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Minnesota Road Trip

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My wife and I will be travelling to Minnesota from Ohio in July. We will be in the Twin Cities for part of our visit, as well as in Duluth and we will also be taking a short trip Itasca State Park. We have lived in the Twin Cities twice in the past, but that was a long time ago (the Lincoln Del was still packing them in, at all their locations) but we could really use some advice about where to eat now.
We’re specifically looking for ideas for great food at more modest restaurants. We are open to any kind any kind of ethnic food (we love Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, etc.). When we lived in Saint Louis Park, or later in Excelsior, we tried lots of interesting places at the time (510 Groveland, New French Café, The Lexington, etc.) but we are retired now and the expense account meal is a memory from the past. We spend a lot of time in Duluth because of relatives and we love the Anchor Bar in Superior, WI, the new Scenic Café, Northern Waters Smokehaus, Sarah’s table at Chester Creek Café, etc., but we just don’t know the Twin Cities as well. My wife is a Katie so we never head back to Ohio without having a meal at Cecil’s in Highland Park. Thank you very much for your help.

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  1. Two that come to mind immediately are Quang on Eat Street (Nicollet in Mpls between 29th Street and Franklin, although I am a St. Paulite and I may have the boundaries wrong. If so, a Mpls 'hound will ---I hope--jump in to give the correct boundaries). Quang has great and very reasonably priced Vietnamese food. Also on Eat Street is Krungthep Thai. I think their food is very good.

    In Saint Paul, if you have not been to Cafe Latte on Grand, it's worth a trip. Excellent salads, sandwiches and a great selection of very good desserts. And the best coffee in the Twin Cities is at Koplins on Marshall in St. Paul, just a little east of Cleveland. Your wife will remember those streets :0)

    I'll keep thinking.

    2 Replies
    1. re: soccermom13

      Quang is on 27th and Nicollet. I go there 3 or 4 times a week... so I guess that's a sign of how much I like it. :) Prefer Quang over Krunthep Thai.

      1. re: Dr.TriRunner

        I have been looking at other chow hound threads and Quang seems to come up in a lot of them. Thank you both for the advice. It sounds great.

    2. Definitely hit up either the Grand Ave or NE locations of Brasa Rotisserie. Excellent food by the same chef as the much higher-end Alma.

      8 Replies
      1. re: jaycooke

        The Grand Avenue recommendaton is great, but you've really got me thinking about the Brasa Rotisserie. I have seen Alma mentioned on a lot of threads and I have it on my list, but Brasa Rotisserie will probalby be much easier on my wallet. I imagine I can check out the menu on line beforehand.
        Here are a few other places that are on my list are:
        1) Saffron
        2) Sun Street Breads
        4) Al's Breakfast
        4) Bulldog NE
        5) Piccolo
        and they also mentioned Kramarczuk's, but we've been there many times iover the past years.
        Thanks ofr your help!

        1. re: RMC

          Saffron is great but may be at the higher end of what you want to spend.

          I would not make a special trip to Sun Street Breads. I've eaten there a few times and it's a perfectly good neighborhood spot, but it's not worth a detour.

          Al's is great for the experience and the food's pretty good as well. You'll want to plan ahead so that you're not hitting the weekend rush there.

          Piccolo will be at the high end of your budget unless you choose to eat lightly there. I enjoyed my meal there but it's not a place I would put at the top of my list. For the same money, I'd head to nearby Heidi's (at 29th and Lyndale).

          1. re: RMC

            If you like pizza, and are in the mood for Neopolitan style, try either Black Sheep Pizza (either STP or MPLS), Pizza Lola (South Minneapolis), or Punch Pizza (Highland Park location, I'd stay away from the other locations) (probably in that order, but that's just me).

            Not sure what your burger & beer offerings are where you live in Ohio, or where your tastes go, but if you want an excellent burger with a fantastic beer selection, head to Busters on 28th, in South Minneapolis. All their food is excellent, but their burgers (and sweet potato fries) are outstanding.

            You have both Piccolo and Saffron on your list. Neither are light on the wallet, but both are excellent, and ditto with Alma. If you have those, I'd put Bar La Grassa on that list as well. Be aware that those 4 need reservations ahead of time, at least 2 weeks (if not more) for a Friday or Saturday night meal.

