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Minneapolis itinerary--suggestions?

  • c


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.

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  1. If you go to the Mall (MOA), I understand Tiger Sushi is good.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MSPD

          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.

          1. re: MSPD

            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.

          2. 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.

            1. 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.

              1. Just as an FYI, actually, you can do La Belle Vie as a vegetarian. You just have to call them ahead of time and they will prepare a vegetarian tasting menu for you. I have reservations there on Friday and called ahead to order a vegetarian menu and they said that it's no problem. I think they said that they generally need 24 hours notice.

                5 Replies
                1. re: The Chowish Lurker

                  Can you post a review (or a mini-review) of the veg tasting menu after you go?

                  I just checked their reservations on the 27th and noticed they are filling up. So I called and made one for 8:30. Thanks for the heads up.

                  I think we are going to bump Cafe Brenda up to lunch and L Belle Vie for dinner on Friday night.

                  1. re: chris

                    Friday, Danny and I had the awesome opportunity to have a fantastic dinner at La Belle Vie. We both had the 8 course tasting menu; however, I had the vegetarian version while Danny had the regular version. I only wish I had more birthdays in a year.

                    The only problem with the 8 course tasting menu is that I didn’t take notes on what I was eating so my descriptions might be somewhat foggy. Then again, I was there to eat, not take notes. Everything was fantastic so even if my description is not stellar, the food certainly is.

                    I'm sure Danny will have a better memory for some of the dishes we had, so hopefully he will be so kind to fill in the holes of my report.

                    One other point: if you are trying to keep your food budget under $500 for two of you, if you do the 8 course plus a moderately priced wine (we got a $30 bottle) after tax, tip etc you will go through about half of your budget.

                    The food.

                    As I stated, I had the vegetarian tasting menu. Unfortunately I can’t remember everything I had but I will recap the highlights. First we were presented with an amuse bouche (I think that’s what it was called anyways) which was a light pastry with gruyere cheese. The pastry was similar to a cream puff but without the filling. It was not too cheesy tasting, in fact it was mostly pastry than cheese. It was divine.

                    Next I had a dish that was some sort of cheese (I don’t remember what kind of cheese but it was white and paste-like) base then topped with tomatoes and some other vegetable, but I can’t remember what it was. This is a somewhat vague description, but I was lost in our server’s explanation of what it was we were being served. The preparation of this dish along with all the others was intricate and delicately placed upon our plates. The food was probably at least as much about presentation than taste however both were superb.

                    Beet dish with truffles. I had never had truffles before and was surprised that I liked them. Usually I hate mushrooms but there must be something special about these mushrooms. Who knew?

                    Caraway “logs” with carrot puree (the carrot puree had some other fancy name but I forgot what it was): greens and some other vegetable. The carraway logs were great. they were like mini fried mashed potatos with caraway seed. The carrot puree was such a pretty orange. I don't know what else was in the carrot puree, but it was very rich.

                    Corn meal biscuit and asparagus – yummmm

                    Squash filled pasta

                    Grape sorbet with fennel

                    Cheese with truffle honey and nuts

                    Ice cream sandwich with poppy seed ice cream and cherry sorbet with a chocolate cake “bread”

                    1. re: The Chowish Lurker

                      The bread puffs with greyere were technically "a treat from the kitchen." The beet was her amuse, mine was very similar, but with a scallop instead of a beet. Overall, I was surprised at how much our meals had in common. If you want to get a feel for the vegetarian tasting, look at the the regular menu, subtract all of the meat and seafood, and imagine a variety of substitutions. (For example, when I had Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Carrot Fondant
                      and Caraway Croquettes, TCL had the same, but with braised endive instead of the pork, and minus the veal reduction pooled in the bottom of the plate.)

                      The menu of what I had is here: http://www.labellevie.us/8course.htm

                      Ask questions, and maybe we can remember answers. :)

                      1. re: Danny

                        Thank you very much for the info...I really appreciate it and you two definitely sold me on keeping the reservation (next Friday at 8:30).

                        I checked out the wine list and it looks like there's plenty of very reasonable options, the menu looks like any sort of lighter white wine will work throughout the meal.

