Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Scenic Beauty And Culinary Surprises

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nicknamed the Heart of America, is centrally located close to most major Midwestern cities. With its stunning waterfalls in Falls Park, a vibrant art scene, and a walking and bike path that follows the Big Sioux River, this rapidly growing city has received many accolades for its high-quality living. But it's the city's burgeoning culinary scene that is attracting attention among food aficionados and creating a buzz among the locals.

With more than 650 restaurants, Sioux Falls has many of the chains you would find in most cities. But it's the independent entrepreneurs in and around the downtown area that are carving out their own culinary niche in this burgeoning "flavortown."

A Touch of Paris in the Midwest

You don't have to travel all the way to France to enjoy some of its best offerings. Here are a few eateries saying, "Oui, nous l'avons" (yes, we have it).

Walking into CH Patisserie might have you imagining you popped into a little pastry shop on the streets of Paris. Delectable éclairs, tarts, and neon-colored macarons beckon from behind the glass.

All this is the work of Chris Hanmer, a Top Chef: Just Desserts season two winner, who has set up his pastry shop on Phillips Avenue in the heart of downtown. His European-inspired confections are becoming an indulgent habit for many in Sioux Falls. Be sure to try his Chocolate Dream, a little shiny dome of decadent chocolate deliciousness.

At M.B. Haskett, Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Michael Haskett creates his own version of French-inspired cuisine. After a remodel in 2014, his small space is always packed with hungry patrons looking for a taste of something different, such as his savory crepes (you can watch them being made just as you could on the streets of Paris), quiche, and daily specials. During my visit, I devoured the Red Flannel Hash with beets, potatoes, salmon, fennel, and poached eggs.

If you have ever tried a baguette in France, you know that finding that sort of similar quality here in the U.S. can be a challenge. Fortunately, Breadico Di Napolitano is as far as you will have to go in Sioux Falls. Owner David Napolitano uses his 29-year-old sourdough starter and old-world methods to create deliciously crunchy-on-the-outside and moist-on-the-inside breads that will make you think you are on the Left Bank. They are so good, in fact, that they are carried by many of the restaurants in town.

Ethnic Eateries in Suburbia

When Sanaa Abourezk wanted to open an affordable, gourmet Mediterranean restaurant in meat-and-potatoes country, all of her friends thought she was "out of her mind." Undaunted, she founded Sanaa's Gourmet in a nondescript little strip mall near the railroad tracks. Unique and exotic flavors, it seems, are just what many here were craving and today her loyal customers rave about her fare. Her Pomegranate Fatayer (think Mediterranean calzone) is made with ground beef, pomegranate molasses, and chili sauce, and it is a local favorite.

It might seem strange in some places to find a restaurant specializing in enchiladas but not here. At Mama's Ladas, an enchiladas shop and wine bar, you can enjoy cheesy homemade beef or chicken enchiladas with some killer salsa. They also serve some truly refreshing red or white sangria, premium wines, and a variety of beers to wash down all that Mexican goodness.

Regional and American-Inspired

For 31 years, Rosie's Café has been a Sioux Falls institution. With only 49 seats (including the counter) this is where you would go for down-home cooking and friendly, local conversation. In addition to affordable breakfast dishes, lunches here such as meatloaf, turkey and stuffing, and liver and onions are only $5. A slice of homemade banana cream pie will set you back only $2.

Minervas Restaurant in downtown starts getting packed from the minute it opens its doors. A popular place for the lunch crowd, the menu offers eclectic American fare in a warm, inviting atmosphere. Here you can find everything from aged steaks to seafood to pasta. They also have a mega-salad bar that includes cheeses, soup, fresh fruit, and salmon.

Fresh fish in the Midwest? Indeed, Parker's Bistro flies in fresh seafood twice a week and also strives to use local, organic ingredients in its offerings. In addition to seafood, Parker's also has a nice selection of steak and poultry options.

Adorned with local artwork, Bros Brasserie Americano has a Creole influence. Try their Andouille and chicken gumbo or New Orleans strip steak with pepper cream gravy, mashers, and vegetables du jour. Another entrée in demand is the pork belly with creole maux choux, sweet potato gnocchi, and Dr Pepper demi-glaze.

K Restaurant in the East Bank neighborhood offers patrons a contemporary American dining experience. Longtime Sioux Falls resident Tina Kuehn chose a quieter location, away from the busy downtown section to provide what she calls a "gourmet bistro feel" in an intimate small space. Most of her business has come from word of mouth and everything is made from scratch. One of her signature dishes is the 12-ounce beef sirloin steak, grilled, with a gorgonzola hazelnut sauce and served with roasted fingerling potatoes & sautéed asparagus. "You could eat your shoes with that sauce," laughs Tina. Another favorite is her super creamy and rich crème brûlée made from an old and closely guarded secret recipe she obtained from a chef in San Francisco.

Sweetness you can eat and drink

With several locations in Sioux Falls, B & G Milky Way is the sort of simple drive-in your parents and grandparents would have loved. The plain lines of the red-and-white building underscore the simplicity of its ice cream. They make their own strawberry soft-serve and have been putting smiles on faces since 1954.

Speaking of smiles, the motto at Oh My Cupcakes! is "To Shine God's Love and Make People Smile with Cupcakes." Having started with a mere $67, owner Melissa Johnson opened the first gourmet cupcake shop in Sioux Falls. She has been featured as one of the "Top 100 Cupcake Shops in America" and makes everything from scratch. They have many unusual flavor combinations, such as stuffed French toast, lemon drop, and root beer float made with the real thing.

Constructed out of straw bales, the Strawbale Winery is owned by Don and Susie South who used their various talents to start their own vineyard and offer fruit wines to the public. Their tasting room is made from recycled materials, and they offer tasty grape, fruit, and specialty wines. While you are there, ask to see their incredible jumping chicken.

Other Ventures

Of course, there is more to Sioux Falls then just great food. Other diversions include the Washington Pavilion with a museum for kids, the visual arts center, and the Husby Performing Arts Center featuring major artists and performers.

At the Sertoma Butterfly House a& Marine Cove, you can find large tanks with blue and yellow tropical fish, sting rays, and a tidal pool. Step into the adjoining section to relax on a bench and you will be surrounded by wings of color as 800 butterflies from all over the world flutter about and land on the lush foliage.

There is also the unexpected, like the full-size replica of Michelangelo's statue of David in a public park. Sculptures dot the landscape in downtown, created by local artisans whose work is the subject of plenty of photo ops and selfies.

So what can you expect when visiting Sioux Falls? In addition to the exceptional and diverse cuisine, many attractions and local scenery, you can expect friendly people who seem to go out of their way to say hello and make you feel welcome. This is, after all, the Heart of America, and the residents of this town think it is more than a catchy slogan. Rather, it's a way of life.