HOME > Chowhound > Great Lakes >


Rochester, MN update

Not many Rochester posts lately, so I thought I'd post my current faves. Remember, Rochester is not a food town (previous posts, esp by Garris, describe this well and postulate possible reasons). But, should you find youself here, you'll need to eat:


El Gallo Taqueria, hands down. No place in town comes close. Very good, very authentic Mexican food. The mole enchiladas, menudo, posole, and tamales are especially good. Absolutely no atmosphere, located in a strip mall near the big Hy Vee, but you can eat awesome tacos, watch telenovelas on TV, and drink beer. It reminds me of neighborhood joints back home in San Antonio. Dos Amigos is popular, but mostly the only reason to go there is to have a drink on the very pleasant outside patio when the weather is fine. Do yourself a favor and don't eat there though.

Not much for good Chinese down here, so don't bother.
There's a vietnamese cafe on Broadway just north of downtown called, I think, Vietnamese Cafe. It's quite good for pho and such, but the owner/chef/waiter/host really excells at seafood. Get whatever is fresh in his ginger sauce.

There is a new Indan place on Broadway just south of highway 14 (south of downtown) on your right where Phnom Phen used to be. Standard not too exciting indian cuisine, but reasonably good and not afraid to make it spicy. (Minnesotans are well known for considering garlic and ketchup to be spicy, so the waitress will let you know you still have to pay even if you don't like your dinner should you order it spicy.)

Newt's has great burgers and a wide selection of beer. Crowded at peak hours (6 to 7pm here) you'll have no trouble getting a table at 8:30.

The Break Room is a wonderfully dive-y bar that happens to have great burgers. My husband swears by the peanut butter bacon burger, which sounds gross to me, but their cheeseburgers really can't be beat. The burgers fall into the category of flat-well-done and are the best in town for that category. Newt's has the rounded patty-cooked-to-order variety.

Sandwiches - Nelson Cheese is on broadway just north of downtown. Great sandwiches and ice cream too.

Pizza - there really isn't a very good place in town. The best pizzas are at Sontes, a tapas restaurant described below. The pizza at Redwood room is okay, if too salty. Don't let anyone send you to Billotti's. It's close to downtown but not for eating. Pizza Man, Paradise Petes, and O'Neil's pizza pub are reaonable places to get a pie, but by no means good.

Nice places for a cozy glass of wine and a good/decent meal:

Jasper's is my favorite in this category. Very good Alsatian cuisine, OK if somewhat uninspired wine list, awesome desserts and an attractive atmosphere. On 3rd St SW between broadway and 1st Ave. (The cobblestone block downtown).

Sontes is a tie with Jasper's for my favorite place in town for dinner. On the corner of 3rd St SW and Broadway. Excellent tapas, a fun, varied wine list, and a stylish but cozy atmosphere. Some locals complain a bit about small portions and high prices, but the theory is small shared plates and the food quality is high with lots of meat sourced from local farms, excellent cheeses, and good produce. The people who with that complaint seem to overlap heavily with the people who love the Macaroni Grill and pine for a local Chilis franchise. Me, I prefer reasonable amounts of very good food to mountainous portions of cheap, bland filler.

Prescott's is at Broadway and 14 in the Crossroads strip mall. Really quite good food, sort of neuveau italian-y but not in a bad way. Excellent, well edited wine list and a sommalier who can always suggest something that I haven't tried before and love. Highly recommended.

Redwood room has a lovely atmosphere and live music most nights. A great place to hang out and have a drink, but the menu suffers from a heavy hand with the over-salting and the chef has a tendency to combine random ingredients that should never have met (just because you can doesn't mean you should) and loves to put sweet sauces on everything. Not really bad food, but I can't say it's good either.

Broadstreet is upstairs from Redwood room. The chef has a much higher opinion of his/her talents than is reasonable. Just about everything comes with a cloyingly sweet sauce, even things that you'd think really shouldn't. Good desserts, not a bad place to go if someone else is paying, but given that you're in for a good $50 per person, eat some tacos at El Gallo and save your money to head up to Minneapolis and eat somewhere actually good.