                        How long did your meal last? It sounds like it was a long evening.

                        1. re: chris

                          We had also had an 8:30 reservation and didn't leave until after 11. It is a long evening but it's ohh so romantic. Your wife will love the romance of the place.

                          We found it much easier to use the valet instead of trying to find a parking spot on the street. They just added the valet on to our bill at the end so that was convenient.

                          You can do a wine pairing with each course. We saw some other tables doing that and it looked like a lot of fun. We just thought it was a bit too expensive (I think it was an additional $50 a person for the wine pairing). We figured we could get a reasonable wine for a third of the price so we did that. Maybe next time...

                2. For a delicious vegetarian meal, you might want to drive to Columbia Heights (a few miles north of downtown) to eat at Udupi, a south Indian restaurant that is 100% vegetarian.


                  My wife and I had the buffet lunch there during a recent trip to the Twin Cities and loved it. I haven't been there for dinner, but the menu looks appealing.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: silverbear

                    I think Udupi changed its name to Nala Pak. Just a heads-up in case you're looking for it in the phone book or on the street.



                    1. re: AnneInMpls

                      Interesting. When we visited three weeks ago, there was still an Udupi sign visible from Central Avenue, but maybe it is just taking some time to implement all aspects of the name change.

                      1. re: silverbear

                        Aha. Well, maybe they changed their name back. Or maybe my information was wrong. I haven't been there for about a year...


                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                          The name did change, but the sign is the same and the food is still terrific

                  2. Take the light rail downtown. Much easier than driving. Brenda's is a very short two blocks away from the last stop. Chances are you may end up parking farther away than that.

                    As for the Mall of America. Take local comments with a grain of salt. There is a built in Twin Cities attitude to diss it. I guess it is a Minnesota thing because outsiders came in to make it happen and the community predicted it would be a failure. Now they are sore losers eating crow. Most all out of towners I know love it. The Twin Cities Grill is the equal to any similar middle of the menu spectrum grill in the Twin Cities. And for that, it is ideal for lunch.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Davydd

                      I am not sure that is a fair assessment: I accept MOA for what it is: a very big mall which has good options for shopping and you can get something to eat there if you need to, but like any mall, its restaurants are not destination restaurants. It has better dining options than your average mall, just as it has more shopping options than your average mall.

                      1. re: AliceS

                        Thanks to *everyone* for replying. I appreciate all the feedback and I think some of our plans are changing thanks to all the great info.

                        I realize that mall food is that--mall food. It won't be spectacular, but that's fine. I recently had a conversation with a friend who *loves* The Cheesecake Factory and my reply to her was that while the meals there are consistently average to good, you'll never have a spectacular meal. She called me a snob, my reply was that for just a few dollars more per person you can get a mindblowing meal at the local bistro.

                        That being said, looking at what time we're probably getting in, we can easily do lunch somewhere in the city before hitting up the mall.

                        Now that the Lurker has mentioned La Belle Vie can do a veg tasting menu, that's very tempting...I have to crunch some numbers before I make that reservation though.

                        1. re: chris

                          I come into this thread late, but ....

                          If some friends of MINE were visiting MOA and they ABSOLUTELY had to eat there, I would honestly tell them to go to PBLoco, the peanut-butter sandwich shop. It could be considered a lunch or a light supper before going out for reals afterwards. But seriously, they make really good peanut butter sandwiches! PBLoco has other locations (but only 2 I think) so it's kind of a Minnesota-only experience, unlike most other things there.

                          Serious. For me, food at MOA == PBLoco.

                          And it's a very good vegetarian option, since they removed the pork chop peanut butter. They do still have curry, dark chocolate, banana, raspberry/white chocolate, sun dried tomato, and apricot flavored peanut butter. And more.

                      2. re: Davydd

                        Although I like the Twin City (not Twin Cities) Grill, I must point out that it is not a good option for vegetarians. There is very little on the menu that does not include meat.

                        Napa Valley and California Cafe are the nicest choices in the mall, though neither is terrific.

