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Feb 5, 2004 11:42 PM

rochester minnesota eats?

  • j

My daughter and I will be spendinga week in Rochester, Minnesota. I haven't been there in 30 years and I imagine the dining scene has changed quite a bit. Can anyone recommend great places to eat?I am particularly interested in anything outside the usual chain eatery offerings. Thai suggestions especially welcomed.

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  1. Oh, Rochester. It's pretty much only full of chains. I think we have like 4 Perkins now. For a city of roughly 80,000-100,000, the offerings are disappointing.

    I post this message to encourage you to ignore much of what will probably be posted after this. MANY people in Rochester (and this general area of the state) have never eaten outside the region, let alone the city. I, on the other hand, have lived in NYC (Manhattan) and other major East Coast dining centers most of my life so I come to this topic with a somewhat different perspective having now been in Rochester 4 years. My girlfriend is from Chicago and has traveled and eaten around the world in some of the best restaurants. That said...

    Highly Recommended:
    - Daube's Bakery/Jasper's Alscasan Bistro: Rochester's unique gems. The former is an excellent bakery, the later a small and delicious bistro on 3rd. Both are owned by the same group, and both are very reasonably priced. If I could recommend only one place to visitors, it would be Jasper's.

    - Broadstreet Cafe: American cuisine. Very expensive, but excellent food that can hold its own with any restaurant in any city. Mouth watering walleye. Arguably Rochester's best food. Reservations recommended.

    - Redwood Room: Broadstreet's cheaper cousin in the basement of the same building, it's almost as good for 1/3rd the cost. They don't take reservations and they get busy Fri, Sat nights. Often have live music!

    - Sanus Bosnian Cafe: A little out of the city on South Broadway near Wal-mart, this is a gem. I don't know what "real" Bosnian food is, but this cafe serves delicious and cheap food in a really nice, friendly, modern atmosphere with a gas fireplace. I really hope it survives!

    - Seventh Rib: This great, authentically lumberjack steakhouse is about 1/2 hr South of Rochester after you go through Stewartville on 63 South (Racine). The best steak I've had since leaving Manhattan (although long timers say it's declined a bit).

    - City Cafe: American cuisine. A newly redone restaurant downtown with a really slick, large urban sheen. A great space to sit down and eat. However, the food is merely OK, with the seafood/fish dishes hurting in particular. Terrific appetizers and bread. The price is somewhat up there too. There is a neighboring, related "City Market" that has lunch (no sitdown space, however)

    - Pho Hoa: A decent new Vietnamese off 37th street. If your area has good Vietnamese, there's no reason to go here. If not, try the pho (noodle soup). Also the rice stick noodles are good. Avoid the clay pots.

    - Cafe Roma: Rochester's best Italian. A basic, spaghetti and meatballs place that doesn't pretend to be any more than it is. Solid, traditional Italian. Don't let the building scare you (an old, dowdy former family restaurant).

    - Pannekoeken: A Dutch casual diner, it is Rochester's best breakfast place and has good lunches. One of the few places left with a good sized, fresh salad bar.

    - Newt's: A solid burger and beer joint.

    - The Hangar: Right near the airport, a new sports bar meets diner. Another beer and burger place. Prices are slightly on the higher end for what they do.

    Avoid at all costs:

    - Almost everything advertised to clinic patients except what's listed above.

    - All Chinese and Asian, especially Wong's Cafe: You'll see a million advertisements for Wong's Cafe aimed at Clinic patients, but it is quite possibly the worst restaurant I've *ever* been to, without exaggeration. How they make all their food brownish green, I have no idea. Most Rochesterians like this place and the other equally bad local Asian because it's all they've ever had. My girlfriend's father asked the owner why it was so bad, and they said they just basically serve what city residents want/expect.

    - Zorbas: You guessed it. Greek!. Mediocre and greatly overpriced Greek in a decaying, old fast food restaurant. Its the only Greek many in Rochester have ever had, so they recommend it. Stay away...

    - Victoria's: Italian aimed at clinic patients. Let's put it this way, when I take home dishes, after several hours in the fridge, they are caked and covered with congealed oils and fats. Enough said... No other Italian of note is here except the above Cafe Roma. I grew up in an area of NY of Italian expatriates, and they'd be embarrassed by this stuff. An employee of the clinic from Italy laughed when asked what he thought of Victoria's.

    - All Indian: India Garden is actually passable, but it's also grossly overpriced, at double what I used to pay for top notch Indian in NYC. Actual people of Indian heritage that I know say it's really Pakistani or "other" SE Asian, not really Indian (they know the chef). Natraj has been quite poor in my experience, although others says "its getting much better."

