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Jun 13, 2007 11:34 AM

Far South Minneapolis Suggestions

I've lived in Minneapolis for over 9 years now and still have trouble finding dining places that I get really excited about. I'm hoping that you guys can help.

The last two weeks have taken me to Chicago and Boston and I was able to search the Chowhound boards for those cities to find great suggestions that were perfect fits for my style. I've been reading the midwest board for several years now and just don't seem to get lots of the places that get rave reviews here. I miss the type of places that I was used to in Atlanta - funky, inviting places where the emphasis was on the food, not on the scene and certainly not on the ego of the chef (or god forbid, the waitstaff.) I guess to sum it up, all I want is solid food in an unpretentious, hospitable environment.

Yesterday, (thanks to a huge line at Sea Salt and my readings on this board) I found one of those perfect fits - Birchwood Cafe. My wife, my two-year old and I all loved the place right from the start. Great food, welcoming staff and an attractive space all came together to ensure that we'll be visiting again soon (and kicking myself for not going earlier.)

The only drawback is that it's a bit of a drive from our part of south Minneapolis (near Diamond Lake.) So I'm hoping that others might have some suggestions for new spots for us to try that are closer to home.

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  1. I'm surprised that no one has responded.

    Any specific cuisine you're looking for? Are you looking for more restaurants that are just like Birchwood (which I would characterize as laid back with food that is good but not particularly complicated -- that's my own personal take) or things that are up a notch or down a notch?

    Thinking about your neighborhood, have you been to any of these places?
    Corner Table
    Scott Ja Mama's
    Pane Dolce Vino
    Broder's Pasta Bar
    First Course

    I like some of these places better than others, but didn't know what your taste buds are craving.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bob s

      Oh, is that where "far south Minneapolis" is? Then wouldn't the new Cafe Levain be a good fit, too? (and Turtle Bread, too, of course.) If I recall Danny's post, it was supposed to open yesterday, wasn't it? Has anyone been, yet?

      EDIT: here's a link to Danny's post:

      I think the housemade salsa at Pepitos is absolutely addicting. Very smokey and smooth. The rest of the food isn't exceptional, but oh, that salsa!


    2. Kilgore, I live in the same neighborhood (and also have a wife and two-year-old-- you must be my Chowhound doppelganger). Looking at your previous posts I don't think I can come up with something that close that you haven't already tried.

      I would have said First Course--we have been there many, many times and enjoyed it--but you posted that you got Bad Attitude from them and won't be back.
      We go to Binh Minh (on 60th at Portland) often mostly just because its close. The Chinese "Vietnamese" food is nothing outstanding, although I must say I love their halibut and chips, which I think compare favorably to Mac's in St. Paul.
      I am sure you have done the 5-8 Club and Fat Lorenzo's so that pretty much covers everything between 35W and Cedar, the Crosstown and the creek. If there were something on par with the Birchwood in that zone we'd be there ALL THE TIME! I think there are places like this elsewhere in South Minneapolis, but we have to search further afield.

      There are a lot of places at 48th & Chicago. I wonder how the revamped "neighborhood" Cafe Levain will pan out? Probably will still be a higher pricepoint than Birchwood.

      Colossal Cafe on 42nd at Cedar is very good, and has sidewalk tables now that the weather is nice, but I think they are breakfast/lunch only.

      5 Replies
      1. re: EarlOfSandwich

        If I lived in that area, I suspect I would be a regular at My-T-Fine Cafe, Hot Plate, Crema Cafe (a bit of a reach), Turtle Bread Company, Highland Grill (within 2-3 miles of Sea Salt, across the river), and Colossal Cafe, and the aforementioned Cafe Levain and Firefly would be high on my to-do list. Broder's and the rest of the 50th and France stuff would be in play as well. Of course so would Rustica Bakery, but I'm already practically a regular there, and Liberty Custard. Now I'm getting off-topic. All of the above strike me as similar to Birchwood in their neighborhood feel and penchant for quality, wholesome ingredients, prepared with care.

        1. re: EarlOfSandwich

          We live just north of the parkway from Diamond Lake and went to Binh Minh once on our way home from the airport. Honestly it was so horrible I would never eat there again. I believe we got steamed dumplings, pho and something else. Maybe I'll send husband there for the fish and chips, he does love Mac's.

          Many of our local spots have been mentioned by others - Turtle Bread, Ba gu, Broders, Al Vento and Hot Plate, I'm actually really willing to drive further, as long as I know parking will be simple so I consider restaurants in Longfellow like the Riverview Wine Bar, Town Talk or Midori's definitely close enough for a weeknight meal. I'm really looking forward to Cafe Levain and Cafe Maude as they're about a 5 minute drive for us.

