My Top 12 Favorite Minneapolis Entrees

When you leave home for a year, you generally anticipate missing friends, family, pets if you have them, the comforts of your own house, own bed.  What you don’t count on is how much you’ll miss your favorite meals when you can’t find them, your go-to restaurants, and those foodie comforts that hit the spot every time when you need them to.

Over the course of the year, I’ve found myself staring blankly at many entrees, or shifting my eyes to friends on either side of me, and finally asking, “What in the hell is this?!”  I can’t count how many times I’ve said out loud, “People actually eat this?” (For the record, this happened about two days ago when my friend ordered guinea pig off the menu in Cusco as a “reward” for making it out of our Machu Picchu hike alive.  To each their own.)

With a little bit of time left in Lima before returning to Minneapolis, I can say I haven’t missed the cold, but I have missed our abundant food scene.  Minneapolis. Is. BOOMING right now, and I can’t wait to try all the new things I’ve been missing since my departure.  A lot can happen and change in a year, including watching restaurants pop up and close, even from far.

To all of you that have followed this journey from the beginning, all the foodie excursions, the sampling of local delicacies (some I hope to never see again in my lifetime), wine tasting in the world’s best regions and the Michelin star restaurants where I’ve been fortunate to have a reservation, I am 1,000% appreciative of all the remarkable cultural cuisines I’ve been able to offer my palate.  Each bite exciting, each calorie worth it.  Let me be clear, there’s been no shortage of great food and wine experiences on this trip.  However, I’ll be excited to get back to my kitchen and start recreating some of the unbelievably delicious meals you’ve heard me raving about in past articles or have seen on the Pairs Well With… Instagram (make sure you follow!) It all started with my first novelty dining experience back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia eating a banana leaf meal.

banana leaf meal malaysia

No utensils, no problem!

Over the last week, the question of “what are you most looking forward to when you get back home” has been floating around, and I started thinking about it in the context of eats, and where my first meal out in Minneapolis will be when I get back.  After dining in 20 countries and 6 six continents, I’m really craving a small piece of home – and being able to order in English rather than broken Spanish.  I’m also excited to bring back and share knowledge on global food, wine, cooking and flavor trends.

Earlier this week, I made a list of all my favorite meals in the Twin Cities and, after a good amount of debate, whittled it down to my favorite twelve.  (Dear Out of Towners, we are SO much more than tater tot hot dish wild rice entrees.) Whether you’re in town for an upcoming football game, business meetings, a long weekend away or are a local looking to try something other than your favorite twelve, try one of my favorite twelve, complete with wine or beverage pairing suggestions from each restaurant’s offering – because I wouldn’t have it any other way.  So, in no particular order, here we go…

Pizzeria Lola: The Iowan

I love this pizza, not because I lived in Iowa for a while, but because the flavor profile works so well together.  An easy blend of creamy cheeses, prosciutto, and garlic confit, topped with arugula, makes it light enough even for lunch so you don’t hit a 3 pm slump.  The Iowan pizza is a staple to Lola’s year-round menu!  What also makes Pizzeria Lola great is their limited time only and seasonal pizzas.  The restaurant has been deemed having one of 26 best pizzas in the country by Tasting Table (way to represent for Minnesota!) and a top pizza in America by the New York Post.

Pairs Well With… 2014 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier (Napa Valley, California)

The Iowan at Lola…so good!! #pizzarialola #foodie#pizzaria

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Hola Arepa: Shredded Beef & Plaintain Arepa

If you need me, I’ll be holding it down at Hola Arepa and allowing my taste buds to time travel back to my favorite food flavors of South America, specifically, Argentina.  (Chimichurri anyone?!) While all Hola’s arepas are great, I love the salty-savory combo of the beef and plantain arepa, bookended with cornmeal griddle cakes that are cooked to perfection.

The meal comes with crunchy on the outside, squishy in the middle yuca fries on the side- just the way I like ’em!  If you’re going to stop in, make sure to get one of their flagship arepas, otherwise, you’re only cheating yourself.  Don’t believe me?  Hola Arepa has won pretty much every “best of” award that exists, making it hard for others in the area to keep up with their greatness.

