The colorful, mural-covered exterior of Centro

Chef Yia Vang's Favorite Minneapolis-St. Paul Restaurants

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Chef Jose Alarcon's casual and colorful Centro tacqueria in Northeast Minneapolis / Kevin Kramer

Chef Yia Vang's Favorite Minneapolis-St. Paul Restaurants

By Aegor Ray

After our recent conversation about his new restaurant Vinai, I asked Minnesota chef Yia Vang for a couple hip tips on his favorite Twin Cities restaurants. With refreshing takes on comforting favorites like cheeseburgers and pho, these restaurants are bound to become standbys in your repertoire. 

  1. Animales Barbeque Co., Minneapolis
    Animales Barbeque Co., Minneapolis

    Vang comes in fierce on Chef Jon Wipfli’s barbecue pop-up: “I think they’re the best barbeque in the area.” Locally sourced pork shoulder, brisket and chicken are smoked over Minnesota red oak wood chips and served in taco kits or over a bright slaw. Along with their recently expanded food trailer outside Able Brewery, Animales is also planning a second residency just up the block at Bauhaus Brew Labs.

  2. Bebe Zito Ice Cream, Minneapolis
    Bebe Zito Ice Cream, Minneapolis

    When a chef names an ice cream shop for its burgers, you know those are some special burgers. “My go-to is the cheeseburger and the root beer float made with the 1919 root beer. That’s a Saturday afternoon lunch right there.” While you’re at Bebe Zito, be sure to check out the incredible ice creams. Rotating flavors like Prickly Pear Margarita and Umeboshi Marzipan make this a perfect spot for an elevated daytime summer date.

  3. Brasa Premium Rotisserie, Minneapolis & St. Paul
    Brasa Premium Rotisserie, Minneapolis & St. Paul

    Between the mojo pork, the namesake rotisserie, buttery cornbread and smokey greens, you just can’t go wrong at Brasa. Chef Alex Roberts masterfully infuses Southern, Creole and Caribbean flavors into locally sourced ingredients. Now with three Twin Cities locations, it’s never been easier to infuse your week with flavor.

  4. Centro, Minneapolis
    Centro, Minneapolis

    Kitty corner from Indeed Brewing Company, Chef Jose Alarcon’s charming and vibrant Centro taqueria offers tacos that range from beer-battered fish to melt-in-your-mouth barbacoa and tangy chicken tinga. “The life hack with the tacos there is that they overload ‘em with meat,” says Vang. “So you gotta get the guac and chips so when you’re eating, the excess meat falls out on the chips. You almost have your little nachos.”

  5. iPho by Saigon, St. Paul
    iPho by Saigon, St. Paul

    Underneath the casual, counter-service aesthetic and punny name, this University Avenue spot is home to some of the best banh mi sandwiches in town—available daily with a buy-four-get-one-free takeout deal. Vang notes that the pho is consistently amazing, as well, and you can even order a 10-pound bowl to slurp down if you please/dare.

  6. Santi's, St. Paul
    Santi's, St. Paul

    Located inside Hmong Village, an incredible Hmong shopping mall and food hall on the East Side of St. Paul, Chef Vang’s favorite dish at Santi's is the Crazy Steak: an inexpensive cut of steak cooked with a nice char, sliced super thin, and served with peppery dipping sauce and sticky rice. Each helping is something like two pounds, so expect major leftovers unless you’re ordering to share.

Aegor Ray

Aegor Ray is a writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is currently working on a collection of short stories.