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The Year in Food: A mouth-watering, tear-jerking look back

Popol Vuh

Popol Vuh Lucy Hawthorne

The year was 2018. The world felt... very weird. Was it careening toward disaster? Almost definitely! Yet we found time to eat, drink, and be merry. Here are all the ways we stuffed our faces and filled our bellies when just about everything else seemed impossible to digest.

We got smoke in our eyes.
Smoking cigarettes ain’t cool (hear that, kiddos?), but smoking just about anything in the kitchen is: meats, vegetables, pizzas, bagels—hell, even cocktails. Between new restaurants with wood-fired grills (Popol Vuh, Colita, Meyvn, In Bloom) and new barbecue joints (Animales Barbeque Co., Hwy 10 BBQ, and the soon to come Minnesota BBQ Co. and Beast BBQ), we pledged our allegiance to smoky flavors and charred edges. We’ll miss StormKing and Rudolph’s, which shuttered this year, but their spirit lives on in billowing chimneys across the Twin Cities.

The Herbivorous Butcher's Aubry and Kale Walch

The Herbivorous Butcher's Aubry and Kale Walch Herbivorous Butcher

Vegans took over!
This was a big year for the herbivores among us. Fig + Farro, a vegetarian and vegan spot, opened at Lake and Hennepin. Trio Plant-Based opened down the street in Lyn-Lake. Seed Cafe, another cruelty-free kitchen, opened on West Lake Street just beyond Bde Maka Ska; Vegan East’s dairy- and egg-free bakery opened in the Whittier neighborhood. In St. Paul, Eureka Compass launched a vegan bodega within its existing restaurant. And vegan kitchens Reverie and J. Selby’s launched their own food trucks. Plus, the faux-meat makers at Herbivorous Butcher have expanded their stronghold—you can find their meat-like marvels in restaurants from coast to coast.

Ramen Kazama

Ramen Kazama Eliesa Johnson

A bunch of restaurants forded the river.
Following in the footsteps of Kyatchi and Revival, which both opened sister locations in St. Paul in the last few years, a number of popular eateries bopped on over to try life on the other side of the Mississippi. Red Rabbit, Parlour, Nico’s Taco Bar, Ramen Kazama, Rose Street Patisserie, Birch’s on the Lake, and Salty Tart all opened in the saintly city.

Spring Crudités at Trapeze

Spring Crudités at Trapeze Kim Bartmann

Empires expanded.
After adding Book Club to her list of restaurants in late 2017, mini-mogul Kim Bartmann launched another venture in 2018: Trapeze, a champagne and bubbly bar next to Barbette. Meanwhile, Ann Kim (Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza) announced she was taking over the former Lucia’s space to sling tacos. Another treasured venue was saved when Sameh Wadi’s Milkjam took over the beloved Dave’s Popcorn stand in south Minneapolis—plus the chef introduced his St. Paul seafood boil, Grand Catch. And Gavin Kaysen, chef extraordinaire of Spoon and Stable and Bellecour, revealed his plans for a third restaurant, a tasting-menu spot in the North Loop called Demi.

Jerard Fagerberg

Jerard Fagerberg

There was a Latinx-plosion.
After knocking us out with Martina in 2017, Daniel Del Prado wowed us again with Colita, a cozy south Minneapolis spot featuring upscale Tex-Oaxacan fare. In the same vein, Popol Vuh, the fancy twin sister to taco joint Centro in Northeast, opened to rave reviews for its elevated Mexican cuisine. Minneapolis got its first Latin-influenced craft brewery, La Doña Cervecería, and this fall, Boludo opened in the Kingfield neighborhood, serving buttery, flaky empanadas and churro doughnuts.

Two lunch plates at Mama D's: Smoked turkey leg with mac-and-cheese and a pulled pork sandwich with collard greens.

Two lunch plates at Mama D's: Smoked turkey leg with mac-and-cheese and a pulled pork sandwich with collard greens. Hannah Sayle

Southern food made its way to the frozen north.
It was a good year for the classic Southern meat-and-three: 2018 saw Funky Grits and Mama Sheila’s Soul Food Kitchen open up mere blocks from each other in south Minneapolis, and Mama D’s Kitchen nabbed a booth in Midtown Global Market. Meanwhile, the pop-up favorite Soul Bowl (a build-your-own soul food experience) is hunting for a permanent location.

