From the island of Crasqui off Venezuela to the Xiengkhouang region of Laos, and from Guatemala to the Indian state of Maharashtra, the flavors and aromas that chefs grew up enjoying with family around the table became the focus of some of the most exciting new restaurants to open this year.
Soleil Ramirez, who fled from corruption in Venezuela in 2016 and arrived in the U.S. with just $300, worked her way up in fine dining under luminary chefs of the Twin Cities before opening her street food spot at Midtown Global Market, Arepa Bar. This year, she moved the needle with her stunner of a restaurant, Crasqui, where rum cocktails, Venezuelan snacks and seafood soups are virtually transporting guests to tropical, white sand beaches.
Of all of Daniel del Prado's many (many) restaurants to open in the past few years, buzzy Porzana is adhering most closely to his Buenos Aires palate. On a long list of steaks are several cuts known better in Argentina than Minneapolis — until now.
The hummus that Khalid Ansari and Rana Kamal grew up eating, and making, at their father Jamal's long-running restaurant, Mediterranean Cruise Cafe, became the ultra-creamy foundation for their growing supermarket brand, Baba's. In 2023, they added a brick-and-mortar cafe, Baba's Hummus House, to their portfolio, expanding on the Palestinian and Palestinian-American flavors they love with fresh-baked breads and coffee drinks, in addition to creative hummus bowls.
Gustavo Romero's Oro builds on his takeout and tortilla business, Nixta, with a completely new take (at least for the Twin Cities) on Mexican cuisine. He reaches into memories of growing up near Mexico City via masa, the dipping sauce sikil p'aak, and astounding moles that take days to prepare.
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Jyotiee Kistner introduced Maharathi cuisine to Minnesota with the food truck Muddy Tiger, which she operates with her husband, Andy. This year, the couple went brick and mortar in Edina, with a menu of Indian dishes you won't find on other menus in the Twin Cities: misal pav, a bean and potato hash that you drown in rich tomato curry and soak up with white bread; a roti wrap filled with kheema (minced lamb); and moong bhaji, or dal (chickpea) fritters.
Ann Kim came to the United States from Korea as a toddler, and her Apple Valley childhood was laden with kimchi, which she would help her mother and grandmother make in huge batches in a plastic kiddie pool. She might have been the first to top a pizza with it at her flagship restaurant Pizzeria Lola, but since then has only added more Korean flavors to her subsequent menus. Now, at Kim's, she is devoting the boisterous Lake Street restaurant to Korean-American mashups, like her already famous Ann's Ham 'N' Cheese sandwich (a play on Spam and cheese).
Cristian and Karen de Leon combined their years of restaurant experience to go out on their own, opening a gas station takeout stand in Eagan that pulled from both of their heritages, Guatemalan and Mexican. Their El Sazon grew this year, first with elegant tasting menus amid the BP's convenience store aisles, and culminating in the opening of El Sazon Cocina & Tragos in Minneapolis this fall. There, Cristian de Leon is showcasing both styles — thoughtfully prepared tacos and such by day; gorgeously plated fine dining by night.
The couple behind Soul Lao took a step up from their food truck this year, moving to a permanent home in St. Paul. It all began with a life-changing trip to Laos to visit family; that trip inspired Sabrina Boualaphanh and Eric Phothisanh to cook and share the food from their ancestral homeland, like their outstanding pork-studded coconut crispy rice salad, naem khao.
At north Minneapolis' Goorgoorlu, chef Mo Kebbeh partnered with his cousin to open a place where he could serve favorite plates from Gambia. Chicken or lamb afra — meat smoked on a grill and smothered in mustard and spices — have become breakout dishes.
At Gai Noi, in Loring Park, Ann Ahmed continues her mission to open beautiful, transportive restaurants that showcase the flavors of her upbringing in the Xiengkhouang region of Laos, Here, she builds upon the offerings at her Lat 14 and Khâluna, with flavor-packed jeows (condiments) and saucy dishes that don't hold back on funk and spice.
Conversely, Sean Sherman continues taking the local global. The chef behind the nationally renowned Owamni launched his nonprofit NATIFS' Indigenous Food Lab at Midtown Global Market, a groundbreaking blueprint for Native communities everywhere to celebrate Indigenous ingredients and products from small Native makers. Sherman has become an international advocate, traveling around the world making the case for Indigenous cuisine to move to the forefront of culinary conversations.