Bringing the Flavor to Taste of MN

Meet the featured restaurants and chefs who’re putting the taste into the Taste of MN


There’s a lot to sample at Taste of Minnesota—music, art, and, of course, the food. In addition to the beautiful cohort of food trucks on hand to feed attendees, five restaurants have been selected to showcase their unique contributions to the Twin Cities’ culinary scene. Taste of Minnesota organizers chose chef and personality Andrew Zimmern to serve as food ambassador, a role that includes helping identify notable chefs and restaurants to attend the event and serve samples of their cuisine. We chatted to the five finalists about their plans to deliver the ultimate return to Taste.

Nixta // Gustavo Romero

Nixta’s unfairly fresh, actually-tastes-like-corn tortillas have already earned renown from the time owner and chef Gustavo Romero first began hand-grinding the corn and selling meals from his kitchen during the pandemic’s early stages. Now Nixta serves tacos and other corn-centric dishes from a cozy space in Northeast. They recently expanded to create Oro, a sit-down restaurant that expands on Nixta’s philosophy of celebrating the flavor and diversity of corn.

“Nixta’s always been based around corn,” Romero says. The new restaurant Oro is “almost an homage to all things corn. About 80 percent of our menu has some variation of corn.”

The dishes Nixta serves at Taste will highlight the beloved vegetable—the planned offerings include two types of taco, a tostada, and esquites. Romero said he’s looking forward to introducing Nixta to all of Taste of Minnesota’s attendees. 

“I think a huge part of this is trying to engage more people—being part of the community is huge for us,” Romero says. “We realized the product we make was very different from what’s available here; a lot of people have never had it here. So trying to reach more people and help them see what we do—that’s the important part.”

Oceanaire // Scott Nielsen

When the team at Oceanaire heard about Taste of Minnesota—happening mere blocks outside the restaurant—they reached out to Taste organizers. According to general manager Ryan Hike, the opportunity to participate in an event smack dab in the middle of their community was impossible to pass up.

“We had been talking about Taste of Minnesota was going to be in our backyard this year. Typically Fourth of July is a slow time for us,” Hike says. “Andrew Zimmern got word that we were interested, and [Taste of MN organizers] were interested in seeing if our brand could join them and be one of the featured restaurants.”

Their presence at Taste marks a new venture for Oceanaire. Hike explained the restaurant doesn’t typically serve dishes off-site or have any sort of mobile arm. But having the restaurant located just a few blocks away from their Taste tent made participation possible. For the event, Executive Chef Scott Nielsen is serving a fresh shrimp ceviche made with sustainably sourced shrimp—a hallmark of the seafood-focused restaurant. Their approach to sourcing fresh and environmentally-friendly fish is just one of the restaurant’s qualities Hike hopes to highlight at Taste. Having a presence at a casual outdoor event serves another purpose:

“A lot of times people see us as high end, [or] only see us as a place for special occasions,” Hike says. “But if it’s a Thursday night and you want to go out for a nice dinner, you shouldn’t feel like [Oceanaire is] too fancy. We’re very approachable.”

Soul Bowl // Gerard Klass

Considered the ‘Chipotle’ of soul food, the fast casual Soul Bowl—owned and run by Chef Gerard Klass—offers build-your-own and chef-structured bowls, filled with a variety of southern staples. Patrons can choose a combination of grains, veg, and protein–maybe you want mac-and-cheese, collard greens, and fried chicken? Can do. Or maybe it’s yellow rice, black eyed peas, and braised beef with gravy that’ll hit the spot? Can do that too–that would be the Southside bowl. The menu also includes marinated wings, plant-based chicken, and macaroni options, dessert, and fruit and citrus drinks that come in fun squeezable spouted bags—a perfect vessel for toting around the Taste grounds.

Soul Bowl grew its footprint from a two-day pop-up to a Target Field stand in 2019, to a permanent presence at Graze provisions + libations in the North Loop. They’ve since expanded to another brick-and-mortar in Richfield, and their presence at Taste of Minnesota is additional confirmation that the concept is quickly becoming a Minnesota staple and legacy. Klass hopes to eventually grow the concept into a national, premier soul-food fast-casual restaurant. In the meantime, Minnesota is lucky Soul Bowl put down their roots here in the Twin Cities.

Animales // Jon Wipfli

Head to Northeast for a pint this summer and you’ll find the Animales Barbeque food truck and mobile smoker parked outside Bauhaus Brew Labs, ready and waiting to chase down those suds. The smoked-on-the-spot joint serves up a rotation of ribs, pork, burgers, and sides of the Southern variety—think mac and cheese or pimiento dip—and collabs with other local establishments (looking at you, fellow Taste feature Nixta!). They garner long lines for good reason—beautifully plated, plentiful portions of cooked-just-right bbq, courtesy of chef Jon Wipfli, who previously worked as sous chef at The Bachelor Farmer before founding Animales.

Animales has operated since 2018, taking residency at breweries around the metro. But last year, along with another local bbq food truck Boomin Barbecue, they faced down a legal battle that brought into question the operation of their outdoor smokers. Someone discovered an ordinance—previously unbeknownst to both them and the inspectors who had annually re-certified them—which prohibits food trucks from cooking anything outside their food truck. After a rocky couple of months, the food truck and city came to an agreement, and ever since Twin Citizens have had unfettered access to their delicious smoke skills. For the Taste booth, we’re hoping for a chopped pork sandwich with pickles, slaw, and gold sauce; a Nashville hot chicken-thigh sandwich with Animales’ spicy rub, pickles, slaw, and mayo; BBQ fried rice, and, of course, ribs.

Red Wagon Pizza // Peter Campbell 

Peter Campbell grew up as a pizza-on-Fridays kid. He carried on the tradition with wife Jacquie and their children, and the pair eventually created the Red Wagon mobile pizza oven to bring the joy of the slice to catered events and farmers’ markets. Their brick-and-mortar restaurant, which opened in 2014, now stands in the South Minneapolis neighborhood where they fostered the pizza tradition—but happily it’s open six days a week, not just Fridays.

Red Wagon’s wood-fired pizza is built with a balanced crispy-chewy crust and topped with ingredient combos that push the boundary a bit by nodding to well-known sandwiches and dishes not usually re-interpreted in pizza form. You can try a banh mi pizza, a Cuban sandwich–style pizza, a buffalo-chicken-bleu cheese ’za, or even the McLovin’ It, which comes complete with hamburger meat, American cheese, and, yes, sesame seeds. The full menu includes pastas and Italian-leaning bar food, but it’s the pie game you’ll sample at the Taste. Campbell says, “We will be serving our popular Red Wagon
Pizza—all our dough is made from Baker’s Field Heritage Flour, red sauce house cheese, sausage, Lowry Hill Provisions Sopressata, banana peppers finished with fig-infused balsamic.” And for those with the simplest tastes among us, Red Wagon will be serving cheese pizza, too.