    - Michael's: Hugely advertises to clinic patients. This large American restaurant has great service, but very, very mediocre food at high prices. Quite possibly the worst steak I've ever had in an "upscale" restaurant.

    - All chain steak houses: Even by chain standards, just terrible.

    - The new Japanese Steak House: This ridiculous Benihana's knockoff should be avoided at all costs. Their juggling chefs serve tiny amounts of tasteless Asian inspired food in communal settings while blond, blue eyed waitresses waddle around in kimonos. Cheapest entree? $18. Tops out at about $40.

    - Mac's Diner: Near the entrance to the Galleria and ready to capitalize on visiting patients, this otherwise acceptable Greek diner is just way, way overpriced to the point of offensiveness. Again, it lives off visiting patients. If you want a really good breakfast, go to Pannekoeken.

    - All pizza.

    - All Mexican/Tex Mex: Specifically Dos Amigos and Fiesta Cafe. The rest aren't any better.

    - Hubbell House: In nearby Mantorville, it's really mediocre food at greatly inflated prices.

    Places I can't comment on:
    - Sabastians: I've never been there. I've never met anyone who really likes it, and it seems way overpriced. Another Michael's... A hotel restaurant for visitors.

    - Chardonnay: The only French. It's in a beautiful Victorian house on 2nd street. I don't really like French cuisine, so I've never been there. My girlfriend and many others I know really disliked it and felt it was (guess what) overpriced, but others I've talked to find it acceptable. Most usually only go if someone else is picking up the tab...

    MIA in Rochester:
    - We have no Thai (the one place closed), sushi, NY style deli, tapas.

    Whew! That's it. Whatever your eventual decision, lower your expectations and open your wallet. Honestly, when my girlfriend and I want a good meal, we drive up to the Twin Cities. There's just so much that's so good there, it's worth the drive. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have!

    Rochester, MN
    (nope, nothing to eat down here)

    37 Replies
    1. re: Garris

      Garris: great stuff.

      When I'm [back] in town, I also like to hit John Hardy's BBQ. Great shredded pork. Skip the ribs.

      I used to like Cheap Charlies back when in high school. Greasy spoon dive of a place off Broadway downtown. Standard diner stuff. Hardly a destination, but fun if that's your thing.


      1. re: edinapimp

        I forgot about John Hardy's. Apparently, I've heard it was better in its previous location (say old-timers). The shack it's in right now, in an industrial area, feels like it would go flying away with the slightest gust of wind. Decent grub, though.


        1. re: Garris
          joie de vivre

          Garris-- My daughter and I thank you from the bottom of our chowhound hearts. Thanks for making the effort to rule out the bad and mediocre. That's as helpful as identifying the good places. It won't be so bad being stuck in the clinic and a hotel for a week with some decent eats to look forward to!

        2. re: edinapimp

          Garris has pretty much said what's to be said about food in Rochester, and why the said state of affairs exists. It's a 'houses and spouses' kind of town where, not only do people not know better food, but they actively dislike it.

          I've got to put in a plug for John Hardy's and Cheap Charlies. I'm from Texas, where we take barbeque seriously. John Hardy's is quite good, especially the shredded pork, and is one of the only places in town where spicy means spicy.

          Cheap Charlie's is one of my favorite places to go for breakfast. The food is standard diner fare, nothing special, but the fact it's not chain fare is special in Rochester. The service is surly at best, which is comforting to anyone fed up with the local obsequiousness. A good spot for a bottomless cup of coffe and an omlette with the other non-church goers on a Sunday morning.

          Although the restaurant offerings here suck, if you like to cook, there are great ingredients available. In the spring/summer/fall, the local farmer's market and community sponsored agriculture are sources for outstanding fresh fruits and vegetables. There are nearby farms that produce excellent meats, too - there's a place that raises Scottish highland cattle that make the best steaks I've ever had.


          1. re: AB

            "Spouses and houses." Very good... An excellent description. Your observation that people, if they even know better food, don't like it is dead on. I think of one co-worker, an M.D. from the Minnesota/Iowa area, who wanted a recommendation on "really good" Chinese food in the cities. I told him about Mandarin Kitchen, Yummy, etc. and he actually went. He came back saying, however, how much he "hated" those places because of the "odd" menu items and "foreign" flavors... Amazing. Another M.D. here from Northern Minnesota proudly lists Olive Garden and P.F. Changs as "the best restaurants I've ever gone to." Draw your own conclusions from there.