            You mention Kramarczuk's. Again, not sure what your Polish food availability is where you live, or your interest in it. If you're interested in stocking up on Polish goods, the best in town in actually Ziach Polish Foods, on 1625 Washington St. NE. While some folks confuse Kramarczuk's with being Polish, it's actually Ukrainian. Ziach is a Polish grocery store, not a place to eat lunch. But the Polish goods there are excellent.

            Lastly, if you're curious about or hankering for Middle Eastern food, head up Central Avenue to Holy Land. Both eat in (lunch, not sure about dinner), and a great grocery selection also.

            1. re: foreverhungry

              foreverhungry, what do you have against other Punch locations? I confess that I've mainly been to the Grand Ave. location (next door to Brasa), but it seems just great to me....

              1. re: mtullius

                A couple of things. The big one is that the menus are different. The Highland location has a fuller menu with more options (more classic pizzas, more pizza biancos, more salads, etc.) than any of the other locations.

                The second is service. When I went to the Uptown Punch, you ordered at a front area like you would at Davanni's, and then took a seat. Not a big fan of that style of service, unless it's fast food. If I'm going out for dinner, I'd like to be sat at a table, and have a server come around. Otherwise, it just feels like McD's.

                The third is the ambiance. Highland is the original location. The servers wear jerseys from the Italian Serie A teams. There's some cool artwork on the walls. Personally, all those little things bring Punch together for me only at Highland. At the other locations, it just feels like getting pizza for lunch. Nothing wrong with that. But at Highland, with the Serie A jerseys, the walls, etc., it feels more like a meal out, even though it may be the same pizza.

                About it being the same pizza...I'm not convinced the quality is the same across the board. But I'd also be perfectly willing to admit that my bias towards the Highland location for the above reasons may make me think that their pizza is better than at the other locations, when in fact it might be the same.

                Lastly...I was really bummed when Punch opened their "NE" location, right down the block from Nea. I like Pizza Nea. It's not exactly the same as Punch, but I like it. I thought it was overly competitive of Punch to open a location 1 block away from another pizza joint of the same style. I'm glad Nea is still going strong, and crowded the times I've been recently. I can understand wanting to expand. But given that we don't have a ton of good pizza options, I don't want to see a scene dominated by one multiplying outlet.

                For all of those reasons (some reasonable, others perhaps not so much to folks other than myself), I now stick to the original location. It's important enough that I would willingly drive past a different Punch location to get to the Highland one.

                1. re: foreverhungry

                  Thanks for the clarification. I've only eaten at the original spot a couple of times, and never since the Grand Ave. location opened (much closer and more convenient). A couple of points: first off, as far as menus go, I'd be willing to bet that you could order anything from the Highland menu at another Punch and get it. That doesn't completely take care of it, since you'd have to know what you want, but... Second, at least at Grand Ave., the servers wear the same jerseys and the walls have the same kind of stuff on them.

                  But in general, obviously, everyone's entitled to their idiosyncratic opinions on such things! I just didn't want anyone reading the board to think there was something objectively better or worse about the original Punch location vs. other ones.

                  1. re: mtullius

                    The original Punch is the closest to me and I have eaten there before any of the "satellites" opened. I normally only hit the newer branches for lunch so I like the "express" type format I have been really impressed with the consistency from a quality point of view. The small chopped salad is my go-to for lunch and it has been very good at any location. I have also had the pizza's I find them as good as at the Highland store.

                    In general, I think they take very good care of their brand.

            2. re: RMC

              I dig the NE Bulldog. Try the togarashi burger!! And don't forget the awesome tater tots ( I don't love their french fries ).

          2. A friend who recently stopped in Duluth went to The Duluth Grill and said it was exceptional. Like drive 3 hours just for breakfast exceptional.

            1. I would consider Tilia in Linden HIlls. Not "ethnic" food generally, but very tasty, and very much a current Twin Cities hotspot. They don't take reservations, so going at off hours OR for the great breakfast/brunch is a good idea if you don't want to wait around. The prices are, in my opinion, quite reasonable for the quality of food that you'll get.

              1. Maybe they will let me sneak this in... in Itasca State Park, we had a very nice meal with great view at the Douglas Lodge a few years ago when travelling through. Also, be sure to take the Coborn's Lake Itasca Boat Tour. We found it very informative!

