The 5 best bakeries in Minnesota

I tallied your votes for the best bakeries in Minnesota. Most of them are outside of the immediate metro (none are in Minneapolis or Saint Paul) and they all have been around for generations.

I was on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live to share their stories.

Hanisch Bakery & Coffee Shop, Red Wing

  • Originally opened at Quandt’s Bakery in the 1920s
  • The white bread recipe they are currently using goes back to the owners from the 1970s
  • Hanisch has 70 kinds of pastries and donuts
    • They sell over 50 dozen raised donuts a day, with twice that amount on the weekend
  • They’re known for their Presidential Cookie Poll
    • On a Presidential Election Day, Hanisch will sell cookies for the main party candidates
    • They have correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote based off cookie sales since 1984

Emily’s Bakery & Deli, Hastings

emilys almond.jpg

  • Family-owned since 1946 when it was Pitz Bakery
  • Steve and his sister, Norine, own the bakery and both have worked there for over 35 years
  • The shop is named after their grandmother, Emily
  • Their Prison Bars are Emily Bakery’s version of the Scotcharoo. The recipe came from a woman who used to volunteer at a prison and always brought the bars with her for the inmates.
  • The Almond Tarts are a signature item. It’s a butter rich tart that’s filled with an almond paste. It’s one of the best things I had on my tour of all these bakeries.
  • Don’t pass on the Coconut Macaroons. They are also gluten-free.

Hans’ Bakery, Anoka & Blaine

  • Original location in Anoka, satellite location in Blaine
  • The original owner, Hans, passed away from cancer in 1997, just two months after being diagnosed
  • The bakery exchanged hands multiple times and eventually went into foreclosure
  • When the current owner, Kelly Olsen, bought it, it had sat vacant for 4 years. She says “everything needed help”.
  • The community rallied behind the new ownership to help Hans’ Bakery reopen in February 2014. The Food Network caught wind of the buzz and featured them before they opened. On their first day, they sold out of everything they had in the store.
  • The Texas Donuts are the size of your head. And they cost only $5.


  • The Beehive, and the smaller Beesting, are eye-catchers. The sweet dough pasty is filled with Bavarian cream, topped with candied almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. If you’re really hungry, order it as a cake.

hans bakery 2.jpg

  • The Whipped Cheesecake is a hidden gem.

Cold Spring Bakery, Cold Spring & Waite Park

  • Original location in Cold Spring, satellite location in Waite Park
  • The original owner, Mel, learned how to bake on a Navy ship
  • After World War II, he found a bakery for sale in the city of Cold Spring
  • Soon it will be passed on to the third generation, as Mel’s granddaughter will take over as head baker
  • Cold Spring Bakery delivers throughout central Minnesota, including many meat markets
  • They will handle 25 to 30 wedding orders per weekend. And that’s not just cakes. Many couples are opting for cupcakes and donut walls now.
  • Their Raspberry White Chocolate Chip Cookie is a soft, tender cookie with raspberries, cream cheese and white chocolate chips. It’s incredible.
  • Their Cashew Brittle is special. It’s not hard like peanut brittle, and tastes a bit like Chex Mix. It’s perfect to bring to a holiday gathering.
  • Kolachies are a tender, flaky pasty baked with a fruit or poppyseed filling. They have a streusel topping and a Danish icing. Think of it like a really good Toaster Strudel.
  • Don’t pass on the Oatmeal Date Filled Cookies.

Benson Bakery, Benson

  • Benson is northwest of Willmar, about 2.5 hours from Saint Paul
  • The building the bakery is in dates back to 1900. It originally opened as a bakery, cafe and hotel.
  • It’s now owned by the third generation of the Johannessen family.
  • There are deep Norwegian roots here.
  • The Peanut Squares are something special. Some refer them as Mocha Bars. It’s a combination of frosting, cake and peanut meal.
  • Don’t miss out on their Sour Cream Raisin and Salted Nut Bars. There are eight to 10 different bars available daily.
  • The Angel Food Cake recipe has been handed down for over 80 years and can be ordered in a variety of flavors. The most popular is lemon.

Check out my other roundups of what’s ‘Worth the Trip’


31 things to do in Minnesota this August that are not the State Fair

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Minnesota State Fair. I have an in-depth online guide about the Great Minnesota Get Together. But the media can make it feel like the State Fair is the only thing going on during the entire month of August.

Here’s a list of 31 events worth checking out in Minnesota this August. None of them are deep-fried.