            - Garris

            PS: Went again recently to Sanus Bosnian Cafe. It looks like they've hiked the prices a little, but that's OK if it helps guarantee their survival (there were actually other people there this last time!). Everything we had there, again, was excellent and tasted very fresh, especially the tomato soup, which was the best I've had in some time.

            1. re: Garris
              joie de vivre

              Hope Garris caught my posting (2/28) re: our experience of his recommendation: I should have titled it "All Hail Garris!" That said, I returned from Rochester newly aware of the healing power of a good meal. That magic is just not mobilized by hotel or chain chow. And it is a key ingredient in the therapeutic atmosphere of a place, as much as the new marble and fountains in the Gonda Building. Think about it, chowhounds. . . I welcome your comments.
              Also: couldn't find Sanus Bosnian in phone book. Where is it? Thanks.

              1. re: joie de vivre

                Sanus is at 2550 South Broadway by Kohls. Very nice place.

              2. re: Garris
                joie de vivre

                Hope Garris caught my posting (2/28) re: our experience of his recommendation: I should have titled it "All Hail Garris!" That said, I returned from Rochester newly aware of the healing power of a good meal. That magic is just not mobilized by hotel or chain chow. And it is a key ingredient in the therapeutic atmosphere of a place, as much as the new marble and fountains in the Gonda Building. Think about it, chowhounds. . . I welcome your comments.
                Also: couldn't find Sanus Bosnian in phone book. Where is it? Thanks.

          2. re: Garris


            Can you describe some of the food at Sanus Bosnian Cafe? Would it be worth driving there from the Twin Cities?


            1. re: shoo-bee-doo

              Sanus' menu is meat and pita based, with a lot of combinations on this theme and some kabobs, if I recall. It's more of a cafe, so they also have multiple types of coffees and multiple Eastern European pastries, muffins, etc. We unfortunately had a different decent Bosnian bakery place close (it had a terrible location in a part of town away from much of the immigrant population).

              I don't think it (or anything in Rochester) is worth coming down from the cities to try. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, that's another story. But as a planned destination? No way...

              Rochester, MN
              (nope, nothing to eat down here)

              1. re: Garris

                Do you remember if they had anything with the following names?

                o Burek
                o Cevapcici
                o Pleskavica
                o Cremeschnitte

                1. re: shoo-bee-doo

                  The do have cevapcici, but I haven't tried it. Their burek hides in the "pita" section of the menu, but is burek all the same. It's in a more doughy and less flaky pastry than the bureks I've had in Serbia - I'm not sure if this is inauthentic, or simply regional variation. I was very pleased with my meal there, and enjoyed the ambiance as well. They've retained the fireplace and cozy seating of the coffee house the preceeded it. Desserts were excellent - not may places (especially around here) can pull off a good tirimisu. Highly recommended - I'll be heading back frequently.

                  1. re: AB

                    Thanks. Some beautiful spring day, I might just drive there to try it all out.

            2. re: Garris

              Sad but true, Garris. Rochester is a pathetic place for chowhounds. My mom has been going to Mayo for three years now for a successful lung transplant, and we (my entire family) are completely baffled by the non-existence of good restaurants. After many mini-interviews of hospital staff members, they all seemed to think it is because most of the hospital staff members (with $$ to dine out a lot) work so much that all they want to do when they get done with work is go home and relax???? I do know a lot of people in Rochester choose to drive to Pepin to Harbor View (the halibut with the black butter caper sauce is amazing!) or to Red Wing to Staghead for the pork tenderloin or sirloin with gorg. gravy--they actually do nice things with fish, as well. BTW, when you rate Broadstreet's food as "excellent", I am presuming you are referring to Rochester's standards and not NYC. I've spent a lot of glorious time dining out in NYC and I've eaten at Broadstreet numerous, numerous times, because it IS one of the only decent places in Rochester to eat, and have decided it is just okay as far as upscale dining is concerned. I do love the vibe of the Redwood Room, though, and it is much more reasonable for similar food. Also love Daube's, as well; the owners do a nice job. Will have to check out the bistro downtown, though, was unaware of it. Thanks for the rec...

              1. re: CIGI

                First, on the food issues, you're quite correct that Broadstreet is excellent by *Rochester* standards but probably wouldn't make it in NYC, let alone Minneapolis. Better put, it's one of the 2 or 3 places in town I wouldn't be embarrassed to take out-of-town friends or family. I took a relative from Scottsdale, AZ (a good restaurant town) there who really enjoyed it. I think in last year's Rochester Magazine "Best of Rochester," the number two place listed to take people from out of town was, "Out of town." Next time you're in our little city, definately go to Jasper's!

