Trifecta of restaurants opened in Duluth’s Lincoln Park in 2023

Dan Lefebvre standing in the colorful bar setting at Burger Paradox

Dan Lefebvre at Burger Paradox

Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood has burgeoned with new businesses of late. Three new restaurants opened there in 2023, including Bali Asian Cuisine, Burger Paradox and Oasis del Norte. A fourth, Ritual Salad, is slated to open in early 2024.

Bali Asian Cuisine might be the restaurant most eagerly anticipated by Duluth foodies this year as it represents a type of cuisine that’s new to the region. Owner Nevi Mariadi chose the Lincoln Park location after visiting Duluth and noticing a lack of authentic Asian restaurants, particularly in that area.

The eatery has had a warm reception, according to Mariadi. “People love that there is a new addition to Duluth, something different that they don’t have anywhere else in town … They say they can taste the freshness of the food.”

If making the local restaurant landscape more eclectic is a gastronomic goal, Oasis del Norte’s brick-and-mortar space can also be counted as a win. Eduardo Sandoval Luna recalls introducing his tacos to the Twin Ports in January 2015 during an ice race on Allouez Bay in Superior. “I took the most authentic taco and brought it — just to try it — to the most authentic sport in the northland, he said. “I was literally selling tacos on a frozen lake. How determined I was to get these tacos to be something!”

Aside from a brief stint at Average Joe’s Pub, Oasis del Norte has operated out of a food trailer since then. Sandoval Luna established a loyal following, but having a permanent physical space for the taqueria has brought the business to the next level.

He picked the space for its central location and because “people come to Lincoln Park to try new experiences … The craft district name says it all,” he said, adding that the neighborhood’s entrepreneurs have also been helpful. “Lincoln Park has a lot of business owners who are supportive and friendly and who really welcomed me.”

Burger Paradox balances out the neighborhood’s diverse new options with upscale bar food. Duluth restaurateur Tom Hanson had been thinking the Lincoln Park neighborhood needed a burger joint for some time. When the former Mitch’s/Spoon’s/Coach’s Bar and Grill space opened up it provided an opportunity.

Hanson has been a bit surprised at the restaurant’s success. “It has done more than I ever expected. I was thinking it would be a dive bar in the West End and it turned out to be a family eating restaurant,” he said.

Nevi Mariadi at Bali during construction

Bali Asian Cuisine
1931 W. Superior St.

Bali Asian Cuisine opened in October in a corner spot next to the Spice & Tea Exchange. The new restaurant, owned by Nevi Mariadi, serves up food from her native country of Indonesia, along with a mix of pan-Asian offerings.

Mariadi said business has been great. “I’m amazed at how everyone is accepting it,” she said, adding that a few customers have balked at the prices, which range from $15-22 for an entrée. But she emphasizes that the food takes significant labor and ingredients to prepare.

“Everything is from scratch, even our wings are from scratch,” she said, noting that the wings are marinated in house, fried and served with a homemade sauce. The Bali wings, as an example, are marinated with ginger, soy sauce, mirin, fish sauce, and garlic and then deep fried and finished with Balinese sweet and spicy sauce.

The authentic Indonesian dishes have been well received. The corn fritter appetizer has been a big hit, according to Mariadi. People have also enjoyed the rice bowls and noodle dishes. There are plans to add new items such as additional poke bowls as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options.

“Customers have been wanting more options for gluten free. We want to deliver that to them without getting too far off from the authentic flavor,” she said.

Burger Paradox
2113 W. Superior St.

Burger Paradox took over the old Mitch’s/Coach’s Bar, opening in May. The renovated space, punctuated with graffiti, feels brighter and roomier.

Dan Lefebvre came up with the restaurant concept. The managing partner at Burger Paradox has been working with Tom Hanson for 20 years and also oversees the Duluth Grill. He headed up the remodeling of the establishment, which includes colorful nods to hip hop and pop culture of the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Lefebvre hopes the space and the food will evoke warm and fuzzy emotions and memories. He notes that it’s fast food but with a fresher take. Back in the day, McDonald’s fries were so crispy and delicious because they were cooked in beef fat. Today, Burger Paradox uses that trick for the extra umami. But diners get to choose their sides. Would you like fries with that? Fried Brussels sprouts coated in Korean BBQ sauce? Or pickled Peruvian cauliflower?

It’s a smallish menu with items like smash burgers, wings and Philly sandwiches. Menu items reference popular movies. Fans of Coming to America will appreciate the McDowell, Burger Paradox’s take on a Big Mac.

The full bar serves up draft beer, tall boys and boozy malts as well as creative cocktails and mocktails. Part of the paradox is that it’s a bar customers can feel comfortable taking their kids to, Lefebvre said.

Also notable in a town without many late-night food options: Burger Paradox serves food until 11 p.m. A 5 percent surcharge is added to food orders to supplement kitchen staff pay. Pro tip: sign up online for a table to reduce wait time. And like many places in Lincoln Park, bring cash to avoid an additional 3.5 percent service charge for credit cards.

The response to the restaurant has been good, according to Hanson.

“The biggest compliment we’ll ever get is that Burger Paradox is viewed positively, not just that it has good food and is a cool place, but I think the culture turned out,” said Hanson. “We have genuine staff that want to make people feel welcome.”