City Cafe has reasonable seafood much of the time. Owned by the same folks as Redwood Room and Broadstreet, technique in the kitchen can be VERY spotty and there is a heavy leaning toward the sticky sweet sauces. That said, not a bad place especially if you want something healthy. Also about the only place to eat after 9pm.

Chardonnay has great desserts and a wide selection of good wines, but their food has been abysmal each time I've tried to go and spotty by what I've heard from friends. Greasy, poor quality meats, cheap cheeses, etc. And yet very expensive. I've heard that there's a new chef, so maybe it would be worth trying again sometime (when someone else is paying.)

Victoria's is a popular italian place right downtown. Really terrible food, cheap ingredients, sauces thickened by something that is not cream and may be corn starch. One of the only places for a quick sit down hot lunch in between work obligations, but there really isn't ever a reason to go there for dinner.

Michael's is fun if you want to go a bit retro, but isn't all that good really. Old fashioned items like surf and turf. Not bad, but not good either.

A bit further afield but worth the drive:

Harbor View is awesome. About 45 min from Rochester in Pepin, WI. Closed in the wintertime, they have wonderful food, a varied, seasonal menu, and use mostly local products. No reservations and they take only cash, but you won't mind waiting for a table on the front patio sipping a Spotted Cow on tap and watching the boats on lake Pepin.

Nosh in Lake City is an inspired restaurant that uses amazing local ingredients and classic technique. Great service, great wine list, I can't say enough good things. About 20 minutes from Rochester.

Provisions - If Rochester suffers from a paucity of good restaurants, it makes up for that deficiency with a wealth of amazing local provisions for the home cook. The farmer's market is one of the best I've ever been to, the locally grown vegetables are comprable to what you'd find in Northern California markets, and there are really wonderful farms nearby who produce humanely raised meats.

My provision picks:

The farmer's market is Saturdays in spring, summer, and fall at 4th St SW and Mayo Park. Amazing selection of fresh, local produce and meats. In winter it's every other weekend indoors at the fairgrounds. Some storage crops, still lots of good meats and some cheese, butter, etc.

My picks: Rock Spring farm for veggies (they also do a killer CSA) and also a church co-op of Hmong farmers for beautiful vegetables. Misty Meadows farm for grass-finished beef and lamb and Hidden Stream Farm for pork. Both also have excellent chicken and eggs.

Bread/desserts/cakes/pastries - Daube's bakery on Civic Center Drive. Mrs Daube does great work. Beautiful cakes, excellent breads. Also a nice place to relax on Sunday morning with a kolache, coffee, and the New York Times.

Produce, cheese - Rochester produce on 2nd St SW, west of Hwy 53. Excellent produce with lots of local options. Best selection of quality cheeses in town, as well as other hard to find items (hard to find in Rochester that is) such as Israeli couscous and Italian farro. Also lots of local meats.

Organic meats, produce, bulk items, spices - The Good Food Store on 6th St NW just north of Civic Center Dr is a great organic co-op.

Indian provisions - Rice and Spice

Fish, seafood - the Asian Food Market on Broadway, on your left as you go north from downtown with a red awning. Hy Vee has some good fish sometimes, but doesn't do as much turnover and things are not reliably fresh. I've had much better luck at the asian market.

Butcher - Ye Olde Butcher shop. Not local or organic, but a real butcher with very good quality meats and they'll cut it any which way you ask.

Supermarket - Barlow Hy Vee at Civic Center Dr and 11th Ave. Good for staples, pretty good produce section, but cheap factory-farmed meats and iffy fish counter.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. thanks for your update!

    i recently post in this thread http://www.chowhound.com/topics/48655... but wasn't quite as detailed as yours.

    haven't heard of El Gallo Taqueria (even tho we sometimes shop at barlow hy vee) so gotta try that! we've been to Dos Amigos (both locations) and Azteca (by K-mart) which i think were okay... not as good as the food i'd had in mexico tho!