                Second, there are many theories why Rochester is a terrible restaurant town for its size. My explanation is that it's populated mostly by people from small town Minnesota who deeply wish Rochester was more like their hometown of 5,000 rather than the city of 100,000 that it is. Thus, most Rochestarians aspire for the metro to be *less* than it in all regards. If I hear another complaint by residents about how Rochester is too "big," too "noisy," too "diverse," or how it's too much trouble to go into downtown (seriously!!) I'm going to scream. The city has a long history of shooting down most urban development projects that could bring any hint of excitement here.

                A food example: I heard three nurses I know (who live in Pine Island, Rochester, and Orinoco respectively) talking about Noodles Inc. (a barely passable and overpriced midwestern pan-asian noodles chain). It had just opened here and they were complaining about how "fancy" and "trendy" it was and how the food was "too strongly flavored." Seriously!! This place is a step above Wendy's and maybe, just maybe, looks down on Subway. I was shocked and asked them what their dream meal was. With wistful looks on their faces, what was their answer? Applebee's. *That's* why nothing of note ever opens or survives here.

                A prominent Rochester civic leader I took care of in the hospital (I'm an M.D.) had the following explanation: Rochester, essentially, is a 100% middle class city without any "idle wealth class" (her words) to do visionary philanthropy or throw around much "idle time or idle money" (her words too). That leaves Rochester with two populations. The larger of the two is an older population who are IBM programmers and Mayo docs/nurses/techs/researchers who plow their income into their mortgages, kids, and church. The second, smaller population is made up of younger couples and singles (who are students and medical residents). This age group normally drives the development of hip, progressive restaurants and gourmet markets in most cities, but because of the nature of medical training, this demographic in Rochester doesn't have the time (100 hour work weeks for medial residents) or disposable income (medical residents average about $35,000 a year) to do so. There's also no real University or "college culture" in Rochester. What's the result? A dead city...

                Things have been improving recently. The local Tex Mex places, despite not being very good, have seemingly been successful and the opening of the terrible Japanese Steakhouse, the good Bosnian cafe, and the solid Cafe Roma suggests people are willing to take chances some minimal chances, at least. The rumor mill also says we might get a new Thai place by someone who knows the business, filling a big gap in our offerings right now.

                Rochester, MN
                (nope, nothing to eat down here)

                1. re: Garris

                  Thanks so much for all of your posts. I spent alot of time in Rochester last year and couldn't believe how terrible the food is. People from all over the world visit for both their own health and medical training. Your explanation makes sense.

                  I wish I'd had your post last year. The best we found was some duck-named restaurant. My husband and I still laugh about Victoria's--worst service we've ever had and really bad food.

                  1. re: Lisa

                    That "duck-named" restaurant is the Canadian Honker. The food is truly terrible but they make a decent cocktail. Thanks to Garris for all of the great comments. I've been going to RST for 35 yrs (from Los Angeles). I can say, without hesitation, that the food has been consistently terrible (although, Michael's used to be okay in the 1970's), when it was the "fancy" restaurant in town. Today I went to the Santa Monica Farmer's market and bought such lovely greens and fruit. Wish I could bring them with me tomorrow for latest visit.

                  2. re: Garris

                    Makes sense. What a sad situation for us chowhounds spending a lot of time in Rochester...

                    1. re: Garris

                      Sorry to join this conversation so late, but it looks as though Garris has offered up just about everything there is to say about Rochester, and I concur with everything he and CIGI have said. I recently moved to a small town near Rochester from near MSP (and before that Portland, OR) and we have been consistently disappointed. My wife and I went to the Redwood Room just last Saturday, and we were not impressed at all with our food. The service, room, and live music were all nice, though, and the description of it as "a place [you] would not be embarrassed to take out-of-towners" is accurate and fair. Your insight as to "why Rochester is the way it is" was also insightful, though exactly what my wife and I had speculated (she is a PA-C). I grew up in a midwestern prairie town where it was believed that dinner at Red Lobster in Sioux Falls was THE high-falutin' affair...I know that mindset all too well.

                      Just last week I was reading a reader's poll (yes, I know all of the caveats about reader's polls, so everyone can save me their advice) issue of Rochester Magazine, and there was a paragraph about a woman who had won a drawing for a free meal (or something) from the magazine. She narrowed it down to the Redwood Room and...Olive Garden. Guess which one she took.

                      And asked what restaurant the city needs---a resounding vote came in for the one chain we don't have but apparently really need---Chili's.

                      Anywho...Now that I got that off my chest, I will say that I have developed an affection for Pho Hoa, though I know my standards have dropped, especially since Portland.