Pairs Well With…Milou Syrah-Grenache (France)

George & the Dragon: Elizabeth Salad

No, this is not a knockoff Harry Potter meets Lord Of the Rings pub but rather a cozy, local gathering spot of old friends and good vibes, with an excellent variety of high-end gastropub eats.  Often times, it can be hard to find a salad at a pub…a good salad, but the Elizabeth at George & the Dragon is a winner.  Dancing on your bed of field greens you’ll find aged Widmer cheddar, apples, and toasted pecans drizzled with pub vinaigrette.  Want to up your protein game?  No prob.  You can easily add pulled chicken (that’s my jam) or bacon.

Pairs Well With…The White Queen Chardonnay (Sonoma, California) 

salad george and dragon minneapolis restaurant

Pimento: One Love Special

Every now and again, I get overwhelmed with menu choices.  You have those two items that you just can’t decide between, but they are both calling to you.  Enter the One Love Special, a combination of fire-grilled jerk chicken and slow-roasted jerk pork so you don’t have to stress about whether you made the right meal choice.  And, if you’re looking to kick it up a notch, you are most certainly welcome to with all the jerk spices and heat you can handle.

Keep an eye out for more from Pimento coming to you in Burnsville, MN, courtesy of their well-deserved win on Food Network’s reality show, Food Court Wars.  Believe me, Pimento really was love at first bite for me.

Pairs Well With…Red Stripe Beer; Riesling or Pinot Gris wine if they’ve got them

Lyon’s Pub: Chef’s Eggs

As part of my Minnesota Vikings home game tailgating tradition, you’ll find me at Lyon’s Pub, something I’ve been doing nearly every home game throughout my eleven-year season ticket holding streak.  Which means a lot of orders of Chef’s Eggs over the years.  You guys, Lyon’s has THE BEST pre-game specials in Minneapolis: choice of breakfast entree plus either a Bloody Mary (they have a BYO bar) or Screw Driver, too.  All this deliciousness for around $10. Oh, and did I mention that they do a free shuttle to the stadium?  Bonus for those frigid days you’re convinced you’ll get hypothermia if you take one more damn step outside.

Pairs Well With…Build Your Own Bloody Mary

bloody mary bar lyons pub restaurant minneapolis

Chefs eggs lyons pub restaurant minneapolis

James Ballentine “Uptown” VFW (Post #246): Dry Rub Wings

I’m not sure that I’ve enjoyed wings anymore than when I’m at the Uptown VFW.  They have a remarkable dry rub and, in this case, less is most certainly more.  However, the VFW does offer many other types of wings such as buffalo, jerk, Cajun, BBQ, royale seasoning, and Asian BBQ.  Make it a night out with wings and one of the VFW’s happening activities: live music, karaoke, bingo, comedy and, the most Minnesotan thing around, pull tabs.

Pairs Well With…House Pinot Gris

dry rub wings VFW Uptown minneapolis

Bar La Grassa: Red Wine Spaghetti with Pine Nuts

Zero surprises that I gravitate towards an entree that is made with red wine.  This red wine pasta, available in both half and full order, is casually coated in olive oil, softly salted and tossed with pine nuts.  Let me be clear, the entire menu of Bar La Grassa is to die for. I’ve tried many of La Grassa’s lovely pastas and sides, but this red wine spaghetti rises to the top in texture and flavor, and is a calorie conscious choice, not to mention vegan!

Pairs Well With… 2015 Left Coast Cellars Pinot Noir (Willamette, Oregon) or 2015 Carpineto Dogajolo Sangiovese (Tuscany, Italy)

I see you, Minneapolis food scene. [red wine pasta at Bar La Grassa]

A post shared by Judy Le (@eatwithjudy) on

Red Cow: French Onion Burger

Red Cow effortlessly owns part of the Twin Cities burger scene. They had me at hello with their French Onion burger, a local Strauss Farms grass-fed beef paddy with white cheddar, French onions, chive sour cream and homemade potato chips.  This is the mothership of burgers, my friends!  And if calorie counting isn’t part of your New Year’s resolutions, go ahead and get yourself the Wisconsin cheese curds.  These cheesy little nuggets of goodness are served with a triple berry catch up and do the sweet-salty dance in your mouth.