  1. Tradition! The national tour of the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” stops by the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. (July 30-August 4)
  2. Just bend — and snap! “Legally Blonde the Musical” is on stage at Lyric Arts Company in Anoka. (thru August 4)
  3. Maybe the State Fair isn’t your thing, but how about a County Fair? The Washington County Fair takes place in Lake Elmo. And there’s free parking! (July 31-August 4)
  4. Dwight Yoakam and Vince Neil of Motley Crue will perform as part of Mankato’s RibFest. (August 1-4)
  5. The X Games will once again return to Minneapolis. And it’s not just watching extreme sports. Head downtown for concerts inside the Armory, a top music venue in the Twin Cities. Diplo, Incubus and Wu Tang Clan will perform. (August 1-4)
  6. The 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival features nearly 700 performances of 130 stage shows. All shows are 60 minutes or less, so it’s a great way to test drive different types of local theatre. (August 1-11)
  7. The 56th annual Uptown Art Fair takes place in Minneapolis. The juried art festival features more than 320 artists in 12 mediums, including sculpture, painting, glasswork and jewelry. (August 2-4)
  8. Saint Paul family-owned restaurant and grocer El Burrito Mercado will celebrate 40 years in business with a fiesta, including an outdoor bar, live music and free food. (August 4)
  9. I’m not sure how they’ll pull it off, but unicorns will be racing at Canterbury Park. You can also watch llamas race between the regularly scheduled horse races. (August 4)
  10. Head to the self-proclaimed Restaurant Capital of the World for the Taste of Dorset. Restaurants in the northern Minnesota town will serve food. Plus, it’s when residents of Dorset elect their mayor. If you recall, the town elected 3-year-old Bobby Tufts in 2012. (August 4)
  11. Surly Brewing Co. in Minneapolis hosts free outdoor movies in the beer garden Monday nights throughout the summer. Stop by to see the cult hit, “Clueless.” As if! (August 5)
  12. Downtown Shakopee hosts Rhythm on the Rails for the first three Wednesdays in August. The free concerts will have food, beer and live music. (August 7, 14, 21)
  13. Watch viral videos of cats at the annual Cat Video Festival, hosted by myTalk 107.1 and the St. Paul Saints, at CHS Field in Saint Paul. (August 8)
  14. The Irish Fair of Minnesota on Harriet Island is a three-day free festival with music, dancing and a “zero K”. (August 9-11)
  15. Pack some breath mints and head to the Minnesota Garlic Festival in Hutchinson. It’ll be the first of the garlic crop for the season, and it keeps in your kitchen for up to a year. (August 10)
  16. The India Association of Minnesota puts on IndiaFest on the grounds of the State Capital in Saint Paul. The free event features food from eight Twin Cities Indian restaurants. (August 10)
  17. The world’s largest rubber duck will be in the Duluth Harbor for the Festival of Sail. (August 11-13)
  18. The biggest motorsports race in the Midwest takes place in Brainerd with the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Watch the best drag racers fly down the track at speeds exceeding 320 miles per hour. (August 15-18)
  19. Oronoco, a town north of Rochester on Highway 52, hosts its annual Gold Rush Days with an antique show and flea market. (August 16-18)
  20. Over 150 vendors will show off their talents during Buffalo’s 36th annual Art & Craft Festival. (August 17)
  21. The Minnesota Renaissance Festival opens for the season in August. Nosh on a turkey leg while watching a joust. New in 2019: you can hug a kangaroo. (Weekends, August 17-September 29)
  22. View bonsai, martial arts, food and other aspects of Japanese culture at the Japanese Obon Festival on the grounds of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. (August 18)
  23. The Minnesota Vikings are back in action! They play the Seattle Seahawks in a rare Sunday night preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium. (August 18)
  24. A parade, fireworks and carnival are planned for Woodbury Days, a three day celebration of the east metro suburb. (August 23-25)
  25. Round Lake Vineyards will host their Harvest Festival on the shores of Round Lake, which is about 3 hours southwest of the Twin Cities. Compete in a grape stomp and enjoy music, food and plenty of wine. (August 24)
  26. Now in its sixth year, the Stillwater Flea and Crafters Market takes place one weekend every month from May through September at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Lake Elmo. (August 24-25)
  27. The Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam will have extended late-night hours over Labor Day weekend. Bring your cameras and watch sunset over the Mississippi River! (August 30-31)
  28. Discover the relatively new Costco Business Center on Broadway Street in Northeast Minneapolis. Folks on my Facebook page raved about it! One person described it as ‘Costco but without the middle section.’ They open earlier and there’s less people!
  29. Kids 15 and under are always free at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. Throughout the month, they host concerts from local artists. The Arboretum was named best botanical garden in the United States by USA Today readers.
  30. Visit the Smallest Museum in Saint Paul. You won’t be able to go inside this 3 feet x 2 foot micro-museum, but don’t underestimate what they can do. They even hold artist receptions for new exhibits, which typically change monthly.
  31. Fire up the grill! Find something good to grill at a meat raffle. Check out this list of the best meat raffles in Minnesota.

The best ice cream shops in Minnesota

Every month, Worth the Trip, my series on KSTP’s Twin Cities Live, presents the top five Minnesota spots in a particular category. And since summer is officially upon us, I had to determine who sells the best ice cream in the state.

The winning locations are determined by your suggestions. Thousands upon thousands of votes came in. Honestly, it was a bit overwhelming.

All of the top five vote getters are ice cream parlours, not places where you would go for a soft-serve cone. They are using premium ice cream. But I did notice something peculiar: none of the spots make their own ice cream. It’s purchased from two ice cream wholesale producers in Wisconsin (one shop also tosses in ice cream from Kemps, so there are three producers overall).

I have personally attended many Minnesota shops who make their own ice cream. Many of you are extremely loyal to them. What these top five shops had that some of those shops don’t offer is top-notch customer service. You’re going to be more than a number at these parlors. The owners are always there. They live in the community. And many of the shops were able to rattle off a whole bunch of ways of how they connect with the school kids and the neighborhoods they are situated in. This is far beyond donating a $20 gift card to a silent auction, folks. To the loyalists: I recommend you venture to these shops before you comment back to me with your distain.

