The Restaurant Guide: Downtown Minneapolis

Updated 10/23/2013

Sky-high surprises and reliable standards dot downtown’s dining core.

UNION FISH MARKET & ROOFTOP

American/seafood • $$$ • 731 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. • 612-455-6690 • www.unionmpls.com

Before its doors opened last November, Union already had generated an endless string of headlines: New life for a long-dilapidated downtown corner. The rooftop patio to end all rooftop patios. Kam Talebi of Crave fame, restaurateur with the golden touch. Cocktail czar Johnny Michaels does it again. You get the idea. ¶ The fear was that Kaskaid Hospitality’s market-tested, something-for-everyone approach would dull the edges of this one-of-a-kind real estate. But that hasn’t happened, and Union remains a sparkling addition to the downtown dining scene. ¶ The rooftop dining room and bar has set a ridiculously high bar, with its retractable barrel-vaulted glass roof. When it’s open, Union becomes quite the see-and-be-seen scene. ¶ The food has a Crave-like need to please a wide demographic, but is not without nuance and (pleasant) surprises. The daily 2-to-6 p.m happy hour impresses for its value and variety. The main-floor dining room was a bit of a flop, so Talebi recently rebooted, dubbing it Union Fish Market. The dinner-only operation now focuses on a constantly changing selection of fresh fish from both coasts. There’s a handful of classics — cioppino, fish and chips, crab cakes — along with a half-dozen simple grilled items. But at the menu’s heart is a selection of dishes inspired by chef Lucas Almendinger’s active imagination: skate wing with brown butter and roasted hazelnuts or Thai-style grilled Dungeness crab. Interested in a snack? Give the amusing shrimp corn dogs a shot. Rick Nelson

COPPER POT INDIAN GRILL

Indian • $$ • 10 S. 5th St., Mpls. 612-331-6677 • www.copperpotus.com

No matter how many times I have it, Indian cuisine always seems exotic and new. With all the impossible combinations of curries, breads, textures, fragrances and magical preparations for veg and non veg, I’m always dizzy with gratification at a good Indian meal. A good old buffet is the standard approach for sampling a little bit of everything. The Copper Pot has that ubiquitous feature, for $9.95 at weekday lunch and $12.95 on weekends. But if you’re willing to veer off the buffet train, they’re doing some lesser-known delights, like the street-food favorite bhel poori, an almost childlike concoction of puffed rice and dried noodles tossed with tamarind and spice. Management hails from Hyderabad, so in-the-know Indian cuisine lovers will recognize and appreciate the city’s Arab influences, particularly in the traditional Biryani lamb and rice dish. The digs are just stylish enough without being uptight, dimly lit and completely appropriate for a night on the town — great when you want some serious ethnic eats but refuse to sacrifice ambiance. There’s even a full bar, so Copper Pot really has it all when you’re needing to bust out of the sameness that afflicts too much of the downtown corporate restaurant landscape. Mecca Bos

MARIN RESTAURANT & BAR

American • $$$ • 901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. • 612-252-7000 • www.marinrestaurant.com

For Le Meridien Chambers hotel’s third restaurant in seven years, Mill Valley Kitchen’s Craig Bentdahl and Mike Rakun turned to another iconic Northern California locale for naming inspiration. Their new Marin Restaurant & Bar also shares Mill Valley’s focus on health-conscious fare. Several years of spa-inspired cooking at Mill Valley have sharpened chef Rakun’s ability to avoid fats while enhancing flavors. He makes scallops shine anew, and chicken is given a tantalizing crispiness while preserving the meat’s deeply juicy character. Rakun also offers a sizzling filet, a lean, mineral-tasting and expertly prepared grass-fed cut. Toppings are applied with great discipline, and salads are first-rate. The breakfast menu naturally emphasizes health-conscious options: bulgur porridge, quinoa waffles, a protein-packed oatmeal with house-made peanut butter. Business breakfast? Absolutely. Pre- or post-theater nosh? Yep. Date-night destination? Sure. Another reason to head downtown? Totally. R.N

 

CLASSIC

MURRAY'S

Steakhouse • $$$$ • 26 S. 6th St., Mpls. • 612-339-0909 • www.murraysrestaurant.com

After eight decades in the business, the Murray clan made a bold move last year. They remodeled their grande dame of a dining establishment, in hopes of remaining relevant while keeping a beloved institution intact. Have they succeeded? Depends on whom you ask. The place still gets regulars, ones who’ve been dining with the family-owned restaurant for 50 years or more, and some don’t like the idea of change. Others seem to understand that it was a necessary move — change is inevitable. While everyone loves the idea of a living museum, not too many of the actual living have regular hankerings for canned peaches and cottage cheese. Or liver and onions, which was the kind of dish Murray’s was slinging back in the ’40s, along with their signature aged beef. The beef remains, and Murray’s is still one of the finest places for a somebody-else-is-paying, gut-busting night of pure gluttony. The new dining room is slick yet elegant, and the front bar could be a hipster hangout in Anywhere USA. A good thing? You decide. Over a steak and a martini, natch. M.B.

