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Feb 15, 2008 10:26 AM

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.

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  1. thanks for your update!

    i recently post in this thread 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:

    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.