Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Jungle's Miss Bennet is Holiday Perfection

It is a truth universally acknowledged... 

Photo by Dan Norman

That holiday season stagings need a refresh.

Don't get me wrong; I will always harbor love for How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol. That said, do we need to see them *every* year? Done exactly the same way? What about trying some new stories?

Photo by Dan Norman

That's why I'm so thrilled with the new tradition gracing the Jungle Theater's stage: a rotation of holiday themed, fan-fiction sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Last year I had the great pleasure of attending The Wickhams, a rip-roaringly funny play about the servants at Pemberley while the lords and ladies of the house celebrate upstairs. It was one of my favorite plays of the entire year, in fact, and I can't wait for them to bring it back.

Photo by Dan Norman

This year I got to check out the original adaption that I missed two years ago. Miss Bennet takes place a couple of years before The Wickhams, except it is upstairs in the main house and stars all the main characters of the beloved novel. Fan fiction can get dicey; it's hard to recreate the author's signature style without veering into wildly fantastic side stories or awkwardly stilted dialogues. Thankfully playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon do a masterful job of channeling Austen's voice into a believable, relevant new script that I think is destined to stick around for quite some time.

Photo by Dan Norman

Miss Bennet takes place over Christmas two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are happily married and hosting the rest of the Bennet family over the holidays. First to arrive are Elizabeth's elder sister Jane, who is heavily pregnant; her husband Mr. Bingley; and their sister Mary Bennet (the titular 'Miss Bennet'). Mary is a relative afterthought in the original book, but this play gives her her full due. An overlooked middle child with a bookish, severe personality, Mary always struggled to stand out. Fate is on her side this time, however, with the arrival of Mr. Darcy's cousin Arthur de Bourgh, who is set to inherit the now-deceased Lady Catherine de Bourgh's massive estate. Arthur is similarly awkward in company and ecstatic to find a kindred spirit in Mary. Things seem to be going swimmingly until the arrival of Lydia Wickham, the younger and most troublesome of the Bennet sisters, and the surprise arrival of Lady Catherine's daughter Anne de Bourgh. There are several delightful twists in the romantic plot between Mary and Arthur so I will stop here, but suffice it to say it lives up to the original wit and romance of Pride and Prejudice.

Photo by Dan Norman

Miss Bennet has a very talented young cast, starting with Christian Bardin as a stunningly good Mary. Bardon lives and breathes this role right down to her squinty eyes and peculiar mouth tics, and she is a master class performer. She is well partnered with Reese Britts as Arthur de Borugh; his performance is so charming I would scarcely know he is a recent UMD grad. Veteran favorite Sun Mee Chomet sparkles as Elizabeth and has heartwarming chemistry with James Rodriguez as Mr. Darcy. I was very happy to see Roshni Desai again, this time as Jane Bingley; I wish the part allowed her witty comedic side to shine a little more, but I still enjoyed her performance immensely. Jesse Lavercombe has vivacious energy as Mr. Bingley and Anna Hickey is deliciously snobby as Anne de Bourgh. Andrea San Miguel is thoroughly irritating as Lydia Wickham, and the audience clearly loved her antics. And I have to call out Jennifer Ledoux and Abilene Olson as the singing servants, who provided gorgeous music for everyone to enjoy as scenes transitioned.

Photo by Dan Norman

Sarah Bahr designed both the costumes and sets, and the cohesive, period-specific presentation is lovely. Clever details like refreshing the set by continuously decorating for the holidays throughout the show, or adjusting a costume with a smart jacket or well placed scarf, keep everyone looking consistent but fresh. Marcus Dilliard's expert lighting washes the stage with warm wintry light, and Sean Healey's sound design subtly lets us hear every line. Robert Grier shares inspired wig design, particularly with Anne de Bourgh's magnificently curled piece. And John Novak chooses careful props that add just enough detail to each scene to reveal another layer to each character.