          1. re: katebauer

            Is Binh Minh the place off Portland(?) just north of the Crosstown that has the sign "Asian Food and Fish & Chips" or something? If so (or whatever that place is), I wouldn't personally bother with the fish and chips again -- they were very ho hum.

            1. re: MSPD

              I went for the first time a few weeks ago when my family was out of town. On the menu, they had "fish and chips" and "halibut and chips." I got the halibut version and thought they were OK.

              However, the owner said that he was dropping the halibut in the near future, because of the cost of the fish. Don't know if it's happened yet or not.

          2. re: EarlOfSandwich

            Try Singapore!, a little Malaysian restaurant tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood on the corner of 55th St. and 34th Ave. Their Captain's Curry was really good when I went there. Also get an order of roti paratha for your group.

          3. The Birchwood is wonderful, isn't it? There's nothing just like it. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance.

            But how about these S.Mpls places? They're not exactly in your neighborhood, but they're much closer to you than the Birchwood. And they're all places that I wish I lived closer to.

            Lucia's To Go (31st & Hennepin)
            Rustica Bakery (no meals, just wonderful bread and pastries)
            Gigi's Cafe (36th & Aldrich)
            Perla del Pacifico (60th & Nicollet?)
            Colossal Cafe
            Hot Plate
            Natural Escape Mexican Cafe (60th & Lyndale?)


            2 Replies
            1. re: AnneInMpls

              I'm so glad someone mentioned the Perla Del Pacifico -- love that place. I mean, go with appropriate expectations -- it's a little dive-y and you won't find gourmet or fusion or new Mexican, but it's just a great little Mexican restaurant in a glaringly yellow cinderblock building with great food and (mostly) friendly service.

              Another recommendation, since we're talking south Minneapolis, is the (sort of) new Grand Cafe at 38th & Grand. I have had a few fabulous meals there, and the service has been outstanding. It doesn't have as funky a feel as the Birchwood, but it is really a lovely restaurant with great food and top notch service.

              1. re: Samanth2

                I second Perla Del Pacifico!

                We live up in Fridley, but I used to live in SW Mpls, and we miss that place. I only wish they could keep the carnitas 'in stock' as they are almost always out of them when we make it there.

                I seem to recall 2 for 1 margaritas before 8pm m-Th that were very good. On the rocks, no blender foofoo please! This may or may not still be available.

                Give it a try!

            2. I'm not sure which side of S. Mpls you live on, but I live just East of Lake Nokomis. Here are my recs:
              Al Vento (best Italian place I've been to in the cities)
              Dominguez Restaurant (nice neighborhood Mexican, good fish and shrimp tacos)
              Hot Plate
              Colossal Cafe (ginormous pancakes! Fave breakfast place)
              Singapore! (Malaysian restaurant at 56th St. and 34th Ave. Get the calamari! Really sweet owners)

              1. I think that Anne said it best when she said "The Birchwood is wonderful, isn't it? There's nothing just like it." I guess that we'll be getting familiar with that stretch of Cedar as we make the trip.

                As for stuff closer to home, thanks for all the thoughtful suggestions.

                I should have specified that I was looking for dinner spots - some of the most interesting suggestions close up early. Based on what I've read, Colossal Cafe seems to have the vibe that we're looking for but with their hours, there's no chance to give it a try. A while back, we were excited to hear that Hot Plate was going to be serving dinner. We went once and the wait was too long and then walked up a couple of more times before realizing they are back to Breakfast/Lunch only.

                I've tried quite a few of the other close-in suggestions with mixed results:

                When we moved from Northeast to this part of town, we were very excited about the Chicago and 48th area, but our actual experiences there haven't lived up to our expectations. We went to Pepito's right after we moved in and had horrible service and sloppy, gloppy food. Chicago Deli was certainly nothing special. We haven't tried Turtle Bread as I've always thought of it as a chain bakery, are the cafe items good? As for their related spots, gotta stay away from the ice cream, but I need to try Pizza Biga. And "that place with the red door," what I'd read about the previous incarnation struck me as the antithesis of the laid back type spot I'm looking for. Hopefully the new version will be a great neighborhood addition -- but I'm still wondering if it will be a place where young children will be welcomed or simply tolerated.

                Another big disappointment that we tried soon after moving was Scott Ja Mama's. Their sign says barbecue, but those ribs hadn't seen a bit of smoke - I don't even think that they were finished on a grill. Before the Diamond Lake Bridge was removed, we used to pass by a couple of times a week and I've NEVER seen or smelled anything resembling smoke coming from there.

