My wife and I are visiting Minneapolis in a couple weeks and don't have all that much time so we're trying to cram as much as we can in, foodwise. We are both vegetarians, so a few must-dine places (La Belle Vie, for example) aren't on the list.
The food budget for the trip will ideally be kept under $500, which I think is going to be rather easy (we do drink wine but we're more likely to get it by the glass or half-bottle).
Here's our tentative plan, let me know if anyone has suggestions:
The first thing we're doing is visiting the Mall and having lunch in the mall. Napa Grille and Tucci Benucch look good, and on the more casual end, so does the Wolfgang Puck Express place. Any suggestions?
Dinner is at Cafe Brenda. The hotel we're staying at the first night is near the mall--any thoughts on driving versus light rail?
The next day we're staying downtown, lunch seems good at the Birchwood Cafe and dinner plans are at Vincent. Does anyone have other lunch suggestions?
Sunday, before returning home we're thinking about having brunch at Hell's Kitchen.
It has been rather a long while since I have been out to Mall of America, but the Twin Cities Grill is/was pretty good (owned by the same people as Tucci Benucch).
As for driving vs. light rail, if you are simply going from the mall/airport to downtown lightrail is the optimal way to go (cheaper and easier than parking downtown). If you are venturing anywhere beyond downtown driving would probably be easiest.
In order of your questions:
At the Mall of America, temper your expectations. Napa Valley Grill is probably your best bet if you insist on a sit down meal. Tucci Bennuch is on par with Macaroni Grill. I'd personally go the Wolfgang Puck Express route -- my rule of thumb for the MOA is to eat as little there as possible.
As many people point out here, Cafe Brenda is a good choice. Outside of rush hour, the light rail experience will take you longer to get downtown than car -- plus you'll still have a couple of blocks to walk when you get there. $3.00 fare for two vs. $2.00 in quarters parking at a meter right outside Cafe Brenda (unless there's a Target Center event...I'd check on that as that area can get crowded).
The Birchwood and Vincent are also good. I would also consider lunch at Lucia's (www.lucias.com). You'll get to see the Uptown area and the food is wonderful -- Lucia Watson's credibility was affirmed with a recent James Beard Award nominee in the Midwest area.
I would also recommend visiting one of MSP's bakeries (if not several) while you're here. The Cities have an amazing abundance of great bakeries. I love Rustica Bakery (www.rusticabakery.com) and Cupcake (University Avenue just west of Highway 280). Cupcake is a good idea for lunch, although I'm not personally familiar with their vegetarian friendly options, but they are known as vegetarian friendly. At Rustica, everything is good but do NOT miss the Kouign Amann (pronounced like Queen Ah-mahn as I found out from their staff) or the Bostok (I just point and say "one/two/twenty of those" as I perpetually forget if it's BO-stock or BAH-stock). Anyway...the less pronounceable at Rustica, the better the product it seems. Cupcake has outstanding croissants. If you can, search the board a bit and several other bakeries are commonly recommended (Franklin St. Bakery, Turtle Bread Company, Patrick's, etc.) All are worthy of praise for various reasons.
If you're adventurous and/or in the mood for ethnic variety, head over to the Midtown Global Market (www.midtownglobalmarket.com). If you search this board, you'll find a review of a recent "chowdown" there with plenty of talk of specific vendors. Not every city has a place like this -- it's a lot of fun.
Finally, if you happen across the river into St. Paul, the stretch of Grand Avenue due east from Ayd Mill Road is a neat area to shop and walk. When you're done, Cafe Latte (soup/salad/sandwich/dessert place...www.cafelatte.com) at Grand and Victoria has an abundance of very good vegetarian options (one of few places this meat-eating guy actually has vast vegetarian expertise). Punch Pizza on Cleveland Avenue and Highland Parkway in St. Paul is also a good bet if you like Neapolitan style pizza. This location only -- their others seem to be inconsistent/inferior to the original.
Everything mentioned above is considerate of your location and convenience, as well as taking you to interesting parts of town. Good luck and welcome.
Cafe Brenda is a great rec for vegetarian and organic friendly, so it's definitely worth going. However, I differ on the drive/park vs. light rail. The warehouse district is my home turf, and I would recommend the light rail. Saturday night is a huge club night, with lots of limos and cruising and people looking for parking. The odds of a meter are slight unless you come quite early - 5ish or 6ish. And the meters are in effect until 10pm, and the private lots are expensive. It's definitely a fun 'hood, though, so I hope you make it to Brenda's.
Thanks for all the advice. The Midtown Global Market sounds like a great idea for Saturday...thanks.
There is something going on at the Target Center...a concert that's only using half the venue. But our plans have changed, it looks like Cafe Brenda is going to be our lunch and La Belle Vie is tentatively our dinner plan now that I know they have a vegetarian tasting option.
I would wholeheartedly agree with Hell's kitchen. & my veg friend always talks about Birchwood cafe - but I don't think that is very close to downtown?
I would also agree about the MOA expectations. Try to plan lunch there vs. "wasting" a dinner.
Broders pasta bar in SW mpls isn't that far from the MOA - 494 west to penn north, corner of Penn & 50th. Much better than that tucci b place. Good selection of veg options & you can always order many of the non-veg options without the meat since everything (except a lasagne) is made to order.
Agreed, the "best" of the MOA is not really the best of the Twin Cities area. You'll have done the mall but you might feel a bit let down.
If you are set on the Birchwood either plan on a car or schedule in a walking tour of the Seward neighborhood. Enjoy your meal there.
This next tip is not chowish unless we're talking about preserving your budget for really good food, but if you do drive downtown for Cafe Brenda you can learn from my stupidity and save yourself $200+ and mucho aggravation.
Here ya go: BE AWARE of the aggressive ticket-and-tow habits in that neighborhood during the evening, or else spring for a slot in the parking garage. We can only dream that other forms of government oversight might someday be as prompt, thorough & profitable as the way that every single offending vehicle is scooped up from First Ave at 10:01pm for a visit to the impound lot.