    Broadstreet is no longer but a new one is opening: http://postbulletin.typepad.com/kiger...

    lunch at great harvest is pretty good too. i love their bread and pastries. my fav is the caramel apple scones! love their challah bread.

    i found that authentic spring rolls (what americans called egg rolls) - is actually at whistle binkies south (haven't tried it at north)! closest to hong kong style i'd here. i like the scotch eggs too.

    been to Pannekoeken Restaurant south once, had a Pannekoeken dish with cheese, tomato, mushroom etc which was pretty good. like the Pannekoeken dessert (we had apple with icecream).

    went to that new chinese buffet place by barlow (international buffet or something?) - it was okay, satisfied my sushi fix just because there aren't many options to get sushi here. since i'm chinese, the chinese food is more westernized.

    i want to try prescotts, hu-pot, and the upcoming sushi itto.

    1. Thank you so much for your post. I moved to Rochester last October and am slowly discovering the restaurant scene in Rochester. Your comment about Rochester not being a food town is right, but I am finding a few little gems...all of which you listed.

      Thank you for suggesting El Gallo Taqueria. My partner and I tried it after work today and it is wonderful! We'll definitely go back. I would also like to second your comments about Dos Amigos... I was there for a meeting last week and made the mistake of ordering lunch. I won't be doing that again!

      Finally, I'd like to make a plug for the south Hy Vee grocery store -- it's closer to Apache Plaza. I had lost all hope of finding a few things that I usually get at the Mpls co-ops...until I found the south Hy Vee!! (...and the Good Food Store.)

      3 Replies
      1. re: lindsaybrice

        i've shopped at all 3 hy-vee. used to go to the south one often as we used to live near there. now we usually go to north or barlow since we live between the two. the north one seems to be older... the barlow one seems to have a bigger ethnic selection.


        forgot to add that i also ate at paradise pete's once - i forgot what i had, i think the crabcake which was okay. i really like the cheesecake though (forgot what flavor it was)!

        1. re: lindsaybrice

          I just wanted to put a plug in for Roscoe's. It's a great little barbecue place by a park where you walk up and order BBQ and root beer. They also have one across town that is open year round. Their pulled pork sandwiches are great.

          1. re: jenniegirl

            at roscoes i like their bbq pork nachos too - a large dish to share!

            we like their ribs too (tho it was better the first time we went than the 2nd time. during the first visit the meat just came right off the bones).

        2. per your recommendation, went to El Gallo Taqueria recently. had the mexican taco with mexican sausage. i like their home made taco shells! the sausage was a little salty for me. also tried their spiced rice drink which is interesting. i like that you get to pick different sauces for the nachos! the lady at the cashier was friendly. also bought 2 pastries home (one is filled with banana and pineapple filling, the other is more like a bun). they were okay, not as good as the pastries i'd had in mexico but of course they were fresh.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ummm

            Two recent openings...."300" is a refresh of the Broadstreet. The remodel is great. Much more casual with a focus on hanging out for a drink in the bar. Menu is steak focused but other choices are there. The brick chicken was very solid. Sides are ala carte and are really good. Food prices are very friendly, wine list and prices are a bit hit or miss. Beer prices are nice. All in all, I'm very excited about this place and see it as one of my go to spots. Again, a really nice design.

            Chester's is open at the Galleria. I liked the setting but others gave it mixed reviews. It certainly is a good location. Food is hearty and the pork chops that i had were very good. I had a beer, and I'm not remembering much about the wine list. Prices were nice with entrees under $20. My entree was maybe $15 OR $16 with sides.

          2. Nice summary!

            For Mexican, I recommend El Carambas, near Big Lots. We go there only for their soft shell tacos, nothing else grabs our attention. The menu for the types of tacos is only in Spanish, however. No fish tacos!