Photo by Dan Norman

While I didn't find Miss Bennet quite as uproariously funny as The Wickhams, I still enjoyed it very much. Because it stars Mary this is a quieter sister to Pride and Prejudice, and I found that it had some real gems of wisdom to offer. Many of the much-maligned characters of the original story (especially Mary and Mrs. Bennet) struggle to get their just due, and it's wonderful to see at least one of them treated well. Miss Bennet is a charming comedy and love story brimming with wisdom and a huge heart. If I had to choose only one holiday story this season, this is the one I would go with. I highly recommend you check Miss Bennet out before it closes on December 29; click here for more information or to buy tickets. And if you don't already know the plot of Pride and Prejudice and want to check it out before seeing Miss Bennet, you're in luck! Park Square Theatre is currently showing a production of the original story. Click here to read my review and learn more.

A Punny Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen seems to be everywhere these days... 

Photo by Dan Norman

And I suppose that makes a lot of sense, right? After all, her female-driven worlds have enchanted readers for over 200 years; in the era of #metoo, doesn't it make sense to revisit the origins of girl powered literature?

Photo by Dan Norman

Thankfully for audiences this means that we get to enjoy oodles of witty adaptations and new fan fiction works on a host of different stages. Kicking it all off is Park Square Theatre with Pride and Prejudice, perhaps Austen's most famous work, as adapted by Kate Hamill. Hamill is one of the most produced playwrights in America for three years running, and this show is a perfect way to encounter her work.

Photo by Dan Norman

As much as Austen seems ubiquitous to me, it has come to my attention that there are still many people unfamiliar with her catalog. For those to whom that applies: most simply told, Pride and Prejudice is about how the Bennets, a family of five sisters, survive the process of matchmaking as wealthy eligible bachelors move to their county. Their mother is determined to marry them off in any manner she possibly can and drives towards this goal with fearsome energy; this seems silly at first, but when considered in the context of English history (and remembering that women were not allowed to own or inherit property), begins to make a bit more sense. The trouble is that the girls are all very differently tempered and their goals do not always align with their mother's. Throw in some good old-fashioned classism, pride and classic farcical misunderstandings and assumptions, and you have a perfect recipe for romantic comedy shenanigans. By the end everyone's story lines are sorted (this is a happy story) and reveal some surprisingly profound insights into human nature that are still quite relevant in our social media age.

Photo by Dan Norman

Park Square's production of Pride and Prejudice really plays up the comedy. The dynamic young cast clearly enjoys hamming it up, and the audience was rolling in the aisles for much of the show. The tone overall was a little too loud for me at some moments - for example the constant clanging of bells felt a little overwrought and overstimulating - but that said it didn't seem to bother the rest of the audience. Several actors play multiple characters, and hats off to them because the quick switches were pulled off extremely well.

Photo by Dan Norman

I really enjoyed China Brickey in the starring role as Elizabeth Bennet. She's long deserved her turn in the limelight, and this is a great part for her to shine in. Sarah Richardson is wonderful as Jane Bennet and Lady Catherine, with a warm presence that is pitch perfect as Jane and provides a comedic highlight as both in the final scenes. George Keller makes a very good Mrs. Bennet, hitting all the levels of hysteria you'd expect while still driving home Mrs. Bennet's very realistic fears. McKenna Kelly-Eiding, who I adored in Park Square's Sherlock Holmes: Baskerville a couple years ago (which is coming back - don't miss it!), is a star as the irritating Mr. Collins and devious Mr. Wickham. She clearly relishes her gender-bending roles, and I can't imagine anyone else playing those parts. Kiara Jackson is an enthusiastic Lydia, and Paul Rutledge conveys Mr. Darcy's stoicism well. Alex Galick is charming as Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Bennet, and I found his portrayals of both quite sweet. And the clear audience favorite was Neal Beckman as Mr. Bingley, Mary and Miss DeBourgh. Beckman throws his best Abbott & Costello into these roles, and I see a bright future for him in the world of physical comedy.

