Some of Minnesota’s best restaurants are hidden in plain sight, out past the suburbs and miles off the interstate.
We asked readers for their favorite eateries in communities with 10,000 people or fewer — sometimes far fewer. The Where We Eat team will visit some of the top choices and feature them here. Today, we’re talking about Little Oscar's in Hampton.
How to get there
Little Oscar's is in Hampton, Minnesota, population 689. But rather than being on the main street, it can be found on Emery Avenue, just off Highway 52 between St. Paul and Rochester.
It's about a half-hour drive south of St. Paul, and around 40-45 minutes from Minneapolis. Here's a map.
What to eat
Breakfast. Even though it has a menu filled with sandwiches, burgers and entrees for lunch and dinner, the reader who told us about this place recommended the diner's all-day breakfast food.
Owner Vicky Dohmen tells me their breakfast pancakes are huge and delicious, but she doesn't encourage too many customers to order them because they don't have that much grill space.
Every time I go out for breakfast I tell myself that at some point I should order pancakes, but in the end I can't help but order eggs and fried stuff.
I'm tempted by the corned beef hash, which is made from fresh brisket on site, but I get the Oscar's Engineer Breakfast comprising bacon, eggs (over easy), hash browns and buttered toast.
I could quite happily dip toast into runny egg yolk every day for the rest of my life, but the star of this breakfast was the thick, smokehouse bacon that was cooked just right – not too crispy, not too flimsy.
I'm a tea guy and don't tend to expect too much from diner coffee, but the cup of joe at Little Oscar's surprised me by being damn good. Turns out the beans are from Arco Coffee, a 100-year-old company from the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior.
Even better, the waitress leaves the whole pot at the table so there's no waiting around for a refill.
Dohmen became the third owner in the diner's 52-year history about 12 years ago, and used her DIY talents to spruce up what had become a run-down, railway-themed eatery into your typical, mid-century modern American diner.
"When I took over I was told there's two things I couldn't change: the first was the bacon, the second was the coffee," she said. But she went about addressing other parts of the menu, adding broasted chicken and holding Friday night fish fries.
It's pretty well-filled for 9 a.m. on a Thursday, with the diner abuzz with familiar conversations at booths. They're attended to by prompt and friendly wait staff, who Dohmen says are a big reason that people keep coming back.
Its location alongside the busy Highway 52 means it has a steady stream of customers who stop on their way between Rochester and the Twin Cities, but they have plenty of regulars – some local, some not so local.
"We have a guy who comes from Eagan every morning and a couple from Burnsville who come three or four times a weeks," Dohmen said. "It's wonderful they travel a long ways just to come here."
My hearty breakfast set me back $8.99, with most of the other main breakfast meals coming in at somewhere between $7 and $11.
It's open seven days a week between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
You can find out more about Little Oscar's restaurant on its Facebook page.
If you have any suggestions for the best rural dining in Minnesota, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.