            For pizza, there is a new place in the Galleria, z-pizza. The toppings look very interesting, but we haven't been there. Nick and Willy's would get my vote for the best pizza, at least the toppings are interesting.

            The Vietnamese Cafe has great noodles in soup. [More than just pho.] We haven't had their fish. All the Chinese and Thai dishes we've seen others order do not look very good. Alas, the place smells like frying grease, so don't wear clothing you need to dry clean.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jbradfor

              My family lives in Rochester, so I end up there about once a month. Not wanting to wait for an hour and a half at APPLEBEE's like the rest of town, I try to find someplace good to go. Pretty hard task. I do like Valentino's, in the NE. They had pretty gross pasta, but the pizza is good, especially if you get cream cheese as a topping. Really good and really cheap. Even if I don't have time to eat there, I get a pie to take back to the Cities-that's how good it is. I've never been an absolute fan, but Fiesta Mexicana is two minutes from my parents house, and a family favorite.

              1. re: jenniegirl

                I just moved to the area (Zumbrota) and I haven't explored Rochester much. I went to Prescott's last night and it was fabulous! A better experience, IMHO than many similar places in Mpls. The service was excellent. I got a perfectly cooked sirloin peppercorn steak and loved it. The sides were fantastic too: grilled local spring onions, fettucini (seemed home made?) tossed with zucchini and edamame. The bread was good, the coffee was good (didn't sample the wine list). Overall a great place. It was a bit spendy, but my mom was treating me :) I recommend it for a nice night out--don't let the seedy discount mall it's located in fool you!

            2. They added a couple of fresh homemade pastas to the redwood room menu. The best IMO is some large 3 cheese tortellini in a light lemon cream sauce. It is the best thing south of broders.

              1. UPDATE: Avocado's has gone belly up. Redwood Room has added some very solid neapolitan pizzas. The Pho Hoa on 37th st and 18th ave has changed names but the food remains amazingly good. The chicken and Ginger hotpot is so good.

                1 Reply
                1. The cheese has pretty much moved out of rochester produce and into it's own store. Great selection of artisan cheese and specialty foods, at Culinary Market, on civic center drive and 1 ave nw (www.culinary-market.com)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nynative

                    they also have some really good prosciutto and spanish dry cured stuff. Latter is expensive, but really interesting.

                  2. Does anybody know of any culinary groups or clubs other than the mayo thing?

                    1. Giving this a bump. We're going to be in Rochester (tomorrow! - nothing like last minute trips) for lunch. It seems like a lot of these recommendations are for dinner spots, so I'm wondering what would be good for a nice lunch. We've been to Chester's, which is good, but we'd like to try some place new. Would Jasper's or Prescott's be good lunch spots?

                      1. We ended up eating at Jasper's which was delightful. Our soups and sandwiches were great, but the real crown jewels here are desserts. My husband and I split a princess torte (two layers of vanilla cake with a lingonberry mousse filling surrounded by a delightful fondant). It was really fantastic. It's a tiny little place, but a definitely must stop for those in Rochester.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Seige

                          I agree that jaspers is a great lunch place and their desserts are really really top notch. Pastries are an some of the best that I've had in the states.. At dinner it can be a bit hit and miss, but we like it anyway.

                        2. I had to say as far as Chinese goes, for me there is nothing better than The Fresh Wok in Wabasha, Plainview and Lake City. I know that they are not totally authentic but they have tasty, fresh food, served with flair and style. I have tried just about everything on their menu at one time or another and they have never disappointed me. I especially like the Seven Starts around the moon, beautiful presentation and the food is absolutely the best Chinese I have had, period.

                          A close second IMHO is Happy Family in St.Charles, served for take aways only, they give you excellent food and a very reasonable price. Very consistent quality and fast service is typical of this family restaurant.

