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Dec 22, 2009 07:14 AM

MSP - St. Paul recommendations

I am going to be in St Paul the first few weeks of next year. I used to live there and will be revisiting some old haunts (but it's a while since I lived there and so much will have changed).

Could I ask for some local recommendations.

Firstly, is there anything much that's worthwhile that is Skyway accessible (or walkable from downtown) these days? I assume the system has expanded considerably since the 80's when there wasn't much going on at night really.

I like all kinds of food, but particularly European ethnic, unpretentious French, good regional Italian, and one-of-a-kind and/or long-established places (like Mama's Pizza, or Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter for example). I am also fond of authentic Cantonese or other authentic Chinese.

A place from olden days I never tried was Mancini's. It sounds a bit like St Paul version of Johnny's Cafe in Omaha (which I like).

But I will try anything. Since I generally dine alone, I also enjoy places with good people-watching.

Am particularly interested in the East side of the Metroplex though.

Thanks a lot. It's appreciated. I will pick up a Twin Cities Restaurant Guide once I get there no doubt.

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    1. Downtown...

      Meritage on St. Peter across from Rice Park. I think the skyway goes to the Hamm Building, which has an entrance to Meritage. I've had two average experiences there, but others have had better ones.

      Babani on St. Peter (at 11th). This is a Kurdish restaurant that puts out very good dishes. Especially the soups.

      Senor Wong's on 4th. A Latin American-Asian fusion concept that works good enough. Everything I've had has been pretty good. There's a decent bar scene, and good beers on tap.

      Mickey's Diner on 7th. You asked for "institutions" so...

      East of Downtown...

      Strip Club on Maria. It's all about the steak. And the steaks are cooked expertly.

      Red's Savoy Inn on East 7th. Another "institution" for pizza and red sauce pasta dishes.

      West 7th...

      Day By Day Cafe. Good for breakfast and lunch. Good people watching among the clientele.

      Mancini's. Hasn't changed except it (like all St. Paul places) is now blissfully non-smoking.

      DiGidio's. Italian institution. Not sure you're going to find "regional" you're looking for, but you asked about instituions, so this makes the list.

      University Avenue...

      LIttle Szechuan. Some consider it one of the top Chinese (but it is Szechuan, not Cantonese) places in the Twin Cities.

      Ngon Bistro. Higher scale Vietnamese fusion place. Good beer list.

      Grand Avenue...

      Punch Woodfire Pizza. I prefer the original location at Cleveland and HIghland Parkway, but this one is closer to downtown St. Paul. Authentic Neapolitan style pizze.

      Brasa. Nextdoor to Punch. Fantastic Southern/Caribbean style meats and sides.

      So that's a start. There are also neighborhood gems like Heartland (at. St. Clair and Fairview) and the neighborhood institutions like The Nook at Randolph and Hamline.

      Others will add more places.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Brad Ballinger

        Just a quick clarification - The Skyway no longer attaches to the Hamm building, but it can get you within a block of the restaurant. Probably head to the Wells Fargo building and then through the mid-block plaza area that passes by Great Waters, take a left and you are there.

        1. re: Brad Ballinger

          Brad's tips are spot on. One I would add is Barrio, located across from Mears Park. Excellent Mexican plates - one of Tim McKee's places.

          1. re: rp1760

            I appreciate all the recommendations. Next week, the rubber meets the road.

          2. re: Brad Ballinger

            Happy Gnome has amazing beer variety and better than run of the mill bar food (beats Champs or Applebees). I just tried Dark Horse Scotch Ale. It's like drinking maple syrup with bubbles and 10% alcohol. It totally left me hung over....but I liked it.

            1. re: JimGrinsfelder

              Has the food gotten more tolerable there or is it still pretty bad? I haven't been since the year they opened.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I feel like the food is slightly better recently. But still not as good as I wish it were or as it sounds as if it should be. Anyway, that's what I think...

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  imo, food is prettier to look at rather than more delicious to eat. it's not as abysmally bad as when it first opened, when they were screwing up salad, etc. nowadays i'd share an app over a beer or something at HG, but would still eat my mains elsewhere. beer is great, as JimG says. really wish that some of the effort that goes into making the food pretty would go into making it *taste* good--even if they served one or two good bar-food type items. . . c'mon dudes.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    Bummer, turtlebella and sk, that the food isn't as good as the beer list or as delicious as it is attractive. It's also one of my favorite patios in St. Paul, so, it could really be one of my favorite places if food tasted good. The times I was there, they couldn't even serve the desserts properly, even though A Piece of Cake (which is awesome!) across the street was making them.


