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St. Paul restaurants... best kept secrets?


I am traveling to St. Paul on business next week and I am looking for a few great restaurants - the best of the best in the area. I am staying in the St. Paul Hotel and will not be renting a car this trip. I'm fine grabbing a cab but would prefer to stay within 15 minutes of the hotel... Price isn't an object, but with that said, I do really want tasty food. What I'm not looking for is Thai, BBQ, Pub Grub, etc.

Your recommendations would be much appreciated.


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  1. People are probably really tired of hearing me trumpet this place, but The Strip Club. I think most of the other places in St. Paul that I love are either ethnic places or pub grub. Cafe Latte for dessert, but their food doesn't stand out. Punch Pizza in Highland may be more than 15 minutes away but I'd make the trip.

    Cafe Latte
    850 Grand Ave Ste 1, Saint Paul, MN 55105

    The Strip Club
    378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

    Punch Neapolitan Pizza - DUPlicate
    704 Cleveland Ave, S St Paul, MN

    1 Reply
    1. re: drew13000

      Perhaps dinner is better. Our lunch was horrible. Po-boy special - burnt. Walleye sandwich -well well overdone. Salad OK. Server uncaring/unknowing. This was four months after opening. I was excited to go - after seeing many amazing reviews. Perhaps I'll try again.

    2. Heartland gets great reviews. Though I haven't been there yet, my wine-drinking friends went to the wine bar last month and loved it (both the wine and the food).

      But me, I'm a hole-in-the-wall ethnic eatery kind of girl. The fanciest place I ever go to in downtown St. Paul is Tanpopo - it's a nice mix of stylish and casual, both in the decor and the food. (You can follow the Tanpopo link to read previous threads, to see if it's your kind of place.)

      Enjoy your visit!


      1806 St. Clair Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

      Tanpopo Noodle Shop
      308 Prince St, Saint Paul, MN 55101

      4 Replies
      1. re: AnneInMpls

        Drew and Anne -

        I know what you mean about ethnic... It's a fav of mine, and living in Seattle, I have so much to choose from.

        I really like all of your suggestions, but I think I might give Heartland a try - I loved the menu!

        Do you know anything about the restaurant in the St. Paul hotel? I have heard good drinks, but so-so food.

        Thanks so much!!

        1. re: sassyseattle

          The St. Paul Grill (hotel) is a good restaurant, but if I were you I'd take a walk down the street to Meritage, it about a block from where you are staying. My experience there has always been top notch.

          410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

          1. re: dinendash

            Finally. I couldn't believe no one had suggested Meritage yest (i actually tried to post a recommendation earlier but was stymied by a bum internet connection). Like d'n'd ive only had awesome experiences there, and you can't beat that commute (its seriously just outside the hotels doors).

            of the others, heartland would give you a great taste of contemporary midwestern, and its nice that you wouldnt have to haul all the way to minneapolis. The strip club is a bit closer, and also has excellent local flavor. you couldn't go wrong with one (or more) of those three.

        2. re: AnneInMpls

          Second Heartland, it is really tasty.

        3. I wouldn't call it a secret, but the patio at W.A. Frost is the perfect place to spend a summer evening, and it's close to downtown.

          We also like Muffuletta, but it may be just a bit longer than a 15-minute cab ride if there's traffic.

          Barbary Fig is a nice place in summer too. You can eat dinner on their deck, then walk down to Cafe Latte for dessert.

          1. i second the recs for heartland, tanpopo, & strip club. other winners may be meritage & w.a. frost (oops i guess that's a second for w.a. frost, as Lizzie beat me to it-- i'll add it to the wiki links), and ngon vietnamese bistro.

            st paul hotel has a pleasing view for brunch, which might be nice, but the food is ime mediocre. the bar is good, but woe is to the high end scotch lover with the bad luck to arrive underdressed. better service can be had elsewhere if your duds don't match those of the mid-level management state workers.

            adding a link to your hotel so you can gauge cab distance

            Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
            799 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

            W.A. Frost & Co
            374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102

            St Paul Grill
            350 Market Street, St. Paul, MN 55102

            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

            1. Hard to go wrong with what is offered here. My preference is Heartland. But I do need to get back to Meritage. I was there twice within the first few weeks they were open, and had yet to hit their groove.

              One not mentioned yet is Cafe 128. Since they've reopened, I've had a couple of very good meals there.

