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Phoenix Hound travelling to Minneapolis


I have provided many recommendations for visitors to the Phoenix area on where to go for authentic Southwest cuisine. Now I am travelling to the Twin Cities and would like some good recommendations on places that will give me a real taste of the Minneapolis St. Paul regional cuisine. I don't mind high end places, but I also enjoy well executed family run businesses as well. I tend to shy away from chains, but if there was a regional one I shouldn't miss, great. As far as types of cuisine, I love them all. Looking forward to your suggestions.

Billy Bob

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  1. When will you be arriving and for how long will you be here?

    1. I will be flying in this Sunday night and leaving Thursday night.

      1. Tavern on Grand in St. Paul is good for Walleye. That's very regional. Lots of threads are here about all the great southeast Asian food and other ethnic food available as well. I know I've posted this before, but Nye's Polonaise can't be beat for a cocktail and an order of pierogis. It's an institution.

        1 Reply
        1. re: zataar


          Thanks for the recs. I don't think I have had Walleye before, I'll check into that. I have had pierogis, but probably not good authentic ones.

          Billy Bob

        2. Welcome! You’ll have many options, but here are some of my favorites. They tend to be pretty St. Paul biased and, except for the first two, pretty blue collarish...

          Heartland Café St. Paul is a higher end restaurant specializing in local ingredients. They offer 2 prix fixe menus in the restaurant, including one vegetarian (flora). You can also order a la carte in the restaurant as well as in the adjoining wine bar.

          Heartland 1806 St. Clair Ave. St. Paul 651-699-3536


          You’ll want reservations for the main dining room, I think, and I know the restaurant was/is temporarily closed while Lenny was working on getting Cue up and running (see below) –confirm before you count on it.

          The chef of Heartland, Lenny Russo, opened a new restaurant, Cue, and a related “café” called Level 5 in the new Guthrie theater. It’s brand new. I haven’t tried it, but I went by there this past weekend and it looks terrific. The setting is certainly fabulous. It looks like Cue has a bar, too. I didn’t ask, but it looks like it might be set up for solo diners.


          Also, the Mill City Museum (next to the Guthrie) is the ruin of an old flour mill that has been turned into a museum showcasing Minneapolis’s history as “flour capital of the world.” It’s a wonderful museum and certainly appropriate for any chowhound if you have time. Don’t forget to swing by the Betty Crocker kitchen to try the samples they bake from recipes in their old cookbooks. It's air conditioned, in case you're looking to escape the heat.


          While you’re in the Twin Cities, make sure to have some walleye and some wild rice. Both are very regional. I recommend the “Loon omelet” at Key’s Café for breakfast—it has wild rice in it. Multiple locations, but the address for my favorite one is in my profile. Make sure you order the hot caramel rolls at Key’s—most breakfast joints consider the caramel roll a standard menu item. People eat them hot, with a pat of butter on top.


          Dairy-ette drive in for the old timey drive-in experience (summer only). 1440 Minnehaha Ave E, St. Paul. I like the pizza burger and the hot Italian sandwich, though, the best hot Italian sandwich in St. Paul in my opinion is at DeGidio’s on West 7th Street (the place is a dark and a little worn.)


          Conny's Creamy Cone (1197 Dale Street N (at Maryland), St. Paul, 651-778-8164) for soft serve ice cream they mix in a rainbow’s array of flavors on the premises (summer only).

          For a jucy lucy (cheese stuffed burger), which was invented in Minneapolis (a couple of restaurants claim it), The Nook at Hamline and Randolph, in St. Paul.

          Recently renovated former Sears building, now the Midtown Global Market (Mpls--Lake St. @ Chicago) for a multi-cultural bazaar type experience.

          Twin Cities gas station convenience stores everywhere: Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls, which are made in St. Paul.


          Smoked lake (superior) trout, if you can find it. There was a vendor at the Minneapolis farmer’s market (between the Guthrie and Mill City Museum) on Saturday that was selling it, though, it was technically from Wisconsin.

          I mention “The Little Oven” in my profile—it’s a trippy place, where they serve all you can eat pasta. Pretty divy, but an authentic Minnesota "red sauce" experience, I think.


          7 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen


            Thanks for all of the great ideas. So many to choose from. The Heartland/Cue/Level 5 trifecta caught my eye as well as Key's and The Little Oven. Thanks again for taking the time to share you local knowledge with me.

            Billy Bob

            1. re: Billy Bob

              The neighborhood The Little Oven is in used to be the Italian neighborhood in St. Paul. It's undergone a huge amount of transition in the last couple of decades, but a few remnants of the old neighborhood remain. The chow isn't exceptional at The Little Oven, but it's a good example of a red sauce restaurant. The portions are enormous, and just when you think you can't eat any more, they ask if you'd like more.

              Often at Key's, they will bring out homemade rhubarb jelly for your toast. Rhubarb only grows where the ground freezes, so you probably don't get it in Phoenix.