Set your palate on fire, then cool it off, then do it all again at Grand Catch.

Set your palate on fire, then cool it off, then do it all again at Grand Catch. Alma Guzman

We expanded our culinary horizons.
In addition to Southern food getting its due, a number of new cuisines and fusions landed in the Twin Cities in 2018. The Viet Cajun trend of spicy seafood boils with east Asian flavors has been well represented in Viet Cajun & Noodles in Woodbury, Grand Catch in St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood, and Cajun Life on the east side of St. Paul. Meyvn brought us an array of dishes from the Jewish diaspora, including bagels and lox, pierogi, pastrami, and shakshouka. A little further south in Minneapolis, Apoy opened as one of the only full-service Filipino restaurants in the Twin Cities, and Mi Casa Su Casa, which also opened this year, offers Mexican-Pinoy cuisine, a fusion that nods to the Southeast Asian islands’ Hispanic influence.

Food halls continued to be a thing.
Though the prototype Food Building in northeast Minneapolis has had some struggles (it lost Lone Grazer Creamery in 2017 and Draft Horse this month), the year showed a healthy appetite for food courts and food halls. Following the successful 2017 launch of Market House Collaborative in Lowertown, St. Paul’s Keg & Case Market was one of the biggest openings of the year, an expansive home to Bogart’s Doughnuts, Sweet Science Ice Cream, In Bloom, Five Watt Coffee, Rose Street Patisserie—the list goes on. Others were eager to cash in on the trend, including an elevated food court in Roseville’s Rosedale Center, Revolution Hall, and Target Center’s desperately edgy Cargo Food Authority, a concessions hall with “graffiti-tagged” shipping containers. More are on the way: Malcolm Yards Market near Surly Brewing is slated for a 2020 opening, Graze Food Hall in the North Loop has gotten the green light from the city, and Dayton’s Food Hall & Market on Nicollet Mall is eyeing a 2019 premiere.

The Del Gordo burger, the meaty behemoth that started everything at Hamburguesas el Gordo.

The Del Gordo burger, the meaty behemoth that started everything at Hamburguesas el Gordo. Hannah Sayle

Our love affair with street food endured.
If you thought our obsession with the nebulous concept of “street food” had run its course, you were mistaken. We’re still entranced by the idea of finding something truly authentic, a taste that you would otherwise only get when strolling through some faraway city. Thai Street Market in St. Paul brings us the classic Thai street foods of curries, satay, and soups; Sweet Chow in the North Loop does a mix of Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, and Korean street foods (think banh mi, sausages, larb, and chicken wings); and Hamburguesas El Gordo (which opened a Minneapolis location in 2018) brings us tacos, loaded hamburgers, hot dogs, and little baggies of salsa, a hallmark of eating on the go in Mexico.

We lost some old friends.
It wasn’t all good eats and happy news in 2018; it never is. After a two-year effort at reviving the Viking Bar, the classic closed again. St. Paul’s Wild Onion and Muddy Pig served their last pints. Legends, Fabulous Fern’s, and Grumpy’s Downtown all claimed their big bar stools in the sky. Lotus made a valiant return to Uptown, but couldn’t stick it out. 510 Lounge in the former La Belle Vie space lasted only six months; La Belle Vie alum Jim Christiansen was forced to close his much-lauded Heyday. Rabbit Hole, that funky fun restaurant next to the Midtown Global Market, made its last poutine.

We’re not sure what we’ll do without the comforts of Ward 6 and its boozy milkshakes or the reliable pick-me-up of doughnuts from Chef Shack Ranch. Unfortunately, the list goes on (Be’Wiched, Heirloom, the Minneapolis Colossal Cafe, GYST, the Uptown Arby’s, for chrissakes!), but we’ll pour one out for our old friends and toast the new ones to come in 2019. Skol!

Here's every Twin Cities restaurant that closed in 2018
Here's every Twin Cities restaurant that opened in 2018