The North Star State, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Gopher State, the Bread-and-Butter State—though Minnesota has numerous trademarks, its culinary scene is also unlike any other.
We’re no stranger to comfort foods (I’m talking about you, tater tot hotdish!) and easy-to-make meals, but Minnesota also offers unexpected discoveries, such as Indigenous and Asian foods, and crave-worthy dishes. So though our favorite foods may be off the beaten path, these tried-and-true favorites are tasty, homecooked and quintessentially Minnesotan.
Cut like a brownie with ingredients like a cookie, dessert bars are something special to Minnesota. They can be fruity, like lemon and cherry pie bars, or salty, such as salted caramel bars. They can be cereal-based or peanut-butter based, like the beloved “Scotcheroos” (find the recipe on page 63) or “Special K Bars.”
Find dessert bars at the high school cafeteria, small group or around the dinner table. The options are truly endless.
Find a variety of dessert bars at Nadia Cakes, 429 Commerce Drive; 651.314.4444; nadiacakes.com.
Minnesota is home to a large Hmong and Vietnamese community, which has made our great state a hot spot for pho (pronounced “fuh”). Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, is filled with rice noodles, vegetables, spices and meats.
It is a national obsession and Minnesota is lucky to have several delicious pho spots and varieties around the Twin cities. Whether you are craving traditional pho or a modern variation, there’s a bowl for it all.
Find traditional Vietnamese pho at Duc’s Restaurant, 783 Radio Drive #100B; 651.735.1044; ducsrestaurants.com.
First place prize for the most controversial Minnesota staple goes to the Juicy Lucy. There are debates about who first invented the delicious cheese-stuffed burger—was it Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club? Both bars, each located on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, say it was their claim to fame.
Though we will not choose a side, Juicy Lucy’s are a must-try for any visitor or locale, just try not to scorch your mouth on the first bite!
Find a juicy “Suzy” at Ze’s Diner, 2190 Eagle Creek Lane; 651.436.7196; zesdiner.com.
Casserole, stew, meat pie. This traditional dish has a hundred different names, but true Minnesotans only call it by one: hotdish.
From church gatherings to family reunion, you betcha you will see this three-ingredient dish—a starch, a meat and a vegetable, to name the three. Green bean hotdish, tater tot hotdish, hamburger hotdish are some of the favored.
Typically served at the major holidays—and whenever you need some comfort food—it’s the easiest (and tastiest!) homemade dish.
Even if you have favorite recipes, you might just find a new favorite hotdish recipe from Jerry’s Foods, 7760 Hargis Parkway; 651.458.0240; jerrysfoods.com.
Potatoes, flour, cream and butter. The simple ingredients make up lefse, a traditional Norwegian flatbread often served with butter, sugar (white or brown—the latter is traditional) and cinnamon during the holiday season.
Traditional lefse can also be served with lingonberry sauce—another Norwegian favorite—or topped with salty foods, including smoked salmon, spiced meat, cheese, onions or mustard. Sweet or savory, the choice is yours. However you choose to serve lefse, always be sure to include the most important topping: butter.
Find premade lefse at Lunds & Byerlys, 7050 Valley Creek Plaza; 651.999.1200; lundsandbyerlys.com.
Wild rice soup
Wild rice has been a staple in Minnesota for hundreds of years, dating back to the traditions of the Anishinaabe (Indigenous tribes including the Odawa, Saulteaux, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Oji-Cree and Algonquin peoples).
Though wild rice, “good berry,” is a nutritious grain, it was originally gathered during the wild rice moon and has since been a crucial ingredient in Indigenous and Minnesotan foods. From chicken wild rice soup to wild rice pilaf, there are endless ways to use this wholesome grain.
Find a cup of chicken wild rice soup at Keys Café and Bakery, 1750 Weir Drive; 651.731.5397; keyscafe.com.
Scour through your collection of cookbooks, index cards and church recipes, and you might just find a recipe for porketta (also known as porchetta). Made popular in the Iron Range from Italian immigrant miners, porketta is pulled pork seasoned with fennel and garlic cooked to perfection in the crockpot.
You’ll find Minnesota’s favorite porketta at the 108-year-old Sunrise Bakery in the Iron Ranges, but there are plenty of delicious options closer to the metro area.
Find Bub’s porketta at Bub’s Aussie Gourmet Pies, 9939 Hudson Blvd. N.; 651.493.9528; bubsaussiepies.com.
Eastern Europeans have been settling in Minnesota since the 1800s and immigrants brought over an abundance of delicious foods and recipes—including polish sausage.
You have probably dug into a Kramarczuk polish sausage at a Twins game, but their northeast Minneapolis establishment has been serving polish sausage for over 60 years. Looking for a bite of warmth a little closer to home? Check your local deli or butcher for delicious polish sausage.
Find polish sausage at Von Hanson’s Meats, 8470 City Centre Drive #106; 651.578.2944; vonhansons.com.
Hamm’s—once a household name in the 1950s through the 1980s—has been the choice of Minnesotans since Theodore Hamm first arrived in St. Paul from Germany, who had a goal to create a high-quality American brew.
First brewed in 1865, Hamm’s Brew has been a staple for Minnesotans for over a century—and its resurgence is just beginning. The popular beer is still brewed in its traditional ways according to the Hamm’s Beer website, from the “purest water and the choicest barley malt, grain and hops.”
Find a cold can of Hamm’s beer at O’Malley’s Irish Pub, 1775 Radio Drive; 651.578.7007; omalleys-pub.com.
We are the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and we have just the dish to prove it: walleye. It is the official state fish and the most popular fish dish. It is also the perfect complement to many traditional dishes, including wild rice (see above) or served between two artisan buns as a burger.
Head up to the North Shore for a fresh catch of the day or head to local restaurants (and grocers!) to grab a meal that’s just a bit closer to home.
Find cracker crusted walleye at Tamarack Tap Room, 8418 Tamarack Village; 651.330.2889; tamaracktaproom.com.
This no-fail recipe pairs well with hearty soup, salad or entrées. —Renée Stewart-Hester
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- Kosher salt
- 12 oz. beer (Try Hamm’s, and Harp Lager works well, too.)
- ¼ cup honey
- 6 Tbsp. cold salted butter (sliced
into 8 pieces)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan with butter. Add flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt to a mixing bowl. Pour in the beer and add honey. Mix until combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the butter slices on top of the dough. Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 45–55 minutes, or until the top of the bread is lightly browned.
This easy-to-make and addictive scotcheroo recipe is delicious marriage of peanut butter and Rice Krispies. —Hailey Almsted
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
To make the scotcheroo bars: In a large saucepan, bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat and, while still warm, add peanut butter. Stir to incorporate. Add Rice Krispies and stir to combine. Pour mixture into a well-greased 9x13 pan. Spread mix evenly throughout the pan.
To make topping: In a small bowl, combine the chocolate and butterscotch chips. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring occasionally, until chips are melted and smooth. Spread over scotcheroo bars evenly. Allow topping to set before cutting into squares and serving. (thisfarmgirlcooks.com)