To me, food is one of the greatest things about being alive. I love eating but hate the onslaught to my senses from the bright lights and loud sounds at some restaurants. Trying new things is difficult for me, but I’m glad I got out and tried these nine restaurants. I not only found the food delicious — I also appreciated the ambiance for a change.
Brasa Premium Rotisserie
777 Grand Avenue
I’ll start with a few items that are especially good: the catfish, the cornbread and the strawberry shortcake. Yum, yum, yum. As for the fried sweet plantains, the candied yams and the green sauce — they were all really good as well. Yum, yum and more yum. The chicken is unreal here. It comes out juicy and still has a crisp texture on the outside. It is a beautiful thing, this chicken.
Trieu Chau Restaurant
500 University Avenue West
To say the pho here is amazing would be an understatement. My measure of good pho is whether you need a nap afterwards, and you are guaranteed a good pho nap after this pho. Get a side of the coconut fried shrimp. Sweet dreams.
Golden Thyme on Selby
934 Selby Avenue
Two words: Fish and grits. The combination is unbelievable, the best in the Twin Cities. And the American breakfast with a beef hot link is sure to wake you up in the morning. Get one of the awesome café drinks named after jazz greats to go with the meal, such as a Cab Calloway cappuccino or a Billie Holiday mocha medley (espresso, steamed milk, caramel and whipped cream). You’ll thank me.
Mojo Monkey Donuts
1169 Seventh Street West
Hands down, these are the best donuts in the Twin Cities. I don’t even know where to start. They have so many epic selections (such as raised donuts with root beer icing, cake donuts glazed with chocolate ganache and pistachios, and banana pecan fritters with caramel glaze, to name just a few), you literally can’t miss. Just pick one. Better yet, get a whole dozen and a tall cup of coffee, then go sit by the river and indulge, because life is way too short.
180 Grand Avenue
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. It’s nice when they have food, but that’s not my main reason for going to them. At Café Astoria, the coffee and the food are both legendary. Crepes are the house specialty (from the savory spinach, chevre and egg to the sweet strawberries and cream), but they also have oatmeal bowls, smoothie bowls, salads and sandwiches. The atmosphere is perfect for getting some writing or other laptop work done.
La Fusion Café
360 Sherman Street
I used to hang out with the owner of La Fusion Café when I worked at a nearby hospital. We shared a history of having lived in Kenya, and we bonded over that. He used to be a professional chef in Dubai, and it shows in his menu. He’s always swapping things out and experimenting with different flavor combinations. His jerk chicken wraps are unbelievable. Ask for a Kenyan Chai and tell him Said sent you.
525 Selby Avenue
The star of the show here is the chicken, whether you get it southern fried or Tennessee hot. You can get it as two pieces, half a bird, the whole bird or some nuggets. Alternatively, you can order a sandwich with fried chicken, lettuce, tomato, mayo and a pickle. Add a side of hush puppies (impeccable!) or fried green tomatoes (also a smash!). You’ll leave full and happy.
Shish Mediterranean Kitchen
1668 Grand Avenue
Feeling adventurous? Try the fried lamb belly over a bed of saffron rice with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and tahini. Not feeling adventurous? Just get a burger. It's very good here, and I’m a burger connoisseur. I also highly recommend the curries, the gyros and Chicken Shawarma. From top to bottom, the menu is excellent, and the staff are very welcoming.
Nelson’s Ice Cream
454 Snelling Avenue South
It’s a summer tradition to stand in a line that wraps around the block waiting for your single- or double-scoop at Nelson’s Ice Cream. This place is an institution. I used to work as a security guard nearby, and the person who was training me pointed out Nelson’s on my first day. I’ve been an addict—I mean, fan—ever since. You really can’t go wrong here, but the blueberry cheesecake ice cream is my favorite. It’s unreal.
Said Shaiye is a Somali writer who calls Minneapolis home. He is an MFA Candidate at the University of Minnesota. His debut book, Are You Borg Now?, is forthcoming from Really Serious Literature.
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