The top 5, ranked

1. Cullen’s Ice Cream

10905 Douglas Drive North, Champlin
12085 Hanson Blvd, Coon Rapids

  • Cullen’s received the most popular votes from Twin Cities Live viewers and receives my overall best vote
  • The Champlin shop opened in June 2014 with the Coon Rapids location opening in June 2017
  • Their cases have 48 flavors of ice cream at any given time, the most of any of the top 5 shops
    • Eight of the flavors change monthly
  • Cullen’s uses Cedar Crest Ice Cream, premium small batch ice cream made in Cedarburg, Wisconsin
  • They carry 125 flavors of pop, which can be combined with any flavor of ice cream for a soda float
  • They do make their own waffle cones in-house, putting chocolate chips in the bottom instead of malted milk balls
    • They will make over 10,000 cones in a season
  • Insider: you can split a single scoop into two flavors with no extra charge
  • Cullen’s offers dairy-free ice cream, which is made in-house (it is also vegan)
  • In addition to ice cream, Cullen’s makes their own gourmet popcorn and roasted nuts
  • The owners tell me customers drive from Minnetonka and Wayzata twice a week to get Cullen’s Ice Cream
  • Cullen’s is a seasonal shop, open from the beginning of March through October

2. Selma’s Ice Cream Parlour

3419 Saint Croix Trail, Afton

  • Selma’s is the oldest ice cream parlour in Minnesota, first opening in 1913 and receives my vote for the best ambiance
  • The current owners, the Nickerson family, purchased the bank-owned property in 2011
    • All 6 of their kids have worked there
  • Selma’s has about 35 flavors of ice cream in their cases; they are from Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, based in Madison, Wisconsin
    • Chocolate Shoppe first started in 1960 and does not sell retail, meaning you cannot buy their ice cream at any grocery store
  • While you’re there, sample:
    • Strawberry — the owners family says “don’t skip it”
    • Blueberry Cheesecake
    • This S&#! Just Got Serious — salted caramel
    • Exhausted Parent — Bourbon Spiked Espresso
    • Carrot Mango Italian Ice — dairy free
  • They have a staff member dedicated to making waffle cones
    • They will sell 400 on a busy summer day
    • They also sell their own milk chocolate and white chocolate dipped cones
  • Gluten-free sugar and cake cones, along with gluten-free ice creams, are available
  • Selma’s also makes their own cakes, ice cream cookie sandwiches and has a coffee bar
  • Selma’s is a seasonal shop, typically open from late March until October

3. What’s the Scoop?

18 Division Street E, Buffalo

  • They are the newest shop in the top 5, opening in September 2017
  • Owner Brady Elsenpeter, a Buffalo native, went from owning a car dealership to running an ice cream shop
  • What’s the Scoop? is in downtown Buffalo in a space which once was a Curves for Women workout studio
  • Their case has 40 flavors from Cedar Crest
    • They have a case solely designated for nut-free flavors
  • They make their own waffles cones and bowls in house, and their waffle cones was the best of any waffle cone in the top 5
  • They do carry gluten-free cones and have dairy-free flavors available
  • The owner’s favorite flavors:
    • Shipwreck — vanilla ice cream with sea salt caramel ribbon and almond splinters
    • Big Muddy — a rich, chocolate ice cream with brownies
    • Scotcharoo — just like the cookie!
  • Ice cream cakes are made to order, including some with Fruity Pebbles
  • What’s the Scoop? is open year-round

4. Two Scoops

1918 Second Avenue, Anoka

  • Two Scoops opened in 2010
  • They have over 100 flavors of ice cream available, with 20 in their case at one time
  • Like Selma’s, Two Scoops uses Chocolate Shoppe ice cream
  • Their most popular ice cream: Cookie Dough
  • Their sleeper hit: Strawberry
    • The owners tell me that the Chocolate Shoppe’s Strawberry ice cream has won national awards
  • They make waffle cones and bowls in-house
  • Two Scoops also makes dipped cones, sundae cones and homemade cakes
  • They specialize in chocolate malts that are heavy on the malt powder
  • Two Scoops does have at least one dairy free Italian ice and has gluten-free ice cream and cones
  • They are also home to The Tornado challenge, where you get 20 scoops of ice cream with toppings (it comes out to about 7,000 calories)
    • One individual has completed it in 6 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Two Scoops is open year-round

5. Nelson’s Ice Cream

920 Olive Street W, Stillwater
454 Snelling Avenue, Saint Paul

  • Nelson’s Stillwater location originally opened as a grocery store in 1923
  • Art Nelson bought it in the 1940s and customers to this day still call it Art’s
  • The currently owners purchased it in 2006
  • Nelson’s is known for big scoops of ice cream — and I mean big scoops — that era started in the 1960s
  • They serve both Cedar Crest and Kemps ice cream
  • Both locations carry 44 flavors
  • You should expect a line when you go to Nelson’s
    • Their manager tells me there’s typically a line at 11:00 when the Stillwater location opens
    • The best time to go is between 5:45 and 7:00 pm during the dinner lull
    • On a busy day, they will go through 450 gallons of ice cream
  • Ice cream is served by dixie cups or cones at Nelson’s
    • They do not make waffle cones
  • Nelson’s does have Rapsberry Italian Ice if you are looking for a vegan or dairy-free option
  • Gluten-free options are going to be hard to come by, but you can get ice cream in a cup
  • Heads up: they only take cash!
  • Nelson’s is a seasonal shop, typically open from the beginning of April until Halloween

Honorable mentions

These are ranked from highest to lowest. Ice cream shops needed to receive at least .6% of the total vote in order to be listed below. 

Check out my other roundups of what’s ‘Worth the Trip’

31 can’t miss events in Minnesota this July

Not much gets better than July in Minnesota! There’s plenty to do with long summer nights. Bonus: you don’t have to spend 20 minutes putting on a parka and scraping ice off your windshield!

I compiled a list of events happening around the state. Many are your suggestions! Is there one I forgot? Let me know! Fill out the form at the bottom of this page. Happy summer!

