The Best Food and Drink in North Dakota for 2019
December 20, 2018
The 701 is a great place to find a steakhouse
The Best Food and Drink in North Dakota
If all you know about North Dakota comes from Fargo, well, let us help round out the picture. The Roughrider State may have a far-flung population of less than a million people, but we found representatives from the major metropolitan areas: Grand Forks, Bismarck, and – of course – Fargo. It’s all a part of our second-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and fried chicken to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our North Dakota gallery ahead.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Passage to India (Fargo)
Since 2005, Passage to India’s three chefs have been shipping spices and other ingredients from India and using halal meat to create some of the finest Indian food you’ll find in the Midwest. Every day except Monday, the team sets out a lunchtime spread that’s available from 11 to 2:30, and it’s a bounty of Indian specialties. More than 20 options are available, including tandoori chicken and naan cooked in a ripping-hot tandoor, biryani, curry, tikka masala, samosas, pakoras, aloo gobi, chana masala, butter chicken… It’s all here, and it’s all wildly delicious.
Best Bar: The Parrot’s Cay (Grand Forks)
People general know The Parrot’s Cay in Grand Forks, North Dakota, for two reasons. First, it’s a solid place to hang out, watch a game, and/or drink a few drafts. Although it’s located in a less crowded part of town, Parrot’s can get quite busy at times, but that doesn’t stop the staff from being attentive, accommodating, and friendly. The other reason this is such a local favorite is its wings. Served swimming in sauce that ranges in spiciness from a level-3 to a level-15 (13 is supposed to make you sweat), regulars claim the bar is actually willing to go as high as 40. There’s also a famous wing challenge that required contestants to eat seven extremely spicy wings (so spicy that they don’t appear on the regular menu and gloves need to be worn when handling them) in five minutes for the opportunity to win a T-shirt and a $100 gift card. Even those who aren’t into chicken wings will stop by to order one of the specialty sauces by the quart. Get it on something, anything, and stick around for a couple rounds. This is still a bar, after all.
Best Beer: 1.21 Gigahops, Fargo Brewing Company (Fargo)
Best Brunch: Kroll’s Diner (Bismarck)
Kroll’s has five North Dakota locations, and has been going strong since 1972. The rich and hearty breakfast menu, served all day, is perfect for a North Dakota morning: Three- or six-egg omelettes (try the one topped with homemade chili and shredded Cheddar); six-ounce steak and eggs; country fried steak; and skillets (the Three Meat Skillet is filled with ham, country sausage, bacon, onions, green peppers, hash browns, and American cheese) served with two eggs and your choice of pancakes, toast, or a biscuit and gravy are sure to warm you up. And if you’re feeling more lunchy, there’s a hot roast beef sandwich, fried chicken sandwich, and a wide variety of wraps and burgers. The restaurant’s German influence comes through in the fleischkuechle (seasoned ground beef; ground beef, sauerkraut, and cheese; or breakfast sausage, American cheese, and eggs wrapped inside a pastry and deep fried, served with hash browns and country gravy) as well as the knoephla, a thick and creamy, bright yellow chicken and potato soup.
Best Burger: JL Beers (Various Locations)
JL Beers is a beloved local chain, with seven locations in North Dakota along with three in Minnesota and two in South Dakota. And with 40 beers on tap, a fun and welcoming vibe, and some truly great burgers, it’s not surprising to see why it’s so popular. More than a dozen burgers are available, made with never-frozen beef; The Original hamburger Stand Burger, topped with only pickles and special sauce, is definitely enough to satisfy a craving, but you might as well go all-in and try the JL Burger (topped with grilled onions, cheese, special sauce, and two patties); the Rajun Cajun (pepper jack, Cajun lime sauce, grilled onions, and Cajun seasoning); or the Not Just a Nutter Burger (fresh peanut butter, red pepper jelly, diced jalapeños, raw onions, and lettuce).
Best Chinese Restaurant: Great Wall (Fargo)
MK L. / Yelp
We can’t promise that you’ll find any truly wonderful Chinese restaurants in North Dakota, but Great Wall in Fargo is about as close as you’re going to get. Ingredients are fresh and dishes are made with care, and popular menu items include garlic chicken, kung pao chicken, Mongolian beef, and General Cho’s chicken. Party trays are also available, as is a gluten-free menu.
Best Chocolate Shop: Carol Widman’s Candy (Fargo)
You have George Widman to thank for the chocolate-covered potato chip, which originated at this Fargo mainstay. Lovingly referred to as “chippers,” these homemade Red River Valley potato chips are available covered in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white almond chocolate.