                      3. If you want to save money on a meal, don't forget about the Triple Rock Social Club. They're a punk bar owned by vegetarians. The kitchen opens at 4PM, and almost everything is available vegan or vegetarian. (They probably serve the only vegan chili cheese fries in the Twin Cities.) And, the prices are below reasonable, especially when you consider that the portions are beyond tremendous. I haven't had it myself, but know somebody who swears that they have a vegetarian meat loaf that even a meat eater would love.

                        On the weekends, they serve breakfast from 10-4, with the same level of veggie friendlyness. I can't tell you not to go to Hell's Kitchen (be sure to get the bread basket, or at least toast with your order to enjoy their homemade peanut butter and jelly), but if you're looking for a less expensive alternative, with more vegetarian options, the Triple Rock is the place to go.

                        (There's a bar area with tables that is completely seperate from the stage area, so don't worry about having to buy a ticket to a show in order to enjoy a meal there.)

                        Another outstanding, veggie friendly brunch option is at Brenda's new restaurant, Spoonriver. TCL and I had a wonderful breakfast there.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Danny

                          Both of these look good...to my eyes and stomach, more interesting than Hell's Kitchen. I think I may take the addresses/directions to Spoonriver and Triple Rock and probably just wing it Sunday morning.

                          1. re: chris

                            Not to contradict myself, but one advantage of Spoonriver is that it is next door to the new Guthrie. If you go there, be sure to take time before or after your meal to walk around their new space. The Endless Bridge has one of the area's best views of the Mississippi.

                            Here's a link to their brunch menu: http://www.spoonriverrestaurant.com/m...

                        2. Hi.I'm a vegetarian and live in the Twin Cities metro, moved here from Philly 18 months ago.

                          We ate at La Belle Vie recently [in August] off the a la carte menu but they told me they could have accomodated the veggie tasting menu as well without prior notice [not sure if this has chnaged more recently.]The food was divine-I had cauliflower fritters for entree [not on the menu but chef's veggie entree for the day] and it was divine- while the word fritter conjours up greasy, mealy, coated stuff to my mind usually this was light fluffy melt in your mouth barely coated fresh from the garden cauliflower!

                          We really enjoy midtown global market [esp Manny's tortas, everest cafe for momos,falafel at Holy Land] liked Birchwood Cafe recently but food was very fresh but mediocre in terms of taste and creativity in my opinion.I love Solera as well- their asparagus [made without the mahon by request] is tender, crispy, melt in your mouth amazement.

                          We also really like good Earth at the Galleria mall in Edina [perhaps too far for you to travel?] and Tejas also in Edina has had some very creative vegetatrian entrees.

                          Enjoy your trip and please post your vegetarian experiences for us to enjoy as well!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ramekin

                            When we made the reservation for TCL and I, they said that they "prefer 24 hours notice for the vegetarian tasting, but have certainly done it with less."

                          2. Another good option for vegetarian is French Meadow Bakery...most of the stuff is organic too. It's in Uptown, an area just south of the city. For a treat you can try Cafe Lurcat. Although the menu features meat & fish entrees, they have GREAT vegetable side dishes and appetizers. Website is www.cafelurcat.com

                            MOA is a tough one but I agree with other posts-Twin City Grill is a good option. It's heavy on the "meat & taters" BUT it has good sode dishes and slaads. PLUS the service is very good.

                            Okay..one more...Sample Room in NE Minneapolis. They offer a deep menu of "tapas" or "sample plates". One category is all veggies and you can order a flight...

                            MSP is a great town...have a great time!

                            1. I was in town for business from SF recently and ate at MOA's Tiger Sushi and Twin City Grill. Don't know if it's because I'm from SF, but I thought the sushi at Tiger Sushi was pretty gross. The seaweed salad also left a greasy taste in my mouth. On the other hand, I enjoyed my meal at Twin City. I had the wild rice soup, which was hearty, light and delicious. The fried walleye was pretty good too.

                              1. Dont miss Hell's Kitchen for b-fast: you'll probably spend as much $ on b-fast as you normally would for dinner, and have a b-fast better than any you have ever had in your life, everything down to the homemade ketchup.

