16 Restaurants in Duluth, MN Changing the North Shore Culinary Scene

Being a Minnesota native, my research into the best restaurants in Duluth started before the age of 10, with family trips up to the North Shore, complete with stops at Grandma’s Saloon & Grill and the nostalgic New Scenic Cafe.

Almost two decades later, some of those restaurants I loved so much as a child remain the same—New Scenic Cafe is just as good, if not better, than it has ever been, and its pastry case smells even more succulent.

Salad at the New Scenic Cafe, one of the best restaurants in Duluth, MN.
Fresh gooseberries are served with pear, grapes, arugula, jelly, and a yogurt dressing at the New Scenic Cafe.

Over time, newcomers have also entered the city, breathing new life into what was just a landscape of cheese curds, walleye, and wild rice.

I now make a point of heading up to Duluth at least once a year, each time discovering a new restaurant worth a meal, if not a return visit. The restaurants in the collection below are some of the best, based on my experience, input from local friends, and diner reviews.

Brunch at Duluth Grill, one of the best restaurants in Duluth.

Duluth Grill

Address: 118 S 27th Ave W, Duluth, MN 55806

Duluth’s most coveted table isn’t at one of its lakeside restaurants. Rather, it’s at Duluth Grill, the walk-in-only breakfast joint dedicated to fresh, local, organic food.

Duluth Grill, marking the start of the Lincoln Park Craft District, is easy to overlook. It is, after all, just off the highway, right by a gas station, à la rest stop. Yet, the restaurant attracts crowds of locals and tourists alike, which equates to wait times of well over an hour for a party of two on a busy day.

Don’t be put off by the lengthy waitlist—it moves shockingly fast.

Food at Duluth Grill is unabashedly American in interpreting flavors from different cuisines into heaping breakfast plates.

Breakfast skillets are a popular choice here, so I skipped my typical brunch picks for the huevos skillet (hashbrowns, Tajin tortilla strips, pico, grilled corn, Cuban black beans, cheese, eggs, cilantro lime crema, guajillo pepper sauce, and guacamole).

The hearty skillet was exactly what I needed after rolling out of bed a little later than I’d like to admit. Hashbrowns could have used much more flavor, but that’s nothing that the many different hot sauce options on the table from small-batch fermenters Heartbeat Hot Sauce couldn’t solve. I’m trying to track down a bottle of the dill pickle serrano for myself.

Burger Paradox

Address: 2113 W Superior St, Duluth, MN 55806

In a city where staying open past 9 pm is practically considered scandalous, a fusion menu of generously portioned bar favorites makes Burger Paradox a prized late-night food spot.

The burger joint, located in the Lincoln Park Craft District, has become a neighborhood favorite and one of the best restaurants in Duluth for its toppling smash burgers, funky appetizers, and cocktails, including hard malts.

The loaded fries are something out of a stoner’s fever dream, consisting of double-fried potatoes in beef fat, queso, tomato, bacon, scallions, and “Top the Tater.” Meanwhile, the chicken wings remain a fan favorite, with eight different variations like gochujang and maple miso to pick from.

Those familiar with innovative fusion dining might feel as though Burger Paradox isn’t quite paradoxical enough, but for a city where the standard American diet rules many menus, Burger Paradox certainly stands out. 

Pasta at one of the best restaurants in Duluth.

New Scenic Cafe

Address: 5461 N Shore Dr, Duluth, MN 55804

New Scenic Cafe is, without a doubt, the best restaurant Duluth has to offer.

I first visited this staple restaurant at 10, only to find that over a decade later, it was just as good as I remembered.

The Scandinavian-inspired New American fine dining restaurant honors local ingredients, transforming them into sophisticated plates in a simple, homely space that, frankly, none of the other restaurants in Duluth begin to compete with.

My capellini (béchamel, sautéed mushrooms, truffle oil, pecorino romano, thyme) was far better than any that I’ve had at Va Bene, which is widely considered the best Italian restaurant in Duluth.

The wine list, though lacking a bit of interest, is well-priced and designed to complement the Nordic menu.

Menus rotate with the seasons, sometimes changing for holidays like New Year’s Eve.

Go during the day for partial lake views and a lovely drive to the restaurant that explains how New Scenic Cafe received its name.

Before you leave, stop by the bakery counter to take some of the cafe’s well-priced, beautifully crafted pastries to go.

