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International Cuisine in Minneapolis: A Tour for Your Taste Buds

a bowl of food on a plate

A metropolis in the heart of the Upper Midwest, Minneapolis’s food scene often gets overlooked. Those seeking international restaurants in Minneapolis might have thought their selection would be limited to pasta and red sauce or fast food style Tex-Mex. From an outside perspective, it makes sense. Our Minnesotan reputation for mushroom soup-based hotdish precedes us. However, in the words of one Minnesotan anthem, “The times, they are a-changin’.” 

Minneapolis’s diverse culinary scene isn’t a new phenomenon. An array of flavors from around the world has been available to those living in the Twin Cities since the midcentury and by midcentury, we mean the 1900s. Actually, Minneapolis strayed from the typical Midwest meat and potato cuisine way before the ’50s. The city’s first Chinese restaurant, Canton Cafe, opened in the 1880s. Also known as John’s Place, this restaurant fought through adversity and thrived until the late 1960s.

Throughout the generations, many different cultures have made Minneapolis home. In the Twin Cities, it’s not difficult to find traditional Jewish, Polish and Scandinavian meat and deli counters that opened in the early 1900s. Pick the right time of day to walk next to Ingebretsen's, a Scandinavian meat counter in south Minneapolis, and you’ll smell the salmon smoking from the street. 

In the late 1940s, the city’s first Mexican restaurants opened. Since then, many Mexican restaurants have popped up around the Twin Cities with menus backed by various culinary traditions. At Viva Taco in Graze, it’s easy to taste the complex story of the global migration to Minneapolis. Here, Chef Quang Pham is fusing Vietnamese cuisine with Mexican street food. Take the Viva Bowls for example, Vietnamese-style pork or curried tofu top traditional Mexican staples such as rice, beans and pico de gallo. The complicated, toothsome flavor is sure to tantalize your mouth’s memory for many meals to come.

Global Flavors in Minneapolis

If anyone has heard of a distinct Minneapolis dish, it’s probably The Jucy Lucy, a burger stuffed with cheese, that was introduced in south Minneapolis in the 1950s. While this dish is the epitome of the meat and cheese bar food cuisine, Minnesota has a lot more to offer today. Standout international options such as Vietnamese, Mexican and Ethiopian restaurants offer freshness and a diverse range of flavors.

These cuisines have captured the attention and the tastebuds of generations of Minnesotans. Ready to eat? We’ll make it easier for you to plan your tasting journey. In the next section, we’ll go over what cuisines you should look for when you’re in the area and what specific dishes you’ll want to try.

What are the most popular international cuisines found in Minneapolis? 

The Hmong and Vietnamese population in Minneapolis and Saint Paul began to grow in the late 1970s and continued to boom into the early ’90s. In the last few decades, Vietnamese dishes, pho and bánh mì sandwiches have become a beloved Twin Cities staple. 

Bánh mì sandwiches are made with chewy French baguettes, loaded with flavorful protein, and topped with pickled vegetables. This lunch staple perfectly combines rich and fresh ingredients. Mock duck offers a delicious option for those who follow a vegetarian diet. Pho is a soup with a beef broth base. Infused with star anise and cloves, the soup can have a range of proteins and comes with a large bowl of fresh ingredients such as basil, cilantro, jalapeno slices and sprouts. This soup has been hailed as a cure for everything from hangovers to head colds.

If you’re looking for an international restaurant in Minneapolis that offers family style dining for people with different dietary needs, you may want to seek out an Ethiopian restaurant. Ethiopian food is about more than flavor. It’s a textural, sensory experience. Many Ethiopian meals use a spongy, sourdough bread called injera as a vehicle for the many stewed meats and vegetables on offer. Vegetarians and meat lovers can find amazing meals in Ethiopian restaurants in the Twin Cities area as lentils and vegetables are treated with similar flavorful reverence as animal protein in this type of fare.

Over the decades, Minneapolis has become a Midwestern oasis for Mexican cuisine. Taco trucks, taquerias and sit-down restaurant spots can be found throughout the city. Whether you’re looking for traditional street foods, Tex-Mex or fusion, diners who crave Mexican cuisine have many options.

Those exploring Minneapolis’s diverse dining selection may want to make a stop at a Global Cuisine food hall. These venues marry the iconic Twin Cities tradition of the indoor mall and the blossoming variety of international restaurants in Minneapolis. When the snow is blowing outside, you and your fellow diners can luxuriate in the climate-controlled indoor setting while exploring the many cuisines on offer.

The Rise of International Food Halls

Minneapolis has become a haven for people from around the world. Because of this, it has become a hotspot for many types of cuisines. Because of the snowy winters and the hot, muggy summers, Minneapolis also has a history of indoor malls. These two factors combined are a match made in heaven: the food hall. 

The perfect place for hosting a variety of cuisines, the food hall keeps diners comfortable while offering a range of cuisines to diners.