Photo by Dan Norman

The production design of this show was a mixed bag for me. The set, designed by Annie Katsura Rollins, is quite postmodern, opening on a completely open stage (no curtains to disguise the wings, no scrims, no major set pieces - everything is laid bare to the naked eye) with a boxing ring taped out on the floor. This allows us to watch the characters set, tear down, and dress for each scene. While initially distracting I think it did work in the end, and helped trim a few minutes off the lengthy near-three hour run time. Hats (or bonnets, I suppose) off to properties designer Josephine Everett who has assembled a dizzying array of props to support the story. I'm not sure how they keep it straight, but they do! Because so many folks are playing multiple characters, the costumes (designed by Sonya Berlovitz) are pretty simple and focus more on suggestion and ease of transition than period-level detail. I was selfishly hoping for a little more period-piece luxury in the overall production design. What is here really works - it just wasn't the lavish old school style I was yearning for. I do think this barer approach really helps modernize Pride and Prejudice and as such will bring it to the attention of new, younger audiences, and that's an admirable goal.

Photo by Dan Norman

Pride and Prejudice was one of my favorite books growing up, and Jane Austen is an eternal favorite for me overall. She manages to wrap such profound messages into a highly digestible package, and audiences of all types can enjoy and relate to her stories. Think of Pride and Prejudice as the funnier, British version of Little Women (which is also enjoying a renaissance and has been adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill). It's got a little bit of everything you want in a play - laughs, drama, intrigue, and a whole lotta heart. It's a great family-friendly show for holiday season; click here to get your tickets at Park Square before the show closes on December 22. And if you can't get enough of the Jane Austen wave, you're in luck: stay tuned for reviews of the Jungle Theater's original Pride and Prejudice-themed holiday play Miss Bennet and the Guthrie's coming adaptation of Emma.

Photo by Dan Norman

Monday, November 25, 2019

Phantom of the Opera Remains a Hit

Which of the old grand dame musicals is your favorite? 

Photo by Matthew Murphy

I'm thinking the tours that never seem to die - Lion King, Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast, basically anything Andrew Lloyd Webber has ever made - and return time and again to our historic stages. Is there one you just can't seem to help returning to?

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Mine has to be the Phantom of the Opera. The transcendent original Broadway recording starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman was one of the first three CDs I ever owned on my own, and I wore that thing out playing it on repeat and pretending to be Christine Daae.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

That's probably the reason I've now seen the touring production so many times. It also doesn't hurt that despite my nostalgia, the 25th anniversary production as redesigned by Cameron Mackintosh is a gorgeous representation of the best Broadway has to offer with powerful musicians and stunning, exquisitely detailed sets and costumes.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

I won't waste anyone's time re-hashing the plot or production design - see my post about this current tour from two years ago (click here) which still stands, or the original (click here) for that detail. What I will do is update a few of the newer castings and let you decide how many times you should see this theatrical classic.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Derrick Davis returns in the role of the Phantom, and he remains the undeniable star of this show. His supple, passionate voice is my second favorite Phantom only to Michael Crawford (extremely high praise), and he is honestly the main reason I decided to see this show again. He's a 100% performer, oozing the Phantom from his scaly facial prosthetics to his tippity toes, and he leaves everything on that stage by the end of the performance. Emma Grimsley is a new add as Christine Daae. She can certainly sing circles into the role, but I didn't sense quite the level of passion from her as I wanted. The same goes for Jordan Craig as Raoul; he can sing, but the chemistry between he and Grimsley fell a little flat (which for me is a driving point of the show's believability, especially with a Phantom as magnetic as Davis). Trista Moldovan returns as Carlotta and presents all the ego the role deserves; and Susan Moniz is a new add as Madame Giry, one I greatly enjoyed following throughout the show.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

I stand by my earlier exhortations that you splurge on closer seats to the stage for this production; I don't normally say so, but the extra money here really will be well spent. The design is truly out of this world, and you will get infinitely more pleasure out of plunging into that luxurious world if you can really see all its fine points. Phantom of the Opera remains a wonderful option for an early Christmas gift or escape from your family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Don't miss it before it's gone on December 1; click here for more information or to buy tickets.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Theater Mu's Fast Company is a Fun Ride

Dare to keep up with this witty new con caper. 