                      Also, I don't know that anyone has mentioned Roscoe's. As far as barbecue goes, we definitely like this place. Minnesota, of course, doesn't have a regional barbecue style to about which to boast. Many barbecue joints have a bit of a dingy, yeeee-haw kind of edge to them (and often this is part of their charm). However, it has also been my experience that consistency (or quality, for that matter) is not necessarily a strength of barbecue joints, particularly when it comes to their sides. At Roscoe's, you don't get tons of quirky personality. Your server will likely be a teenage, Midwestern, caucasian girl. But you will get quality, tender, consistent smoked fare. We have had the pulled pork, the ribs, and the chicken, and all have been very good. Haven't been to John Hardy's...[comments?].

                      Hope your mother is well, CIGI.



                      1. re: Clifford

                        Yes, my mother is well. Thank you, Clifford????


                        1. re: Clifford


                          What was so good to you about the dining in Portland? I was there for 9 years before moving to Rochester and the only advantage Portland had in my opinion was the number and variety of restaurants.

                          The food in Portland was extremely expensive. In my opnion, restaurants in Portland spent more time trying to exotically decorate your plate instead of providing you with an excellent meal. Only a few restaurants there ever gave me a feeling of being welcomed as a customer and even less seemed to take pride in their menu and service.

                          Now quite possibly the "cosmos" on this thread will disagree with me which is fine. All I've really read from them so far is that they generally dislike that Rochester is not a large metropolis. Their references often drift away from the food and talk about the size of the city and it being in the middle of nowhere.(cornfields, farm animals, etc.)This to me shows signs of someone that just isn't happy living in Rochester and they are missing the big city life. They also don't like places that they think cater to the Mayo. Again this sounds like a personal issue to me and not a food related issue. They most likely don't like the shopping, the arts, etc. as well in Rochester.

                          Anyhow, back to the food. There is no better place in my opinion west of the Mississippi than Victorias in Rochester. The atmosphere is very warm, the service is exceptional, and the food in my experiences has always been spectacular. Those 3 simple things are what I look for in any restaurant. How much more complicated does it need to get anyhow?



                          1. re: Ken


                            From the intonation of your post, I'm sorry to hear that you seem solely to believe my problem is with Rochester and not it's food. The reality is far, far more complex and nuanced. A city and its food are often linked at the hip. Low cultural expectations and low culinary expectations tend to go hand-in-hand. And my rants about the lack of acceptable food options we have here have absolutely nothing to do with my not thinking Rochester is a big enough city. I grew up in a tiny, rural town of about 5,000 people in upstate NY in a metro region of about 15,000, and the dining options there were far more numerous and of higher quality than what the 100,000 person Rochester area offers. The same is true of the cities of 70,000 and 150,000 I've lived and worked in before. Rochester *underachieves* for its considerable size and importance in this region. It's not missing "big city life," which Rochester offers to a considerable degree, it's missing good food...

                            Regarding Victoria's, you are welcome to your opinion, but almost every individual I've ever met in the city would argue the opposite with you until they were blue in the face. As I said, I give Victoria's credit for trying and I do often attend their decent value lunch buffet, but I just don't find what they do very good, and its far from what the Italians (i.e. people recently arrived from Italy) and many Italian Americans claim is "authentic."

                            I've been out this week to Jasper's, Daube's, and Sanus and all were wonderful meals. I'm happy and thrilled to support good Rochester area dining where is exists, but I won't pretend that the overwhelming sea of mediocrity here is anything else but that.

                            - Garris

                            PS#1: My friends in Portland would strongly disagree with your opinion of Portland dining. Every meal they've taken me to I've enjoyed completely.

                            PS#2: It's "Mayo," not "the Mayo."

                            1. re: Garris

                              Being a Rochester native, I have to agree with all of the negative comments I have read concerning dining in Rochester. Rochester has no real culture per say. It's just a middle class city stuck in the southern Minnesota prairie. If it was on the river like LaCrosse someone might try starting a good seafood restaurant. River, ocean, as long as it's near the water, we would think it trendy. Food here is meant to be roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans. That's it, always has, always will be, until most of us locals are dead or retired and moved away! Head to St. Paul, more great places to eat on Grand Avenue then all of Rochester.

                              P.S. Put a Chuckie Cheeses in the vacant theatre section of the Galleria and downtown Rochester will be rockin until maybe 9:00 P.M. on a Saturday night! The city didn't need to pay some guy from Denver to determine whats needed to revitilize downtown. Us 30 and 40 some year old parents all know that for crying out loud. Sad but true.

