The Restaurant Guide: Uptown

Updated 10/11/2013

Reinvented fast food and accessible high-end fare in new-condo-land.

WORLD STREET KITCHEN

Fusion • $ • 2743 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-424-8855 • www.eatwsk.com

Step into WSK for a glimpse into fast food’s promising future. Actually, the pejorative “fast food” does a disservice to this remarkable re-imagination of the food truck of the same name. What’s most promising about the casual, moderately priced WSK is how it gives chef Sameh Wadi (of Saffron fame) the opportunity to insert a fine-dining aesthetic into quick-service fare. The counter-service menu borrows elements of Chipotle’s format, sharing key building-block ingredients across several platforms, including a modest selection of rice bowls, sandwiches, tacos and other portable foods. The rice bowls are astonishingly good, topped with crunchy peanuts, a barely poached egg, feisty kimchi and variations that start with thin-sliced beef short ribs tenderized in an umami-laden marinade and seared to sigh-inducing caramelization. Don’t look for pork belly — instead, Wadi treats his customers to lamb belly, a gloriously fatty exercise in excess. Vegetarians and vegans have a new best friend in WSK: Wadi transforms tofu with a spicy, aromatic marinade and then carefully fries it. And the restaurant is home to what might be the city’s best veggie burger. Dessert hounds will find themselves obsessed with the salted caramel frozen-custard-style soft-serve.  Rick Nelson

BURCH STEAK AND PIZZA BAR

Steak/pizza • $$$ • 1942 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. • 612-843-1515• www.burchrestaurant.com

Before setting foot into this beautifully converted former Uptown landmark — once Burch Pharmacy — it’s clear this is the hotspot of the moment. Throngs of spry valets jockey to park big-ticket vehicles as their beautiful and powerful drivers step onto the curb, dressed to the nines. Has Colfax Avenue become our town’s Hollywood Boulevard? Inside, chef Isaac Becker and partner/wife Nancy St. Pierre have created an ode to beef, while altogether scouring away the stuffy, masculine image of your dad’s steakhouse. Soaring ceilings make for open airiness, and floor-to-ceiling windows are the ideal framework for the Henn/ Frank intersection, which takes on a big-city urban feel when seen over flickering candlelight and a bubbly. And then there’s the food — a modern Italian steakhouse, for lack of a better way of putting it, with a couple dozen ways to take down a cow, from petit to Porterhouse, grass-fed to not. Paired with a zillion sides and starters, like their signature dumplings, this is as elegant a meal as you’re likely to enjoy anywhere in town. And if it’s casual intimacy you’re after, check out the wood-fired pizza parlor in the basement. Mecca Bos

THE GRAY HOUSE

American • $$ • 610 W. Lake St., Mpls. • 612-823-4338 • www.thegrayhouseeats.com

Chef Ian Gray calls the Gray House a gastropub, but that label seems inadequate for cooking that exudes so much aromatic, full-bodied flavor. There’s chicken, roasted on the bone, swimming in succulent pan juices and doused in more herbs than the produce section at Lunds. Scallops are seared to a lustrous deep caramel brown and teased with snips of candied bacon. Gray and his crew keep their pastamaker busy, turning out long strands of bucatini and linguine, spiraled fusilli and wide ribbons of roughly cut maltagliati. A short list of appetizers is headlined by vibrant salads and a big, rustic bruschetta that is best described as a graduate course in ham sandwiches. It’s fun to discover how Gray’s idiosyncratic obsessions play out on his ever-evolving menu, as with the deeply savory, mouth-melting young goat that he sources from Singing Hills Goat Dairy in Nerstrand, Minn. The lamblike meat is of such superior quality — the animals are clearly pampered like pashas — that Gray doesn’t need to do much to unlock its wildly appealing flavor and texture. The pinnacle might be a superb goat burger, a thick, juicy patty crowned with a slab of white cheddar, its toasted brioche bun swiped with a lively tomato jam. When is the last time you stumbled across a goat burger? Here’s a guess: never. That absence of predictability is one way Gray makes his new venture stand out. R.N.

