“Small but mighty” perfectly describes Grand Forks, North Dakota. The city of 60,000 sits just an hour south of the Canadian border, making it a favored destination for Canucks to hop across the line for a weekend getaway. It’s also a college town and a busy agricultural hub, so there’s always plenty going on.
And that holds true for the food scene as well. From the Midwest’s best breakfast at Darcy’s Cafe to mouth-watering caramel rolls and chicken tortilla soup at The Red Pepper to chocolate-covered ripple chips at Widman’s Candy Store, Grand Forks is an unexpected culinary dream.
1. Casa Mexico
You’ll have to hop across the state border into the sister city of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, to get your fill of authentic Mexican fare. But the trip (really only 2 minutes over the bridge) will be worth it! Step into Casa Mexico and grab one of the coveted booths for a cozy dining experience. Warm tortilla chips and housemade salsa will be at your table before you even crack open the extra-large menu.
What To Order At Casa Mexico
While it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite, the chimichanga platter reigns supreme in my world. I like the deep-fried, flour tortilla stuffed with beef (chicken is available too), but I especially love the Spanish rice and refried beans that accompany the piping hot plate. Can’t decide what to order? There are 27 combination plates that offer a little taste of everything.
Pro Tip: Their fresh and delicious salsa is available for takeout! Get a container or two to go for late-night chips and salsa.
2. Harry’s Steakhouse
The name “Harry” is no stranger to Grand Forks. The long-standing liquor stores called Happy Harry’s offer a grand selection of wine, spirits, and beers. And now, Harry’s family has a steakhouse! The vibe here is all 1940s-classic with padded red leather booths, sumptuous wood walls, and a towering wall of bourbon behind the bar. The restaurant sits downtown, right next to the city’s Empire Theater.
What To Order At Harry’s Steakhouse
In the classic chophouse style, the steaks are the stars here, aged at least 21 days and sourced from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. At 14 ounces, the New York strip is the perfect steak dinner, but if you’re looking to splurge, the 22-ounce bone-in ribeye is it. All sides are a la carte and come in shared portions. Harry’s-style hashbrowns start with shredded potatoes that are crispy fried then topped with onion, apple-wood smoked bacon, and crumbled bleu cheese. A dish of Brussels sprouts is also a must, graced with more bacon, more bleu cheese, dried cherries, and balsamic.
Pro Tip: A seat at the bar gives you dinner and a show as the skilled bartenders create classic cocktails. The El Mundo Libre is Harry’s twist on the margarita, featuring blanco tequila, orange liqueur, jalapeno agave nectar, and lemon.
3. The Red Pepper
Since 1961, it’s been difficult to put The Red Pepper into a category. Is it a taco stand, late-night Mexican restaurant, or sandwich shop? It’s all that and much more, serving up no-frills food from three Grand Forks locations, including the original and iconic red-clad building that’s become a landmark.
What To Order At The Red Pepper
While the tacos, tostadas, and enchiladas are always tempting, it’s the chicken tortilla soup that I crave. Thick, creamy, and with more than a little kick, it comes topped with Colby cheese and warm tortilla chips on the side. If I’m extra ravenous, a garbage plate does the trick, with tostadas, lettuce, seasoned ground beef, and lots of sauces piled high.
Pro Tip: There are no forks at The Red Pepper. There are big messy plates of crumbling enchiladas and heaping salads, but no forks. It’s spoons only. Don’t ask me why.
4. Darcy’s Cafe
It could be a movie set; it’s that cool. And it’s breakfast all day at Darcy’s Cafe, the quintessential Midwest diner that promises food “better than your grandma’s, as good as your mom’s.” Look for the low-slung white building on North Washington, then take a seat at one of the tables or plunk down at the lunch counter for daily home-cooked meals from early morning to just after lunch. You may sit next to a farmer, trucker, student, or food blogger.