  1. July and fireworks go hand in hand. Here are Minnesota cities with great 4th of July shows:
  2. Check out a good ol’ fashioned community festival:
  3. Sing with the Twin Cities Beer Choir. The concept is simple and quite fun. The group gathers as a brewery, bar or restaurant and hand out “hymnals” to attendees. The music are melodies you are familiar with, but the words are switched out to involve drinking beer. Many Twin Cities Beer Choir participants are alumni from those really good Minnesota Lutheran college choirs, so as a group, they sound quite good. It’s a very lighthearted time. Their July meetup takes place at Spring Cafe, located at the Como Lakeside Pavilion in Saint Paul. (July 3)
  4. The PGA Tour stops in Minnesota with the brand new 3M Open. The field has yet to be announced when this list was published, but Phil Mickelson has already announced he will play. Tournament play takes place July 4-7, but festivities go all week at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. (July 1-7)
  5. Head down to the Mississippi River in Northeast Minneapolis to watch a Twin Cities River Rats show. Every Thursday night, this ski team puts on a free show filled with stunts, jumps and pyramids all on the water. They do have a show on the 4th of July, which is followed by fireworks. They also have a bonus performance on Friday, July 5th. They’re super family-friendly. Bring a blanket! (July 4, 11, 18 and 25)
  6. Little Mekong is the Asian business and cultural district in Saint Paul. It runs along University Avenue between Mackubin and Galtier Streets. At the tail end of the 4th of July weekend, businesses in the area hold the Little Mekong Night Market, which is a huge street festival with really good food,  unique shopping and lots of entertainment. It’s inspired by the night markets you would find in southeast Asia. It runs from 5-10 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. (July 6-7)
  7. The Minnesota Orchestra starts their annual Sommerfest concert series by performing the soundtrack to the Disney Pixar movie, “Coco.” Sommerfest 2019 has a Latin American theme, with concerts throughout the month of July. It should also mark the expected debut of the new Peavey Plaza, the public park space next to Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. (July 6-7)
  8. If you can’t wait for the Minnesota State Fair to start, check out the Ramsey County Fair in Maplewood. Admission is free. (July 10-14)
  9. There’s no need to head west to catch a classic rodeo! The town of Hamel is just west of Plymouth and since 1981, has hosted a rodeo with barrel racing, steer wrestling and more. More impressive: the Hamel Rodeo is operated by 5 non-profit groups; the large event doesn’t have a single paid staff member. (July 11 – 14)
  10. Kacey Musgraves, Semisonic, Jason Mraz and Hanson headline the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis. The two-night outdoor concert first started in 1995 to raise money for the Basilica of St. Mary. (July 12-13)
  11. A spot featuring one of the best meat raffles in the Minnesota is hosting a parking lot fish fry. Stop by Bull’s Horn in south Minneapolis on July 13 for a fishing tournament, music, drinks, and of course, fried fish.
  12. Celebrate French independence, Bastille Day, on either side of the Mississippi River. In Minneapolis, Barbette hosts its annual block party from 2-9 pm. In Saint Paul, Alliance Francaise and Meritage host an outdoor family-friendly celebration outside of Landmark Center from 12-6 pm. (July 14)
    • Lurcat 2
      Cafe Lurcat in Minneapolis is one of more than 50 restaurants participating in MplsSt.Paul Magazine’s Restaurant Week July 14-19.
  13. Enjoy $10-25 lunches and $15-35 dinners at some great Twin Cities restaurants during MplsSt.Paul Magazine’s Restaurant Week. Over 50 spots are participating. My personal favorites include 4 Bells, Cafe Lurcat, Corner Table, FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar, The Freehouse, Holman’s Table and Lela. (July 14-19)
  14. The Minneapolis Movies in the Park series continues all month with free films shown at parks across the city. Stop by the Nicollet Island Pavilion on Monday, July 15 for “Free Solo,” a National Geographic documentary following Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb El Capitan at Yosemite National Park without any ropes. I recently saw it and it’s riveting.
  15. Once a month, The Spring Street Tavern in Northeast Minneapolis hosts Pundamonium, a pun slam competition. Those who think they are punny are welcome to show off their skills. Participants are selected first come, first serve. The five judges are pre-selected members of the audience. (July 17)
  16. Italian restaurant, Pazzaluna hosts its annual Wheels of Italy street party in downtown Saint Paul on Thursday, July 18. Stop by to see some of the finest street cars along with live music. The car show is free to attend.
  17. Twin Cities Summer Jam at Canterbury Park in Shakopee features three days of big names in music: Tim McGraw, Aerosmith, Pitbull, REO Speedwagon, Soul Asylum, and others. (July 18 – 20)
  18. People from around the Twin Cities will make their way to the Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul for the Rondo Days Festival and Parade on Saturday, July 20. The parade begins at 10 am with the festival running from 12-7 pm.
  19. Enjoy Celtic music, Highland dance and a bag pipe band competition during the Minnesota Scottish Fair & Highland Games at Central Park in Eagan. (July 19-20)
  20. Minnesota Monthly hosts its Fine Spirits Classic inside Orchestra Hall. Sample cocktails from the best mixologists in the state. (July 24)
  21. Competitive eater Joey Chestnut will be at The Great Midwest Rib Fest at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake. His mission: to eat more than 13.76 pounds of pork meat in 12 minutes. The three day festival is free to attend and also includes performances by Gretchen Wilson and Sugar Ray. (July 25-27)
  22. The iconic Porky’s drive-in diner in Saint Paul has a new home in Hastings. It’s a part of the Little Log House Pioneer Village, a collection of historic buildings which are restored to make it feel like you are stepping back in time. The village is open to the public one weekend a year. Stop by the last full weekend of July for the Little Log House Antique Power Show, which allows you to walk through the Village. This year, they welcome artifacts from the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove. (July 26-28)
  23. The British choral group, Libera, is astonishing. Boys range in age from seven to 16 and members are from schools throughout London. They tour internationally and are visiting Saint Paul once again. I had the privilege of hearing them the last time they were in Minnesota and I just wanted to melt in my seat. The venue is ideal, too: the gorgeous Cathedral of Saint Paul. (July 26)
  24. Fitness studio Alchemy 365 is taking over the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and will offer a free class as part of the Minneapolis Aquatennial festivities. All fitness levels all welcome, just bring your own yoga mat. Check in begins at 5 pm with the class starting at 6:00. (July 26)
  25. Watch (or walk in) a parade of dogs in northeast Minneapolis. The gathering point is right on the shores of the Mississippi at St. Anthony Main. (July 26)
  26. Say ‘ooh, ahh’ at one of the largest fireworks displays in the country. The Minneapolis Aquatennial fireworks display start promptly at 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 27. The best viewpoint is near the Guthrie Theater.
  27. The Loring Park Art Festival in Minneapolis features 140 juried artists in a beautiful setting. (July 27-28)
    water taxi.png
  28. Avoid downtown Minneapolis traffic by taking a water taxi! That’s right, the Minneapolis Water Taxi is a solar powered boat and is currently privately operated, meaning that you can book it for your group of friends for an intimate ride down the Mississippi River. The Water Taxi can fit two to six people and does private events for up to one hour. It goes from 10 am to 10 pm.
  29. Rent a Lime or Spin scooter for a ride. They’re very simple to use and their max speeds only get to 15 MPH, so it’s hard to lose control. Pro tip: find someone who has already rented the scooters to refer you before you download the app. That way, you both get a free credit!
  30. Be in control of how much beer you want to sample. Stop by the new First Draft Taproom & Kitchen near Target Field in Minneapolis. They have over 50 beers, wines, ciders and kombucha on tap. You get to control how much you would like. If you’re curious, the average pour is about 5 ounces.
  31. Make sure you dine al fresco. Watch my Twin Cities Live segment featuring the 5 best restaurant, brewery and winery patios in Minnesota!Also on Give Me the Mike: Best places to play bingo in Minnesota

