Cooking Light Best Cities: Minneapolis, Minnesota

In our fourth-ranked Cooking Light best city, lush parks and shimmering lakes provide a natural backdrop to a rich cultural landscape.
Arricca Elin SanSone

The busiest thoroughfares in downtown Minneapolis don't have any cars. Every day, thousands of people traverse glass-enclosed pedestrian bridges that crisscross the streets―keeping everyone moving in climate-controlled comfort.

Minneapolis sprang up along the Mississippi River and reinvented itself as it grew, first as frontier outpost, then milling superpower. Today it's home to such corporate giants as General Mills and Target. Four farmers' markets and a slew of new restaurants make dining an adventure. Miles of trails around the city's 22 lakes provide recreational opportunities. With more theater seats per capita than any city except New York, three art museums, and four major sports teams, Minneapolis has a hip, cosmopolitan vibe wrapped in Midwestern friendliness.

Minneapolis earned the 4th spot on our list because it ranked highly in the following: percent of the population in good or better health; money spent per capita on parkland; and the percent of the population that participated in exercise in the past month.

Best healthful fare: Chef Brenda Langton's emphasis on healthful, creatively dressed ingredients makes Spoonriver (612-436-2236), located in the old flour-milling district, a great spot for lunch. In the bright orange dining room, popular dishes include wild mushroom and pistachio terrine, local walleye, and free-range smoked chicken quesadillas with cranberry coulis. Langton is also cofounder of the adjacent Mill City Farmers' Market (612-341-7580), where you'll find only locally grown, sustainably produced and organic foods.

Best picnic supplier: Opened as a liquor store in the 1930s following the end of Prohibition, Surdyk's (612-379-3232) is still owned by the same family, and has since expanded to include an impressive array of wines, beers, and specialty groceries. Select a gourmet picnic of fresh bread still warm from the oven, slices of prosciutto di Parma or Kobe roast beef, and a hunk of one of the hundreds of regional artisanal cheeses, such as Pastureland Gouda with herbs from southeast Minnesota.

Best splurge: James Beard Award-winning Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Chambers Kitchen (612-767-6999) is a food lover's dream. While the seven-course tasting dinner, priced at $85 per person, is a splurge, you can also order à la carte from the Asian-inspired menu (standouts include thyme-Parmesan edamame soup and seared tuna in a spicy-sweet Sriracha and citrus sauce). For dessert, try the raspberry chile sorbet, packed in a tiny Chinese take-out box. Its sweet-tart first impression is followed by the lingering kick of hot chiles.

Best place to stretch your legs: The Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway (612-230-6400), is a system of trails and roadways that loops more than 50 miles around the city. Walk, bike, or inline skate (a sport invented here) along the Chain of Lakes, a series of natural lakes-including Cedar, Brownie, Lake of the Isles, Harriet, and Calhoun-that dot the southwest side of the city. Lake Calhoun's beaches attract runners and swimmers; canoers prefer the more secluded Lake of the Isles.

Best place to putt: Minnesota's climate typically limits golf season (mid April through October), but the state still claims more golfers per capita than any other. With five courses inside the city limits and more than 170 in the metropolitan area, there's no shortage of places to play. Theodore Wirth Golf Course (763-522-4584) is one of the oldest in the state. The front nine offer impressive views of the city skyline.