Photo courtesy of Theater Mu

As we roll into holiday season, the typical reason for the season spiel, while appropriate, can start to get really tired.

Photo by Rich Ryan

I mean I'll readily admit that I'm a Grinch, but be honest: don't you get a little tired of seeing the same kinds of stories this time of year?

Photo by Rich Ryan

If you're anything like me, eschew Christmas this and holiday that and enjoy a show like Theater Mu's Fast Company, a witty new comic-mystery, instead. This story focuses on a family of con-men and miscreants who are so devious that they even betray each other. Blue tries to pull off the heist of a lifetime: swindling a collector out of a rare $1.5 million first edition comic book. It seems ready to go off without a hitch; that is, until her brother H steals it right from under her nose. It turns out that H is in deep gambling debt with a gangster named Jimmy, but unfortunately his theft not only breaks the con-man code but endangers his sister's life as much as his own. Blue turns to her other brother Francis and mother Mable to find a way to con the comic out of H's hands. Her idea, which utilizes game theory, is air tight - except someone else gets it before she can get to H. The rest of the play involves the family tracking each other around the world and immersing into increasingly complex cons to gain equal footing, until a final explosive reveal ends their competition once and for all.

Photo by Rich Ryan

It's not quite what I was expecting but I really enjoyed the wry nature of this story. It's an edgier and more profane play than I'm used to seeing Theater Mu perform, but it was one of the most genuine group performances I've seen them do in a while. The cast all had great chemistry, and if this is any sign of the future from new Artistic Director Lily Tung Crystal I'm really excited about what's ahead. Jeannie Lander has a subtly devious energy as Mable that reminded me of the sly way Michelle Yeoh is playing the evil captain on the new Star Trek: Discovery series, which is to say: I loved her. Ming Montgomery stumbled on a couple of lines but I really liked her overall as Blue. She has a very genuine delivery that made this crazy story believable. Brian Kim was cool as a cucumber as the criminally talented Francis and his energy really drove the show. Rounding out the cast was Eric 'Pogi' Sumangil as the problematic H, who I've had the privilege of seeing in several shows. This might be my favorite performance of his to-date, as he brings a delightful comedic twist to his otherwise troubled character and really lets his warm charisma shine through.

Photo by Rich Ryan

Joel Sass's set echoes the comic book theme of this theatrical caper, and it mostly succeeds. I wish the projections, designed by Miko Simmons, were just a little bit brighter to really bring the theme home; as it is, they feel a bit washed out and don't have the full comic dynamism that could have lent this a Marvel edge. Ash Kaun's costumes are pretty straightforward and each character feels modern and comfortable. There wasn't much special about Karin Olson's lighting design or Montana Johnson's sound design, but everything seemed to run well. Overall, I have to extend a hearty bravo to director Brian Balcom, who has directed several other shows locally and in Chicago but I have somehow missed until now. He coaxed dynamic performances out of this cast and I hope to see his talented hand guiding future #tctheater shows.

Photo by Rich Ryan

Fast Company's closing is quickly approaching, so you have to book it quickly if you want to catch it before the last performance on November 24. For what it's worth, I think you should go. It should be no surprise to long-time readers that Theater Mu has consistently been a local highlight for me, and I'll admit that I was more than a little concerned about their future around this time last year. The company is still early under Lily Tung Crystal's fledgling leadership, but I'm really impressed with what I've seen so far and excited for what's ahead. Fast Company has all the elements I like in plays: it's modern, comedic, includes a mystery and is very approachable for a wide audience. It's a breath of fresh air from heavier dramatic and seasonal fare at this time of year and a great option for a quick pre-Thanksgiving date night. Click here to get your tickets before this little gem of a play is gone.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Thrillist: 7 Cold-Weather Destinations You Need to Visit This Winter

Feeling a little shut in this winter? 