              You commented that money isn't an object, so maybe this won't matter but... Cabs in the Twin Cities are more expensive than in most major cities. So even a 15-minute ride (and a 15-minute ride back) is going to be close to $50. So...

              You can walk to Meritage. You can walk to Pazzaluna (not mentioned yet; and some find it tasty). You might be tempted to walk to Kincaid's. Don't.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Brad Ballinger

                It would seem somewhat silly (especially with your comments about price) to let a few minutes of cab travel keep you from heartland, but it is about twice as far (as the google map flies) from your hotel as the strip club.

                i went to college around the corner and had several celebratory meals there that were all very good . . . but dont expect much in terms of surroundings. its in a pretty nondescript building in a mostly residential neighborhood. of all my good experiences there, one thing always stuck out about about the location: you'll have an awesome view of the gas station across the street. some people (myself included) would suggest that the relatively low-profile location is part of heartland's charm. it just may not jibe with your desire as a visitor to see the sights, as it were.

                1. re: tex.s.toast

                  Actually, I like the heartland space. It's very serene inside. Very tasteful.

                2. re: Brad Ballinger

                  I disagree about the cab fares. We can go from our home to the airport (about 15-20 minutes) for $18-25 depending on traffic. I have also taken a cab from downtown Mpls to my home (same distance) and it's always under $30.

                  1. re: LizzieB_MSP

                    The poster said $50 there and back, which if you include a tip both ways, is just about right for a 15-min drive.

                3. Downscale tasty....

                  You probably don't have anything like Maverick's in Seattle. If there were a heaven and an Arby's in that heaven, that Arby's would be Maverick's. And it's in St. Paul. So you don't have to die to get to it. Just get to Larpenteur and Lexington. It's in the strip mall on the NE corner...maybe the one just north of that.

                  It's right next to a Subway so at lunch time you can stand in the parking lot and watch people divide up into those making the right choice and those making the wrong choice.

                  Get the roast beef sandwich. Fries are ok too. I ignore the rest of the menu.

                  Or go to the Gopher Bar for a really interesting coney dog served by what can be the most colorful kitchen staff in St. Paul. George, known for reciting Carlin's list when anyone presents a challenge to his cuisine or politics, was really sweet with my young daughters (gave them free surprise fudge-sicles and gained loyal customers for life for only $0.35 each).

                  Head up E. 7th into a sketchy neighborhood to a pretty damn good taqueria (Los Ocampos?).

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                    Maverick's is excellent, but a little out of your way for a fast food type joint.

                    Heartland is excellent, and I would definitely recommend it.

                    If you want a local legend, get to Mickey's. Not exactly fine dining, but a nice landmark nonetheless.

                    Meritage is a good spot too.

                    Some people aren't as high on it, but I love the pizza at Cossettas. Their sausage is some of the best you will find anywhere. I've never had the pasta, as I'm tend to stay away from things served out of steam trays.

                    1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                      as to the proprietor of the gopher bar, and his take on politics/culture, i'm not in the habit of rec-ing it to out of town guests. here's why: i don't think he runs a true hospitality establishment, because he is not equally hospitable to all patrons. in fact, he'll sometimes decide to refuse service. i think it would be a shame if a visitor were rudely turned away at the door of any msp restaurant, and took away that impression of our fair cities.

                      1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                        "Head up E. 7th into a sketchy neighborhood to a pretty damn good taqueria (Los Ocampos?)."

                        Agreed but there is nothin wrong with the ghetto, sometimes you have to go there to get the good stuff.

                        1. re: EricShawnSmith

                          To be sure. However, the OP did mention that price was no object, and i may be wrong but i think the etc after PubGrub, pizza and bbq may include huaraches (as damn tasty as they may be.

                          Also, while i LOVE Los Ocampo, and even miss it sometimes while living in southern california, i dont think any kind of mexican would be my first rec to give a west-coaster an impression of the twinies food scene.

                          as a side note, if the OP does end up heading to LO, does the 7th St location have real silverware? (though i suppose its unlikely s/hes traveling with her/his own utensils) it took a good 4 or 5 visits to the MGM location before i remembered how much better eating their huaraches is with a real knife and fork instead of the totally inadequate plasticware provided.