Pairs Well With…Cotes du Rhone, Ogier (Southern Rhone, France) or 2015 The Arsonist Red Blend (Dunnigan Hills, Sonoma County)

Zelo: Heirloom Grain Salad with Chicken

It’s Thursday. You have yet another client lunch (sigh) and are stressing about what meal won’t break the calorie bank.  You want something at least semi-healthy and nutritious. I know this feeling all too well.  My go-to downtown Minneapolis lunch? The half-size Heirloom Grain Salad (spinach, avocado, fontina, tomato, lemon, extra virgin olive oil) with added chicken.  It is the perfect portion and balance of veggies, protein, grains and healthy fat to alleviate the hangry but not put you in a food coma the rest of the afternoon.

Pairs Well With…Kris Pinot Grigio (Veneto, Italy)

grain salad zelo minneapolis restaurant

Photo: Karl W.

Rincon 38: Queso Frito & Patatas Bravas

Rincon holds a special place in my heart.  Yes, it does have one of my favorite old world wine lists and offers pours ranging from tastes to glasses to bottles, but that’s not the only reason.  Over the years, this spot has become a get-together location for me and one of my best friends, a place where we connect and catch up when life gets busy.  Why do I bring this up?  Because as many times as I’ve been here, I’ve always had the friendliest service and most consistent experience in food and wine.  I’m telling you, it’s great.  The menu is tapas style (intended for sharing) and leans heavily into Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine.  Plus, they open at 3 pm in case you can’t wait to get happy hour started! (Pro tip: both my favorite menu items are on happy hour!)

Pairs Well With… Nisia Verdejo (Spain) or Rebisaca Albarino (Spain)

Patatas bravas. Girls night out. #rincon38

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Victor’s 1959 Cafe: Sandwich Cubano

Carrying on with ethnic cuisine favorites brings me to Victor’s, a colorful Cuban cafe with (you guessed it!) the best Cuban sandwich.  When you dine at Victor’s, know that you’re walking into one of the hardest decisions you’ll make all day: what to order!  Authentic Cuban food in an energetic atmosphere with good vibes and people that will have you have you checking your worries at the door.  (Pro tip: Victor’s is a great choice for a wide variety of both vegan and gluten-free options.)

Pairs Well With…Protocolo Tempranillo (Spain)

Cubano at Victor's

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Dakota Jazz Club: Cheeseplate + Flatbreads & Spreads

Come for the music, stay for the food, and get jazzy while you enjoy a glass of wine off of the Dakota Jazz Club’s impressive wine menu.  Every time I come for a show, whether a local or national act, I get an array of nibbles to enjoy throughout the duration of the evening.  The Dakota’s food pairs well with their musical act caliber.  An evening here is a show stopper!

Pairs Well With…2014 Planet Oregon, Pinot Noir (Oregon)

Pre-show cheese plate

A post shared by David Kingsbury (@kingsbury) on

As you make your way to these delicious establishments, don’t forget to try the recommended wine pairing and be sure to tell them Carin from Pairs Well With… sent you – and says hello!

See you all in a few short weeks!


6 Responses to “My Top 12 Favorite Minneapolis Entrees”

  1. Micaela @MindfulMomma

    Wow – thanks for all the yummy recommendations! The Beef & Plantain Arepa is a favorite at our house. I’m going bookmark this so I can remember all of these!


      Great to hear we share some of the same taste! I’d love to hear what you think about the newer suggestions!

  2. Dale

    There should really be a post here for the Korean Fried Cauliflower at Lake & Irving. They are one of the greatest things I have ever eaten.


      Valid point! I was thinking of that as more of an appetizer than anything else. I’ll put that on the Minneapolis best of appetizers and wine pairing article!


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