                          Winona, continues to be a black hole, That great sucking sound is Winona!! Even the so-called gourmet places (country clubs) are way too pricey and the food is just ordinary, having been to receptions, business meetings, and several times for dinner, I would say the business meetings and large groups get the best food, everything else is just the same, very boring. Chicken, fish, pork, beef, same sauces, same presentation, may as well go to Ground Round and watch a ball game, at least the food is priced closer to what it should be there.

                          Check out the Fresh Wok.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: sulkinginwinona

                            As far as Mexican food goes...there is a new (and credible option) called La Fondita, in the small Mexican grocery in Barlow plaza.

                            1. re: cjrice

                              is that in the little strip mall area closer to civic center drive?

                              1. re: chrisinroch

                                yes...across from international buffet

                          2. Had nice meal at Jasper's last night. Duck breast was a new item and was perfectly prepared. Finished with the amazing sticky pudding. Dang that was good

                            1. Anybody hear anything about a little place in Pine Island that was started by a former chesters/prescotts cook?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: chrisinroch

                                rainbow cafe?

                                haven't tried it yet but recently read it in the paper:

                                1. re: chrisinroch

                                  just wanted to clarify :) - former head pastry chef at sontes/prescotts and former city cafe/sontes cook as well as sous chef at the Ramada

                                  1. re: Heather25

                                    I ate there during the summer with a group and friends and thought it was quite good. The oysters were fresh and were reasonably priced. My BLT salad wasn't drowning in dressing (huge plus) and had a good ratio of bacon and tomato to salad greens (another plus in my book). I had the Mahi mahi, grilled, with a lemon garlic sauce as an entree. If you order off the steak/fish menu, you get your choice of cut/fish, how it's cooked, and the type of sauce it's dressed with. The mahi mahi was cooked beautifully and the sauce was light and complemented the fish perfectly. Meal sizes were a bit inconsistent in that my fish portion was considerably larger than 2 other dining companions’ who ordered the same type of fish. There may have been a few veggies that came with my dish, but for the most part, everything is a la carte off the steak/fish menu. Everyone in our party ordered off that menu, so I can't speak for the signature dishes. From what I remember, everyone enjoyed their meals and left the table happy and full. Our waiter was attentive without being intrusive, and was very helpful in figuring out good wine pairings for our dishes. It's been a while since I've been there, but I hope this helps a little! I'd definitely go back there, especially since they're open for lunch :)

                                  2. Any updates for 2010? Any hidden gems? New ethnic delights? Not looking for upscale.....casual good eats.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: mhcpita

                                      I'd absolutely recommend Rainbow Cafe in Pine Island. Laid-back atmosphere, knowledgeable chefs, perfectly fried walleye sandwich, and some of the best, most creative desserts within biking distance of Rochester. It's worth the drive, especially considering how affordable the food is. Much better than some of the downtown Rochester joints that charge a killing just 'cause they have an upscale atmosphere, but mediocre food.

                                      1. re: mhcpita

                                        I agree the Rainbow Cafe is very good, but sometimes a day in Rochester (Mayo) can be draining and you don't feel like driving.

                                        New in the past year or so are two other great ones:

                                        Nupa Express www.nupaexpress.com

                                        Very casual and well prepared Mediterranean

                                        And Clay Oven, our current favorite.


                                        1. re: Stan

                                          Tried Clay Oven and loved it! Any thoughts on Zzest? Any other places you would recommend?

                                          1. re: njk

                                            I haven't been to Zzest yet. It was closed twice when we tried to go on probably a Monday.

                                            I like Jasper's for a romantic dinner.

                                            China Star had good take out. (they have tables there also) Many of our trip have involved fasting prior to a procedure, where broth is allowed. Won ton broth can be the most tasty thing when nothing else is allowed.

                                            What kind of places do you like?

                                            1. re: njk

                                              Zzest was fun to try. We went once. Their menu changes all the time depending on what they have. It's not a real restaurant, but part of their shop.