                                french meadow is not reccomended. go to rustica instead.
                                check out Restaraunt Alma if you want spectacular local organic/sustainable cuisine. it's worth it. Lucia's is another great reccomendation, but further from downtown. & we really like spoonriver. makes you feel nice, food very pretty & affordably priced but the staff can be model-wannabe & annoying or non-present. I'd still maybe try it if you have time or will be in the area anyway.

                                cheap veggie eats: try the seward cafe-- not the seward co-op, the cafe just by it. MMMM, super red earth. . . cure of my hangovers in younger days. . .

                                good luck, bon voyage & let us TCphiles know what you think of your excursion!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: twitch

                                  //french meadow is not reccomended.

                                  Why not? What was your experience there?

                                  1. re: KTFoley

                                    I have the same question. I haven't been to French Meadow for breakfast for about a year, but it was a regular and reliably good stop for us.

                                    1. re: Jordan

                                      If twitch was talking about the baked goods only, Rustica is much better than French Meadow. But then, Rustica is way better than any other bakery in the Twin Cities (IMHO).

                                      That said, the meals at French Meadow are pleasant (although I prefer the Birchwood Cafe) and vegetarian-friendly, and FM is easier to get to from downtown than Rustica or Birchwood.


                                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                                        Yes, I agree to loving Birchwood a lot and Rustica even more. But there are whole galaxies of interpretation between "French Meadow is not recommended" and "Rustica is better."

                                        Would like to know -- especially since this appears to have been Twitch's first post -- what he or she had in mind with that. C'mon back, Twitch, and give details!!!

                                2. Well just that F.M. has kinda been riding on its laurels for a while now-- most food you get there is not organic, not local anymore. We were disappointed to learn that the company has "gone thru a merger." Their breads are now nationally distributed, & i think their attention is elsewhere. Rustica just flat out has better bread, & as Anne says is the best bakery in TCs. not trying to badmouth too bad, just think there are better local choices that are still what FM. . . used to be.

                                  1. Not exotic food, but food done great is Punch Pizza. Locations in St Paul, Uptown near Lake Calhoun, and Eden Prairie.

                                    Neapolitan pizza as close to true Italian as you'll get in much of the country. Perfect amount of crispiness/char on the crust. Perfect thickness and chewiness. Sauce/cheese balance is great.

                                    Friends from DC and New York all say it's more authentic than they get in those cities, much less anyplace else in between (including Chicago and its DOC Pizza).

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: tex888

                                      careful with that "more authentic" thing: I am from NYC, and while I enjoy Punch as much as the next guy, you will never convince me that it is "more authentic" than DiFara's in Brooklyn. Or even Grimaldi's. I only point this out to keep expectations in line: someone from NY who sees this thread and goes to Punch may be sorely disappointed, or at least quite surprised.
                                      I guess I need a clarification of the word "authentic."

                                      1. re: tex888

                                        There's now a Punch Pizza on E. Hennepin, a quick bus ride (or walk) from Downtown Minneapolis. It's near Surdyk's and Kramarczyk's (half a block from University Ave.).

                                        My husband, Mr. Tastebud, reports a pleasant experience at lunch there last week. That said, I wouldn't go out of my way to visit Punch if I were from out of town (even though I'm a big Punch fan) - I'd spend my time and $$ at 112 Eatery, Vincent's, Alma's, Spoonriver, and the many lovely, bare-bones Vietnamese places in town.

                                        Anne (who has had Punch pizza for dinner twice this week...)

                                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                                          I find that Pizza Nea does a better job of Neapolitan-style pizza. The ingredients seem to be of better quality, the cooking is more consistent, and the dining ambience is definitely better than at Punch.

                                          1. re: Jordan

                                            Pizza Nea is great, and I find the atmosphere and general attitude is worlds better than Punch.

                                      2. Well, chris... how did it go?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Danny

                                          I wasn't specific with my dates in the request--we'll be in town this upcoming weekend...just in time for the snow it seems.

                                        2. If you're still going to the mall, Natural Escape on Lyndale (just south of 62) is a good spot to hit. TCL and I just visited for the first time last week. The focus is "healthy Mexican" and there's a lot of great, light, vegetarian friendly meals.

                                          We also just did dinner at the Triple Rock. I need to go there more often.