Even as we mourn beloved neighborhood eating institutions like Savoy and Dulono's closing, there is still hope left. That especially goes for St. Paul. Places that stand the test of time usually have straight-up quality on their side, otherwise there's no way they could continue to exist.
Here are six capitol city spots that are not only old-school and awesome, but they have the added benefit of being family owned and operated – which means of course, you're family too when you visit.
The Best Steak House (860 West University Ave.)
University Avenue's Best Steakhouse lives up to the name for its utter departure from steakhouse trappings. There's no humidor, no cognac selection, no sommelier, and the natural progression of these: no pretense.
The brothers Hatzistamoulos run the tiny corner establishment with so much enthusiastic gusto that they feed half the neighborhood, slinging about 300 to 500 steaks daily. Government types, cops, kids from the neighborhood, pretty much everyone who goes to Best Steak House goes back again. And again. Because they believe in an important piece of information: steak is for everybody.
Beirut (1385 Robert St., West Saint Paul)
Since Beirut opened 33 years ago, the family-owned establishment has gradually added traditional Lebanese classics to the menu. Today, delicacies like raw kibbee (think the Middle Eastern answer to tartare) and authentic shawarma are anchors. Better Middle Eastern cooking is difficult to find anywhere in the Twin Cities, but the folksy service (watch for Koury's wife and mom holding things down in the dining room) makes the experience that much more delicious. Joseph still handles the hummus and the falafel, every day. Nobody else touches those. What more could you want? A full bar? Okay. They've got that, too.
Pro tip: a small selection of deli items is available to grab and go, including house-made pickles, and their addictive signature garlic sauce – you'll never bother look at mayo again.
Babani's Kurdish (32 East Fillmore Ave., West St. Paul)
America's first Kurdish restaurant recently crossed the bridge from downtown into West St. Paul for a larger, prettier dining room, but the cooking remains the same – excellent.
What is Kurdish food? Elements of the Middle Eastern culinary traditions you know and love are here (kebabs, chickpeas, tabouleh) but this food is very much its own thing. Do not miss the Kubeh Sawar (pictured above) – sort of a dumpling of crushed wheat dough filled with spiced meat, then seared until crisp on the exterior and served with a piquant tomato sauce. But the Dowjic soup is their hands-down magnum opus, a chicken, yogurt, rice, and lemon soup that is sunshine yellow medicine as the weather grows darker and drearier.
Mancini's Char House and Lounge (531 West 7th St.)
For many of us, Mancini's doesn't need any introduction. But just in case, here goes. This classic Italian steakhouse boasts lounge-style live music every weekend, and high-octane Old Fashioneds. Owner and host Nick Mancini passed away in 2007, but his kids have taken over the operation, ensuring that regulars are still greeted on a first-name basis, that birthday cakes are doled out, and that the bread baskets are overflowing.
Golden Chow Mein (1105 West 7th St.)
Like a good corner store or an excellent playground, you don't want to live without a solid neighborhood Chinese takeout. If you don't already have a regular spot, you might consider adopting this 30-year-old West 7th Street institution. The regulars just call it "Golden."
Go for the "cooked to order" chow mein, just a couple bucks more than the steam table stuff – which is good too, if you're in a hurry. Don't sleep on the fried chicken, which gives Minnesota's biggest names a run for its money.
Yarusso Bros. Italian Restaurant (635 Payne Ave.)
Open since 1933, Yarruso's claim to be the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in St. Paul. The charming room is pure dark wood and warm comfort, and peopled with a confident service staff. The structure includes the first bocce alleys in the Twin Cities (still in use) and its tavern roots make it an evocative spot to bend an elbow.
For eats, consider checking it out during the super-simple, super-cheap, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Consider that soup, vegetable, salad, bread, meatballs, two pastas and pizza can all be yours for $8.99. Sit and make meatball sandwiches until you bust if you wish. Grab a pint of Spumoni from the cooler on your way out the door.
A 1944 newspaper column details "A Saturday Evening On Payne Avenue" including bocce, beer, and "good old Yarusso spaghetti." Indeed, nothing's changed.