Is there something I missed? Please let me know!


20 Mexican restaurants in Minnesota worth the trip

Nearly 1,000 votes came in from Twin Cities Live viewers suggesting where they like to go for the best Mexican food in Minnesota. I presented the top 5 picks on TV — and those are listed below.

While votes came in, I heard from people saying that certain Mexican restaurants don’t serve authentic food and that you need to go to specific parts of the Twin Cities to find true Mexican food. That theory is garbage. No matter if you’re in Minneapolis or Madelia, every establishment has a story to tell. Save your comments for some other blog.

There are a lot of Mexican restaurants out there, and I encourage you to try out new spots. Underneath the top 5, check out an expanded list of restaurants which made the top 20, including some of my personal favorites. And let me know what you think! You can reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


  • Boca Chica Restaurante Mexicano y Cantina, Saint Paul
    • Opened in 1964 with just four tables
    • Now has 64 tables and a patio which seats around 75 people
    • They serve a lunch buffet Monday-Friday and a Sunday brunch from 10:00-2:00
    • What to order: Flautas Banderas, Carne a la Tampiqueña, Tacos Monterrey
Boca Chica
  • El Burrito Mercado, Saint Paul
    • Not only a restaurant, but also has a market and cafeteria
    • Opened in 1979
    • Also operate a restaurant and bar in Minneapolis and sell items at Allianz Field in Saint Paul
    • What to order: Chicken Mole, Ceviche de Camaron, Sopes with 3 Guisados
El Burrito Mercado
  • Pajarito, Saint Paul
    • Opened in December 2016 in a building dating back to 1886
    • Stop in for lunch to avoid long wait times
    • Order one of their craft cockails
    • What to order: Chilaquiles, Elote style Brussels Sprouts, Torta
  • La Plaza F!esta, Madelia
    • Originally opened in 2011; a fire completely destroyed the restaurant in 2016
    • They rebuilt and expanded to nearly 150 seats
    • New restaurant includes a grocery store next door
    • All tables and chairs were painted and carved in Mexico
    • What to order: Flaming Cheese, Malcajete F!esta, Seafood Ceviche
La Plaza F!esta
  • Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant, Shakopee
    • Opened in 1986
    • 4 expansions and a remodel later, it features 260 seats
    • Family-owned
    • Closed Sundays
    • What to order: Margarita flight, Ultimate Chimichanga, Surf & Turf with Tamale, 3 Enchiladas & Chile Relleno
Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant

Want more recommended Mexican restaurants? Check out these spots, recommended by your votes!

Check out my other roundups of what’s ‘Worth the Trip’

The best donuts in the Twin Cities

I appeared on Twin Cities Live with a viewer-selected list of where to find the best donuts in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro. And it happened to be National Donut Day! Make sure the first Friday of June is circled on your calendar so you can celebrate.

Shops featured:

A guide to Minnesota holiday light displays, 2017 edition

The 2019 Minnesota holiday light display guide can be found here.


Here’s a roundup of 2017 holiday light displays around Minnesota. Know of one I’m missing? Let me know by filling out the contact form at the bottom of this page. I have personally confirmed these shows are happening in 2017; be wary of other websites!

This listing is presented in collaboration with Family Fun Twin Cities.
They have a fantastic holiday activity guide on their website. Check it out!