                      2. i highly reccomend cathedral hill . w.a. frost.il vesco vino happy gnome muddy pig..one cab ride and you can hit them all..also moscow on the hill and that other italian place..check it out

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: WaiterEater

                          Not a restaurant, but I've recently discovered the cupcakes at the St. Paul Cookie Co. in the skyway. They have a lemon with cream cheese frosting and a chocolate with cream cheese frosting that are delicious.

                        2. I would suggest an unassuming strip mall joint, "La Hacienda", on West 7th Street in the Sibley Plaza, about five miles from your hotel. They serve a mix of Salvadoran, Peruvian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and American. That might sound scary, but when I ate there in October and was thoroughly impressed. From the Salvadoran section I ordered carne deshilada (shredded beef) and a bean and cheese pupusa, and both were absolutely delightful, as were the pre-meal nachos with their "secret ingredient" sauce. Portion sizes are large (you get a lot ordering the carne deshilada...tortillas, beans, etc. in addition to the shredded beef), and prices low.

                          You might also consider trying Babani's Kurdish restaurant, not far from where you're staying downtown. They're supposed to be either the first or only (or both) Kurdish restaurant in the country. Not the best, but at least it's an opportunity to try a rare cuisine. Make sure you get the dowjic soup.

                          La Hacienda
                          2467 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55116

                          1. Sassy....welcome

                            The hotel has a car and driver who will be more than happy to drop you at any of the local spots mentioned. A cab ride to the hotel from heartland, strip club, wa frost will be about $10. If its a slow night the driver will be happy to come pick you up as well.

                            I'd highly recommend Meritage. And WA frost.

                            has anyone eaten at Il Vesco Vino recently? They switched chefs and I haven't heard if the food improved. It is a wonderful spot (patio) for a glass or 2 of wine.

                            I'd also add the Downtowner in there. and if I mention the downtowner I should mention the Lexington as well. Both have nice bars if you are dining alone. (if that's what you prefer) Plus the downtowner is walkable.

                            Lexington Restaurant
                            1096 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

                            Downtowner Cafe [SEE DOWNTOWNER WOODFIRE GRILL]
                            253 West 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: St Paul Susie

                              I'd agree with Meritage and Heartland.

                              Last month at Meritage I ate as a starter a salad with white asparagus, white anchovies, preserved lemon, pine nuts, light vinaigrette and a poached egg that was so delicious, so full of flavor, that I considered eating it again as my main.

                              Love the honey wood space and relaxed ambiance at Heartland, the great service, and especially and every time the flora (vegetarian) tasting menus. It's always a decent meal and many times an outstanding one. And never anything less than interesting to see, and taste, what Lenny Russo has put together from whatever's on his mind, and in his kitchen, that week.

                              W.A. Frost disappoints me. My last three meals there have been underwhelming to downright bad. The menu's too fussy; everything seems to have at least two too many ingredients. Come to think of it, I haven't liked it since Klein left. Although my last meal there did end with an excellent cheese plate and a glass of good port. So between the cheese plate, the port, the patio, the beautiful brick warmth of the building, and the fact that it was the site of my wedding reception almost 20 years ago, I guess I've still got reasons to go. But a fantastic dinner isn't among them.

                            2. Ngon Bistro bridges the worlds of Vietnamese cooking and local foods conciousness.
                              Fischer Pure bred pork, THousand Hills beef, and Wild Acres Poultry is found on some of the most expensive menus in the region, and here it's actually affordable. Really delicious pho with more subtlety than I've had elsewhere. Shaved rib-eye and meat balls with vermicelli, and a side of sprouts, chili pepper, and lime. A little menudo like in it's earthy character, but such nice light spice in the broth. Pork Skewer salad wraps were finger licking good an d worth the mess. They had a little grill char and sweet sauce. Didn't try any of the spendier entrees. There were some interesting sounding ones including a Wild Acres duck breast. These are sold all over the country and were made somewhat popular by Marcus Samuelsson during the Aquavit stint. Dining room is clean and bright. The chef/owners wife is an interior designer and the room is "real purty".

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: keg

                                I agree with Ngon as a hidden gem and good recommendation. In addition to great food they also have a very nice wine list with good prices.

                                Il vesco vino has an outstanding patio complete with misters to keep you cool as produce. I have always ordered off the appetizer and small plate sections of the menu and have been very happy every time. the WA frost patio is great but the one at il vesco vino is more airy and private.