Photo courtesy of Thrillist

Consider a change of scenery and check out some of the best U.S.-based winter destinations you can enjoy to get away from home but still have that snowy winter experience. I rounded up 7 awesome options across America for intrepid travelers. Check out my recommendations and let me know - where else would you add to this list? Click here for the article, or see my copy below.


Ring in the new year with a polar plunge 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Thrillist: How the East African Community Enriches Twin Cities Culture

This is a big one for me. 

Photo courtesy of Thrillist

As long-time readers know, I've been writing for Thrillist for a couple of years now. Most of what I've had the chance to write has been listicle style roundups, but I was recently afforded the chance to write a focus piece on the East African community's deep roots in the Twin Cities. I take this opportunity very seriously and am so grateful for the chance to detail a positive, beautiful community I've admired deeply ever since I first moved to Minneapolis. 

As usual, the editors clipped some of my writing without getting a chance to share the whole thing. If you want to read their published version, please click here (and please do click! I want them to see this story getting lots of eyeballs). I have included my full copy below so readers can see the portions they cropped at the end, which includes more detail from Ifrah Mansour and about the current state of the community. 

Please give this lots of reads on the Thrillist travel site and encourage them to provide more coverage like this! There are so many hidden communities in the middle of our country who are thriving and doing amazing things, and they deserve to be covered as such. I appreciate your support! 


Steam rises from a cup of cardamom and clove tea. Fragrant fish curry bubbles. Meat kebabs sizzle next to a half-dozen flaky, golden sambusas. This doesn’t sound like a typical meal you’d get in the Midwest. But, in fact, this kind of cuisine is common in East African restaurants in Minneapolis, the new vanguard of ethnic dining in the Twin Cities and the most visible element of a thriving immigrant community. 

With Ilhan Omar making waves in the national political arena as the highest profile member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives in Congress, it’s time to acknowledge that she is not an anomaly. For the last 30 years, a robust, diverse group of East African immigrants from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya has happily called the Twin Cities home -- and their roots run deep. 

“The next place to experience Somali culture outside of Somalia is definitely Minnesota,” said Jamal Hashi, owner of Safari Restaurant and several other business ventures. “This is our home. A lot of us don’t know anywhere else.”

Snowy Minnesota might seem an unlikely destination for people born in one of the hottest, driest climates on earth, but it’s turned out to be an excellent choice for several reasons. Most of the first wave settled here as refugees after the Somali civil war started in 1991, placed by the U.S. State Department as part of the VOLAG program in which voluntary organizations sponsor refugees for their first point of entry to the United States. Minnesota has an unusually active concentration of VOLAG groups, including Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota; these groups are also responsible for Minnesota’s high population of refugees from other regions too, such as the Hmong or Liberian communities. Once in the U.S. and on their feet, refugees have the option to move; thanks to the strength of programs in Minnesota that help refugees resettle and the growing numbers of friends and family moving to the state each year, most decided to stay and grow roots. 

Abdirahman Kahin, founder of the enormously popular fast-casual fusion restaurant AfroDeli, agrees. “I immigrated, but there are a lot of kids who are born in this country,” Abdirahman Kahin said. “Right now those who are under 15 outnumber the older ones. Minnesota is very lucky to have those kids for the future.”

By all signs, the community is thriving. From a scattered handful of menu-less restaurants in the mid ’90s there are now hundreds of modern eateries serving traditional food from East African cultures. Fusion dishes -- like African-spiced pastas, fast-casual gyros, Somali steaks, and spicy keke noodles -- are selling out in downtown skyway eateries. Retail outlets selling handmade clothes, halal meats, and bulk spices are in almost every urban and suburban area, and customers can even bargain for their prices just as they would in an open-air market back home. 

These businesses have found great success with their Minnesotan neighbors thanks to their appeal as a unique cuisine that has approachable crossovers with familiar favorites like Indian or Italian food. Somalia’s rich history in particular as an important hub for international trade over many centuries, and as a former Italian colony, makes its cuisine an approachable new fusion option with a twist; an apt parallel would be the way that French baguettes turned into banh mi in the hands of able Vietnamese cooks while Vietnam was still colonized. It also turns out that Minnesotans have a much higher appetite for spicy food and rich flavors than stereotypes would suggest. 