                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I don't know when you went, but my husband and I have been greatly impressed by this place. One of the few I've actually pulled the manager aside to compliment them. I think it's a nice casual alternative to Meritage or the Heartland. Can't wait until they open up the Hangar Room!

                    1. re: larsonkl

                      I agree with larsonkl.... The one time I went last summer, I was pleasantly suprised by the food. Perhaps it was a fluke?

              2. Thanks for the immediate response and very useful (and well-augering) ones. I will be sampling and posting come Jan.

                1. since it sounds like you will be staying downtown i'm going to echo the recs for meritage. excellent french/french influenced. bonus that it's open for lunch & brunch. walkable.

                  strip club (on maria ave)-- short cab fare away. grassfed steaks and local meats. a mean cocktail. highly recommended. i also like (and miss) their delicious weekend brunch menu.

                  mancinis-- an old-school classic steakhouse. more about the ambiance than the food, but probably a good time for a solo diner. loved taking my dad here.

                  heartland-- longer cab fare. the local foods focus here and level of execution make this a *must* on the list.

                  bulldog-- on mears park. higher-end burgers, dogs, and good tap list.

                  i don't know if you were aware that mama's pizza had a fire a few years back, rebuilt and is back in biz. :) great for the "st paul pizza and red sauce fix."

                  since you mention you enjoy gasthaus i'll mention a newer german place on west 7th, the glockenspiel. might be fun to try out as a single diner. i haven't dined here personally and have read mixed reviews on the food, but the german sausages are from a good traditional german butcher out of lindstrom, mn.

                  concur with all of Brad B's solid grand ave & university ave recs, particularly brasa. if you go to little szechuan make sure you get the "real" menu, not the "american" menu. note that if you get to ngon vietnamese bistro shortly after new year's you may be able to score a pint of coveted, rare, nearly extinct *surly darkness* and make the beer dorks in your life quiver with envy. the owner will crack the keg new year's eve. however i'll have to disagree with Brad on senor wong's, day by day and red's savoy-- imho they are quite skippable, or there is something i'm just not getting. Jfood recs Craftsman, which is *just* across the river, into minneapolis, but is excellent (again, local-foods emphasis) if you are considering a jaunt out of st paul.

                  do not forget to enjoy some izzy's ice cream while you are in town. i know, i know-- it's winter! but there is nothing like an izzy cone at 7 below ;-P

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

                  Day By Day Cafe
                  477 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                  Red's Savoy Pizza
                  421 7th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                  Babani's Kurdish Restaurant
                  544 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                  Craftsman Restaurant
                  4300 Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406

                  Mancinis Char House
                  531 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102

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

                  Senor Wong's
                  111 Kellog Blvd, St Paul, MN 55101

                  1806 Saint Clair Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

                  Meritage - St. Paul
                  410 Saint Peter Street (Hamm Building), St. Paul, MN 55102

                  Punch Neapolitan Pizza
                  769 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: soupkitten

                    sk -- There are certainly places I'd pick over Wong's, Savoy, and DbD. But each can hold a certain "allure," and the OP needs options, and I tried to think of walkable places. I would certainly go with Bulldog and Barrio over Wong's. Just didn't occur to me earlier. Doh!

                    Regarding Surly Darkness... Had two pours of this at Blue Door Pub recently. I'm in L-U-V.

                    1. re: Brad Ballinger

                      i know, i was trying to rack my brain over what else went into the restaurant store fronts around mears park-- barrio escaped me too. and i could literally break small bones in my foot for forgetting to mention tanpopo. double-doh!

                      & thanks SmartCookie for the clarification about mama's pizza. they were out of biz for a while and there was much rejoicing when they re-opened. they really got a lot of neighborhood support. the t-vs are still in the booths (did they get an upgrade though?), and there is a, well. . . amazing & fascinating mural. you must re-visit and see the place!

                    2. re: soupkitten

                      I had not heard of Mama's fire. I hope the miniature coin b&w TV's survived! Or are they long-gone?

                      1. re: bishopsbitter

                        Mama's did not have a fire; there was extensive water damage from a broken pipe. The TV's survived.