                1. You've all given me some great advice. Thank you very much. We will be staying with friends in Minnetrista for a couple days so we will be trying a few places for lunch and dinner around Lake Minnetonka, then we move to a hotel near the University for a few days before heading to Duluth. We are blessed with some decent burger places here in Cincinnati, but this area is not known for great ethnic food. The other end of the state of Ohio (near Cleveland, Akron - Canton, Youngstown) is know for great Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Kosher, etc. restaurants. I'm originally from that area and grew up eating those kinds of foods.
                  In all my reading I’ve noticed that Minneapolis / Saint Paul seems to be very proud of the restaurants serving food from Southeast Asia (Viet Nam, Cambodia, etc.), so we are looking forward to trying some of those restaurants too. On a trip a couple years ago we went with old friends to Heartland. Great food. We're not averse to trying more expensive places, but when you are traveling for a couple weeks you can only enjoy, and afford, so many expensive places. Also, most of my favorite and memorable meals have come from smaller, family owned places, which usually are inexpensive to medium priced restaurants. Many with terrible curb appeal (i,e. Anchor Bar – Superior, WI), but wonderful food and the place itself really adds to the experience.
                  If you ever come through Cincinnati, definitely try the Chili. It is very different here. It is served over pasta with grated cheese on top. Not what you would expect when you order chili. Thanks again for all your wonderful advice.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: RMC

                    RMC, it sounds like there's a good chance you'll be in Minneapolis on a weekday/weekdays.

                    I would very strongly recommend heading downtown to Marquette Avenue at around 11:30 a.m. on a weekday and make your way through the food trucks. If no other, find the World Street Kitchen (eatatwsk.com) truck. The caramelized lamb belly tacos I had there on Wednesday would compete with the best bites of food I've had anywhere in many months. The truck is usually parked right next to the light rail station. Walking into downtown, you'll pass about 15 other trucks. Vellee Deli is also very good, the YumMi truck for banh mi...there's even a truck that's essentially a mobile sushi bar minus any seats. Some of the best/most innovative food in the Twin Cities right now is coming out of the food trucks (they have exploded in the last couple of years because the City of Minneapolis finally got a clue and allowed them). Many of the trucks are backed by notable chefs with bricks-and-mortar restaurants.

                    Also, if it's a Thursday, Nicollet Mall will be having a Farmers' Market.

                    I would also recommend considering the group of places around the Cedar Avenue and Riverside Avenue intersection. The east African places, Keefer Court (Chinese), the Wienery (filthy-looking place with excellent hot dogs and greasy breakfast fare) and so on. You can probably find something to suit any mood there.

                    1. re: MSPD

                      Thanks MSPD. I am arriving on 6/20 and was wondering about the food trucks. Any other recs?

                      1. re: WildSwede

                        When you're at Cecil's/St. Kate's, go north on Cleveland to Marshall Ave, hang a right, and you're at Izzy's Ice Cream and Sweets Bake Shop. Both are worth a stop.

                        Up near Itasca State Park, on Highway 34 between Park Rapids and Akeley is the Brahaus. Decent German food there. On your way back to MSP, Val's Rapid Serv in St. Cloud is an interesting stop for burgers (I ate there yesterday in fact on my way home from the Brainerd area). It's less notable for the food than the experience.

                        A little less artery clogging but a great alternative to fast food is the sandwich line at the Clearwater Travel Plaza. They bake all of their bread there. It's "just a sandwich" but, like I said, it'll keep you out of McDonalds, etc. Avoid the sit-down restaurant.

                        Olson's Truck Stop at the Hasty exit (183) on I-94 is also good if you like truck stops.

                        Good food is everywhere.

                        1. re: MSPD

                          Thank you MPSD for this information about places up north. I knew we weren’t going to starve when we head north, but like so many road trips we’ve taken in the past, we usually end up somewhere because of the number of cars in the parking lot. That isn’t always the best barometer, but it works much of the time. I have to admit, I have some terrible meals using that criteria, so it is nice to have some specific recommendations.

                        2. re: WildSwede

                          I've only been to one food truck since I don't work downtown, but it was the World Street Kitchen and I highly recommend it. Don't worry about the line. They handle it well and it's worth it. For most of those trucks I assume that if you go before 11:30am or after 1pm there probably aren't long lines.

                        3. re: MSPD

                          Food trucks are starting to make an impact in Cincinnati also. We lived near New Haven, CT, for several years before moving back to the Midwest and food trucks are a common sight in the east. There is some wonderful food being offered by some of these trucks. Thank you very much for this information. I never would have thought of this, but I’ll look for them now. My wife and I enjoy spending time in downtown. I think Minneapolis is one of those special places like Boston, Seattle, Denver, the near Northside of Chicago, etc., where some of the city’s best restaurants and bars are right downtown and people go into the city from the suburbs, or live right in the area, and patronize these places. We were amazed one time a few years ago while we were sitting at Brit’s Pub at 10:30PM on a weeknight and the street was packed. That is just one example of why we think Minneapolis (actually Saint Paul too) is a special place.

