The astonishing explosion of restaurants in the Twin Cities brings with it much of the cooking locals have been longing for: handmade dumplings, real-deal barbecue, high-end taquerias, East African food, ramen!
Vegetarians have it way better than ever, too, with veggies taking on the prominent role once reserved for animals of land and sea.
Here are five restaurants that are not vegetarian, but where non-meat eaters will find welcome and easygoing rapport with the menu, staff, and even their flesh-eating counterparts. Herbivores, dine fuss-free and deliciously.
161 N. Victoria St., St. Paul
Typically, ramen is a fairly porky endeavor. Tonkotsu ramen, made with rich pork broth, is the prototypical bowl clouded with fat, fleshy cutlets bobbing around on top. In ramen shops, vegetarians and vegans often have to settle for udon or miso preparations, missing out on the fetishistic beauty and incomparable richness of a real bowl of ramen.
Vegetarians, Tori Ramen has got you.
From the start, owners Jason Dorweiler and Asiya Persaud knew they wanted to eschew pork altogether. They figured there were enough diners who omit that particular protein from their diets, and they wanted a more inclusive ramen shop. Moreover, they don’t think anyone will miss the porky broth, and thus far, we haven’t. For flesh eaters, lots of poultry stock is on the menu. But the owners say their top seller is the vegetarian shoyu (soy sauce broth), a sure sign of how ready vegetarians were for ramen.
The broth, flavored heavily with umami-rich layers of burdock, seaweeds, fermented mushrooms, and garlic oil, ensures you won’t even miss meat stocks, the bottom-heavy depths of which can be crucial to satisfying a winter soup craving. Plus, the addition of celery root, yu choy (a dark Chinese green), bean sprouts, and scallions provides the medicinal vegetation your body demands during icky virus season.
Two other selections on the tight menu, the tantanmen or spicy Szechuan, and the kor dee yuh or Korean-style, can easily be made vegetarian — just ask. They’ll also accommodate gluten-free diets.
1415 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis
While the new Chipotle-styled Himalayan in Dinkytown still serves meat, it’s just as easy, possibly even easier, to bypass it for veggie options. And those options are swoon-worthy. Remember, Nepalese, Indian, and Tibetan cooking has millennia of meat-free history to recommend it.
Crispy puffed samosas are stuffed with garam masala, turmeric, and chile powder-laced potatoes and peas. Onions and jalapeños are scrambled up with batter and deep-fried into haystacks. Black lentils, ginger, and fresh cilantro find their way into pancakes that are then pan-fried. And those are just the first three selections on the appetizer list.
Meanwhile, get vegetarian momo, their specialty steamed dumplings served with addictive tomato-cilantro dipping sauce. Or try any of the house soup and salad selections, and 14 vegetarian and vegan entrees from spiced jackfruit to mustard green saag to creamy curry to palak paneer.
When you’re done with all that, turn to tofu biryani; six handmade naan, poori, roti, and paratha breads; and mango pudding for a sweet, tropical finish.
It’s a vegetarian feast that’s quick, fresh, and easy on the pocketbook.
Seward Co-op Creamery
2601 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
The first iteration of this vegetable-focused fine-dining dinner spot didn’t fly. But there’s no need to fret, vegetarians. Since closing the original concept and re-opening with a more casual, approachable design, Seward Co-op Creamery has proven no less concerned with dietary preferences and restrictions.
The new, brighter, friendlier Seward has added easy-to-read graphic menus that boldly state “vegan, vegetarian, and MWOG” (made without gluten).
The bulk of the menu is already vegetarian, though meat-eaters are embraced here, too, and everyone can live in agree-to-disagree harmony. A veg-omnivore duo can even have the same dish, made with or without meat. Take the breakfast hash, for instance. It comes with seasonal vegetables, hash browns, and sunny side up eggs and can be enjoyed with or without pastrami.
Or check out the smoked beet Reuben, which allows vegetable lovers to enjoy that classic sandwich, with Russian dressing, housemade sauerkraut, Swiss, and toasted rye. It can be made vegan upon request, and even gluten-free and vegan, if that’s your pastrami-free, wheat-free jam.
Seward is still a no-tipping establishment. It’s one of the few restaurants making that experimental but worthwhile endeavor work, just like the ambitious yet constructive adventure of the meatless Reuben.
920 E. Lake St. #126, Minneapolis
Morocco’s position at the crossroads of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine results in heavenly treatment of beans and legumes, couscous, stewed fruit, breads, and, of course, every sort of vegetable.
The latter gets the most gracious treatment here, in a vibrant spectrum of color and texture pumped up with alluring spice and extracts. Find glistening jewel-cut beets; whispery tendrils of carrots perfumed with rosewater and a dusting of cinnamon; nose-tickling, chile-laced cauliflower; eggplant smooth and deep with smoke. Each can be purchased as individual dishes, or you can have all of them together in a salad sampler for $8.95
For a fortifying winter entree, order a root vegetable tagine over tumeric rice.
No veg escapes without a graceful touch by classically trained chef Hassan Ziadi. He’s accomplishing his life’s calling here at this small but extremely mighty Midtown Global Market gem.
Also ask about the chef’s table, where the food is served in gorgeous, colorful ceramic Moroccan tagines. And don’t forget the fresh mint tea, a social imperative in Morocco, a flavor that’s essential here.
723 Vineland Pl., Minneapolis
Finer dining in Minnesota too often involves cuts of meat the size of a human head draped over potatoes oozing with dairy.
Many have tried, and failed, to push the vegetable into the limelight. If anyone can succeed at this, it’s probably Doug Flicker. He revolutionized the notion of what dinner can mean by nudging the oversized meat-starch-veg plate completely off the menu and out the door at his rebellious little restaurant Piccolo.
Now that he’s back in Lowry Hill (recall that his first important restaurant, Auriga, was also in that ’hood), he’s unapologetically positioning cauliflower and parsnip and even seaweed as the main event.
As for side dishes, find “nuts, grains, and seeds” instead of the standard $6 vegetable sides, too often relegated to a strip at the bottom of the menu.
Occasionally, plant-based preparations do come augmented with animal product, but not usually. Caramelized goat’s milk enriches parsnip and escarole, but you’re just as likely to find miso and preserved mushrooms making a rice bowl into a lively vegan lunch.
Even now, when the ground is sealed with frost, vegetables at Esker Grove take on innumerable permutations of size, shape, and color. Food-as-art becomes a serious proposition at this serious art institution.
That said, the cooking here is not so serious that French fries can’t be considered a vegetable, and grilled cheese can’t take its rightful place as an important lunchtime sandwich option.
Just because you eat your vegetables doesn’t mean asceticism is on the docket. It’s never been a better time to be an eccentric, indulgent herbivore.
More from Food & Drink