Some of the spices and condiments in a Malaysian kitchen—ginger, shallots, chilies—are familiar to American diners. Others aren't as widely known, and it's these that give the seafood, meats, veggies, and curries at Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine their palate-expanding complexity. Belacan, for example, is a dried shrimp paste that provides a salty tang; pandan leaf is an aromatic plant used in desserts as a dumpling wrapper; and galangal is a type of Southeast Asian rhizome that goes well with lemongrass.
At Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine, Chef Tong mixes these ingredients with practiced precision to make nearly 200 dishes, from pineapple seafood fried rice to the Buddhist yam pot—a bowl formed from crispy fried taro and filled with shrimp, chicken, cashews, and vegetables. The restaurant's open kitchen lets guests watch him and the other cooks as they flip the crispy pancakes known as roti canai and toss fresh egg noodles with duck and barbecued pork. The food impressed Jeremy Iggers of the StarTribune along with his Malaysia-born dining companions, who "gave the Peninsula a strong endorsement: they said the food was as good as at the restaurants back home."
The kitchen also displays Peninsula's love for coconut. Jumbo shrimp and beef take on sweetness as they simmer in coconut milk, and a coconut-butter breading turns bites of chicken into crispy treats. To increase the chances that their dreams will take them to a tropical island, diners can finish with another celebration of the fruit of the palm: coconut pudding served inside a real coconut shell.
Along with the end of Prohibition, 1933 brought sweeping changes across the country. It definitely changed the building at 1928 University Avenue NE in Minneapolis, which had been functioning as a hardware and furniture store for nearly a quarter-century. Proprietor Stanley Kozlak immediately went out and obtained a liquor license, transforming his retail shop into a bar and restaurant.
It would prove to be a smart decision?more than 80 years and two generations of Kozlaks later, Jax Cafe stands as a Minneapolis institution whose reputation has spread throughout the Midwest. This is thanks in part to singular touches such as reserved tables set with personalized matchbooks for expected guests and a stream on the lush covered patio from which diners can net their own rainbow trout for dinner. It?s no wonder Travel Channel foodie Andrew Zimmern has gushed that this restaurant is ?dripping with character.?
Part of that character comes from a certain adherence to traditions. Jax is furnished with patterned carpet, white linens, a grand piano, and a phone booth?yes, a phone booth?and the menu has the classic supper-club meals to match. Fresh Maine lobsters are kept in a saltwater tank said to be the first of its kind in the state, and the selection of award-winning Angus beef includes an 8-ounce filet the restaurant calls ?the steak that made Jax famous.? That?s not to say Jax is stuffy or old-fashioned?the menu also includes beer-can chicken, kids' meals, and craft beers served fresh from the tap, bottle, or keg-sized water balloon.
The culinary team at Common Roots Cafe believes that the best way to create a welcoming restaurant is to fully embrace local flavor in every sense of the word. Even the interior speaks to this mission?reclaimed barn wood makes up the dining room's floorboards and tabletops, the counter is composed of recycled cardboard, and the air is one-hundred percent Minnesotan. The overall effect is one of casual warmth, an atmosphere that makes the cafe an ideal spot for guests to chew on eclectic, yet accessible, cuisine and relax with a choice of 10 local craft beers.
The menu itself also bursts with hometown pride, highlighting local organic and sustainable ingredients. As much as half of the restaurant's food comes from farms located within 250 miles of Minneapolis, while some produce is picked right outside the door at the cafe's urban garden. And since the selection of ingredients alters with the seasons, the chefs adapt their dishes each month to showcase their fresh flavors. Previous offerings have included redfish tacos with jicama slaw, mac 'n' cheese with local cheddar, and house-made tagliatelle pasta topped with a hearty bison bolognese sauce. Bites are complemented with sips from a drink list featuring wines?many made from organic grapes?and local beers. And, in the unlikely event that diners leave any food on their plates, the scraps are carefully composted to continue the cafe's green production cycle.
“Jedzcie pijcie i popuszczajcie pas.” For those who don’t speak Polish, the motto at Nye’s Polonaise Room may seem complex, but its translation is simple: “Eat, drink, and loosen your belt.” In fact, expansion has been the running theme at Nye’s since it set its roots back in the '40s. By 1964 Nye's original form, a bar, provided owner Al Nye with the funds necessary to purchase the space next door. Though he added a dining room, the bar's original features—gold-flecked booths, dark paneling, a curved piano bar, and a portrait of Chopin—remain, creating a vintage and homey feel.
Nye’s lengthy menu dishes up Polish classics, such as cabbage rolls and pierogi, as well as hearty 14-ounce new york strip steaks, cold-water lobster tail, and aged, bone-in, slow-roasted prime rib. Specialty martinis and the eatery’s inherent ambience make it a cozy place to talk, much like a candlelit phone booth. Nye’s also curates a full wine menu with pours from California, Spain, and Australia. All these ingredients come together to create a restaurant that's distinct and locally lauded, earning it a feature on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
After immigrating to the United States at age 20, Greece native Dino Adamidis cut his teeth in the restaurant industry as an employee at his sister’s steakhouse. He enjoyed the work, but still aspired to own his own business, a dream he carried with him from Greece. In 1982, he and his wife Vona decided to pursue that dream by opening a small white and blue stand at a local art fair where they sold gyros to spectators, often cinching a sale with free meat samples, saying, “We knew if the people would try it they would love it.” Love it they did, but it wasn’t until 1986—four years and several food stands down the road—that the couple opened the first freestanding Dino’s Gyros with only eight booths and a single particle accelerator.
Today, Dino’s is run by the two oldest children and serves quick Greek and Mediterranean cuisine from six locations. The menu still highlights the classic gyro, often with innovative twists, such as the Greek Philly, a gyro-meat mound sautéed with onions, green peppers, and swiss cheese. Catering services offer the same delicious fare as box lunches, family-style buffets, or busts carved from gyro meat.
The former owner of local hotspot Taco Morelos, restaurateur Gaspar Perez now reigns over the kitchen at Las Teresitas Mexican Grill. Here, he's ramped up his well-known Mexican favorites with high-quality ingredients and bold flavors, and this time, he's keeping the entire operation in the family. According to City Pages—which awarded Las Teresitas the 2012 Best Taco award for its chorizo taco—Perez's wife waits tables as his cousin cooks up fajitas, mole chicken, and tacos stuffed with brisket, Mexican-style barbecue pork, or beef cheek. The family's even in the restaurant's name, which Perez chose in honor of his mother (Teresa) and his daughter (also Teresa), who gained popularity at Taco Morelos for greeting customers at the door with a smile and fresh tortilla chips.
The free chips are still a thing. In the center of the casual dining room stands a complementary chips-and-salsa bar, showcasing a spread of nine colorful homemade salsas in varying degrees of heat. Perez encourages guests to sample these salsas—which include tomato chipotle and chili de arbol varieties—and use them to customize their meals or secretly spice up a friend's horchata.