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[MSP] Quiet, relaxed, modestly-priced dinner spot for small group

Okay, I'm stumped. I need a spot to take about a half dozen people to dinner. I need to eschew ethnic foods as I don't want folks to be nervous about not knowing what they're eating or how to eat it. I'd like it to be quiet enough that people can converse comfortably. Entrees, ideally, in the $18-$22 range. And, ideally, I'd like it to be located in St. Paul or in one of the St. Paul burbs. OR, in Minneapolis but really easy to find if you're coming from St. Paul and don't want out-of-towners to get lost or harried. I'd like the atmosphere to be relaxed and not too fancy so people will be at ease.

I can't believe I am going to say this, but atmosphere is more important than exceptional cuisine.

I was thinking of one of those restaurants along Selby, but WA Frost is too expensive, I think. Is Heartland out of my price range? Also, I think both of these places might be a bit too formal. I can't think of anything along Grand either. I think something like Longfellow Grill would fit the bill, except that it's too loud. Surely there must be a pasta place that fits the bill, but I can't think of any. Any ideas?



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  1. How about Luci Ancora?

    They are located at Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul, have fresh, good Italian-based food that is not exotic, but is focused on seasonal ingredients. They have a nice, and fairly quiet dining room that is well suited for groups (I think it even has a fireplace). The staff are friendly, and the entrees are priced in your range. Even better, they take reservations on Open Table for groups over 5.

    (Note: It is easy to get confused between Luci Ancora and their sister restaurant "Ristorante Luci" -- I do NOT recommend "Ristorante Luci" for your group as the dining room is very small and more suited for couples).

    1. Heartland would be more $ (IMO)

      What about Signature Cafe? (you would need to provide EXCELLENT directions)

      Cafe Biaggio on Univ?

      Or even Carmelos on Snelling (st Clair)? - which is a crowd pleaser. Plus they have a parking lot - if you end up with multi cars. and easy to find/get to.

      La grolla is always a good pick - might end up being more per person.

      Downtowner Woodfire might be a good choice as well? I recall many reasonable items on their menu.

      Or Mancinis if you really want to show off St Paul. But I'm kinda on a Beef binge right now so don't listen to me. :)

      2 Replies
      1. re: St Paul Susie

        Great suggestions. I can't visualize Cafe Biaggio--where is that?

        "Crowd-pleaser"+parking lot+easy to find appeals to me.

        I've been curious about La Grolla...might have to explore that one.

        All great suggestions, thank you.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Caffe Biaggio is on University near Raymond. http://www.caffebiaggio.com

          The one time I was there, I was a little confused about which parking lot is theirs, and parked on the street instead - but if you read their website it explains where it is.

      2. Signature Cafe was one of my first thoughts... directions aren't too big of a deal, so long as your guests are prepared to end up in a residential neighborhood. The atmosphere is perfect for what you're talking about, and the menu has something for everyone. (http://www.signaturecafe.net


        The other one that popped into my head immediately was Muffuletta. ( http://www.muffuletta.com/


        Caffe Biaggio, Carmelos, and Luci Ancora would work. They're almost interchangable in my mind. (and a step below what you'd get at the other two above. But, if you want a pasta place, they're certainly that - and a bit nicer than the typical "red sauce" joint.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Danny

          Great suggestions Danny! I knew I could count on Chowhounds!

          Signature Cafe seems to be winning the popular vote. :)


        2. My rec is Al Vento in the Nokomis neighborhood. It is such a great neighborhood place with really good pasta options.

          Sorry this is not in St. Paul, but as per your request, its easy to find. Just take Ford Pkwy/46th west to 34th Ave, go south to 50th St.

          They take reservations, and I would highly recommend making one, as there is not much room to wait. Ask for a table in the back for your larger group, there is more room back there.


          1 Reply
          1. re: MayrMN

            That does sound easy to find. Will have to explore that as an option as well. Also a pasta type place? as well. And, yes, might as well make reservations! Thank you!


          2. What about the Heartland Wine Bar? Obviously it would depend upon your opinion of "quiet", but the food is excellent, and the small plates will be quite reasonable (imo).

            If you're interested in sticking with St. Paul or the St. Paul side, how far is too far? In Stillwater I'd recommend Cesares or Luna Rossa. Both have excellent atmosphere and tend to be much more quiet in the winter and spring.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Nathan_1118

              Great ideas. I thought about HWB, too, although, I kind of want to make reservations so I can cross it off my list of worries--I don't think HWB takes reservations, does it? (I realize I didn't mention that in my list of requirements.) I think Stillwater is a bit far for this particular outing, but, there will always be another one! Great suggestions, thank you!


            2. How about 128 Cafe? The food is great, although it's at the high end of your range (some entrees are quite pricy). The biggest problem is the parking, though - it's impossible to find a spot around St. Thomas, but they do have valet parking.


