Your order arrives at the table with a flourish, each dish carefully plated to entice you to take that first delicious bite.
But instead of grabbing their forks, everyone whips out their phones and starts taking photos. One nudges a water glass aside, another tilts his plate toward the window. Someone grabs a vase of flowers to include in her shot, while the most obsessive member of the party putzes with a garnish, poking an herb sprig into position.
Love it or leave it, Instagram has become an integral part of our modern dining experience. Posting the perfect photo (and then watching the likes roll in) sometimes feels just as rewarding as the meal itself. And some Twin Cities foodies have turned those likes into wildly successful food-focused accounts, attracting tens of thousands of followers who double-tap every glitter-dusted ice cream cone and heaping pile of fries.
Wondering how to up your Instagram game? We spoke to a few of the pros to get their take on the most photoshoot-worthy foods, tips for snapping the best shot, and the hottest foods in local feeds right now.
To start, what types of foods do best on Instagram? “Burgers and ice cream,” says Lamar Roberts (@llama_robber, 2,855 followers), without hesitation. Kat Peterson (@kmlpeterson, 21.9K followers) agrees. “Donuts, burgers, pizza. It’s food porn.”
Golnaz Yamoutpour, owner of @eatdrinkdishmpls (50.5K followers), has a similar list. “Pizza, donuts, burgers, tater tots, cheese curds—this is Minnesota, so cheese curds do really well.” And in that vein, the team behind @foodieapolis (21.9K followers) adds that any food shaped like the state is a surefire hit—think Groundswell’s Minnesota cookie or the MN donuts sometimes offered at Sarah Jane’s Bakery.
However, there is a place for healthier fare, or as Peterson puts it, “Moderate food, what the average person eats.... People do like good food that’s not 5,000 calories.” She points out that well-constructed salads often do well, thanks to their vibrant color schemes.
Once you’ve selected your subject, you need to set up the perfect shot. Everyone we spoke to said the same thing: It’s all about the lighting. Natural light is best, and don’t be afraid to move around to get the best light. “I’ve lost my shame,” Roberts says with a chuckle. “I stand on chairs, move to a table by the window, even go outside.”
Yamoutpour recommends taking a top-down, bird’s eye view of the table, incorporating lots of plates, cocktails, and decor such as vases of flowers. “Try to make it look natural,” she says. “Play with angling your phone to see where the light hits best.”
And think beyond the food: Is there a mural wall or a colorful building you can use as a backdrop? (Peterson’s a fan of the red exterior wall at Bogart’s Doughnut Co.) Other popular backgrounds include the tile floor and walls at The Bachelor Farmer Cafe and the “I ♥ Ice Cream” neon sign at Milkjam Creamery.
Ready to get shooting? Here are some of the most Instagram-worthy foods in the Twin Cities right now:
Angel Food Bakery & Donut Bar: Donuts are a perennial Instagram favorite, and the brightly colored creations at Angel Food are particularly on point. Go for the Lisa Frank bismark, topped with swirls of orange and pink icing and filled with confetti sprinkles, or the brilliantly hued raspberry chocolate chip (available as a raised or gluten-free chocolate cake donut). 86 S. Ninth St., Minneapolis; 612-238-1435 angelfoodmn.com
Bellecour: The @foodieapolis team recommends the crepe cake—be sure to experiment with various angles to get the best photo of the intricate layers. They note that “Anything that [pastry chef] Diane Yang makes is going to be good.” Other standouts on the current dessert menu include a frozen lemon parfait with an eye-popping magenta scoop of raspberry sorbet and the chocolate banana Paris-Brest. 739 Lake St. E., Wayzata; 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com
Fish Bowl Poké: The glistening bowls of raw fish and vegetables at this new south Minneapolis spot check all the Instagram boxes: colorful, visually striking, and on-trend. Peterson is also a fan of the multi-hued mochi ice cream, especially when posed against Fish Bowl’s graffiti wall. 5 W. 34th St., Minneapolis; 612-354-2516, fishbowlmsp.com
Martina: It’s not exactly under the radar—it was our 2018 Best New Restaurant pick, and Yamoutpour points out that “Everyone and their mom is going here for brunch.” But Martina’s elegant, approachable plating makes it an Instagram darling. The lobster toast looks particularly stunning in a bird’s-eye view of your brunch spread. The @foodieapolis team also gave an honorable mention to the unique garnishes, like the grapefruit rose that adorns one brunch cocktail. 4312 Upton Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-922-9913, martinarestaurant.com
Milkjam Creamery: Peterson raves about the drippy cones and “killer light” from the wall of windows. The obvious Instagram choice is to gather a group of friends and order “all of them,” a photogenic array of 16 scoops with sauces, candies, cereal, sprinkles, and more. Smaller appetites can opt for the flight of four scoops, also served with coordinating toppings. 2743 Lyndale Ave. S.; 612-424 4668, milkjamcreamery.com
Nautical Bowls: The @foodieapolis team is a big fan of the offerings at Minnetonka’s Nautical Bowls, which are made with fruit sorbets, chia pudding, fresh fruit, seeds, nuts, and various other antioxidant-laden ingredients. Purported health benefits aside, the bowls have vibrant layers and gorgeous toppings. Build your own or opt for the Nauti Bowl, with its bright, purple-pink pitaya (also known as dragon fruit) sorbet and an artful drizzle of peanut butter. 17623 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952-658-8431, nauticalbowls.com
Sota Hot and Cold: While ice cream always does well on Instagram (especially during all-too-brief Minnesota summers), Sota Hot and Cold’s Thai rolled ice cream stands out because the presentation is so different from your typical sundae. One of the signature rolls is even named after local Instagrammer @kimlycurry: Kimly’s Fruity Ube pairs rolls of lavender ube and green tea ice cream with crushed Oreos, kiwi, strawberries, mangoes, and Pocky sticks. 394 University Ave. W., St. Paul; sotahotandcold.com
Sushi Train: Sure, it’s kind of gimmicky, but the bright borders on the color-coded plates at Minnesota’s first conveyor belt sushi spot make for a fun photo (make sure to get the conveyor belt in the background). “The buzz factor is important,” says Roberts. “I’m looking for foods that are newly released or restaurants that are newly opened... you need something unique and eye-catching to get people to stop scrolling.” 1200 Nicollet Mall C3; 612-259-8488
Waffle Bar: As our food editor recently discovered, the meticulously crafted ice cream and bubble waffle cones seem custom-made for Instagram, with fun garnishes like gummy bears, fruity pebbles, edible glitter, and cotton candy. Yamoutpour recommends the Boba Waffle, since the lychee jellies and mango pearls are fairly unique ice cream toppings. 2758 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-353-4524, facebook.com/wafflebarmn