There may be plenty of reasons to look forward to the impending huge event of 2018, but getting into any of your regular downtown haunts will not be one of them, unless you happen to be a ticket holder.
Better to get to know these great places in the shadows of the stadium, then return to business as usual on February 5.
Possibly Minneapolis’ most underrated restaurant, Bardo basks in local flavor. What does that mean? Locally sourced ingredients of course, but also check out the fresco above the bar that pays homage to the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. Bardo is also a choose-your-own-adventure place – equally appropriate for drinks and snacks, or a multi-course feast that will have you swooning for weeks. The handmade pastas, house made breads, and gnocchi with smoked tomato are all standouts.
PinkU’s approach to approachable and affordable sushi has garnered this wee sliver of a restaurant a cult following. A much bigger deal than the sum of its parts, head there for piles of piping-hot crispy shrimp, the best spicy tuna in town, and iridescent fingers of yellowtail topped with tangles of crisp onion. Also sip counter-service bubbly, sake, and Japanese beer.
An oft-overlooked Twin Cities pizzeria, Nea misses some of the buzz enjoyed by nearby Punch and Lola. But this is “Minneapolitan” pizza done right – simple and premium ingredients, wood-fired, and, well, that’s it. Much like the real deal stuff in Napoli, but right here at home, with locally sourced toppings. Check it out for weeknight specials like half-priced bottles of wine and kids' nights.
In Japan, sushi, ramen, and robata are rarely served in the same place— you gotta go to specialists to get each individual preparation. But this is America, darn it, and in the spirit of that, Masu does it all and they do it well. They also offer a great deal on omakase— chef’s choice— sushi. $21 for parties of two or more gets you two nigiri, one hand roll, three pieces of hosomaki (thin roll) and six pieces of futomaki (fat roll).
Everyone already knows this landmark butcher and deli to keep every Northeast uncle or grandpa fed on Eastern European meats and cheeses through the Super Bowl and beyond. But their expeditious and orderly cafeteria staffed by we-mean-business cooks is a true respite for cold and weary bodies and souls. Szegedin Goulash, Ukrainian Meatballs, Varenyky, and lots more old-fashioned, home-cooking, rib-sticking dishes are served up hot, towering, and fresh.
This darling, bohemian, live music nook is the stuff every first date haunt should be made of. Low lighting, soft strumming strings, and dishes designed for sharing. Whether it’s your first or one-thousand-and-first meeting, Aster will put the romance back into things. We like their flatbreads, hearty sandwiches, and meat and cheese boards designed for nibbling and sipping.
Among the spate of good Mexican restaurants to open in the past year is Jefe, a riverside gem that’s tasty, and pretty to boot. I like to go for big pours of good wine and whatever tacos are on special that day-- the kitchen likes to get super creative with tacos that eat like composed dishes on a plate. Also know that they make their own tortillas on site, a fragrant and special touch.
The West Bank institution that floundered too long, shuttered with a cryptic “Gone Fishin’” message on the marquee has been born again. The remodel is striking, and regulars came calling the day the doors swung open. Live music almost nightly, a boozy disposition, and even a booth repurposed from Nye’s mean an atmosphere that’s pure West Bank. They’ve added some decent eats, mostly dogs, tots, and other nibblers in the salt/ fat family.
This delightful dive has been attending to the hungover, the just released from jail, and even suburbanites who drive in for the pleasure. The pleasure of snappy, all-beef Vienna dogs finished with civilized items that don’t stray into the disconcerting or overpriced. Saurkraut, slaw, cheese, and sport peppers are examples. Add a side of hand-cut fries and a bottomless pop for about what it costs for a Value Meal. The atmosphere is free, and you never know who you’ll run into, from musicians on their way to a gig at one of the nearby venues, to a pug dog sitting patiently in its owners lap gazing longingly at the dog on the plate.
This West Bank institution gives vegans and vegetarians a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Taking the needs of the meatless minded seriously for as long as anyone can remember, the Hard Times has just always been there. Soups and hashes are almost categorically better than what you'll get elsewhere, and animal products will be but a distant memory as you tuck into African Peanut Stew, or coconut curry.
This West Bank Chinese bakery has been keeping the Twin Cities in sticky buns stuffed with ground pork for decades. I’m sure they have other wonderful things to eat, too, but this singular place to buy this singular sensation is a tunnel-vision situation, and frankly I cannot see past it. If you simply must have something sweet to chase the savory, go for the Swiss Rolls, fluffy pinwheels of cake nuzzling equally fluffy cream, sweet enough to rival Twinkie filling.
This is a great place to see and be seen, and even Prince dined here as late as 2015. If you want what he had, you’ll have to consult the menu, but for the record, his table ordered house-made udon with Chinese barbecue chicken and dark chocolate profiteroles with salted caramel ice cream and spiced candied pecans. Not impressed? Mick Jagger and his entourage ate there too in the same year and had Chilean sea bass marinated in miso, fries with béarnaise, crispy ahi and basil spring rolls, roasted beet and arugula salad, seared ahi with lemon confit, zucchini with dill butter, and sautéed jumbo asparagus. Maybe you’re avoiding the Super Bowl mayhem, but that shouldn’t preclude you from dining like a superstar.
If it’s seafood your’e after, it’s a good idea to head to 4 Bells, where you’d be hard-pressed to stump them for an aquatic creature they don’t serve. Whole fried snapper, ceviche, and oysters Rockefeller are tried and true favorites. Squint a little, and you’ll notice a Latin bent, with achiote in the octopus, green chile in the escargot, and swordfish served with mole and tortillas. Save room for decadent desserts like pumpkin pudding. The namesake pays homage to the many church bells within earshot of the rooftop.
The longest standing of all the The Lotus locations, this thirty-year counter service institution acts as a home kitchen for many in the area, serving wholesome, homestyle Vietnamese in virtually every iteration one may crave. The overwhelmingly huge portions of pho are legendary, as are banh mi and spring rolls. But go a wee bit deeper into the menu and find surprises like banana wontons and fresh-squeezed limeade. And, there’s no friendlier service, anywhere.
NICOLLET NEAR DOWNTOWN
With a claim to fame as Minneapolis’ oldest barbecue, you can hardly go wrong. Pulled pork is recommendable, as are the baked beans with chopped bacon. It’s an enormous menu for an intimate space, with selections that border on chophouse, like a big ribeye, or broiled jumbo shrimp. Good news if you need surf and turf but are avoiding the downtown steakhouses, which are bound to be overbooked— and overpriced— at Super Bowl time.
For full-service Mexican near downtown you won’t do any better than this longtime, quiet storefront, where old favorites can be had alongside less easy to find dishes like warm cactus salad, pupusas, and caldo de camaron (shrimp soup). And even if you’re not terribly hungry, chips and salsa are complimentary, and a full bar is served here.
There are very few places to point to in Minneapolis if all-night dining is the order, and this Nicollet Avenue Diner (it’s all in the name) is one of them. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it’s already in a category of its own. Compound that with the fact of a full liquor license, and how is this not already your favorite place? The cooking falls flatly in greasy spoon territory with short and tall stacks, club sandwiches, and malts, milkshakes, and banana splits.