Looking for more holiday event ideas? Check out my 40 Ways to Holiday guide.

I was on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live to share some of these light display picks. Check out the video!


250,000 LED lights are set to music in a show planned by students from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering. Photo credit: College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota
  1. The University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering (CSE) will premiere a student-designed 3D outdoor light show starting at 5:00 p.m. on December 1. It features 250,000 LED lights (!!!) set to music. Coolest part: much of the show is designed, sequenced, composed and performed by U of M students. The December 1 premiere includes a party inside Rapson Hall on campus. Free hot chocolate and cookies will be served. The show lasts about 20 minutes and repeats at 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. They’ll also run the light show on December 2, 7, 8 and 9.
  2. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train stops at Lions Park between 37th Avenue and Stinson Boulevard on Saturday, December 9 at 7:45 p.m. A program with live music performance takes place from 8:00 – 8:30 p.m. Learn more about the Holiday Train.

Saint Paul

Rice Park.jpg
The holiday tree in Rice Park has 15,000 LED lights.
  1. The Capital City’s holiday tree in Rice Park adorns 15,000 LED lights and stays lit nightly through the holiday season. It’s free to check it out. Make sure to visit Wells Fargo WinterSkate across the street. Learn more.
  2. A few years ago, I met the households behind what’s nearly a full city block of holiday light displays in Saint Paul. Holiday Lights on York Avenue even has its own website. The light show is set to music, and you’ll be able to listen to it from the radio in your car. It boasts more than 60,000 lights across 10 yards. The show starts on Friday, November 24 and runs through New Years Eve. You can see it lit up nightly from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. Bring a non-perishable food donation for Merrick Community Services, a non-profit serving the east side of Saint Paul since 1908. To find Holiday Lights on York Avenue, have your GPS take you to 1526 York Avenue, Saint Paul 55106.


The Cairl family in Andover has quite a bright yard. Photo credit: Cairl Family Christmas Lights via Facebook
  1. Head to 2342 145th Avenue Northwest in Andover to see the display put up by the Cairl family. It runs Sundays – Thursdays from 5:00 – 9:30 p.m. and Fridays – Saturdays from 5:00 – 10:30 p.m. The show is synchronized to music you’ll be able to listen to from your car.
  2. Set your radio to 107.5 FM when driving by this home in Andover. It’ll be lit up from 5:30 – 10:00 p.m. nightly December 13 through New Years Eve. You’ll find it located at 3715 152nd Lane Northwest.


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Anoka County Fair
The Anoka County Fair turns into a winter wonderland December 8 – 10. Photo credit: Anoka County Fair
  1. The Anoka County Fairgrounds host a free Holiday in Lights celebration December 8 through the 10. There will be hayrides, live music and an appearance by Santa and his blushing bride, Mrs. Claus. It’s free to attend.


  1. Buffalo is a scheduled stop for the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Find it on Monday, December 11 at 612 Northeast Third Avenue at 5:45 p.m. The event is free. Learn more about the Holiday Train here.


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Photo credit: SnoMutt Lights/Facebook
  1. The SnoMutt Lights Holiday Show kicks of December 8th in Chaska. You’ll see the synchronized show from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. Sundays – Thursdays and 6:30 – 10:00 p.m. Fridays – Saturdays. It’ll stay lit through December 31. Find it at 1913 Waterford Circle in Chaska.


  1. A handful of homes and businesses in Cloquet are participating in A Sweet Event’s Christmas Lighting Challenge. Click here to see a list of placess all lit up, along with how you can vote for the best display.

Cottage Grove

CP Holiday Train
It’s a light display on wheels: The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls into Cottage Grove on Saturday, December 9. Photo credit: Canadian Pacific
  1. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train stops in Cottage Grove on Saturday, December 9 at 5:15 p.m. You’ll find it south of the Seiben Bridge in front of the Youth Service Bureau. A program takes place from 5:30 – 6:00 p.m. Learn more about the Holiday Train.


Bentleyville claims to be the nation’s largest free walk-through light display. Photo credit: Bentleyville
  1. Claiming to be “America’s Largest Free Walk Through Lighting Display,” Bentleyville in Duluth is the real deal. They have a “crowd-o-meter” on their website to determine which nights are the most crowded, Santa makes frequent appearances, and they even hand out free knit hats to kids 10 and younger. Organizers say about 30 minutes is a good amount of time to walk through the light display, and if you want a photo with jolly old Saint Nick, set aside at least an hour. The key is to dress warm, as winds coming off of Lake Superior can be nasty. Bentleyville is 501(c)(3) non-profit and accepts tax-deductible contributions. You’ll find it at Bayfront Festival Park — 700 Railroad Street — in Duluth. It’s open through December 26, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  2. Jon Jacobs told me about the holiday sound and light show on Exhibition Drive in Duluth. Their Facebook page says they’ve won holiday light contests in Duluth every year since 2012. Their show features 36 channels of lights choreographed to holiday music that you’ll be able to hear from your car’s radio. See it twinkle through New Years Eve from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. Sundays – Thursdays and 5:00 — 11:00 p.m. Fridays – Saturdays.
  3. Peter from A Sweet Event messaged me with a great resource for those looking for lights up north. Every year, they host a Christmas Lighting Challenge and in 2017, have around 50 homes and businesses participating in Duluth, Superior, Two Harbors and Cloquet. Check it out.

Golden Valley

  1. Head to the Level Railway Crossing at Golden Hills Drive on Sunday, December 10 at 4:50 p.m. to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train roll in. Learn more.