              Anne mentions Al's for breakfast in her post--it's a winner of the James Beard "American Classics" award.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                TDQ...just a quick note for the historical archive...I'm not sure the neighborhood around the Little Oven used to be the Italian neighborhood in St. Paul, unless you stretch the neighborhood all the way down 7th Street to Swede Hollow. I grew up about a half mile from there (on Flandrau, to throw down my East Side cred :) and I knew it in pre-Little Oven days, variously as Ron and Ally's or Ronally's...it was a pizza joint (my brother used to make pizza there).

                As for Italian neighborhoods, I think there was pretty much the Levee and Swede Hollow, although I think the Levee had a more cohesive Italian community which moved up the hill (both my grandparents and mother lived in the levee up until the '40's) into the 7th Street area (witness Mancini's). And for chowish remnants of those times, the Swede Hollow Italians have given us Yarusso's (which, IMHO, has the best red sauce in town) and the Levee gave us Cossetta's.

                1. re: Dragon

                  Thank you, Dragon, for filling in with more detail there. It's good to have clarification from someone who has actually lived in the neighborhood. You're right, I was probably (inadvertantly) stretching the definition a bit more than I realized I should. Where I'm from, there are very clear boundaries where one neighborhood ends and another begins--one side of the street the signs are in Italian and the other side they're in another language, it's not quite as clear to me here. I do have a friend, who is quite Italian, from that area and so I assumed that the "Italian" neighborhood extended that far.

                  Yarusso's has the best red sauce, eh? I will have to add that to my list of places to try. I like the little shop at Cossetta's.


              2. re: Billy Bob

                Hey there, I read in another thread yesterday that Lenny Russo, the chef at Heartland, won't be cooking there anymore, that his wife will be there in his stead. Apparently he'll be too busy focusing on Cue. Hopefully, the quality at Heartland will remain the same, but I thought I would mention this, in case it made a difference to you.

                Also, The Little Oven gets really crowded sometimes, expect to wait. And it (and the Dairyette) are in the Eastern part of St. Paul, not centrally located. A little bit of a drive.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  What you read in yesterday's thread has been corrected in that thread.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Actually, it seems the former sous chef at Heartland will be stepping up, not Mr. Russo's wife. I think one of us will have to beat a path over there and get the real story.



              3. First, MSP doesn't have a single cuisine/style which provides its identity. We do have a solid organic, local source consciousness but my advice is to set your target on getting the best food. Almost nothing here is unique/indigenous to this area.

                That said, in the high end category, La Belle Vie is not to be missed. This is the finest restaurant MSP has to offer. If you're alone and don't feel comfortable in a formal dining room setting, they have a beautiful, comfortable lounge.

                510 Groveland Ave

                112 Eatery is less formal but superb food. You'll find plenty of mentions on here and other boards.

                112 North 3rd St

                For a small, neighborhood breakfast look in this thread. Many of our best breakfast/bakery places are mentioned. We have great bakeries here, Rustica being my favorite (attached to a passable coffee place):


                It's not Pizzeria Bianco, but a good chow excursion across the border into St. Paul would be neapolitan pizza at Punch, swing up a mile to Legacy Chocolates and a few doors further east to Izzy's.

                Punch Pizza
                704 Cleveland Ave S
                St. Paul

                2034 Marshall Ave
                St. Paul

                Legacy Chocolates
                2042 Marshall Ave
                St. Paul

                If you just want to venture out in search of unplanned chow, head south out of MPLS on Hennepin Avenue all the way to Lake Street. Otherwise, go south on Nicollet Avenue ("Eat Street") and you'll see lots of places from roughly 20th south to Lake Street. In St. Paul, Grand Avenue from Fairview east to Lexington is good. So is Cleveland Avenue from Ford Parkway up to Marshall (aforementioned Punch, along with Highland Grill, Ristorante Luci, Luci Ancora, 128 Cafe, Trotter's Cafe...all are very good).

                That'll get you started. Good luck.

                3 Replies
                1. re: MSPD

                  MSPD, if you wouldn't mind, could you kindly please elaborate on 128 Cafe and Trotter's Cafe a bit? I've been curious about the latter and haven't heard of the former... Thank you!


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Sure...let's see...first the web sites. That's better information than I can type up:


                    128 is a neighborhood restaurant tucked in the lower level of a 1960ish college campus apartment building. The space used to be a Chinese restaurant, then a wing joint catering to the students from across the street. For several years, they've quietly turned out consistently good food. Their ribs get raves but inexplicably, I've never had them there. The place flies under the radar but has a loyal following.

                    Trotters is an eclectic cafe, breakfast and lunch spot emphasizing wholesome, made-to-order items from locally/regionally produced ingredients. The words "organic", "natural" and "from scratch" pepper their menu and website. It's a great place for a sandwich and cookie, maple cornmeal pancakes or granola. Trotter's, Highland Grill and Coffee News Cafe would compete for my breakfast dollars if I still lived in my old house (walking distance from all three). They're all great spots.