Best Coffee Shop: Fireflour Pizzeria + Coffee Bar (Bismarck)
Fireflour Pizzeria + Coffee Bar/Yelp
The fresh brick oven pizza at Fireflour Pizzeria + Coffee Bar may or may not be the reason why this is considered the best coffee spot in North Dakota. Partnering with Minneapolis-based Dogwood Coffee, Fireflour serves craft coffee and has a simple yet high-quality menu with single-origin pour-over coffee and espresso drinks.
Best Cupcake: Sweet Treats Cupcake Bar & Bakery (Bismarck)
The perfect cupcake means something a little bit different to everyone. So why not completely personalize the cupcake experience? At Sweet Treats Cupcake Bar & Bakery, you can choose from classic cake bases like vanilla and red velvet, flavored buttercreams, and an array of toppings to make your cupcakes as gourmet as you’d like.
Best Dive Bar: Empire Tavern (Fargo)
Best Doughnut: Sandy’s Donuts (Fargo)
If you have kids and you’re ever anywhere near Fargo, you have to make a stop at Sandy’s Donuts. Kids (and grown-ups, too, if we’re being honest) are more than happy to stand in line and wait to get their hands on a freshly baked Cookie Monster or Oscar the Grouch doughnut.
Best Fried Chicken: Rustica Eatery and Tavern (Moorhead, Minnesota)
Yes, it’s true: If you want to find the best fried chicken in North Dakota, you’ll have to head one block over the Veterans Memorial Bridge from Fargo into Moorhead, Minnesota, to Rustica Eatery and Tavern. This rustic and cozy neighborhood restaurant serves a menu of seasonal fare from chef Eric Watson, and there’s always something exciting coming from the wood-burning pizza open. House-made pastas, duck breast pastrami, and other upscale specialties keep the place busy, but those in-the-know order the buttermilk fried chicken, served with green chile ranch and tomato preserves. Golden brown and shatteringly crisp, this chicken is for some reason on the appetizer menu, which obviously gives you permission to gobble it down as a first course before exploring the rest of the exciting menu.
Best Grocery Store: Dan’s Supermarket
Dan’s Supermarket: Although there are reports of outrage over the steeper prices, Dan’s Supermarket is the go-to for the people of Bismarck. There are six locations in the city open 24/7. As this customer review said, “Great selection, no wait to checkout and friendly staff. Yeah the prices might be a bit high but the convenience is worth it.”
Best Hot Dog: DogMahal DogHaus (Grand Forks)
This popular Grand Forks hot dog shop serves some very respectable Chicago-style dogs, but they’re doing a lot more to their quarter-pound beef franks than “dragging them through the garden”: the Green Party Dog is topped with guacamole, green chili, and salsa verde; the Hot Dang contains green chili, onion, cheese, and Brenarsky’s Sauce (a South Dakota specialty); and the 5th Bro is topped with mango, cream cheese, and pineapple sriracha. The Italian beef is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Best Hotel Restaurant: HoDo (Fargo)
This New American restaurant is located in Fargo’s funky Hotel Donaldson (hence its name), and it’s a cool spot serving inspired fare made with ingredients sourced from local farmers and ranchers. Standouts include Cajun shrimp with beurre blanc and sweet potato cakes, a daily risotto, roasted mushroom salad, salt-crusted filet, sherry-braised pork cheeks, chorizo-encrusted walleye, pan-fried pheasant breast, and a daily vegan special.
Best Italian Restaurant: Toscana (Fargo)
Lucca-born chef Mirco Morganti is bringing a taste of Italy and France to Fargo. At Toscana, he’s turning out show-stopping creations like osso bucco, tournedos Rossini, and noisette of lamb in a curry-chive cream sauce, and needless to say he also knows his way around pasta; standouts in that department include tagliolini granchio (shrimp and crab with tomatoes, garlic, and spinach in a light cream sauce); penne ortolana (penne with wild mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, and garlic in mushroom ragù); and gnocchi fattore (house-made gnocchi with chicken, garlic, and mushrooms in a tomato gorgonzola sauce.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: The Pig Out Omelet, Mr. & Mrs. J's Restaurant (Devils Lake)
Omelets are a great breakfast food, and if you can't get enough of them, Mr. & Mrs. J's Restaurant has the perfect dish for you. Order their Pig Out Omelet, made with an entire carton of eggs and full of vegetables, cheese, and meat, plus hash browns and toast on the side. Finish it within an hour, and you'll get a free T-shirt too.