                We do go to Fat Lorenzo's quite a bit. It's a very hospitable place, the little one loves the pizza and atmosphere and I really like the hot hoagies.

                5-8 Club is fine, but only go a couple of times a year. Since we've started eating healthier, we rarely eat fried foods, so it takes several days to get over the grease hangover.

                Sea Salt is great for the summer and my favorite outdoor spot in town. Just wish it didn't seem to be everyone else's too - the lines are killer now that the concerts in the park have started.

                Based on your suggestions, there are a couple of areas that I realized that we've been overlooking. I'm definitely going to check out Broder's (saw a good article in the StarTribune recently) and other options in the 50th & France neighborhood. Also, I keep forgetting how close the Highland area of St. Paul is to us. That's a great backup option when we just can't face the line at Sea Salt - we can just cross the river and explore.

                Several individual suggestions caught my eye:

                I'd forgotten about Firefly, we said we were going to walk up there one day - so we should do that soon.

                I'm putting a trio of Mexican spots on our list - Natural Escape, Perla del Pacifico and Dominguez Family Restaurant.

                We've been planning to go to Al Vento, but always thought that we'd need to get a babysitter for the little one. She's well behaved and a very adventurous eater for a two year old - should we take her there or leave her at home?

                6 Replies
                1. re: Kilgore

                  Hi, Kilgore. I also live in the Diamond Lake area, and I suppose I am another doppelganger. I have both the a) wife and b) toddler. I will comment on a few of the places you inquired about and a few you haven't.

                  Al Vento is very much worth a try. Get a seat on the patio, if you can. They have an off-the-menu kid's spaghetti & veal meatball dish which my toddler likes. The servers are friendly to kids. They also do a pretty nice weekend brunch which includes Italian antipasto.

                  Turtle Bread isn't a chain -- they have a couple of locations plus an outpost in the skyway system. The bakery items are excellent. Lunch and breakfast options can be good; service is generally friendly but clueless. (This was also my experience at Levain.) The ice cream shop next door -- Pumphouse Creamery -- is fabulous, but it has no ownership connection with Turtle Bread.

                  Ba Gu Sushi (across the street) is not bad. They do carryout.

                  Broder's is terrific. Beware of long waits on weekend evenings. They also do carryout.

                  Another nearby option is Morelos Mex Grill in the Hub shopping center at Nicollet & 66th. Pretty decent Americanized Mexican food.

                  1. re: Jordan

                    Thanks for the info on Al Vento - we'll take her with us and give it a try soon.

                    I guess I thought of Turtle Bread as a chain because of that skyway location - it's not far from my office. We'll have to head up to the Chicago location one evening - they must be open for dinner since they list their hours until 9PM.

                    1. re: Jordan

                      Besides Broder's Pasta Bar, there is also Broder's Cucina Italiana across the street. Much more of a "red sauce" deli counter than a formal restaurant, but there are several tables. It's the best restaurant in the world according to my 7 year old who is a pasta hound. I enjoy their eggplant parmigiana, their pizza, and their stromboli as well as their pasta.


                      1. re: Jordan

                        My wife and I love Heidi's, which opened up last Fall and already requires reservations to get a table. Another favorite is Primo's around Lyndale and 48th. Cafe Levain on 48th and Chicago is always good. South Minneapolis has lots of high end and lots of average restaurants now -- the important thing is the word "lots".

                      2. re: Kilgore

                        Kilgore, I have three kids and would take them to all of my recommendations above (although I didn't post based on dinner obviously).

                        I had started in on BBQ but deleted it, trying to stay along the lines of healthy/wholesome. Since you mention Scott JaMama's, I share in your opinion. I don't get it at all. Ted Cook's up on E 38th near Hiawatha is a different story -- not world class BBQ but it's pretty close to the top in MSP. Take-out only but you're close to Minnehaha Park and could do a picnic.

                        1. re: MSPD

                          I know it isn't the healthiest place but we like Adrians on 48th & Chicago. It's like a small town bar where you can bring the whole family. There's always lots of kids and it's friendly. I agree about Dominguez, Hot Plate and Al Vento, all great. Perla, not so great. The one time we went, the food was of such poor quality I couldn't go back. There is rumored to be a veg/mex place in a strip mall on Lyndale near 65th but that's all I know. I love the diner on 54th and 34th Ave (Nokomis Cafe?) for breakfast but that's a bit out of your way. We need more and better restaurants down here!