue. With his Animales Barbeque Co., Jon Wipfli has walked us into a new era of meaty recognition, putting Minneapolis on the barbecue map — even in Texas. (Google the Texas Monthly write-up.) That's right, we northerners are making barbecue so good it makes a southerner sigh. And we all reap the smoky rewards. In addition to the barbecue trailer, Wipfli has another one just for burgers. And a brick-and-mortar is coming to northeast Minneapolis, hopefully very soon.
The resilient restaurateur
Ask other chefs who they admire most and Tammy Wong's name comes up time and again. In addition to helming the beloved Rainbow Chinese restaurant, she is often at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, or out and about supporting other makers. She leads with perseverance and kindness, and those traits were lovingly reflected back to her during a difficult spell for her 36-year-old institution. Wong kept her pandemic-shuttered dining room closed for three years, serving takeout-only. But friends and fans stood by her, and the restaurant finally reopened in full this summer. Even after all this time, Wong still looked at her role as its steward (and maker of irresistible egg rolls) with a sense of wonder. "It's like a brand-new opening," she told the Star Tribune at the time. "I feel like I'm going to have a baby."
The bar raiser
There's been a shift in the caliber of cocktails you can get outside city limits, and that is likely due, at least in part, to Ralena Young. Her encyclopedic and enthusiastic knowledge of spirits and the meticulous ways they can be served has invigorated a suburban cocktail movement. She had a hand in bringing whiskey lockers to Savage, a mezcal cave (inside a tiki bar!) to Shakopee, and acid-adjusted mixers to Apple Valley. Now, city dwellers get to take a sip, too. Young has come back to St. Paul and opened Bar+Cart Restaurant and Lounge with partner Brian Riess. This time, she's in the kitchen. The result is a cozy cocktail den with an array of good bar eats that makes the city feel a little more like the suburbs in the best way possible.
The curious libationist
If you've had an amazing nonalcoholic beverage at a restaurant lately, chances are Marco Zappia had something to do with it. A bartender with a dedication to reducing waste, Zappia was already collecting citrus rinds and turning them into cordials at his earliest gigs. He was making his own spirit blends. And he was fermenting anything he could get his hands on, building a kind of mad scientists' lab of jars along the bar. When he and two colleagues started 3Leche, a ready-to-pour nonalcoholic fermented beverage company, he took that market by storm. Now, experimenting in a lab in the Food Building, the possibilities of what science can do to Minnesota-grown ingredients to make them drinkable and delicious are endless.
The Celebrity Chefs
The pastry maven
Baking has never been as fun as it is in pastry chef Zoë François' kitchen. She mixes, she dances, and she torches her way through sugary confections that dazzle every time. She rose to fame on her transfixing Instagram feed, where unbelievable feats of baking suddenly seemed almost attainable (all to an incredible mix of danceable music she often has playing in the background). The fun and wonder carries over to her TV show "Zoë Bakes" on the Magnolia Network, where she visits local makers, elevating all that's good and tasty in our cities.
The homegrown celebrity
When Justin Sutherland first won "Iron Chef," it was a victory that the Twin Cities culinary world could all rejoice in. Next came "Top Chef," Sutherland's breakthrough role. He's parlayed a respectable run on that competition into regular appearances across channels and social media, while developing his own burgeoning brand via his cookbook and Northern Soul concepts. When he was injured last year in a horrific boating accident, Sutherland's miraculous recovery made national news. It seems the rest of the country sees what we always have: The Handsome Hog chef is a star.
The world traveler
There's no one more recognizable in this food town than Andrew Zimmern. The chef's first TV show, "Bizarre Foods," trumpeted all the good fare out there, with zero adherence to Eurocentric norms of texture or which parts of the animal are polite to eat. It made him a household name. Now, with years of fame and television shows behind him, he's generous in giving others a platform to attain their own. With his production company Intuitive Content, he continues to elevate Minnesota chefs to the national stage by letting them tell their own stories.
The Star Tribune's Taste staff is Nicole Hvidsten, Sharyn Jackson and Joy Summers.