Exploring Hmong Cuisine in Minneapolis

In the early ’80s, Saint Paul became a refuge for Hmong people who were displaced from their homes after siding with the United States during the Vietnam War. Hmong cuisine is so influential in the Twin Cities that the Hmong and Vietnamese Frogtown neighborhood has been mentioned in National Geographic and on NPR. 

The deep story of Hmong heritage can be tasted in the cuisine. Try Hmong sausage and purple sticky rice to get a taste of the staples. Recipes for purple sticky rice from Union Hmong Kitchen have been cited in Bon Appétit magazine. Want a taste of this complex cuisine? Explore Union Hmong Kitchen’s animal protein, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options when you visit Graze, a global cuisine food hall in Minneapolis’s trendy North Loop.

Want to take a little of the Hmong culture home with you? Over the river, in Frogtown, Hmongtown Marketplace offers Hmong groceries, trinkets and clothing. A trip to this giant market will help color your understanding of this culture. 

Must-Try Hmong Dishes in Minneapolis - Union Hmong

Visitors to Union Hmong Kitchen rave about the pork belly and the Hilltribe crispy chicken leg. This restaurant offers spicy sauces that linger in your mouth and leave you wanting more while taking mercy on those who prefer a milder yet rich flavor. 

Fusion of Flavors: Mexican-Vietnamese Cuisine

While traditional Mexican food has mostly been formed from Mayan, Aztec and Spanish traditions, Mexican cuisine is diverse. The food changes from region to region, village to village and house to house. The culinary tradition has been influenced by the ingredients available or the nationality of the people in the area. Middle Eastern immigrants to Mexico introduced new flavors and techniques, an influence that can be spotted if you’ve ever ordered Tacos Arabe. This is all to say that like all food traditions, Mexican and Vietnamese food is always evolving. 

Vietnamese and Mexican foods have been booming in Minneapolis in the last few decades, so it makes sense that chefs have begun to mingle the two cuisines. The fares work well together. Both cultures’ cuisines have meals that favor both pickled and fresh vegetables as well as rice. 

There’s no better place to taste this unique take on both cuisines than at Graze, the hub for all the best international food in Minneapolis.

Spotlight on Mexican-Vietnamese Fusion Restaurants: Viva-Taco

The best way to get to know a place when you’re traveling is through eating the local cuisine. If you’re visiting the Twin Cities, it makes sense to ask, “What are some of the unique dishes or specialties that can only be found in Minneapolis's international cuisine scene?”

Viva Taco at Graze combines two culinary traditions that are thriving in Minneapolis, Vietnamese and Mexican food. The menu offers a range of Latino foods from empanadas to taco platters. These choices are infused with fresh and spicy Vietnamese flavors, offering diners a new take on their favorite Mexican foods.

Dining Out: Tips for a Global Culinary Adventure in Minneapolis

Whether you’re new to Minneapolis or a townie wanting to open up your international palate, it’s an exciting time to dive into international cuisine. 

If you want to find many choices for international restaurants, you may want to visit Eat Street, a stretch of Nicolette Avenue that’s south of downtown. There, you can walk the street, finding upscale takes on familiar fare such as donuts and pizza and international foods including Vietnamese, Jamaican and Chinese. While you’re digesting, explore the Asian grocery stores to find delicious treats to snack on all the way home. 

Minneapolis’s food halls are a great option if you’re looking for a one-stop place to try a range of cuisines. Graze offers multiple patios and a bar so that you can stop in for lunch and socialize until it’s time for dinner. 

Are you nervous to try something new? Worried that you won’t know what to order? Here are a few tips for finding something that you’ll like:

  • Take a food tour: Even if you’re from Minneapolis, if you take a food tour, you’ll find new foods that you love and learn about local businesses and history. 

  • Ask the server: Find out what they love. Tell them your preferences. They’ll be able to nudge you in the right direction.

  • Try an array of items: If you don’t know what it is and you don’t have any dietary restrictions, go ahead and order it. This tactic works especially well at bakeries and delis. 

  • Ask for a sample: If you’re interested in trying something that’s out of your comfort zone, ask for a sample. Sure, they may say no but they might also be able to tell you more about the product.

  • Share a meal: Get a family style meal to share with a group. That way you can try different dishes without committing to one dish.

The Continuing Evolution of Minneapolis’s International Cuisine Scene

Minneapolis is an ever-changing place. You can try traditional Scandinavian foods with recipes that tie back to the first immigrants of this region, James Beard award-winning native cuisine and new fusion cuisines that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. 

Sure, Minnesotans might still enjoy hotdish but as the world turns, it becomes more obvious there’s more to Minneapolis than meat and potatoes. Get out and try something new, you never know what new favorite foods are on your horizon. 

If you’re looking to avoid snowy sidewalks and want to try a few different cuisines all at the same time, turn to Graze, Minneapolis’s best food hall. We are host to a variety of chefs who have influences from all over the world, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and even after-dinner drinks. You don’t need a passport to discover something new, just head on over to Graze in the North Loop. Just don’t forget to pack your appetite.