New Scenic Cafe reservations are necessary and can be made by calling the restaurant directly.

OMC Smokehouse

Address: 1909 W Superior St, Duluth, MN 55806

It is a surprise to no one that Duluth Grill founder, Tom Hanson, is behind more than one of the best restaurants in Duluth. Hanson’s elevated barbecue joint, OMC Smokehouse, is a meat lover’s paradise.

Every meal at OMC Smokehouse starts with complimentary pork rinds to sample its signature sauces. Moving on, house-smoked meats appear in time-honored classics and new creations that pull from global flavors, like Korean barbecue.

Stay for a while and sit around OMC Smokehouse’s firepit after your meal—complimentary s’mores ingredients are available on request.

There’s sure to be a wait for dinner, but locals and tourists alike agree that this restaurant is well worth it. Alternatively, head to Duluth Tap Exchange next door for pour-your-own beer and cocktails, which welcomes bar patrons to order takeout from OMC and other local restaurants.

Tacos and tater tots at a restaurant in Duluth, MN.

Hungry Hippie Tacos

Address: 1810 W Superior St, Duluth, MN 55806

One of the best restaurants in Grand Marais, Hungry Hippie Tacos, has found its Duluth home in the city’s trendy Lincoln Park Craft District.

Offering the same menu as the original location up the shore, Hungry Hippie Tacos is creating a cuisine all of its own in its frybread tacos and house-smoked meats, interpreting Northern fare in a new, fast-casual light.

The crunchy, substantial tacos burst with flavor and overflow with filling. At $10 each, they’re just the right price.

My regular order is the Idaho Love Northern Taco (garlic roasted potatoes, rancher beans, sweet corn relish, and kale chimichurri) and a side of hot tater tots with chipotle sour cream, which are always fried to crispy perfection.

Phoholic

Address: 309 E Central Entrance, Duluth, MN 55811

Minnesota’s bustling Vietnamese community extends all the way up to the North Shore at PhởHolic, the unwavering king of Vietnamese restaurants in Duluth (not undermined by the fact that it’s only one of two).

As the name suggests, phở is, of course, the star of the show here, but the restaurant also offers crispy bánh mì, a variety of bún (Vietnamese vermicelli salad), and cơm tấm (broken rice platters).

Fitger's Inn in Duluth, MN.
Wild rice burger at Fitger's Brewhouse, one of the best restaurants in Duluth, MN.
Oozing with melted cheese, Fitger’s pub-style wild rice burger isn’t for the faint of heart—or cholesterol.

Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille

Address: 600 E Superior St, Duluth, MN 55802

Wild rice rules Northern Minnesota, turned into salads, casseroles, soups, and burgers—exactly where Fitger’s Brewhouse stands out.

Fitger’s Inn isn’t just one of the top hotels on the North Shore of Minnesota. The property is also home to a small complex of dining establishments, including the Rex and the Barrel Room, where residents and visitors can find Fitger’s Brewhouse.

The dark, lofty brewery and grill is one of the best restaurants in Duluth, serving an extensive menu of locally praised hearty burgers and house-brewed beer.

It’s the restaurant’s wild rice burgers that earn historic Fitger’s special attention.

Plant-based patties receive praise from even the most carnivorous meat lovers for Fitger’s many variations, such as the classic wild rice burger (Minnesota-harvest wild rice patty, cheddar cheese, Roma tomatoes, sprouts, red onion, and garlic mayo on an egg bun) and my pick, the pub-style wild rice burger (wild rice patty, sautéed onions, mushrooms, swiss cheese, and chipotle pepper sauce on an egg bun) which to date, is the best wild rice burger I’ve had in Duluth.

Of course, if you prefer beef or other meat, your options are plenty. Equally as loved is the elk burger (ground elk patty, onions, garlic, and spices on an egg bun) and the poutine burger (beef patty, white cheese curds, beer-battered fries, and Brewhouse beer gravy on an egg bun).

Don’t worry about parking at Fitger’s—complimentary valet is available.

Northern Waters Smokehaus at DeWitt Seitz Marketplace in Duluth, MN.

Northern Waters Smokehaus

Address: 394 S Lake Ave Ste LL1, Duluth, MN 55802

Duluth’s best spot for fish is, indisputably, Northern Waters Smokehaus. Conveniently located at the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, the sandwich shop and gourmet specialty market specializes in smoked fish and meats.