 

BUDGET

ZELINO

Zelo’s lunch-counter service boasts a tempting mix of hot and cold foods — lasagna, sandwiches, soups, salads. (831 Nicollet Mall. 612-333-7000.)

 

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BAND BOX DINER: Breakfast/lunch. Vintage 1930s diner serves up classic short-order grub including pancakes, hash browns, burgers and fries, for breakfast and lunch. (729 S. 10th St., Mpls., 612-332-0850.)

BOMBAY BISTRO: Indian. A wide variety of Indian lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetarian entrees, most under $10. (820 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-312-2800.)

THE DEPOT TAVERN: American. The First Avenue spinoff is a friendly rock ’n’ roll paean to all-American fried foods. (701 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-388-8388.)

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: American. Downtown watering hole with serious balls. Owner Erik Forsberg’s dedication to affordable, elevated bar fare is based on a brilliantly simple meatball-and-sauce premise — bun optional. With an eclectic selection of 40 beers on tap. (89 S. 10th St., Mpls. 612-843-2260.) (Kat Kluegel)

HELL’S KITCHEN: Breakfast. A distinctive, fun-loving breakfast (and lunch and dinner) destination. Do not, under any circumstances, miss the lemon-ricotta hotcakes; the house-made maple-glazed bison sausage is pretty special, as is the hearty wild rice porridge. (80 S. 9th St., Mpls. 612-332-4700.)

KIERAN’S IRISH PUB: The popular pub relocated to Block E in 2010. Full Irish menu, including Irish beers. (600 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-4499.)

THE LOON CAFE: American. Burgers, sandwiches, salads, specialty chilis. (500 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-332-8342.)

MARUSO STREET FOOD BAR: Fusion. Chef-driven interpretations of international street food. (715 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. (612-333-0100.)

MONA RESTAURANT & BAR: American. The kind of cozy, dark-wooded downtown oasis that you might imagine Don Draper sneaking off to after a heated board meeting for some smoky smoked oysters and a cathartic martini. Also a perfect pit stop for an aching bike messenger during happy hour. (333. S. 7th St., Mpls. 612-259-8636.) (K.K.)

MY BURGER: American. Small, cheery, counter-service shop has made the fast-food burger relevant once again by keeping things simple. The burgers are tops in their class. (601 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-436-0330.)

O’DONOVANS: Authentic Irish pub serving full menu of Irish cuisine, including boxty, corned beef and fish and chips. (700 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-317-8896.)

PEOPLES ORGANIC: American. Breakfast all day, grab-and-go lunches and an emphasis on local/organic. (IDS Crystal Court, 80 S. 8th St., Mpls. 612-353-5499.)

ZEN BOX IZAKAYA: Japanese. The Japanese tradition of izakaya is a one-word descriptor of what life is all about: Have a drink, have a snack, have another drink, press repeat. The snacketizer menu encourages a couple hours of this leisurely behavior: small skewers of grilled meats, nuggets of lovingly fried chicken, little nibbles of edamame and wakame, pristine cuts of raw fish. (602 Washington Av. S., Mpls. 612-332-3936.) (Mecca Bos)

 

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112 EATERY: American. Chef/owner Isaac Becker does beautiful work with such highbrow fare as sea scallops with wild mushrooms and seared ahi tuna with chimichurri sauce. But don’t miss his great takes on basic bar grub: the sweet and sour crab salad, a cold cuts/pickles plate, bacon-harissa sandwich, one of the Twin Cities’ best burgers. (112 N. 3rd St., Mpls. 612-343-7696.)

BARRIO: Mexican. Headliners of the Mexican chain-restaurant stable — tacos, enchiladas, tostadas — are given an invigorating new life through a potent blend of ingenuity, enthusiasm, cooking prowess and impeccable ingredients. (925 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-9953.)

