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 strangers 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.
Though our favorite foods may be off the beaten path, these tried-and-true favorites are tasty, home cooked and quintessentially Minnesotan.
Dessert bars: Cut like a brownie with ingredients like a cookie, dessert bars are something special to Minnesota. They can be fruity (lemon and cherry pie bars) or salty (salted caramel or Nut Goodie bars). How about cereal- or peanut butter- based (Scotcheroos or Special K bars)? Find them at school cafeterias, kaffeeklatsches or around dinner tables. The options are truly endless.
Hamm’s beer: Hamm’s—a household name in the 1950s through the 1980s—has been the choice of Minnesotan’s since Theodore Hamm first arrived in St. Paul from Germany and had a goal to create a high-quality American brew. Beginning in 1865, Hamm’s has been a staple for Minnesotans for generations—and its resurgence is just beginning. The popular beer is still brewed in its traditional way, according to the Hamm’s Beer website, from the “purest water and the choicest barley malt, grain and hops.”
Hotdish: This traditional dish has a hundred different names, but true Minnesotans only call it by one: hotdish. From church gatherings to family reunions, you betcha you will see this starch meets meat and vegetable concoction. The options are endless.
Juicy Lucy: First place for the most controversial Minnesota staple goes to the Juicy Lucy, with ongoing debates about who first invented the delicious cheese-stuffed burger. Was it Matt’s Bar or the 5-8 Club, each located on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis? Though we won’t choose a side, Juicy Lucys are a must-try for any visitor or local. Pro tip: Try not to scorch your mouth on the first bite!
Lefse: Potatoes, flour, cream and butter—the simple ingredients make up this traditional Norwegian flatbread, often served with butter, sugar (white or brown—the latter is traditional) and cinnamon. Try it with lingonberry sauce—another Norwegian favorite—or topped with salty foods, including smoked salmon, spiced meat and cheese or onions and mustard. Sweet or savory, the choice is yours.
Pho: Minnesota is home to a large Hmong and Vietnamese community, which has made our great state a hot spot for pho (pronounced “fuh”), a Vietnamese noodle soup with rice noodles, vegetables, spices and meats, similar to the popular Japanese ramen dish. It is a national obsession, and Minnesota is lucky to have several delicious pho spots and varieties. Whether you are craving traditional pho or a modern variation, there’s a bowl for it all.
Polish sausage: 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 its Minneapolis establishment has been serving polish sausage for over 60 years.
Porketta: Made popular in the Iron Range from Italian immigrant miners, porketta (also known as porchetta) is typically pork roast seasoned with fennel, garlic and other herbs and cooked, mostly slowly, to perfection. Though you’ll find Minnesota’s favorite porketta at the 108-year-old Sunrise Bakery in the Iron Range, there are plenty of delicious options closer to the Metro or in your own kitchen.
Walleye: We are the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and we have the dish to prove it. Walleye is the official state fish, and the most popular fish entrée. It is also the perfect complement to many traditional dishes, including wild rice (see below) or served between two artisan buns as a sandwich.
Wild rice: 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 wild rice soup to wild rice pilaf, there are endless ways to use this wholesome grain.
If you’re inspired by our list of state favorites, consider adding these recipes to your menu mainstays. After all, beer isn’t just for drinking or adding into batter for fish fries. How about beer bread? Alison Krueger, one of our Advisory Board members, reminds us that food can serve as the ties that bind us in celebration or the salve that heals in moments of sadness and grief. And Lise Spence-Parsons, Advisory Board member, offers a recipe that harkens back to her childhood.
This no-fail recipe pairs well with hearty soup, salad or entrées. It also makes a great slice of toast—with a generous swipe of soft butter! —Renée Stewart-Hester, editor
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur.)
- 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 the honey. Mix until combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the butter slices on top of the dough. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 45–55 minutes or until the top of the bread is lightly browned.
This one may seem odd, but I remember it so vividly … It is a neighborhood recipe that dates back decades. The name gives these bars a strange, even morbid reputation; however, growing up in a neighborhood where friends were family, we celebrated and gathered for all life’s ups and downs, including funerals. The name of the tasty and delightfully-easy recipe started as a running joke. However, as funerals came and went, families split and the highs brought us together as often as the lows. These bars became a staple for neighborhood gatherings. They almost stood as a tangible way to say, “I’m here for you,” no matter what you were going through. When people reference comfort food, I think this hits right on the money. This tradition wasn’t necessarily about the bars themselves but, more importantly, the people you shared them with. To this day, we still use the recipe for more of those “feel-good” moments. –Alison Krueger, marketing manager, The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes
- 1 box yellow cake mix
- 2 eggs
- 12 oz. chocolate chips
- 1 stick of butter
Mix all the ingredients, and pat into 9x13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 minutes. Enjoy.
Chocolate Toffee Bars
[These are a] childhood favorite, found in a book dating back to 1970s/80s that my mum gave me! We had these as kids all the time—quick and easy and very tasty! – Lise Spence-Parsons, president/executive director and treasurer of the Maple Grove Arts Center
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in all remaining ingredients. Press the mixture into an ungreased baking pan (12 1/2x8x1) Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes. Cut into bars while warm, and cool before serving.