                              1. re: Garris

                                Garris and Ken,

                                I didn't realize this string had I often do, I am responding late.

                                First of all, Garris, I believe you meant to direct your commentary at Ken, not me. I didn't call it "the Mayo." I didn't praise Victoria's. I love Portland's dining scene.

                                As to that last item...

                                Ken, do you not consider the "number and variety of restaurants" in a city/area to be a significant factor in the quality of the dining scene? (I would venture to say it may be the most important thing or at least a valuable indicator.) I have no clue what restaurants you visited during nine years in Portland where you could never feel welcomed as a customer once. As to the food in Portland being "expensive." I don't know what to say. There are expensive reastaurants and cheap restaurants everywhere. I don't believe there is an overriding market condition in Portland where comparable meals cost more than in other cities.


                                1. re: Clifford


                                  You're quite correct, and I apologize. I mis-aimed my comments. As for cities and their restaurants, I read a great comment by a restaurant owner recently that said (paraphrasing), "Restaurants are a reflection of how a city's culture views itself." If a city thinks of itself as diverse, exciting, and interesting, its cities tend to reflect this. If a city thinks of itself as a bland, culture-less suburban wanna-be, it tends to offer only banal national chains and low-aiming local efforts (i.e. Rochester).

                                  While being a larger city tends to help, I don't think population has anything to do with it. For example, the quirky, interesting Hudson River community of Cold Spring-on-Hudson, near where I grew up in New York, has a population of about 6,000 but more and higher quality eateries than Rochester, MN, population of 100,000. Same goes for Red Bank, NJ, population of 12,000. That Monmouth County community has more entertainment options and restaurants than Rochester ever will.

                                  Here in Rochester, we have a dying downtown Galleria Mall (yet another city's failed attempt to "draw people back to visit downtown" rather than to create downtown mixed use neighborhoods where people would want to live... Rochester's downtown is clinic buildings, parking lots, and churches...). In any event, I know someone who, not jokingly, suggested that the best way to revitalize the galleria is to put a Chuck-E-Cheese in it. As he put it, "if they do that, that mall will be rockin' all day and night." That, my friends, is how Rochester views itself. Do that, and throw in a Chili's for good measure (Rochester's most desired restaurant that we don't have according to a local poll!), and the galleria would be stylin'!

                                  - Garris
                                  Rochester, MN (soon to be Providence, RI)

                                  PS: Speaking of cultural reflections in Restaurants, I find it fascinating that while Minneapolis has every subgroup of Asian restaurant you could ever think of, my future home city of Providence, RI only has *combo* asian restaurants. Every place is named, like, "Five Star Asian" and serves Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Japanese, and Korean. Interesting, huh? Apparently, singular Asian restaurants don't do well there, and the Providence area is a very solid restaurant city otherwise. I wonder why?

                                2. re: Garris

                                  Garris - I couldn't agree with you more. My musings on food, sidewalks, and Rochester follow.

                                  Upon coming to Rochester (from Texas via Boston), I frankly thought it would be a rather big town - it's about the size of Charleston, SC or Baltimore. So pining for the swing of big-city life is not what drives complaints about Rochester cuisine, or lack thereof.

                                  My hometown is Fredericksburg, Texas, population 10,000. Fredericksburg is home to a plethora of fantastic restaurants, from breakfast taco stands and burger joints to world-class fine dining restaurants with thoughtful, nuanced chefs. All fueled by a hungry, thirsty population 1/8th the size of Rochester's.

                                  Indeed food is not a seperate issue from the greater culture of a town, but rather is one part of an expression of the way that a town's population chooses to live. My tiny town in Texas is a place with streets that are alive from 5am when the many bakeries open, through the day when the sidewalks are busy with business traffic and shoppers. By evening, the bars, ice cream parlors, and cafes have full sidewalk tables with people eating, drinking, and greeting one another. It is a culture where people care about what they eat and consider eating, drinking, and strolling around an integral part of the social fabric.

                                  Food in Rochester lacks a sense of pride, place, and nuance. Sauces are over-sweet, and even the better restaurants such as Redwood Room and Broadstreet toss ingredients together in a careless imitation of fusion that lacks attention to balence. Likewise, restaurants lack a sense of place. Except for Jaspers and City Cafe, most restaurants are or could be in any strip mall space in the city. The sidewalks are quiet except on the Mayo campus during weekdays, and 8:30 is indeed a late dinner. People socialize in church and other non-public arenas, and there is no tradition of wandering down the street to the ice cream parlor of an evening, or spending an afternoon drinking beer at a sidewalk cafe and observing the passers-by.