BRADSTREET CRAFTSHOUSE: American. Designer cocktails and small plates in a swanky Graves Hotel setting. (601 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-312-1821.)

BRIT’S PUB: English. Traditional English fare including Scotch eggs, bangers and mash, Cornish pasties, as well as salads, burgers and vegetarian dishes. Upper-level patio with outdoor dining and grass lawn for lawn bowling. (1110 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-3908.)

DANCING GANESHA: Indian. Entrees include a long list of robust lamb, chicken and shrimp stews, along with specialties such as a paper-thin rice and lentil crêpe stuffed with potatoes and onions, and a host of meat-free options. (1100 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-338-1877.)

ELI’S FOOD & COCKTAILS: American. A neighborhood-style bar and grill for downtown. (1225 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-332-9997.)

GATHER: American. The Walker Art Center’s lunch-only restaurant has a locavore focus, which comes out in seasonally focused salads, sandwiches and seafood. (1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-375-7600.)

IKE’S FOOD & COCKTAILS: American. Americana classics and more sophisticated fare for lunch and dinner, with a retro theme. (50 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-746-4537.)

IMPERIAL ROOM: American. Serving steaks, prime rib and rotisserie meats. (415 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-376-7676.)

KINDEE THAI: Thai. Nuntanit Charoensit, a Bangkok native, is cooking her heart out; we’re crazy about her lettuce wraps, her spring rolls and her rich, aromatic curries. (719 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-465-8303.)

THE LOCAL: Irish. Authentic Irish pub atmosphere, traditional pub food, Guinness, Irish whiskies and scotches. (931 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-904-1000.)

MASA: Mexican. South-of-the-border fare gets a haute cuisine treatment in a stylish contemporary ambience. (1070 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-6272.)

THE NEWS ROOM: American. Newspaper-themed menu is more imaginative than the usual theme restaurant. (990 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-343-0073.)

ROCK BOTTOM BREWERY: American. First-rate beers, brewed on the premises, plus a varied and imaginative menu. (825 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-332-2739.)

SAFFRON RESTAURANT & LOUNGE: Mediterranean. Star chef Sameh Wadi emphasizes around-the-Mediterranean-flavors, meant-to-be-shared portions and mostly affordable prices. Don’t miss the slow-cooked stews known as tagines. (123 N. 3rd St., Mpls. 612-746-5533.)

SPOONRIVER: American. Owner Brenda Langton is still dedicated to locally grown and organic ingredients, with surprising and delicious twists. (750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-436-2236.)

WILDE ROAST CAFE: American. The coffee/cafe/wine/beer hybrid brings easygoing and affordable breakfast, lunch and dinner options to a spacious and attractive riverfront setting. (65 SE. Main St., Mpls. 612-331-4544.)

 

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ATLAS GRILL: Middle Eastern. Well-prepared lunch fare. At night, it takes a Persian turn, with fire-roasted seafood and meats. (200 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-332-4200.)

BANK: American. The Westin Hotel transformed a former Art Moderne bank lobby into a drop-dead gorgeous restaurant/bar. Fine power breakfasts, winning pastries, spectacular soups and imaginative daily specials are all on the menu. (88 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-656-3255.)

BASIL’S RESTAURANT: American. Breakfast, lunch and dinner highlight the use of fresh herbs, including basil, of course. (710 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-376-7404.)

BUTCHER & THE BOAR: American. A brick-and-mortar tribute to the pig. Whether you’re in it for a feast or a snack, you’re in for some of the finest housemade sausage and charcuterie in the region. The Butcher serves ham the way God intended, with the city’s most extensive bourbon selection. You’ll also find at least 30 beers on tap. (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-238-8888.) (M.B.)

CAFE LURCAT AND BAR LURCAT: American. D’Amico venue with a one-two punch: an eye-catching atmosphere and a terrific New American menu, with simple, beautifully prepared fare. The bar, a Beautiful People magnet, pours more than 40 wines by the glass and has a great small-bites menu. Service is generally first-rate. (1624 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5500.)

CAFE MAUDE AT LORING: American. Maude’s slogan of “civilized leisure” is rendered in synergistic style: high-technique cuisine, a pre-Prohibition-themed cocktail menu and extended beer and wine lists, nightly live music and pro service. North African and Middle Eastern flourishes on the menu include the vibrant North African flatbread with spiced lamb, onion, tomato, Aleppo, Haloumi, parsley and walnut yogurt. (1612 Harmon Place, Mpls. 612-767-9080.) (K.K.)