CP Holiday Train 2
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train makes its way to Hastings on Friday, December 8. Photo credit: Canadian Pacific
  1. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls into the CP Depot at 500 East Second Street at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, December 8. A program with live music will begin at 8:45 p.m. The event is free; attendees are asked to bring non-perishable food donations. Learn more.


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Lake Elmo

  1. Over 100,000 LED lights are choreographed to music you can listen to from your car in Lake Elmo. Valley Lights at Rockpoint Church runs 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. nightly through December 31. Free wagon rides will be offered December 1, 2, 8, 9, 15 and 16 from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. Rockpoint Church is at 5825 Kelvin Avenue North in Lake Elmo.


Kiwanis Holiday Lights
Over 1.5 million lights make up the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display in Mankato. Find it at Sibley Park. Photo credit: Kiwanis Holiday Lights via Facebook
  1. The Kiwanis put on a light show you can walk or drive through at Sibley Park in Mankato. It features over 1.5 million LED lights, a skating rink with warming house and special daily events. You can check it out Sundays – Thursdays from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. and Fridays – Saturdays from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. through December 31. Friday, December 15 is a great night to visit; you can check out ice sculptures, hope on a horse-drawn wagon ride and visit with Santa and his reindeer. Kiwanis Holiday Lights is free. Thanks to Kathy Gelhaye for the suggestion!


A show designed by Ryan Kasper-Cook in Minnetrista was featured on ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” in 2016. Photo credit: Trista Lights
  1. The owner of this display has shut it down, citing loud party buses and visitors. More from KSTP.  Trista Lights is run by Ryan Kasper-Cook, and this guy means business. Seriously, he owns a lighting business. Just take a look at this video of what he’s doing out in the west metro. He also works with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska to produce their light show. They were actually featured on ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” (click here to watch part of that). Head to 4386 Trista Road in Minnetrista to check it out; it runs from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Sundays – Thursdays and from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. Fridays – Saturdays. The 12-minute show runs every half hour.

 New Hope

  1. The Larson family creates a light show synchronized to music that runs past New Years Day. You’ll see the 100,000 plus lights in action from 4:30 – 10:00 p.m. weeknights and 4:30 – 11:00 p.m. on the weekends. Outdoor speakers will play the music until 9:00 p.m.; you can also hear it on their radio station, “The Sled.” It’s at 3549 Ensign Avenue North, New Hope.
  2. Head to the Level Railway Crossing on 49th Street on Sunday, December 10 at 3:35 p.m. to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train roll in. Free music performances start at 3:45 p.m. It’s free to attend. Learn more about the Holiday Train.


The Fischer family in Plymouth uses 40,000 lights in just one front yard. Photo credit: Fischer family
  1. The Fischer family in Plymouth says they have “somewhere around 40,000 lights” in their display. It’s computer-controlled and is set to music you’ll be able to listen to through your car’s radio. You’ll be able to see it from December 1-31 with the exception of Christmas Eve. Check out their elaborate website — it unveils the curtain on how they get their yard set up each year. Their display is at 16700 33rd Avenue North in Plymouth.
  2. The PD Shimmers display in Plymouth is designed and built by those living with Parkinson’s disease. In 2017, 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s, so the PD Shimmers display will feature 60,000 lights this year. On their website, you can dedicate one of their lights to someone you know with Parkinson’s. The display is along Ithaca Lane; head to 4320 Ithaca Lane North, Plymouth. It is lit nightly from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. starting November 24 and lasting through Christmas.


Richfield Gingerbread House

  1. Originally known as the Gingerbread House, the display at 7039 Third Avenue South in Richfield is back. They’re also known to set up quite the display for Halloween as well.

Saint Louis Park

  1. Head to the Saint Louis Park Emergency Program building at 6812 West Lake Street on Sunday, December 10 at 6:00 p.m. to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Free music performances take place from 6:15 – 6:45 p.m. Learn more about the Holiday Train.


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Shakopee Winter Wonderland.jpg
Is that a Ferris wheel in your front yard?!?!? Photo credit: Shakopee Winter Wonderland/Facebook
  1. There’s a winter wonderland happening in Shakopee! Check out this light display at 921 Shakopee Avenue East in Shakopee. Lights will be on each night through New Years Day. Between December 15 and Christmas Eve, they’ll have crafts, treats hot cocoa and visits from Santa beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Sleepy Eye

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Holiday Lights in Motion started up in 2014. Photo credit:
  1. Holiday Lights in Motion runs through New Years at Sportsmans Park in Sleepy Eye. Select nights will offer free horse and carriage rides along with a freewill concession stand. You’re able to drive or walk through the exhibits, which are all made of LED lights. It’s open nightly from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. Thanks to Cindy LaBrie for suggesting this spot! 

Two Harbors

  1. Homes and businesses in Two Harbors (along with Duluth, Cloquet and Superior, WI) are participating in A Sweet Event’s 2017 Christmas Lighting Challenge. Find an interactive with places participating here.


Sovereign Estate
The Winery at Sovereign Estate in Waconia uses eight miles worth of lights to create its display, The Spirit of Winter. Photo credit: The Winery at Sovereign Estate
  1. This is the event to take the place of Holiday Lights in the Park in Saint Paul. The Winery at Sovereign Estate in Waconia hosts the Spirit of Winter, a light show featuring over eight miles of lights over 10 acres, with animated displays set to synchronized music. Although it’s at a winery, all ages are welcome. And since it’s at a winery, their wine shop will be open for adults to buy a glass or bottle (no tastings). Cider, hot chocolate, cookies and more will be sold, too. Tickets are only $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 3 to 12. They must be purchased in advance online. The Spirit of Winter runs through Saturday, December 30 (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) and is open again Thursday, January 25 through Saturday, February 3. It runs from 4:30 – 8:00 p.m.