Most Romantic Restaurant: Pirogue Grille (Bismarck)
Since 2005, Pirogue Grill owners Stuart and Cheryl Tracy have sourced high-end local ingredients and served them in a classy, brick-walled, white-tablecloth dining room. The end result? One of the most popular restaurants in town, and easily the most romantic. Local walleye, bison, lamb, and venison sausage are always on the menu, but other seasonal specialties include barbecue rabbit on a wild rice potato pancake, free-range chicken breast stuffed with smoked Cheddar and apple slaw, grilled lamb loin chops with chokeberry and mint sauce, and filet mignon with roast corn and black peppercorn sauce.
Best Pancakes: Darcy’s Café (Grand Forks)
Step inside this unpretentious, old-school restaurant and you’ll find a U-shaped counter and a handful of booths, all occupied by people chowing down on no-frills dishes like pot roast, meatloaf, chicken fried steak, Tater Tot hot dish, and some of the finest pancakes in America. Dubbed Grandma Knudson’s Buttermilk Pancakes, these are based on an old family recipe, and approach stratospheric levels of deliciousness when the batter gets a hit of cinnamon and the top is swirled with cinnamon roll icing.
Best Pizza: Blackbird Woodfire (Fargo)
Yelp/ Nisa T.
“Prairie made. Hell fired” is the motto of Blackbird, which got its start slinging artisan pizza pies from a mobile truck that would cater events on weekends. Its success was largely dependent on the quality of the ingredients used – flour from North Dakota wheat, seasonal local produce and herbs – as well as the years of trial and error that went into perfecting the dough and technique. Today Blackbird is one of Fargo’s most popular restaurants, serving some truly outstanding pizza with creative toppings like béchamel, housemade sausage, Granny Smith apple, and fresh sage; and roasted chicken, housemade sweet chili and peanut sauces, fresh peppers, red onion, snap peas, and cilantro; and béchamel, mozzarella, Canadian bacon, smoked bacon, maple syrup, and a sunny side up egg.
Best Sandwich: Everything Grinder, Red Pepper (Grand Forks)
In Grand Forks, Red Pepper is a local legend. A local landmark for more than 50 years, this late-night staple serves a simple menu of beef tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and burgers. The signature menu item, however, is the grinder. You can customize yours with ham, salami, turkey, or any combination thereof, but why stop there? Go all the way and get an Everything Grinder, made with just about everything they’ve got in the kitchen: ham, salami, turkey, taco meat, shredded Colby, slices of Swiss, and lettuce. It’s absurd in the best way possible.
Best Soup: Knoephla, Kroll’s Diner (Bismarck)
Yelp/ Michelle S.
If the word “knoephla” doesn’t ring any bells, then you probably haven’t been to North Dakota, and you definitely haven’t been to Kroll’s Diner, a German-influenced institution that’s been a local favorite since 1972. So what is knoephla? It’s a thick and creamy chicken and potato soup that can trace its roots to Germany, and in North Dakota Kroll’s does it best.
Best Steakhouse: 40 Steak & Seafood (Bismarck)
Each of the five dining rooms at this spacious restaurant represents a different aspect of North Dakota — women of the prairie, cattlemen, governors, oil booms, families — and they each offer different décor and furnishings. USDA Prime steaks offered include boneless ribeye, bacon-wrapped filet, flat iron, and hanger steak with gorgonzola mustard and bacon. But for a quintessential North Dakota culinary experience, splurge on one of their bone-in ribeyes, dry aged for either 90, 150, or a whopping 260 days. That’s certainly something you don’t see too often.
Best Taco: Taco, Red Pepper (Grand Forks)
Red Pepper / Yelp
We’re just going to say it: If you find yourself craving a Mexican street-style taco in North Dakota, you’re probably going to end up disappointed. Instead, we’ll steer you to Red Pepper, a Grand Forks institution for more than 50 years. Its “grinders” (ham, salami, turkey, taco meat, and Colby cheese on a soft loaf) are the stuff of late-night legend, and its tacos are the best in the state. Listed on the menu as just “Taco,” it’s a perfect hard-shell taco filled with homemade ground seasoned beef, lettuce, hot sauce, and grated Colby cheese. They’ll put it in a soft flour tortilla for you if prefer, but why mess with perfection? For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.