We know what you're thinking: Sioux Falls — a meat and potato kind of town. Certainly you can get the best tasting corn and grass-fed beef likely raised just miles from your restaurant table, but don't underestimate the diversity and culinary talent in what's been called the Paris of the Plains. In fact, The New York Times proclaims Sioux Falls the place of "newfound culinary fame."

Let's start with dessert because...well, you should, especially when you can salivate over the handcrafted French pastries of award-winning chef Chris Hanmer. The California native, who worked as executive pastry chef in the Ritz Carlton and Bellagio, opened C.H. Patisserie in a Sioux Falls storefront in 2013 not long after he won Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts (Season 2). His exquisitely designed confections impress eye and palate, but it's his macaroons that fly out the door at the rate of up to 600 a day!

Want Mediterranean? Sanaa's, located on the trendy 8th & Railroad boardwalk, features authentic Syrian recipes from Sanaa Abourezk who is published and broadcast nationally on the likes of Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay."

Mama's Ladas offers enchiladas only. Staff serve up "ladas" in what might be the tiniest Sioux Falls restaurant, but their big flavor has been written up internationally.

Speaking of Latin food, Jacky's Restaurant plates up authentic Guatemalan cookery in three locations. The downtown spot shows off the best of this city's diversity. One booth might hold construction workers highlighted in reflective neon; the next retains button-downed bankers in dark suits.

M.B. Haskett's ever-changing menu relies on locally-sourced food, including eggs from the owner's farm! The bread comes from another Sioux Falls native who started Breadico just blocks away.

Parker's Bistro, housed in a quaint historic brick building originally designed to sell gravestones is anything but dead. This marks the spot where locals like to host visitors when they want to show off the city's food scene. Owner Stacy Newcomb-Weiland's care in historic restoration and design transports her guests to a cosmopolitan feel.

Those are just some of the local options found in a ten block stretch of Downtown Sioux Falls. The city of course, serves up most of the popular national restaurant chains, as well.

What it means to me

Newfound Culinary Fame

by Vernon Brown

Dining is more than sustenance. We break bread together to celebrate life's biggest events.

Framed on my wife's dresser stands a photo of my then fiancé and me at Minerva's — a mainstay of the Sioux Falls restaurant scene. In the image, she wears a black dress; I'm in my tux. We're tucked into a booth. The photo was taken after I had emceed a local charity event, but more notably the image marks the moment after I got down on my knee and proposed marriage. I'm hardly the first or last to solicit a hand in marriage at Minerva's. This is where many a couple go to celebrate milestones. And that emphasizes my point: dining marks some of life's most memorable moments.

With 660 eateries to choose from, you can find every kind of experience. When our family decides to eat out, the problem is often too many choices: fast, fast casual, formal, chain, local, ethnic, American, buffet or dinner with entertainment. We often wonder why, with so many choices, there's almost always a wait. Sometimes we try to outguess the trendy and think of the out-of-the way places offering quick, quality, service.

One fitting that category would be Lam's, an authentic Vietnamese restaurant in a structure built to resemble a church of that country. The "meal in a bowl" fare features the freshest of ingredients in one of the city's oldest industrial areas. Our family discovered it when the owner's son enrolled in the same kindergarten class as my daughter. Years later, we still consider it the best kept secret.

Sunday morning coffee houses offer a respite for us. We make it our weekly date. After church we drop our daughter off for Sunday School and venture on discussing where to land: Queen City for scones, Josiah's for caramel roles, M.B. Haskett's for locally sourced goodness, or C.H. Patisserie for croissants - each of their specialties made from scratch!

I've lived in Sioux Falls since 1991. I visited regularly as a farm kid growing up 75 miles away. Although it's always been South Dakota's Big City, never did I imagine Sioux Falls would develop into a culinary capital. Still one thing remains the same. No matter how highbrow the food might get, we're a city made up largely of people from farms and small towns. That means jeans meet the dress code of any establishment.