                                  Food is not something that is relished here. The food that is popular is the culinary equivalent of a cheap thrill. Thus the over-sweet sauces at Broadstreet, the over-salty pizzas at Redwood Room featuring items that were trendy ten years ago, the over-fatty cutlets at Victoria's, or the huge but otherwise undistingished steaks at the 7th Rib. There is not a sense of nuance, of balence, of taking the time to enjoy food. There is no tradition of two friends spending an afternoon wandering from bakery to bakery comparing apple strudels.

                                  Within 50 miles of Rochester, there are wonderful organic vegetables, dairies, lamb and pork farms, and morel mushrooms. The best steaks I've ever had are from a farm in Pine Island. Why is there not a local chef with a restaurant that showcases these foods in a setting relevant to its place? The answer is that people would not go. Rochester locals would rather go to Olive Garden. The restaurant would go broke.

                                  What drives complaints about Rochester and its dismal cuisine is lack of place. It's not a snobbery that big cities are inherently better, nor is it necessarily a nostalgia for the ethnic diversity that fuels a chowhound's adventurous appetite. What drives complaints is the town's choice to create an absence of a sense of place, absence of a sense of pride in the town's culinary offerings, and absence of a sense of nuance that one strudel may be better than another.

                              2. re: Clifford

                                Roscoe's is GREAT! Did you know...Roscoes won the cleveland's rib cook off?

                                1. re: Clifford

                                  Roscoe's is GREAT! Did you know...Roscoes won the cleveland's rib cook off?

                                2. re: Garris

                                  Where is cafe roma? I tried to find it again a few weeks ago, and it seems to have disappeared. Anyone know where it's gone?

                              3. re: Garris

                                oh my. i'm so glad you posted this. i have to make a trip to rochester in june and i was hoping to find info on good places to eat. now i have a list of places to avoid - just as important in my book.

                                thanks again!

                                1. re: Garris
                                  Robert Woosely

                                  I highly reccommend you visit Victoria's again to reconsider your comments. I'm from Chicago, and I can honestly say it's the best Italian I've ever had. Everything is cooked COMPLETELY from scratch. And the atmosphere is very inviting. Cafe Roma tastes like tomato paste from a can. In fact, much of what I ate did not taste as fresh as Victoria's. Most everyone I know feels the same.
                                  I've been to 4 dinner parties there already. Mostly rehearsal dinners and Christmas parties.

                                  1. re: Garris

                                    Victoria's Italian Restaurant has hands-down the most amazing flavor and freshness I've ever tasted in Italian food. I love the atmosphere--One minute you feel like you're in San Marcos Square, and the next like you're in a Renaissance Art gallery-the artwork is amazing (I'm an artist so I appreciate genuine and true works of art.) The Pollo Portabella is to die for. I noticed someone posted they didn't like Victoria's--I think its because they may have ordered the wrong thing. I do think the menu is too big, they should focus more on their exotic entrees like the Carpaccio di Manzo, Fettuccini del Nonna, and Pollo Bianco. Their international wine list is impressive, as well.
                                    My other favorite restaurant is the Redwood Room. Really cozy and quaint. The food is good as well. We need more restaurants like these two in the downtown area.

                                    1. re: Lissa Lynn


                                      Everyone's opinions are their own and people's tastes are their own, but I have a hard time imagining how anyone with any significant culinary exposure could feel Victorias is as good as Italian food gets. Do you really think this restaurant in the middle of Southeastern MN has the most "amazing flavor and freshness" you've ever had in Italian food? Do you work for them or know the owner? It sure sounds that way. Have you been to the Twin Cities better Italian restaurants? Have you even eaten in Boston's North End, Providence's Federal Hill, NYC, or D.C.'s excellent and storied Italian restaurants? Have you been to Italy? And, "One minute you feel like you're in San Marcos Square, and the next like you're in a Renaissance Art Gallery." Do you really feel these emotions in that little corner of the run down Kahler Hotel? Ok...

                                      Listen, I know that there are many Rochester residents who are fairly proud that our little medical city in the cornfields has the degree of civilization that it does, and in a sense, it is remarkable there is anything out here at all when, by all rights, there probably should be nothing but birds and cattle. I at least give Victoria's some credit for trying, but our metro area is really, really hurting foodwise from every perspective one can imagine.

                                      I think the recent Rochester Magazine said it all when the reader who won their "Best of Rochester" promotional contest, when given a choice using her winnings at Redwood Room or Olive Garden, proudly chose the Olive Garden.