The Cajun Finn (smoked cajun salmon, scallion cream cheese, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, and mixed greens on ciabatta bread) is the smokehouse’s bestselling sandwich for its smoked salmon.

Vegans and vegetarians are surprisingly not left out—plant-based diners rave about Northern Waters Smokehaus’ smoked tofu and Spring Roll Sandwich (smoked tofu, light sriracha, cabbage, cilantro, basil, cucumber, and pickled vegetables on naan), among other vegetarian options.

If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, pick up some of Northern Waters Smokehaus’ smoked fish and meats to go, available in half-pound and one-pound pieces.

Pickwick Restaurant & Pub

Address: 508 E Superior St, Duluth, MN 55802

Opened in 1914, Pickwick Restaurant & Pub is one of the oldest restaurants in Duluth. Over 100 years later, the restaurant is still going strong, winning a James Beard Award for its charcoal grilled meats and housemade soups.

Fish are serious business in northern Minnesota—some would say that no visit is complete without some fresh walleye (though, as I vegetarian, I disagree).

Walleye sandwiches and fingers at Pickwick are popular choices, as are the charcoal-grilled prime rib on Fridays and Saturdays, Lake Superior smoked whitefish (locally caught whitefish, crackers, capers, red onion, and horseradish sauce), and Stuffed ‘Shrooms (mushrooms, vegetables, wild rice, mixed cheese).

Reservations, though available, are not necessary. Walking in at lunch, we were seated immediately.

Sandwich and fries at At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe, one of the best restaurants in Duluth.

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe

Address: 1902 E 8th St, Duluth, MN 55812

Storied neighborhood cafe, At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe (ASTCCC) is a mouthful—literally and figuratively. The beloved nook in Chester Park was among the first to bring farm-to-table dining to Duluth.

A visit to At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe is almost always a must when I’m in Duluth, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best visited for brunch, not dinner. The famed okonomiyaki (cabbage, potato, shitake, red pepper, kimchi, and vegan sambal aioli) is mediocre at best, but the miso mushroom sandwich (forest mushrooms, kale and spinach mix, tri-colored carrots, red onion, vegan sambal, and kimchi on ciabatta bread) at brunch is a surprise knockout.

You can make a reservation for the cafe, but it’s almost never necessary, making it an easy choice on unfussy mornings.

Zeitgeist Restaurant & Bar

Address: 222 E Superior St, Duluth, MN 55802

The Zeitgeist Arts Building is an all-in-one date night spot in Duluth. The complex is home to a movie theater, performing arts venue, art gallery, and restaurant.

Stop by airy Zeitgeist Restaurant & Bar for New American fare before seeing an indie film at the movie theater.

Food is locally sourced, and craft beer on tap is locally brewed by Duluth’s leading breweries.

Even if you’re not in the mood for a full bite before your show, stop by for a heaping order of fries with truffle oil, seen on several tables during the night, and a cocktail. Craft cocktails are concocted as full-proof or low ABV and zero-proof for guests who don’t drink.

Pasta at Va Bene, one of the best restaurants in Duluth, MN.
Funky gorgonzola balances sweet pear in the addictive noce e pera pasta at Va Bene.

Va Bene

Address: 734 E Superior St, Duluth, MN 55802

If you ask any local what their favorite Duluth restaurant is, Va Bene will likely top the list. The casual Italian cafe is widely regarded as one of the city’s best. After having it recommended to me by so many local friends, I finally gave in and gave it a chance.

Despite often being labeled as the most authentic Italian restaurant in Duluth (a statement I’d strongly debate otherwise), Va Bene is neither authentic nor old-school Italian-American—it’s some form of creamy, indulgent comfort food that I’d maybe describe as modern Italian meets Minnesota.

I love to hate it and hate to love it, often finding myself craving the restaurant’s noce e pera (walnuts, candied pear, spinach, gorgonzola, and rigatoni) and roasted red pepper spread (parmesan, red peppers, and gorgonzola served with grilled bread).

What is indisputable is that Va Bene is one of the best restaurants in Duluth with a view. The cafe’s all-season patio overlooks Lake Superior for panoramic lake views. Book well in advance to secure a coveted patio table.

Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake

Address: 805 E Superior St, Duluth, MN 55802

Gourmet sandwiches and soups are on order at this English-style pub. Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake is one of the best restaurants in Duluth and an institution in the city.