White Bear Lake

  1. Since publishing this article, multiple people have reached out to me about a White Bear Lake display on the shores of Bald Eagle Lake. It looked as though 2016 was going to be last year of the light display at 5590 West Bald Eagle Boulevard. Well, they couldn’t resist. It’s scaled back slightly, but you’ll still be amazed. Take a look at this YouTube video to see for yourself. It’s lit from 4:30 p.m. – midnight every day through the first week of January. Don’t let the Facebook page “Our Last Holiday Light Show” fool you.


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Celebrate the Light of the World is entering its final year in Willmar. Photo credit: Celebrate the Light
  1. Celebrate the Light of the World is entering its 10th and final year in Willmar. The display is a fundraiser for the Salvation Army. You can see it run nightly from 4:30 – 11:00 p.m. until January 7, including all night on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This is unique — organizers host drive-in movies; see “ELF” on December 1, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” on December 2. The December 2 celebration also has a fireworks show. Santa will stop by on Saturday, December 9; a professional photographer will be there to snap free pictures of you and Father Christmas (donations will taken for the Salvation Army of Willmar).


  1. You know a family’s light show is legit when it has sponsors. After taking a few years off, MNlightshow is back again this year in Woodbury. The show is synchronized to music you’ll be able to listen to from your car radio. The homeowners are collecting non-perishable food donations for Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf (look for the bin at the end of their driveway). You’ll see it lit up Sundays – Thursdays from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. and Fridays – Saturdays from 5:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. The address: 891 Winterberry Drive, Woodbury.


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40 Ways to Holiday, Day 16: December 8

In 2017, there are exactly 40 days from Thanksgiving Day to New Years Day. And with the elimination of the eighth floor display at Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis and Holiday Lights in the Park in Saint Paul, along with the disappointing change from tradition at Holidazzle, more people than ever are looking for new holiday activities. Enter “40 Ways to Holiday.” Each day between November 23 and January 1 will have at least one event worth checking out, along with plenty of giveaways along the way! Find the full list of days here.

Day 16: Friday, December 8

Featured pick: Union Pacific Holiday Train

CP Holiday Train
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls into the Twin Cities tonight. Photo credit: Canadian Pacific

If you have a kiddo who loves trains, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is a MUST. It will roll through 171 communities along their tracks throughout Canada and the United States this year. Each stop includes performances and a dazzling train inspired by the holidays. Attendees are asked to bring non-perishable food donations which will go to local charities. You aren’t able to hop aboard the holiday train, but the 30 minute event is worth it.

The Minnesota portion of the holiday train’s route actually start December 5 in Rochester. It begins its journey through the Twin Cities today: it’ll arrive in Hastings around 8:30 p.m.; expect the program to start at 8:45 p.m. Stops over the weekend include Cottage Grove, Northeast Minneapolis, New Hope, Golden Valley, Saint Louis Park, Loretto, Buffalo and Annandale.

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
Thursday, December 8
8:30 p.m. arrival
8:45 p.m. program
Additional stops in Cottage Grove and Minneapolis on December 9; New Hope, Golden Valley and Saint Louis Park on December 10; Loretto, Buffalo, Annandale and Kimball on December 11.

CP Holiday Train 2.jpg
The little train engineer in your house will love to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train roll in. Photo credit: Canadian Pacific

Other happenings

  • The Anoka County Fairgrounds host a free Holiday in Lights celebration starting tonight. They’re be hayrides, live music and an appearance by Santa and his blushing bride, Mrs. Claus. Holiday in Lights runs through Sunday in Anoka.
Anoka County Fair.jpg
The Anoka County Fair will dazzle during their free Holiday in Lights event starting tonight.
  • Union Depot’s outdoor Christmas Market continues this weekend. The European-influenced shopping experience includes craft vendors, German imports and much more. Metro Transit is offering free rides (you’ll need to fill out this survey and download a pass if you go tonight). Special appearances during tonight’s 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. event include Santa, reindeer, and a concert by the Simley High School Choir.  Union Depot’s European Christmas Market runs December 1 – 3 and 8 – 10.

Over 35 food trucks will gather at one spot in the north metro on Saturday

Start preparing your stomach for everything you’ll eat the State Fair!

On Saturday, July 22, over 35 food trucks will be in downtown Anoka from 12-10 p.m. It’s organized by the Uptown Food Truck Festival, which was at the end of June.

The event is part of Discover Anoka Days, an annual event with sidewalk sales aplenty.

With 35 trucks to choose from, where do you start? The Moral Omnivore’s Fried Tomato BLT is totally worth the higher price and the wait in line. Get the Curried Mushroom Fries, too.

For something sweet, A Peace of Cake is a food truck I was recently introduced to, and my coworkers were extremely impressed with the mini donuts they’re creating. Dough Dough is new and is one I’m excited to try; they’re serving up six flavors of cookie dough ordered by the cup. Dough Dough is owned by the team from O’Cheeze, another food truck. The full list of trucks attending can be found here.

Besides food, the Festival includes live music and fantastic people watching. And I’ll be there! Visit me inside the Twin Cities Live tent from 12-2 p.m. for your chance to spin a prize wheel and take home a goodie.

Like it is during the Anoka Halloween Parade, traffic and parking will be tough, but don’t let that deter you from going. Plan on parking a bit further out and walk past the businesses along Main Street. To find the Festival itself, put 2015 South First Avenue in Google Maps.

Learn more about the Anoka Food Truck Festival here.