                      2. re: soupkitten

                        I made it here, for take out at least, but failed to get the real menu. But still scored some extremely nice pork tripe in peppers and some so-so rubber duckie (not terrible, but better duck must be had). The pork trip was nice and next time I will remember to ixne on the echnicolortey enumey.

                        Also had breakfast at Bonnie's (their polish sausage and eggs). I liked the fact they were open at 5:45 on a holiday (apparently 5:30 is opening time for them) but the breakfast was only "quite good." No better, no worse. Definitely not horrible though.

                        Little Szechuan - 422 University Ave W Saint Paul, MN

                        Little Szechuan - West End
                        5377 16th Street, St. Louis Park, MN 55416

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          I agree with you about Senor Wong's. The first time I went there we had some great drinks and decent appetizers. The 2nd and 3rd time, meh. I've not returned for a 4th.

                        2. You've gotten some good recs already and I second many of them (especially Meritage, Strip Club, Ngon, Brasa).

                          If you're at all into beer, you should know that the Twin Cities now has one of the better local beer scenes in the midwest. Of particular note:

                          -Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is one of the best brewpubs in the country. Their Masala Mama IPA is amazing, especially the cask-conditioned version. Decent pub food too.

                          -in DT St. Paul there is Great Waters on St Peter St. Decent beer (though the above is way way better).

                          -others have mentioned Ngon Bistro on University Ave.-- in my opinion it has the best beer list in the metro. All local stuff on tap, always 1 cask-conditioned offering. Go for happy hour if nothing else and soak up some local beer vibe.

                          -there are also the Happy Gnome and the Muddy Pig, both in the Selby-Dale neighborhood in St. Paul, and both fantastic beer bars with tons of local and midwestern beer on tap.

                          If you like the Juicy Lucy type thing, you might also consider the Blue Door Pub on Selby in St. Paul (though not near downtown). Good burgers, good beer list too.

                          Muddy Pig
                          162 Dale St N, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                          Happy Gnome
                          498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                          Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery
                          1430 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55454

                          410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                          The Blue Door Pub
                          1811 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                          Great Waters Brewing Co
                          426 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: mtullius

                            I am a cask-ale man. Used to frequent Sherlock's Home very often. May even have to have a drink at the place that resides there now, whose name escapes, for old-time's sake (I assume the wonderful carved wood bar back is still in situ? --- maybe not?) .

                            1. re: bishopsbitter

                              Without diluting the previous recs, you might consider heading to Barley John's in New Brighton. Outstanding brews, and a good example of how the cities have progressed in that regard. Food is better than average.

                              And I was about to be pained that nobody mentioned Tanpopo, until I saw that someone else was pained that nobody mentioned Tanpopo. Between Tanpopo, Heartland and University Ave. (Bangkok Thai, Hoa Bien, Mai Village), you will have a great idea of how the cuisine has progressed.

                              1. re: bishopsbitter

                                If you're going to be all the way over at the old Sherlock's Home, maybe you should drop by this place on your way back:


                                Disclaimer: I know little to nothing about beer. I couldn't tell you if the Four Firkins and cask-ale are relevant to one another. I just figured maybe it would be a worthy stop.

                                1. re: MSPD

                                  It's not too complicated, the name is just a reference to a unit of measurement for beer. I agree that it is a good stop as the guys who run that store are walking beer encyclopedias, makes for great conversation for beer nerds.

                                  And for those who are interested in the definition:
                                  Cask ale means the beer has matured through cask conditioning and it is unpasteurized, unfiltered. This beer is dispensed without the use of extraneous CO2/nitrogen. Cask conditioning refers to the stage of fermentation that takes place inside a firkin, which is a sealed barrel/cask.

                                  The beer is dispensed through gravity, air pressure, or a cask engine (a hand pump). I have not been to Europe, but from what I have been told, you generally don't see cask ale too often in the US.

                                  1. re: air

                                    I knew what a firkin was, just not if their offerings included cask-ale. I'll try to write in English next time...long week and the words aren't flowing clearly. ;-)

                                    I do appreciate the definition. That I didn't know for sure.

                                  2. re: MSPD

                                    Four Firkins is definitely worth a stop! I'm married to a beer nerd (mtullius, above) and fancy a beer or two myself, so I know how much money we spend there! We live on the East Side of St Paul and *still* manage to get over there with some frequency.

                                    The Four Firkins
                                    8009 Minnetonka Blvd, St. Louis Park, MN 55426

                                  3. re: bishopsbitter

                                    Ngon Bistro always has a cask pour on their beer list.