Sandwich shop by day and crowded bar by night, there are few Duluth restaurants that receive the praise Sir Ben’s (as it’s referred to by locals) does. At $10  to $13 each, the sandwiches, served with kettle chips, feel like a steal in a city where touristy restaurants charge a pretty penny.

Beer and cider on tap are almost exclusively from the Midwest, with a special focus on local brewers like Bent Paddling Brewing Co., Wild State Cider, and Castle Danger Brewery from Duluth and Two Harbors.

Live music from local bands and singers is hosted at Sir Ben’s every night, with the odd open mic night thrown in for newcomers to take the stage.

After spending a night at the tavern, I get it—the menu is well-priced, the crowd is down-to-earth, and the staff is friendly. I’ll undoubtedly be back, even if it’s just for a sandwich.

Happy hour at Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake is available daily from 4 pm to 7 pm.

Brunch in Duluth, MN.

Lake Avenue Restaurant

Address: 394 S Lake Ave, Duluth, MN 55802

Located in Canal Park in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, Lake Avenue Restaurant is a bit of a tourist trap.

It’s more elevated than your typical tourist trap—the locavore New American spot is often named one of the best restaurants in Duluth by visitors to the area for offering a menu that gives diners a break from the heavy, greasy Midwestern food so often found in the city.

To that point, dinner plates, like the market steak (squash, blueberry, demi, mushroom, and blue cheese) and fowl (chicken thigh, beet potato pave, broccolini, cranberry chutney, and chicken skin) are far more sophisticated than other touristy restaurants in Canal Park.

Where the restaurant really shines isn’t dinner or lunch—it’s brunch. The seasonally-rotating menu has been known to serve fluffy French toast topped with syrup made of fresh lingonberries—it’s delicious.

If you go, stick to the brunch items that are solidly New American and avoid the more globally-inspired items–my vegetarian enchiladas, dull and bland, were topped with a mysterious brown sauce that was definitely not mole and lacked the excitement of the french toast.

Oh, and don’t skip the Bloody Mary.

Grandma’s Saloon & Grill

Address: 522 S Lake Ave, Duluth, MN 55802

Of all the restaurants in Duluth, the energy at Grandma’s Saloon & Grill just can’t be beat.

It’s touristy and probably past its prime, but the expansive restaurant overlooking the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge is a must for anyone visiting the city. Annual family traditions in Duluth tend to include Grandma’s.

Eclectic artifacts are scattered across the restaurant, which serves classic American favorites.

Though these days, I normally skip Grandma’s when in Duluth (it really is for infrequent tourists), I have to admit that Grandma’s Wild Rice Burger (wild rice patty, raw onions, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, carrots, and cheddar cheese served on a deli bun) is among my favorite vegetarian burgers in the country.

Go to Grandma’s in the summer, when the patio opens for bridge-watching in Canal Park. Bear in mind that wait times get lengthy—sometimes upwards of 40 minutes—during peak season, even for an indoor table.

Vitta Pizza

Address: 307 Canal Park Dr Suite 2, Duluth, MN 55802

Specializing in wood-fired Neopolitan pizza, Vitta Pizza is Duluth’s go-to spot for a slice. 

Build your own or choose from the restaurant’s specialty pies, all topped with crushed tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil.

End your meal with a scoop from Love Creamery, Duluth’s best ice cream shop. Though the parlor is located in the Lincoln Park Craft District, Vitta Pizza stocks it in Canal Park.

More authentic pies can be found in the Cities for fairer prices, but that’s beside the point—by Duluth standards, this is the best you’ll likely find.

Fast casual restaurant in Duluth, MN.

Restaurants in Duluth, MN: FAQ

What food is Duluth famous for?

Though Midwest classics like cheese curds can be found all over Duluth, the city is especially known for its wild rice dishes and walleye.

What is the best date-night restaurant in Duluth?

New Scenic Cafe is the best restaurant for date night in Duluth. As a fine dining restaurant, its refined plates and atmosphere make for a romantic night.

Which restaurants in Duluth are vegan or vegetarian-friendly?

Hungry Hippie Tacos, New Scenic Cafe, Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, Fitger’s Brewhouse, At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe, and Va Bene are the best vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Duluth.

xx,
E

Follow:
Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.