CRAVE: American. A vast “Real Housewives of New Jersey” setting (including a great rooftop patio) has a something-for-everyone menu, which covers sushi, pizza, pasta, salads, seafood and other familiar, all-American pastimes, along with plus-size desserts. (825 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-332-1133.)

DAKOTA JAZZ CLUB & RESTAURANT: American. The Dakota’s bar, restaurant and live-music venue all work in well-rehearsed harmony. The food boasts the nuance, imagination and technical prowess of some of the city’s top kitchens, but its tone is playfully approachable and full of surprises. (1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls. 612-332-1010.)

FIRELAKE GRILL HOUSE & COCKTAIL BAR: The menu is eclectic, but most fare is classic Americana with a few “gourmet” touches, prepared with care from high-quality ingredients. (31 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-216-3473.)

FOGO DE CHÃO: The prom-queen-popular Brazilian steakhouse chain is basically an upscale Old Country Buffet-meets-Outback. It can also be a lot of fun, with an unending cavalcade of spit-roasted meat and poultry. (645 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-338-1344.)

MCCORMICK & SCHMICK’S: Seafood. Menu changes daily but offers two dozen ocean- and freshwater fish selections, along with a dozen varieties of oysters on the half-shell. (800 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-3300.)

MISSION AMERICAN KITCHEN: American. Popular business lunch destination for contemporary comfort food. (77 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-339-1000.)

NAMI: Sushi, served in stylish surroundings. (251 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-1999.)

PORTER & FRYE: American. The swank Hotel Ivy’s restaurant and bar has gone from high-flying culinary flights of fancy to a more low-key locavore approach. (1115 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-3500.)

RESTAURANT MAX: American. Glitzy Hotel Minneapolis spot shines at lunch with tasty, surprising variations on such standard themes as Cobb salad and an egg salad sandwich. There is much to admire at dinner: rack of lamb, duck, a New York strip steak. (215 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-340-0303.)

ROSA MEXICANO: Mexican. Contemporary Mexican flavors in a sprawling, dramatic setting, from pork belly-scallop tacos and crab empanadas with tomatillo salsa to ancho chiles stuffed with slow-braised pork and garlic toast spread with roasted bone marrow and cane sugar-chipotle sauce. (609 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-656-7144.)

SANCTUARY: American. Cozy destination showcases the imaginative talents of veteran chef Patrick Atanalian. (903 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-5058.)

SEA CHANGE: Seafood. For its in-house restaurant the Guthrie hired highest-profile chef Tim McKee, who offers a sustainable seafood focus. Much of the food is sublime, and prices are kept reasonable. Tantalizing small plates await at the raw bar. (818 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-225-6499.)

SEVEN SUSHI AND STEAK ULTRALOUNGE: A frothy mix of nigiri, sashimi, cocktails and flirting. Perfectly competent fare at slightly higher-than-competitive prices. No surprises, no disappointments. (700 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-238-7777.)

SOLERA: American. An homage to the Spanish tapas tradition, Solera hoists the humble appetizer onto a pedestal. (900 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-338-0062.)

VINCENT: French. Chef/owner Vincent Francoual’s elegant restaurant offers such dishes as seafood cappuccino, pan-seared scallops and sesame-crusted halibut. (1100 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-630-1189.)

 

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CAPITAL GRILLE: Steakhouse specializing in dry-aged Angus beef in a clubby atmosphere. (801 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-692-9000.)

COSMOS: American (fine dining). The restaurant and bar in the Graves 601 Hotel is beyond gorgeous. And the menu, one of unadulterated luxury (and brushes with molecular gastronomy), continually changes. (601 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-312-1168.)

LA BELLE VIE: American. High-art dining in high-art surroundings. The eight-course tasting menu may be the ultimate Twin Cities dining experience. The chic lounge is the place for a beautifully rendered cocktail by mixmaster Johnny Michaels and a roster of carefully prepared small plates. (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-874-6440.)

MANNY’S STEAKHOUSE: Steak. Locker-aged steaks and polished service in a classic steakhouse setting. Huge portions are meant for sharing. (825 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-9900.)

OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM: Seafood. The onetime innovator has been revamped at a far livelier new street-level address. But what we notice (and lament) most is a slimmer, less quirky fresh-fish selection. The crab cakes remain one of the city’s pinnacle culinary experiences. (50 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-333-2277.)