“The food I'm making is for everybody but the people I keep in mind most are people who have never had Somali food before,” said Hashi. “That's what motivates me to stay in the industry.”

Kahin has had the most high profile career of late through AfroDeli, a fast-casual restaurant that aspires to be the Chipotle of African cuisine. AfroDeli’s stunning success demonstrates the high demand for African food despite the stereotype that Minnesotans shy away from spice and flavor.

“A lot of people were saying, before I opened, that Minnesotans won’t try spicy food or African food, but we proved them wrong,” Kahin said. “Everyone is amazed how much business we have from the Minnesota community. I thought there was a way to serve this food to everyone, to the large public and package it in a way they can understand. African food is no different than Indian food or Chinese food or Mexican food.”

Part of that success lies in the attention to dining trends and palates that both Hashi and Kahin have expertly navigated. 

“There’s a big shift in the last 10 years from fast food to fresh ingredients, organic food, healthier food,” Kahin said. “The spices East African cuisine uses are the healthiest -- like cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, which all help fight disease. We use a lot of organic and buy from local farmers when we can. Our meat is halal, so is killed humanely. We have only one freezer at the store for French fries. You can’t find a single microwave in our restaurants.” 

In his nearly 20 years in business, Hashi has also seen big changes.

“People are more educated about what they eat and you don’t have to advertise thanks to Twitter or Yelp,” Hashi said. “It’s a great advantage. The key has been providing an amazing experience that will translate to a new loyal customer. The level of palates have changed, the generations have changed, and for the better. As a chef, nothing remains the same.”

It turned out the biggest hurdle was just getting started. The first restaurants operated the way they did back home; for example, written and printed menus were not available and customers had to ask what the kitchen had on hand to place an order. Many dishes utilized ingredients unfamiliar to diners born and bred in Minnesota. The experience could be intimidating, but with a little organization and innovation any concerns were quickly put to rest. 

“I've had a lot of naysayers,” Hashi said. “I wanted to make a fast casual to serve non-Somalis Somali food. Everyone was backing away. I believed in it anyway, and it was 98% non-Somalis who came to eat. Everyone said that Minnesotans don’t like spicy food. What a lie – it blew my mind.”

Especially exciting are younger members of the community, who are bringing new technology and awareness to the East African experience. This includes the restaurant review and payment app Tavolo that innovated in-touch screen ordering and cashless transactions; the Top Figure podcast, providing entrepreneurship advice to aspiring young innovators; and artists like Ifrah Mansour, whose heartbreakingly funny performances provide a respectful, open place for the community to share their experiences.

“My art is inspired by my lived experiences and that of Muslims and refugees, particularly the diaspora community,” Mansour said. “This means that my art speaks to the experience of what it means to be American and an immigrant refugee Muslim woman, and all of the complexity that comes with that.”

Mansour has partnered with some of the most vaunted arts and cultural institutions in the state, including the Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theater Company, Minnesota Historical Society, Walker Art Museum, and Minnesota Institute of Arts (MIA). Her work couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

“What I accidentally started, this conversation of learning the most painful part of your history and unearthing it, is something that we right now as a state, a country, a nation are also unearthing,” Mansour said. “We are also at a crossroad of do we continue the ways we were? Or do we go on this uncharted path to really see the histories we came from, including the histories our ancestors ripped off of the page?”

But life as an East African refugee, of course, has its challenges. Beginning life in a new country is always difficult, but especially so when the climate, language, and dominant religion is so visibly different from where you came from. Kahin has been especially active in fighting the message that the refugee community is a burden, testifying before Congress in defense of their economic contributions. 

“I try my best not to create political response pieces, but I happened to have these works that were ready,” Mansour said. “It’s interesting because our audience came with their rage and anger, but we were able to inspire people to say, ‘Here we get to calm down, we get to be human and listen a little bit.’”

