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International Flavors Spice Up the Twin Cities

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Take your taste buds on a tour of Southeast Asia at the Hmong Village Shopping Center food court / Visit Saint Paul

International Flavors Spice Up the Twin Cities

By Loren Green

While the four largest immigrant groups to settle in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area are Germans, Norwegians, Irish and Swedes, the flavors of the Twin Cities today extend far beyond northern Europe.

The Twin Cities offer thousands of dining options that vary from the Jucy Lucy hamburger at Matt’s Bar and the walleye sandwich at Tavern on Grand to high-end hot spots like Sea Change at the Guthrie Theater and The Lexington in St. Paul. Lefse, German sausages, Irish stews and other northern European dishes have all influenced local dining, but the Twin Cities restaurant scene is incredibly diverse and authentic, with something for every taste and budget.

“For years, what used to be called fly-over country is now a national trendsetter not only in the contemporary dining scene, but also when it comes to tasting globally inspired foods,” says Andrew Zimmern, the Minnesota-based chef, author and host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.”

There are mom-and-pop restaurants of all kinds across the metro area, and many of them feature cuisines that, as Zimmern notes, were hard to find in the Twin Cities of the past. “The real magic happens when you dine out in restaurants run by the smaller populations of more recent arrivals … I would put the Lao, Hmong, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Mexican and Somali foods of the Twin Cities up against just about any city in the country when it comes to quality,” Zimmern says.

So make a trip to Lake Street, Central Avenue, University Avenue, Frogtown, Cedar/Riverside, Eat Street (Nicollet Avenue) or even the suburbs, and know you won’t go home hungry. Here are some notable (and diverse) options to inspire a delicious trip to someplace new.

Minneapolis

Both Lake Street and Central Avenue offer authentic cuisine from Mexico, Central America and South America, such as Maya Cuisine, Chimborazo, Taqueria La Hacienda and Taco Riendo. “Taco crawls” have become popular events along Lake Street, and Central Avenue offers street food and sit-down entrees from south of the border.

For flavors of East Africa, there’s Red Sea near the University of Minnesota on the West Bank and the popular Afro Deli on the East Bank, where diners can also find Persian fare at Caspian Bistro. Seeking out individual restaurants is always exciting, but to find a wide selection under one roof, a visit to the aptly named Midtown Global Market provides Mediterranean, Korean, Indian, Mexican and many other cuisines for those who just can’t decide.

Food on display at Hmong Village

Traditional Hmong foods on display at Hmong Village in St. Paul / J. Annie Wang, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

St. Paul

The capital city offers just as much variety as its bigger sister. The East Side has numerous Mexican options, while a trip down University Avenue showcases everything from soul food to Ethiopian, Thai and more. On Snelling Avenue, north of University, several Korean restaurants offer a variety of bibimbap and gogi.

East of Snelling into the Frogtown neighborhood, diverse dining options includes iPho by Saigon (Vietnamese), Thai Café, and the popular sour soup at Kolap (a Cambodian specialty). For a different experience that combines Asian street food of all types, visit the Hmongtown Marketplace or Hmong Village Shopping Center for a chance to sample a la carte or by the meal.

Suburbs

Dining options in the Twin Cities suburbs are equally diverse. Brooklyn Park offers crawfish and alligator at Crazy Cajun and, crossing the globe in just a few blocks, there is a huge menu at Lemon Grass Thai, including sushi and other Japanese-influenced fare. Heading south into Columbia Heights, Dong Yang offers authentic Korean food and character in the deli of an Asian grocery store.

On the south side of the metro area, Burnsville’s Byblos presents popular Lebanese Mediterranean food. And in nearby Eagan, Ansari’s serves kabobs alongside spicy entertainment, with additional variety including Indian at Bay Leaf and Hoban Korean Restaurant.

Dining at any of these establishments is not merely a chance to try something new from afar, and the experience doesn’t just reflect their life back home: It reflects the tastes of the Twin Cities today.

Loren Green

Loren Green is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer covering music, culture, food and beverage across the state. His work has appeared in The Growler, City Pages, Paste and more.