Two-Day Towns: Twin Cities

The Twin Cities are perfect for a long or short weekend. Or in our case, a lifetime.

Since we’re based in Minneapolis, we’re a little biased, but it’s becoming quickly undisputed that it’s one of the best small cities in the country, with a food scene that’s highly underrated. You could probably fill a week just eating, but we’ll break down the highlights with a few neighborhood itineraries.

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Where to Stay

Make sure your Uber app is up to date and you can stay anywhere. We always recommend Le Méridien Chambers in the heart of downtown Minneapolis—it’s right by the theaters, in the center of the action, and has a great contemporary design that contrasts with the building’s historical features (full disclosure, it’s a Shea design). Also downtown are the swank W—a chain, but in one of the city’s most historic and iconic buildings, the Foshay—and the Hotel Ivy, a serene luxury hotel best if you want to indulge in the world-class spa, or the Loews on First Avenue (you’ll be thisclose to Prince).

Minneapolis has also seen a recent hotel Renaissance, with the opening of the AC Hotel (a Marriott boutique brand) downtown and the soon-to-come too-hip Hewing Hotel in the North Loop (a great neighborhood to stay in if you’re going to be cocktail-ing late into the night).

In St. Paul, the St. Paul Hotel is the classic that still commands a lot of national attention, but it’s more in the “traditional luxury” category.

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North Loop

It’s no secret: The North Loop is where the cool kids hang out. It made Fodor’s (worldwide) list of places to travel in 2016, and new shops, restaurants, and housing are constantly opening.

It also happens to be where several Shea-ites (including principal Tanya and CEO/founder David) live. It’s great to live in a place where, any night we’re in town, we simply walk out the door and have access to some of the city’s best spots (sometimes we hitting two or three per night).

Our favorite spot is (big surprise) Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable, which lives up to the well-deserved hype for both vibe and menu (and the James Beard nom for both best new restaurant and for restaurant design from Shea). Our favorite way to experience Spoon is to walk in at strategic times (like shortly after the 7:00 reservations are seated) and nab either bar or lounge seats. Or stop in for a drink (and some ramen, if the timing is right) later in the evening, since the cocktails are among the best in town. (Oh, yeah, and it’s the best brunch in the Cities, too.)

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Our other go-to spot to grab bar seats in this neighborhood is Isaac Becker’s Bar La Grassa. The handmade pastas are amazing. For pizza? None other than Black Sheep. It’s the best, and coal-fired, which is fun for something a little different.

Midwestern cuisine meets chic at The Bachelor Farmer (it—and next-door cool-guy store Askov Finlayson—is run by the Dayton brothers, and it doesn’t get more Minnesotan than that). If you’re into high-concept dining, Borough is fun, with lots of emulsions and foams and spectacular plating—but there’s something for everyone here, because downstairs speakeasy-esque bar Parlour makes a killer old fashioned and one of the Cities’ best cheeseburgers. A Parlour bar secret? It’s a great stop for dessert and an after-dinner drink by Sean and crew. The apple pie is amazing. A stop at Martin Patrick 3 (guys) and across the street at D.NOLO (girls) is also a must for some of the best-curated retail in the country.

For all that’s new there, the North Loop also has two of the best classic dining experiences in the Cities: Monte Carlo, with its killer back bar and patio (and steak sandwiches), and J.D. Hoyt’s, our favorite old-school haunt for its cheesy garlic toast, pig wings, and supper-club classics from the grill in the corner.

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Downtown

If you’re in town for business, you’re likely staying and playing in the downtown area. The North Loop isn’t far from downtown, but here are a few choices closer to the core:

Murray’s (the best classic steakhouse in town, with its vintage glory restored a few years ago thanks to a Shea-updated space), Butcher and the Boar (one of the most popular places in town, with the best sausages and outdoor-ish beer garden), 4 Bells (a four-season rooftop,  fried chicken, oysters casino), 112 Eatery (one of the most-recommended by hotel concierges, with good reason), brand-new Mercury (a great breakfast/lunch/happy hour spot in the heart of downtown), and Saffron (best-kept secret in Mpls—the food is amazing, and reference the chef’s cookbook). Walk just a little further into Lowry Hill and you’ll stumble upon Burch, where the upstairs is a nouveau steakhouse and downstairs is a phenomenal wood-fired pizza bar.

Southwest Minneapolis

Home to some of the sweetest residential neighborhoods (In Linden Hills you can gawk at the houses around Lake Harriet and stop for ice cream at Sebastian Joe’s), Southwest Minneapolis also happens to have some really, really great food. Tilia is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant from Steven Brown, always full and lively with a great bar and close enough to the lake to walk off your dinner. Farther south and even more casual is Pizzeria Lola, where a copper pizza oven dominates the room and Polaroids line the walls, and the pizzas (covered in Korean BBQ and sunnyside-up eggs) are phenomenal.

There’s a stretch of Nicollet Avenue, from about 46th Street through 36th, that’s become one of the best eating areas in the Cities. Thomas Boemer’s casual fried-chicken joint Revival does Tennessee hot the way it’s meant to be done, and a few blocks down, the kitchen at Hola Arepa churns out Venezuelan arepas in a small restaurant that’s always bustling and has a great outdoor bar. And up the street, Corner Table (also from Thomas Boemer) serves fine food in a casual setting, with cult-favorite dishes (sweet potato doughnuts) but always trying something new.

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St. Paul

While St. Paul is packed with great dining ’hoods, the one that’s really exploded over the past few years is Lowertown. With Mears Park at its heart (pretty ideal for picnics when it’s warm or twinkle-light-viewing come wintertime), attractions like CHS Field and Union Depot have made this neighborhood the place to be. Formerly a haven for artists, a bit of a bohemian spirit still permeates this neighborhood, and the quirky food choices reflect it. Saint Dinette, Lowertown’s answer to an Italian trattoria or French buvette, makes a bologna sandwich (with homemade pickles!) crave-worthy for the first time since you were six. Barrio brings a strong tequila game to the neighborhood, and for breakfast or to satisfy your sweet tooth, The Buttered Tin has a warm, neighborhood-y vibe with hearty fare (and homemade Twinkies) to match.

But still the best dining in St. Paul, and one of the best in the Cities, is Meritage and its adjoined oyster bar. It’s great for brunch, lunch, and dinner.

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Further Out

Just beyond the Twin Cities, there are enough charming towns to make for an afternoon trip for locals, or a great way for visitors with car access to see some extra sights. An easy drive from downtown Minneapolis, Wayzata is the quintessential lake town—head straight to Lake Street to get killer water views and a good dose of Main Street-style charm. The boutiques are fantastic (Merilou always stocks gorgeous, unique pieces, sweet new Paper + Cloth is a great place to get lost for an hour, and see if you get lucky with a tags-on designer find at Fashion Avenue 2), but the dining scene is what’s really exploding. COV opened a few years back to bring the Hamptons lakeside, and Sushi Fix is some of the best in town. Gavin Kaysen’s new restaurant is expected to open next spring, just in time for the summer crowds, and, while a Starbucks is a Starbucks, Lake Street happens to be home to the cutest ivy-covered one in the Cities.

Other notables worth an Uber:

They might not fit into one of these ’hoods, but we’d be remiss not to mention them. Breweries are huge here, and the iconic Surly Brewing is a must-stop, either at the acclaimed and exceptional Brewer’s Table or the taproom for great eats and a pint. Just outside of Minneapolis in Richfield is Lyn 65, a complete (just-barely) suburban gem with a little of everything on the menu, all executed perfectly.

Can you tell we like it here?

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