There are the monthly profits that Kahin reinvests into his community, the vital conversations through artistic performances and talkbacks as Mansour has led, and the resources and research that Hashi has compiled to publish a book about Somali history and educate Americans about their past. No matter the avenue, this resilient, vibrant community is committed to embedding even deeper in the fabric of America. 

“Especially the last two years, there has been a lot of talk about immigrants and how we take jobs,” Kahin said. “I want to go against that narrative, telling the truth that we are creating jobs and adding value to the economy and to the market. We are expanding with the U.S. businesses. We are an asset, not a liability, to the economy. They all agreed, Republican and Democrat, that immigrants are a vital part of small business in America.”

Explore more about the East African community in Minnesota buy paying a visit to these restaurants, museums, and markets.

Phillips West, Minneapolis
The restaurant that introduced Somali food to the U.S.
One of the first Somali restaurants in the United States, Safari created several iconic dishes that have now become menu stalwarts around the globe. Top recommendations include the chicken fantastic, a revelatory interpretation of Somali pasta; the roasted goat cutlet, a traditional dish with flavorful goat meat; or the foule mudammes, an appetizer of steamed tilapia with spinach and savory olive oil. 

Midway, St. Paul
Setting the standard for Ethiopian and vegan cuisine
This legendary stop at the corner of Snelling and University is many people’s first exposure to East African cuisines. A pillar of the Ethopian dining scene, it’s also an excellent option for vegan and vegetarian diners who struggle finding good options in group settings. We haven’t had a bad dish here; go for any of the sampler platters to try a little bit of everything. 

Downtown Minneapolis and Downtown St. Paul
The Chipotle of African food you won’t be able to stop ordering
Chipotle better watch out; this African fusion fast-casual restaurant is taking over skyways throughout the Twin Cities. You can’t go wrong with any dishes, but the gyros and sambusas are second to none. Go big or go home with the full veggie platter, which never disappoints. And make sure to stop by the new downtown Minneapolis location opening this October, the first time AfroDeli is making it to the heart of the west side of the Mississippi. 

Midtown Phillips, Minneapolis
Swing by for a 101 introduction to the history of Somalis in Minnesota
The home of Somali arts in Minnesota, the Somali Museum is a one-stop shop for learning about Somali arts and culture. It was universally recommended as a safe, approachable place to learn about this community.  

Downtown St. Paul
Hear firsthand accounts from East African people’s perspective
MHS is the largest local historical society in the United States. They’ve recently partnered with members of the Somali and Oromo ethnic communities to record their stories and compile an exhibit about their experiences. Come for the impressive work MHS has done; stay for the personal narratives that give firsthand accounts of profound stories. 

Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis
An innovative, one-stop service for African immigrants for finances, art and more 
The ADC’s visionary leadership has transformed the East African community, providing business loans, meeting space and organizational help for fledgling organizations, as well as important educational services for recent immigrants. ADC fills the gap left by dwindling governmental funding and provides vital services to immigrants from many parts of Africa. 

Cedar Riverside, Minneapolis
A friendly performance space with an awesome happy hour
A wicked happy hour, ongoing live music, and a large, friendly dance floor are not the only qualities that recommend the Red Sea. It also has a deep reservoir of affordable Ethiopian cuisines for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Make it a part of a tour of the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, where many of the Somali and Oromo community members are concentrated. 

Whittier, Minneapolis
A must-stop for an authentic Somali tea and shopping experience
No trip through the East African experience is complete without a stop at one of the malls hosting an authentic shopping experience. A host of specialty imported goods you can’t find anywhere else, including prayer rugs, spices, and handmade clothes, are packed together. Make sure to pick up some Somali tea (reportedly among the best in the Twin Cities) when you stop by. 

Becki Iverson is a Thrillist writer and an ardent lover of the Twin Cities. You can follow her wide-ranging passions on her blog, Compendium, or on social media on Instagram @beckiiverson or Facebook. When she's not exploring the local food and arts scene, Becki can be found at her day job in marketing for the AEC industry at Faithful+Gould in downtown Minneapolis.