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A Local Actor’s Guide to Minneapolis’ Best Culinary and Cultural Attractions

Get insider tips from True Detective star and writer, Isabella Star LaBlanc, on the best places to experience the arts, theater, and culinary delights of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Two people sitting on a bench looking out at the Stone Arch Bridge from the top of the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota

Take in views of the Stone Arch Bridge from the top of the Guthrie Theater.

Courtesy of Explore Minnesota.

Renowned for its arts and culture, Minnesota has been home to legendary names like Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, the Coen Brothers, and Prince. Among the newest stars to rise from the fertile cultural scene of the state’s largest city, Minneapolis-St. Paul, is Isabella Star LaBlanc. We caught up with LeBlanc, fresh on the heels of her breakout role in HBO’s True Detective: Night Country, to get her take on ways to immerse yourself in a community known for championing new creative voices in the worlds of music, theater, art, and cuisine.

Indie theaters with heart in Minneapolis

A view of the round, shiny, black exterior of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Guthrie Theater is both Minneapolis’ largest independent theater and an architectural marvel.

Courtesy of Explore Minnesota.

LaBlanc grew up in St. Paul and began her career by performing in children’s theater shows before moving on to bigger theaters in Minneapolis, the actor holds a special place in her heart for theater here. “I think it’s the most amazing theater city in the country—the number of theaters, the diversity of theaters, and the diversity of shows being done is just exceptional,” says LaBlanc. “And the audiences and patrons are so enthusiastic and smart. So, it’s a perfect mix of all the things you need to make really good art.”

She has nothing but praise to shower on stages like the Children’s Theatre Co., the Guthrie Theater, and Theater Latté Da. If the 500 arts and cultural venues and exhibition spaces found in the area seem overwhelming, LaBlanc advises focusing on the different stories being told. “If you find the stories that really interest you, you will love the whole experience. There’s so much good stuff happening here. I think the small houses are just as exciting as the big houses.”

The Jungle Theater in South Minneapolis offers a special experience for those on stage and audience members alike, as LaBlanc learned after performing in its production of The Wolves in 2018. “It’s a small space. And so, for an actor, it’s really fun to feel that close to an audience,” she says. “And I think also as an audience member, it’s really exciting to get to feel so close to the actors and it feels like a really personal and intimate night of theater.”

LaBlanc also recommends Mixed Blood Theatre because the team is “always doing incredible things and their radical hospitality model is really cool.” Housed in a former firehouse, this small, independent theater in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood puts on works that engage people and communities who normally don’t see their stories represented on stage, like Full Range, a show based on interviews with rural Minnesotans from the Iron Range region in the 2024 season.

For film, the actor turns to Main Cinema. “It’s such a little beautiful area down there around St. Anthony Main and they play such great films there,” she says. The movie theater boasts a riverside location and a lineup of indie and arthouse films.

Historic venues, music festivals, and new hotspots

A view of the painted wall of artists’ star at First Avenue, a historic Minneapolis theater in Minnesota.

Take a photo with your favorite artists’ star at First Avenue, a historic Minneapolis theater.

Courtesy of Explore Minnesota.

If she’s not at the theater, you’ll often find LaBlanc seeing live music at Minneapolis’ other iconic venues. “I’m not a musician myself, but so many of my friends are musicians. The theater and music world overlap in a big way here in town,” she says.

LaBlanc lights up when discussing the stages at First Avenue, a downtown concert venue that’s perhaps most famous for launching the career of Prince. Today, it hosts a range of up-and-coming artists and established stars. “I love 7th St. Entry at First Avenue. My best friends are in a band called Kiss the Tiger and I’ve seen them play there as well as at the main stage at First Avenue many times.”

In the summertime, LaBlanc says she enjoys attending Surly Summer Concerts, an outdoor concert series hosted in a field behind Surly Brewing Co., home of the celebrated Surly Furious IPA. This summer, the brewery will feature Black Pumas, Nickel Creek and Andrew Bird, and Pixies, Modest Mouse and Cat Power. “It feels really comfortable, and it doesn’t get too crazy,” she says. “You get the best of both worlds because it almost feels like you’re at a festival, but without any of the hassle.”

One of LaBlanc’s newest finds is the recently opened Berlin, a European-inspired cocktail bar and jazz lounge in Minneapolis’ buzziest neighborhood, the North Loop. (It also happens to be right by her favorite place for a staycation, the historic-yet-modern Hewing Hotel.) “I stumbled in on the way to dinner at Porzana and we were a little early, so we stopped in and there was a great guy playing a set. And the cocktails were amazing! I’ve only been once, but I’m very excited to go back,” she says.

Minneapolis’ renowned restaurant scene

A table full of Indigenous-inspired cuisine at James Beard Award-winning restaurant Owamni, Minnesota

Dine on Indigenous-inspired cuisine at James Beard Award-winning restaurant Owamni.

Courtesy of Explore Minnesota.

In addition to Porzana, a restaurant helmed by James Beard Award-nominated chef Daniel del Prado, LaBlanc is a fan of the city’s culinary scene at large. “The caliber of food we have here is kind of insane,” she says.

“I grew up here and it’s always been a cool place to be, but I think the number of amazing restaurants that we have has just exponentially grown. Even just in my neighborhood here in Northeast [known for a top-notch dining and brewery scene and its abundance of artist studios], we have Young Joni and we have Oro by Nixta,” says LaBlanc. “And Owamni, the Sioux Chef’s restaurant is just across the river from me. That’s an amazing restaurant, another James Beard Award winner.”

For a go-to, pre-show restaurant, LaBlanc raves about Sanjusan, a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant (order pasta!), also located in the North Loop. She also recommends checking out the omakase restaurant in the same building, Kado no Mise, where she celebrated her most recent birthday with sushi prepared by the chef tableside.

For a pre- or post-show cocktail, LaBlanc has you covered, too. “If you go to the Jungle Theater, you get a cocktail at Nightingale. If you are at the Guthrie, you get a beer at Maxwell’s. If you go to Theater Latte Da, you go to Young Joni. I’m obsessed with Young Joni in general, but the bar is amazing.”

The same inspiration that fuels the food scene is what keeps LaBlanc rooted in the artistic community that raised her. “There’s an abundance of interesting and creative work happening at all times that makes it really exciting. It’s the reason I always come back,” says LaBlanc. “I feel like my artistic battery gets charged when I’m here. I see things that stretch me and change me and inspire me all the time.”

Explore Minnesota is dedicated to promoting tourism and livability in Minnesota. Visit exploreminnesota.com for travel inspiration, things to do, or to subscribe to free newsletters or travel guides. Get even more by following @exploreminnesota on Instagram, TikTok, Threads, Facebook, and YouTube. Explore Minnesota Travel Counselors are ready to provide personalized travel planning seven days a week by calling 888-VISITMN or by email.

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