                                      - Garris

                                      1. re: Lissa Lynn

                                        Since this thread was resurrected, I'd like to point out that this person does not appear to have ever been to Piazza San Marco otherwise they might have known that Florian and the other caffe's there serve little else other than croissants and espresso's. Or perhaps this place serves croissants for dinner. Attached is a photo of my wife "eating" in St Mark's Square.

                                      2. re: Garris

                                        Thanks. You're right about Jasper's; it's like home-cooked food + talent. I had a pork chop with potatoes, which I could have grilled myself except for the delicious mustard glaze on it. The bread and carrot cake were incredible. Those Daubes (the owners) really want to fatten you up.

                                        -- airfoyle (from New Haven, CT, but here for the Cure like most visitors)

                                        1. re: Garris

                                          Garris is dead on with his ratings. I grew up in NYC and went to College in L.A. so I've definately had some knowledge of what good food is.

                                          Regarding Italian food, a small Italian store named Sopra Sotto (located in the Galleria which has been renamed The Shops at University Square) offer's cooking classes about three times a month and they are FABULOUS! I went to one class with one of my friends, skeptical of how "Italian" it would be, and had my socks knocked off!

                                          A real Italian chef (ours was from Sardinia, has written several cookbooks for Betty Crocker, and owns a catering business in Minneapolis) prepares a three-to-four course meal right before your eyes! The setting is very cozy, like sitting in someone's gourmet kitchen. It's set up Benihana-style where the "student's" (usually about 10) sit around the counter while the chef prepares the food in front of you, all the while showing you how to make it and telling you little known facts about cooking.

                                          You are served a white and red wine with the meal (as much as you want) and the food portions are perfectly sized, not too small. The price runs about $60 a person, but definitely worth it considering how much you would pay for all of the food and wine at another decent restaurant. check it out! the e-mail address is and the cooking class schedule is under "store".

                                          1. re: CLofgr075

                                            CLofgr075, it would be great if you would copy your post into its own thread. This one is almost 4 years old (Garris moved to Providence, RI a couple years back).

                                            Folks in/around Rochester would, I'm sure, love to take advantage of your info and might not find it buried here. Thanks for posting it.

                                        2. Rochester does not have much for great restaurants, however there are a few worthy of note which will keep your mind intrigued and your tummy well-fed.
                                          Here are my recommendations:

                                          Victoria's Italian: This place feels like it goes on forever, like you stepped into a museum. There are 4 different rooms, each of a different Italian theme. Beautiful and vibrant hand-painted Italian murals cover the walls(I hear they were done by a local artist). Cozy candle-lit booths, exposed brick, cobblestone floors, and famous paintings such as "The Birth of Venus" all make for an inviting atmosphere. The food is also worthy of your visit. Everything is made from scratch and made to order. Stick to the items marked "Victoria's Favorite" as I have never been disappointed with these--generous portions and the best Seafood Antipasto Salad I've ever had. They also have a great wine list--over 75 different kinds to choose from.
                                          *Note: This bustling restaurant is a popular one, so get there early if you go on Friday or Saturday night as they only take reservations for 8 or more

                                          The Redwood Room:
                                          This cozy, quaint restaurant is underneath the Broadstreet Cafe which is owned by the same people. It's fairly small, however, it keeps the atmosphere low-key. Live music makes for interesting conversation as anything from jazz to classical to New Age is performed. The food is good, however not quite up with Victoria's. I personally like the pizza best.

                                          City Cafe:
                                          Only been there once as it is fairly new. It's a little more hip than the others I mentioned. The food was very good, and creatively presented.

                                          Broadstreet: Highpriced but worth it. Much of the same type food as Redwood room, with a slightly classier atmosphere. Great salads.

                                          These are the only restaurants I feel are exceptional enough and ecclectic enough to mention. Everything else is either a chain, or is not worth mentioning. I'm origially from New York, but have lived in both Minneapolis, and Chicago before moving to Rochester. These four restaurants are the only ones up to par with the great restaurants in the above mentioned big cities. You'll see for yourself. Hope this helps!!!


                                          1. Although the original post is over 3 years old, I just returned from Rochester and had dinner at what I thought was an excellent restaurant, Sontes.

                                            Supposedly it is Spanish tapas. However, the food didn't seem particularly Spanish to me. They serve small plates of very tasty food and have a good wine and beer list. It is very reasonable for the quality of the food.


                                            1. I agree with you mostly, but disagree with you about the Hubbell House. They serve locally produced steaks, pork, chicken - all very good. The last time I ate there I had a platter of fried morel mushrooms that one of the employees had just hunted. Can't get any better than that. However, that is in Mantorville, not Rochester.

                                              I think part of the reason for the lack of good restaurants is that Rochester is a town of transients.