Cresting the hill just before descending into Duluth, the sky opens up into a blue-gray expanse revealing Lake Superior below. The air temperature takes a dip even on the steamiest of summer days and brings a crisp edge to the air.
With a burst of new restaurant openings since the pandemic hit, there has never been a better time to visit — especially the city's Lincoln Park Craft District, which is bubbling with life and creativity. Whether you're heading up for Grandma's Marathon or just looking for respite closer to home, here are new and exciting places to take in Duluth right now.
Unmissable new restaurants
PhoHolic Taste of Vietnam: Owner Ann Nguyen's restaurant is a family affair: The pho recipe, from her husband's family, was carried back from Vietnam and her sons work alongside her in the restaurant. Walking in, a wave of pho perfume fills the room — it's hard to imagine anyone dining here without ordering a rich bowl of this aromatic broth ($12.50). The long-simmered beef bones lend an incredible depth, and the mix of warm spices are front and center with each spoonful. It's an extraordinary clear broth with a luscious, light viscosity floating along the surface. Each helping is served in a giant metal bowl with a side plate full of mix-ins (don't miss the chili crisp on the table). Be sure to try the finger-sized fried egg rolls, filled with pork sausage and seasoned with galangal and fish sauce ($5.50). And a selection of bubble tea and an iced Vietnamese coffee is the perfect precursor to an afternoon of hiking Hawk Ridge. 309 E. Central Entrance, Duluth, 218-464-0312, facebook.com/PhoholicDuluth/
190° Coffee and Tea: San Diego native Corey Roysdown is behind this buzzing coffee shop, located inside the beautiful Enger Lofts building. A coffee obsessive, he built the shop at the back of the building, but also right across the street from the Bent Paddle taproom as an effort to pull together top talent from the city. Inside, you'll find pastries from Duluth's Best Bread and tea and hot chocolate from local makers Zenith Tea Works and Mike & Jen. Coffee selections are straightforward lattes and pour overs, but a special included a bright, golden turmeric latte ($5.50) that's mixed with warm spice and black pepper notes. It's a perfect antidote for those gray lake mornings. Take the coffee to go and wander around this gorgeous new building, which also houses storefronts and a boutique hotel. Shops include Goat Hill Marketplace, filled with kitchen equipment and new pantry staples, and Little Neetchers, which has a Play Cafe that can help get the squiggles out of little kids. 1832 W. Superior St., Duluth, 218-288-4190, 190coffeeandtea.com
Oasis del Norte: Despite the short outdoor season, Duluth still has a robust collection of inventive food trucks prowling the streets, and this one's been out for at least five years. Serving Mexican street-style and walking tacos, plus burritos and quesadillas, the truck will soon pull into its first brick and mortar restaurant inside the former Big Bottle Shop on Superior Street. It's on track to open in early fall. Until then, there's plenty of time to run down the truck and its succulent meats and nopales. Tacos start at just $4.25. The truck and restaurant are the work of Eduardo Sandoval Luna, who drew the name from his mother's restaurant El Oasis in Jerez, Zacatecas, Mexico. 2401 W. Superior St., 218-464-6636, oasisdelnorte.com
Jamrock Cultural Restaurant: This Jamaican eatery was born out of the pandemic, when chef/owner Tony O'Neil started selling jerk food out of his home. He grew up in Jamaica, where his grandparents owned a restaurant, and draws much of his culinary inspiration from there. Demand quickly grew, and the operation moved to a commercial kitchen. Jamrock is located across the bridge in Superior, Wis., but it's easy to order into one of the many Lincoln Park taprooms that allow third-party delivery services like Food Dudes to drop off snacks. An order of chicken wings comes with a side of freshly made fries dusted with a zesty jerk rub that is decidedly not "Minnesota spicy." 1901 Tower Av., Superior, Wis., 715-718-0720, jamrockculturalrestaurant.com
Jade Fountain Cocktail Lounge: Jade Fountain used to be the best spot in the city for orange chicken; now it's the best spot for a balanced negroni. Duluth native Kai Soderberg cultivated a passion for craft cocktails while living in Portland. When he returned to his hometown, he opened a bar inside this iconic building, which had been sitting empty since the original owner sold it in 2015, and opened a cocktail bar in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. He weathered the storm and now this deeply cool bar is a perfect spot to steal away for a stiff drink. The Chinese restaurant decor remains largely intact, except for a few dark personal touches that enhance the gothic/vintage vibes: A framed painting of a unintentionally menacing clown hangs on the wall and a black horse head haunts over the bar. The cocktail list is spirit-forward and filled with twists on classics, like a smoky Oaxacan Negroni. For nondrinkers, a strawberry and balsamic soda is fizzy and tart with a savory edge. 305 N. Central Av., Duluth, bit.ly/3mvPEZl
Chachos Taqueria: A trip to Duluth isn't complete without a visit to Canal Park, throwing rocks from the shoreline or marveling at the giant ships passing under the Aerial Lift Bridge. Before heading to the water, grab a street-style taco from this newly opened taqueria. The little woodsy cabin-style walk-up is the work of Aaron Maloney and Alex Giuliani, who met while working in the hospitality industry. (Giuliani also worked with his father and uncle at Clyde Iron Works.) The tamales — fluffy, soft masa wrapped in a corn husk — are a recipe from Giuliani's grandmother. Meat and veggie selections are added to the top of the tamale ($6), along with a choice of salsa. Spice fans will revel in the habañero, which is as bright and fruity as it is fiery. It has an almost juicy sweetness from golden raisins. 329 Canal Park Drive, Duluth, 218-451-3089, chachostaqueria.com
Camp Creemee: Inside Wild State Cider's bright, open taproom is Camp Creemee, the place for Vermont-style soft serve ice cream. Towers of luscious ice cream, sweetened with maple syrup or imbued with summery fresh strawberries, is poured up inside freshly made waffle cones. The treat pairs wonderfully with the raspberry hibiscus cider. The ice cream is perfect for one last bite on Superior Street before linking back up with I-35 and heading back home. 2515 W. Superior St., Duluth, campcreemee.com
Duluth to go
Bring a little flavor — or scent — of the Zenith City home.
Lift Bridge Bagels: The new bagel maker, part of On 93rd and Grace, started twirling up dough during the pandemic. Buy a package at the Whole Foods Co-Op in West Duluth or order online and pick them up in Superior before you leave town. $5.99; on93rdandgrace.com
Underwood Coffee: A small-batch roastery that focuses on sustainable practices and retro photos. The Guatemala Pablo Bamaca brews an unbelievably smooth cup with notes of strawberry jam, Nilla wafers, and a little lemon zest. From $16, underwoodcoffee.com