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Destination Guide

 
 
You definitely have your work cut out for you if you have to decide where to go for lunch or dinner in the Twin Cities. Any way you slice it, you are bound to come up with a good place that serves good food. The vast mix of ethnic influences in this northern city surprises many people. If you thought the 'frozen North? was comprised of Scandinavians munching on lutefisk and lefse, think again (though you can get those items, too!). Over the years, as the population grew, the different groups have added their specialties to the mix. Though the restaurants and bars are spread out all over the place, some areas have a noticeably larger concentration.

You can find some excellent choices along Eat Street, Nicollet Avenue, in Minneapolis. Taco Morelos is hot, hot, hot, but you can cool off in the German beer garden at The Black Forest Inn. The area south of downtown across the river in St. Paul is known as the Westside (directions notwithstanding) and is home to a large concentration of Mexican-Americans. Me Gusta on Robert Street is cozy and bright; its a small place but the food is great! Boca Chica is like walking into a Mexican hacienda, with a buffet on Sundays. Enjoy one of the best margaritas in town in their Cielito Lindo Lounge.

For a good selection of dining options, wander over to Grand Avenue in St. Paul, where many ethnic flavors are represented, from North African at the Barbary Fig to regional specialties at The Tavern on Grand (that would be walleye). Southern is the treat at Dixies, and in the same building is Saji-Ya for a little sushi. The local pub favorites are on the menu at Sweeneys Saloon & Café, and its American cafeteria-style with a view at Café Latte. For Vietnamese, The Lotus is a gem, and its Greek at the Acropol Inn.
The pubs are fun and often crowded, especially during the school year. But, the crowds are generally well-behaved. Try Billys for games and some loud fun; your best bet for a quiet drink is the Wild Onion or The Tavern on Grand. For more opulence, try The Lexington.

In the area of Snelling and Selby, you will find Taste of Thailand in an old storefront. The ambience is sparse, but the food is right on the money. Or head up Snelling to the St. Clair Broiler, where the fish fry during Lent always packs them in.

Cathedral Hill always gathers the young professional crowd on the weekends, whether its for a good bottle of wine or a good game of pool. Fun spots like Fabulous Ferns, Costellos and Chang O?Haras will be standing room only on most nights. For a more sedate dining experience, try WA Frost or a romantic dinner at Tulips. Want something a little different? Its Russian at Moscow on the Hill or Puerto Rican at Puerta Azul.

On the other side of St. Paul is the pick of any Asian type of restaurant you might be looking for. Along University Avenue you can pick from many regions, including Vietnamese, Cambodian and Korean.
Of course, its not limited to this area. Try Shuang Cheng in Dinkytown for the best Chinese, or Leann Chins in downtown St. Pauls Union Depot.

Further down Snelling there is another Famous Daves BBQ plus Greek, Mediterranean, and Korean choices. Many of the basic chain restaurants are clustered around Rosedale Mall. For the health-conscious diner, try The Good Earth, near Rosedale on the frontage road. You won't be able to decide what to order?it all sounds so good, and is so good for you!

In downtown St. Paul, if you need a good place for a business lunch or dinner, try Christos Greek Restaurant in the Union Depot, Kincaids Fish, Chop & Steak House, or Carousel atop the Radisson Hotel St. Paul. You can always grab a quick bite in one of the skyway lunch shops or a burger in one of the pubs. Cossettas on West Seventh will be your choice for great pizza or any one of their other great Italian deli treats.

Downtown Minneapolis business diners can't go wrong at Mannys Steakhouse, Sawatdee Thai Restaurant, or with a little drama at Ichiban Steakhouse. Sample Scandinavian fare in elegance at Aquavit. For those without an expense account, the Old Spaghetti Factory offers an excellent menu amid Victorian surroundings. A little closer to Daytons, D?Amico, Brothers Deli and the Loon Café are lunch favorites. In a hurry? Try one of the many, many little lunch diners in the meandering Skyway System. For a great happy hour, join the crowd at Kierans Irish Pub, The Little Wagon, or Lyons Pub.

Perhaps the best area for satisfying the palate is Uptown. One of the newest and hippest places in this area is Chino Latino, hot zone food in a cosmopolitan atmosphere worthy of New York or L.A. Try Campaniello, noted for its Sunday brunch; Lucia has a constantly changing menu at its wine bar, Moghals for Indian fare, and Chiang Mai Thai has great food and service. Figlio is a stalwart of coolness, with a willingness to customize your order. Try Leaning Tower of Pizza for a great happy hour and pizza, and of course, Famous Daves with the EL going over and Blues bands nightly. Bar Abilene is something you should try if you think Tex-Mex is tacos and ground beef. The tamales are oh-so-good!

For an elegant night out, try a dinner at one of the posh restaurants in one of the Victorian mansions around town. Forepaughs will take you back to a gentler time and not disappoint with its French cuisine, and the Vintage offers a great wine selection and American/Italian fare. For a more contemporary flair, Sophia is a slow-dance haven serving an American menu with a regional flair, and Goodfellows is a beautiful setting for a special occasion. Club Ashe in the Warehouse District is a first-rate wine and cigar club with a lounge atmosphere.

Nordeast is an underrated area for great food. Don't miss Jax Café, which is really more the quintessential supper club, with surf and turf and excellent service in a refined atmosphere. This area is known for its eastern European food offerings, as many of those immigrants set up shop on this side of town. Mayslacks Polka Lounge serves a legendary one-pound hot roast beef sandwich.

Drinking

Minnesota is known also as The Land of Sky Blue Waters, and this was not lost on the beer-brewing industry. The area has been home to many large-scale breweries over the years, including Strohs, Hamms, Grain Belt Beer, Landmark, and Schmidt. Many joints around town brew their own. Try Rock Bottom Brewery in Minneapolis or get the brew sampler at O?Garas Bar and Grille in St. Paul. If theres no house brew, you are sure to be able to find regional specialties offered on tap.

The prevalence of pubs in recent years has not missed the area either. The Dubliner is located in a neighborhood that used to cater to truckers and blue-collar workers. Now it offers live Irish music most nights. Swish a Guinness while you watch the Irish dancers practice in the afternoon. Happy hour is shoulder to shoulder. Brits Pub brings England to Minneapolis, complete with a bowling green on the roof.

Of course, anywhere around the colleges or universities will be a party waiting to happen. The area called Seven Corners near the West Bank is often jumping, and the Warehouse District in Minneapolis is another favorite. The fact is, most bars serve good food, and its hard to separate the two.

The suburbs all hold their own little secrets, and in the surrounding areas further out there are many fantastic places waiting to be discovered. With the influence early on of the Germans and Scandinavians and later of the Mexicans, Indians, and Asians, along with a little Middle Eastern flair, its a dining bonanza. Anyone looking for food in the Twin Cities need not look too far. Whether its a little mom-and-pop joint, swank elegance, or the influences of an international population, the fare is sure to please.

L. A. Smith