What To Order At Darcy’s Cafe
Dave’s Special includes your choice of hash browns or American fries topped with sausage, bacon, ham, onions, mixed peppers, cheese, and two eggs, plus toast or pancakes. It’s most often ordered by really hungry patrons and people named Dave. I can’t resist the pecan caramel roll and a side order of crispy bacon to get the day started. In the mood for lunch? Burgers and sandwiches come with your choice of side, which includes tater tots.
Pro Tip: Darcy’s Cafe has excellent merch, from generous coffee cups to sharp-looking t-shirts with the diner’s logo.
5. Up North Pizza
The open-concept, industrial vibe inside Up North Pizza makes it a favorite for family lunches, late dinners, and gathering with friends to watch the big game. Everyone feels right at home in this place, located in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, within shouting distance of North Dakota.
What To Order At Up North Pizza
With names like Schnitzengiggles, Yeee-Row, and Cheesus Mary ‘N Joseph, it’s almost as much fun picking what to order as eating your pie. I’m a fan of the Gnarly Charlie with house red sauce, pepperoni, pineapple, and jalapeno pesto for a good, strong kick. Their mac and cheese is also stellar, with butter-baked bread crumbs and smoked chicken. Speaking of smoked: The wings are nearly addictive, especially with the Jamaican jerk rub.
6. Urban Stampede
If it’s coffee you’re craving, a visit to downtown Urban Stampede is a must. The doors opened in 1993, making it one of the state’s oldest coffee shops. Located in a gorgeously original historic building, the eclectic shop is a meeting place for downtown dwellers and visitors alike, with its cozy booths, communal tables, and lunch counter. Funky art, community notices, and happy tunes prevail.
What To Order At Urban Stampede
The revolving menu of seasonal favorites should most definitely be sampled. Quality beans from Dogwood Coffee Co. in Minneapolis are freshly roasted and delivered weekly, so the brews are always delicious. Try the signature Thai iced coffee with cardamon and condensed milk for a flavor bomb, or try the tried-and-true salted caramel latte. Take a seat, sip at your leisure, browse the shop, and stay awhile.
Bernie’s sits in the former home of the beloved Whitey’s Wonderbar, a space that served East Grand Forks for almost 100 years. The new incarnation is the brainchild of Food Network show host Molly Yeh from Girl Meets Farm and her husband Nick Hagen. Patrons are thrilled to see the original horseshoe bar perfectly preserved as a service counter for Bernie’s midwestern fare.
What To Order At Bernie’s
The breakfast sandwich is a standout with potato and cheddar baked eggs, local Swiss cheese, and ham. Get it in the square, freshly-baked English muffin and satisfy your sweet tooth with a ginormous ripple chip and chocolate chip cookie. At lunch, a local bologna sandwich gets served up with mayo and lettuce on country white. Get it with a side of fried cheese curds.
Pro Tip: Step up to the counter to place your order then browse the general store in the lobby. Pick up Yeh’s cookbooks, ready-to-go treats, and flour milled in North Dakota.
8. Tea & Crepe
Whether it’s the cold grip of winter or the blazing heat of summer, Tea & Crepe always has plenty of patrons awaiting Asian-inspired treats including coffee, bubble tea, crepes, and rolled ice cream. The downtown location makes it a great place to pick up a cup or bowl and head for a stroll down by the river.
What To Order At Tea & Crepe
Start with a mango milk tea then indulge yourself with the TC Signature crepe which includes banana, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, mango, pistachio, custard cream, chocolate pearls, and whipped yogurt — everything but the kitchen sink it seems! Or if you’re craving ice cream, the Bumblebee rolled ice cream treat includes bananas and Nutella.
Bonus Bite: Pop into Widman’s Candy Shop in downtown Grand Forks and pick up some Chippers. What are they, you ask? Red River Valley ripple potato chips are dipped in milk chocolate, dark chocolate (semi-sweet), or white almond for a sweet and salty taste sensation.