                          1. re: RMC

                            I can’t thank you all enough. There were more suggestions of great places to eat than we could try on this trip. Between seeing old friends and family, and strolling down memory lane (my wife and I met and dated and got married in the Twin Cities 38 years ago) we didn’t have time to enjoy half of them. I now have a great list for our next visit.
                            I’ve tried to list the places chronologically where we stopped during our two weeks in Minnesota. Other places where we grabbed a quick bite to eat or have a coffee that are pretty common (Panera, McDonald’s, etc.) I left off this list. I also didn’t want to take up your time with the details of what we ate. I have been doing that on Trip Advisor, but I didn’t want to get too wordy here. Again, thank you all for your advice. There are so many places that we did not get to (especially the Food Trucks in downtown Mpls.) but they are at the top of the list for our next visit to God’s Country.
                            Grand Shanghai (Grand Avenue – Saint Paul) – Food, just food!
                            Jake O’Connor’s Pub / Excelsior – A very nice little place on Water Street in Excelsior for lunch or dinner.
                            Pairings Food Market / Minnetonka – What a Great Find. They had everything we needed for a great little picnic on Lake Calhoun. Wonderful food and wine!
                            Sunsets / Wayzata / This place is a tradition for us. Good food and a very nice location on Lake Minnetonka.
                            Blue Point / Wayzata / A great happy hour and excellent food.
                            Scotty B’s / Mound / This is a nice little, local, place for breakfast in downtown Mound.
                            Quang / Minneapolis / One of the highlights of our trip. Wonderful Vietnamese food! It seems that everyone else knows how good the food is here very too. There was a short wait, but the food is well worth the wait.
                            Sea Change Restaurant at the Guthrie Theater – The food is OK. Probably a little expensive for what you get, but you are at the Guthrie! If I had it to do over again, I would have gone down to Nicolet and looked for a food truck!
                            Bryant Lake Bowl / What a breakfast! The experience of eating a wonderful breakfast, sitting next to a bar, in the front of a bowling alley, is something you won’t soon forget.
                            Brits Pub / Minneapolis / What a fun way to end the evening. We saw play at the Guthrie then decided to stop at Brits before heading back tour hotel. We went up to the patio which is around the Lawn Bowling Green. It was great people watching and fun food. Scotch eggs, mmmmmm!
                            Mara Mi / Stillwater – Nice little place to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry. What an unusual set up. Coffee shop and ice cream in a stationery store. I can’t get over the combination. Very creative.! By the way, you can spend a lot of time (and maybe money too) browsing in the stationery part. It is huge.
                            Sara’s Table / Duluth – We found this place a couple years ago. It is not far from UMD. Wonderful food, any time of the day.
                            Va Bene / Duluth / Very good Italian food. If the weather is nice, ask for a table on the deck. You can hear the waves from Lake Superior breaking on the shoreline just below you.
                            Fitger’s Brewhouse / Duluth / I wasn’t really looking forward to eating at Fitgers, but I got the surprise of the trip here. The Smoked Fish over greens and Wild Rice was just what my Minnesota Wannabe heart was craving! It was wonderful! The Pint of local beer didn’t hurt.
                            Great Lakes Candy Kitchen / Knife River, MN – If you are heading up, or coming back from, the North Shore and your “sweet tooth” is Jonesing for something really good, this is definitely the place. You will need to get off the freeway and drive down into the little village of Knife River, which is about a dozen miles north of Duluth on the road that parallels the shoreline. The selection is amazing.
                            The rest of the trip was pretty unspectacular until we stopped at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI. We drove back to Cincinnati via the Upper Peninsula. The UP is one of our favorite places so it is always easy to make the decision to head home through Michigan. We discovered Zingerman’s a few years ago on Chow Hound. We were meeting friends in Ann Arbor for a wedding and I checked out Chow Hound fro places in Ann Arbor. After looking at the website I decided that we needed to check it out. WOW. It is as good, and probably even better, than what everyone writes. There are multiple locations in Ann Arbor and they are all wonderful. If you are ever headed in that Direction (Ann Arbor – Detroit), don’t miss Zingerman’s.

                            1. re: RMC

                              Well done! Thanks for taking the time to close the loop.