Eduardo Sandoval Luna at Oasis del Norte

Oasis del Norte
2401 W. Superior St.

Oasis del Norte opened in September in the former Big Bottle Shop Liquor location. Owner Eduardo Sandoval Luna said it has been “smooth sailing.”

His longstanding food trailer is known for its traditional Mexican tacos (corn tortilla with choice of meat, topped with onion, cilantro and lime). The brick-and-mortar space has enabled the restaurant to add “new items or special items — something extra to try and expand your taste buds,” said Sandoval Luna.

Since birria ramen has been trending in California, he decided to make that a taqueria special. For a limited time, during “tamale season” (Christmas), Oasis del Norte is offering several types of tamales. Patrons can pick them up in six-packs that are vacuum packed and frozen. Also available are 16-ounce containers of housemade salsa.

“People are very excited. We’re reaching a different crowd who haven’t tried our food before,” said Sandoval Luna, noting, “I wanted to share my Latino culture through Mexican food. Every single bite people will learn from us,” he said.

Downtown and Canal Park

Downtown Duluth saw some significant moves and changes. Eric Faust brought another brunch option to Superior Street with the Duluth Coffee Kitchen, located in the original Coney Island/Martha’s Daughter space next to the Duluth Coffee Company shop. The kitchen serves up healthyish breakfast and lunch dishes, made from scratch with locally-sourced ingredients. In addition to the food, there’s a full bar serving craft cocktails, including house-made bloody Marys.

Blue Rock Grill merged with the 7 West Taphouse downtown, taking on the Blue Rock branding but maintaining some of what made 7 West popular. The good tap beer choices from 7 West remain, along with a solid whiskey list. Tuna poke bowls and bacon-wrapped dates highlight the Blue Rock the menu, but paninis and flatbreads have been replaced with tacos and burgers — a nod to 7 West patrons. Meanwhile, Ichiro Sushi and Ramen took over the former Blue Rock spot near Miller Hill Mall. It serves mainly Japanese fare with several types of ramen as well as donburi (rich dishes), sushi, sashimi and appetizers like crispy karaage chicken (fried chicken).

Jamaican cuisine like jerk chicken, beef patties and coco bread is now available in downtown Duluth. Jamrock Cultural Restaurant made the move from Superior to the old Doc Witherspoon’s Soul Food Shack spot on First Street at the start of 2023. Another shift worth noting, the revolving restaurant of the top floor of the Radisson Hotel Duluth-Harborview made another rotation. Apostle Supper Club transitioned to Harbor 360. The décor is largely unchanged from the short-lived supper club, but the menu is a bit more economically approachable. Besides bar food like sandwiches and burgers, steak and walleye dinners are options.

In Canal Park, Northern Waters Smokehaus made its major move into the former Amazing Grace space, expanding its footprint to satisfy raving smoked meat enthusiasts. The Social House added a second location to complement it’s Hermantown breakfast operation. The Canal Park version opened in June for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the sizable space that used to house Famous Dave’s.

Superior Transitions

Across the bridge in Superior, Havana’s is another food stand turned brick-and-mortar success story. Brothers Jake and Zachary Kaufman started Superior Cubans using a family recipe that first saw success at the Floodwood Catfish Festival.

When their food trailer was a hit, they started popping up with Cuban sandwiches at the Wednesday Bakery. Then an opportunity to take over the former Ride or Die Pizza and Thirsty Pagan Brewing space came along. They “saw the potential and ran with it,” according to Jake’s fiancé Leah Bolk.

Havana’s opened in October. The eatery has table service but also has a walk-up window/carryout option. Besides the original Cuban sandwiches that kicked the business off, Havana’s has several new pressed sandwich options as well as tacos. There’s a full bar with specialty drinks like mojitos. The eatery also offers specials during football games and has started to host some live music.

“Everything is going really well. We have very good reviews,” said Bolk. “We’re still trying to get out and get known. A lot of people are still finding out about us.”

William Asian Food to Go opened last summer in the former Stop and Go Pizza location. Dung Tran and Nguyet Ho named the restaurant after their young son. They’re serving up a mix of familiar Chinese and Vietnamese favorites, such as fried rice, lo mein, spring rolls, curry dishes and banh mi.

Newfangled Fare in the Region

Beyond the Twin Ports, there are some noteworthy newbies in the region. The culinary creatives behind Lake Avenue Restaurant opened Lake Effect in Gnesen Township. Cloquet is now home to Holy Smokes barbecue. Two Harbors now boasts a “speakeasy.” The Tipsy Mosquito is focused on fine wine and spirits as well as gourmet grilled cheeses and flatbreads.

Further afield, a production winery and cidery with wood-fired pizza called Smoke on the Water opened on Trout Lake in Coleraine. Madeline Island gained an inventive Indigenous restaurant last summer that features foraged ingredients and wild game. Miijim creates “modern Ojibwe Medicine with French soul on small plates.” Most recently, for those who get gooey over melted cheese, Lutsen Lodge opened the Stubli, an après-ski seasonal restaurant that offers a three-course fondue experience, along with items like schnitzel, rosti, European lagers and mulled wine.

For details on eating and drinking establishments that closed this past year, read the companion piece to this story, “Sunshine Cafe leads the list of 2023 restaurant casualties.”

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