                  2. re: MSPD


                    Thanks for your recs. I looked at the websites for both La Belle Vie and 112 Eatery and both of their menus look very tempting. I am going to a conference there, so if I hook up with some other people, I like your tip on Nicollet Ave. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

                    Billy Bob

                  3. I don't know where in the Twin Cities you'll be, so my recommendations are all over, geographically. Beware of rush-hour traffic and poor public transportation.

                    Ice cream: My favorite is Izzy's, followed closely by the Pumphouse Creamery.




                    Vietnamese and SE Asian food: Rice Paper for fusion cuisine; Quang or Jasmine Deli or Pho Tau Bay for authentic food; Mai Village for gorgeous decor and cocktails (and so-so food).


                    Al's Breakfast for the best morning experience ever. For the full effect, go alone and chat with your neighbors and the servers. This is my top don't-miss-it place - there's nothing like Al's. And Bob Dylan's early haunt is across the street (or was; the place is long gone).


                    Outdoor food: Sea Salt in Minnehaha Park or Tin Fish at Lake Calhoun; drive-in food as mentioned above; any restaurant patio if you don't mind lots of cigarette smoke (smoking is banned indoors, but not outdoors, alas).




                    Midtown Global Market for a variety of ethnic food stalls representing mostly small, mom-and-pop eateries around town.


                    Restaurant Alma or Lucia's for locally sourced, organic, fancy dining.



                    Mairin's Table, The Sample Room, or The Birchwood Cafe for neighborhood bistro dining (These are all in SE/NE Minneapolis, where I live - there are also good places in St. Paul and South Mpls, but I can't think of them right now...).



                    http://www.birchwoodcafe.com (counter service only, but great food


                    And I would recommend some south-of-the-border hole-in-the wall places, like Charly's Polleria on Central Ave in NE Mpls, but I'll bet the selection in Phoenix is much better.

                    Enjoy your visit!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: AnneInMpls


                      Thanks. Yea I am guessing we probably have the Mexican covered here ;-). I am surprised by the repeated mention of Southeast Asia places. I guess I didn't realize there was a large presence there. I like the idea of the neighborhood bistros and the Midtown Global Market. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

                      Billy Bob

                      1. re: Billy Bob

                        The Twin Cities have the largest urban Hmong population in the world. Here's a link to an MPR story from 1999--since then, the Cities have accepted even MORE Hmong refugees, so the number has only grown.


                        There is one Hmong restaurant (that I know of)--actually, a cafeteria-- in St. Paul on University Ave. If I'm not mistaken, Jim Leff once did a live radio broadcast from there.

                        Edit: Josh's Best of University Ave thread where the Hmong FoodSmart cafeteria is discussed.



                    2. When you come up from PHX can you swing by Richardson's and pick up 2 of everything on the menu for me! LOVE that spot.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: St Paul Susie


                        I'll pack an extra suitcase full of Richardson's yummies just for you. LOL

                        Billy Bob

                      2. I have to agree with MSPD. There is little in Minnesota you would come for that you couldn't get elsewhere with maybe the exception of the battered and fried Walleye sandwich. Tavern on Grand is the place to go for that but there are other places just as good. Elsewhere in the country it will be catfish or cod as the equivalent. Alas! the Walleye is Canadian and we had a minor scandal not to long ago when it was discovered restaurants were serving Zander, the European cousin of Walleye and passing it off as Walleye.

                        We have even lost wild rice. When I arrived in Minnesota in 1970 Minnesota was the only place you could buy it and it was rarely served in restaurants back then. It was like gold only harvested my Native Americans beating the rice into canoes. Now, California actually commercially grows it in greater quantity than Minnesota so it is not unique. What is unique is you can still get Native American harvested wild rice in Minnesota, not commercially grown wild rice. But I could not tell you who authentically offers it. There is a difference.

                        It is hard for us to tell you what to try. So when you come and you see something you never saw in Phoenix give it a try. When I travel I only try to eat things I know I cannot get in Minnesota (easily). I'll eat chicken fried steak in Texas, Po Boys in Baton Rouge, lobster in Maine, etc. I would never put Fench fries on my sandwich unless I was in Pittsburgh. :)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Davydd

                          There's a stand at the Midtown Global Market (oh, how I love that place!) that offers authentic Minnesota wild rice - traditionally grown, hand harvested, and authentically processed (with that wonderful smoky taste). This rice is amazing - I discovered it last winter, and it's all I buy now. I can't go back to the commercial version - and forget the California stuff!

                          The stand is right by the door to the west parking lot - it's the one that sells Native American jewelry, baskets, and food.

                          The rice comes from the Native Harvest and is grown on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. Their web site has more information on the rice:



                        2. Billy B - excellent

                          I'd second rest. Alma at noted above. Went 2 thursdays ago and it was one of the top meals I've had this year anywhere in the US.

                          Call ahead - very busy. Have a great trip!