              Is Puerto Azul too ethnic? It's Puerto Rican food - grilled chicken, roast pork, rice and beans, and a few "exotic" dishes that aren't too threatening. It's small, quiet, and casual, and the location is great (west end of Selby).


              I first thought of recommending Mairin's Table (my current favorite place), but it's in S.E. Minneapolis, near Riverplace.



              1 Reply
              1. re: AnneInMpls

                I've always wanted to try both 128 cafe and Puerta Azul...


              2. I'd second any of the above.

                My addition: How about Muffuletta? It's quiet, the menu is familiar but consistently very well-executed, it's not too fancy, it's in your price range, it's in St. Paul...


                1 Reply
                1. re: diesel

                  Muffuletta would be great, except that the guest of honor has just recently been there. Sorry, I should have mentioned that, but, yes, spot on recommendation otherwise.


                2. If you're thinking about Minneapolis, I'd suggest Lucia's.
                  Taking a look at Lucia's menu, it seems that all of their entrees this week are below $23.

                  As I'm sure you know, the directions are easy from St. Paul: I-94 West to Hennepin Avenue (South) exit. Follow Hennepin for 11 blocks to 31st Street. Turn right.


                  1. How about the new Il Vesco Vino in the old The Vintage space on Selby? I've been there a couple times and was really pleased with the menu (it's Italian-ish so not too intimidating - although I must recommend the grilled octopus for those who are so inclined), wine and atmosphere.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jennywinker

                      Oooh--that sounds interesting. I wonder if they have a menu online?


                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                          and they have parking - and for $8 you get a glass and 1/2 of some really nice wine.

                    2. I can speak to the Grand Ave Restaurants.
                      I'd actually recommend Tavern on Grand (http://tavernongrand.com/), especially for out of town guests. I've taken a few groups there. It's quiet enough to talk, very low key atmosphere and recognizeable food. Parking behind the building and big booths (plus no smoking anymore). Nothing fancy foodwise, but nothing bad either.

                      If you want to go a little more exotic, I love Barbary Fig. I remember it being quiet, but that could be because I ate there early. The inside is painted all in warm colors, it's a great way to leave the gray outdoors behind for a while.

                      Also edging into the exotic range are Everest and the place on Grand at Snelling (can't remember the name).

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Uisge

                        Hmmm, interesting. Can Barbary Fig accomodate a small group?


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          My recollection is yes. Might want to stop by to make certain.

                        2. re: Uisge

                          > the place on Grand at Snelling (can't remember the name)

                          Do you mean the Khyber Pass? Great choice! Everyone I've ever taken there has loved it. But it is definitely "exotic" food - not much will be familiar to picky eaters.



                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                            Yes, thank you. That's the place I meant. Very warm. Nice people. But yeah, more exotic.

                        3. I just have to say this thread is one of the more interesting I've read on chowhound!

                          I love the idea of problem solving with a restaurant as the end goal! We should have more of these.

                          I love this one mostly because I'm very inspired by all of your recommendations that now I have to make the jump over to St. Paul more often. Thanks everyone!

                          1. SPS and Danny have good choices - Signature Cafe (FYI though: If your small group is devout republican -not a good choice), or I was thinking of Downtowner Woodfire Grille. According to what you're looking to spend, Heartland would probably be out of that price range -to really take advantage of what they have to offer. Tavern on Grand is good for well, walleye, but if you said you want ambience-then I don't think that would fit the bill. For atmosphere, though a bit snooty at times (and I don't really know why) but Saji-Ya can be a good time for a small group -can get pricey if you add all the sushi, but can get by for about $20-$30. If not, you could always head over to Dixie's for some loaded fries! Ha ha.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: snoboardbabe77

                              I'd vote for the Donwtowner as well. It's pleasant with the fireplaces, the tables are far apart, it's quiet because of the good carpeting, some interesting menu items and some more common, and reasonable prices. I've only been there once, but I definitely intend to go back some time soon.

                              We've been to Cafe Biaggio a few times (it's close to our house) but I'm unimpressed.

                            2. If it isn't to ethnic(which sorta depends on the starting ethnic background of the crowd) I would argue Moscow on the HIll. Their side room can seat good sized tables and I don't find it to loud. It also meets the "Can we take his Parents there?" challenge. (but they are of german/polish extraction so russian isn't to far from their comfort zone).

                              I'm not sure about parking but how about the Longfellow Grill? I'd suggest Highland grill but parking there is worse.

                              I would second Al Vento.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: doogette

                                Great suggestions, although, I'm afraid both the Longfellow and Highland Grills fail the "quiet" test. :) I find the acoustics in both of those places to be intolerable at peak meal times. I keep meaning to get to Moscow on the HIll...


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Winter is the best time,IMHO, to go to MotH.

                              2. Erte in the nordeast seems to fit this mold.