NIGHTINGALE

American • $$ • 2551 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. • 612-354-7060 • www.nightingalempls.com

Nightingale isn’t just for date-nighters. Chef/co-owner Carrie McCabe-Johnston (a Brasa and Restaurant Alma vet), wants to prepare the kind of casual, creative food she loves but seldom encounters when dining out. That mentality kicks off with the kinds of nibbles that naturally pair up with the bar’s libations: addictive olives, well-appointed cheese and charcuterie plates, a few fresh oysters and creamy, dill-flecked deviled eggs. But then the real fun starts. The bulk of the menu is devoted to an eclectic and imaginative array of nearly 20 smallish plates that range between appetizer and quasi-entree. All meals should start with a trip through the ingeniously conceived bru­schettas. Scallops are pearly inside and seared to nut-brown on the outside. Chicken wings are almost brazenly meaty and flavorful, the result of a simple salt brine. The spectacular meatballs could be the centerpiece of a first-rate red sauce joint. There’s also a life-changing burger, a hedonistic chuck-brisket grind dressed with a sharp four-year-old cheddar. The thick-cut fries do not disappoint. The late-night hours (food to 1 a.m., drinks to 2 a.m.) are a welcome reversal in this early-to-bed town, and Sunday brunch belongs on everyone’s schedule. Jasha Johnston, McCabe-Johnston’s spouse and business partner, is the creative force behind the bar, presiding over a roster of well-crafted gimlets, sidecars, Manhattans and other classic cocktails. All are $8 a pop. R.N.

 

CLASSIC

LUCIA'S

American • $$ • 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls. • 612-825-1572 • www.lucias.com

Farm-to-table long, long before that was a thing, Lucia Watson’s restaurant has been quietly, elegantly fighting the culinary good fight for almost three decades, a nearly-unheard of tenure for any restaurant. Perhaps because it’s low on flash, the little cafe that could keeps a low profile on the quiet end of Hennepin/Lake, and maybe it’s because it’s always been there, it’s sometimes easy to overlook. They’re not the people putting pop rocks in the soup, but they are the ones with a steady stream of happy sidewalk diners with dogs at their feet, wine in the chiller, and as-local-as-possible Midwestern farm fare on the plate. Watson attributes her staying power to not doing too much too soon. The original Lucia’s became a landmark before she added the elegant little wine bar. More years passed before she took on Lucia’s to Go — which you can think of as that perfect Parisian patisserie, where you can get just about anything that makes life more beautiful, from a perfect espresso to a buttered crepe to handmade jam. The restaurant swaps out just five entrees every week, which you can rest assured are an absolute reflection of the season, right here right now. Mecca Bo


BUDGET

MESA PIZZA

Dinkytown’s bastion of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink college pizza opens an Uptown outpost. Cool, bro. (1440 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-206-3025.)

 

$

COMMON ROOTS CAFE: American. Eco-friendly cafe with deliciously chewy bagels, zippy salads, sandwiches and a few great dinner entrees. Emphasis on locally grown ingredients. (2558 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-2360.)

FALAFEL KING: Middle Eastern. Falafel and gyros served cafeteria-style. (701 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-824-7887.)

THE HERKIMER PUB & BREWERY: American. Brewpub serving sandwiches and burgers. A spicy Cuban pork sandwich is the specialty. There’s also a shuffleboard court. (2922 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-821-0101.)

ISLES BUN & COFFEE CO.: Bakery/Coffee. Caramel and cinnamon rolls, sweet breads, cookies, brownies, cakes and other goodies to make you salivate. (1422 W. 28th St., Mpls., 612-870-4466.)

NAMASTE CAFE: Asian/Nepalese. Mostly vegetarian restaurant featuring mamacha (savory steamed dumplings), curries and other dishes from Nepal and elsewhere in South Asia. Also many varieties of tea and chai. (2512 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612- 827-2496.)

NICO’S TACO AND TEQUILA BAR: Mexican. Chef Alex Victoria (of Amore Victoria) has opened a brand-new authentic taqueria — with a selection of 50 tequilas — in the former Birdhouse/Duplex space. (2516 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-345-7688.)

OUR KITCHEN: In business for more than 50 years, this comfy little family diner is seemingly frozen in time. But its breakfasts are hearty and classic and service is reliably friendly. (813 W. 36th St., Mpls., 612- 825-3718.) (James Norton)

RUSTICA: Bakery. Home to one of the best local baguettes. Their bittersweet chocolate cookies are a mainstay at local cafes, and they mix it up with daily specials including brioche, challah and currant rye. (3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612- 822-1119.) (J.N.)

RYE: Deli. Lowry Hill spot often nails the deli genre, with carved sandwiches, soups, Reubens and more. (1930 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-871-1200.)

SEBASTIAN JOE’S: Ice cream. A family favorite for years, Sebastian Joe’s is a comfortable neighborhood place where indulgent flavors and toppings abound. (1007 W. Franklin Av., Mpls., 612-870-0065. Also: 4301 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-3461.) (J.N.)

TAO NATURAL FOODS: American. The recently remodeled health-food beacon is more the equivalent of a vegetarian/vegan short-order diner, with breakfast, sandwiches, wraps and juices. (2200 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-377-4630.)

 

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AMAZING THAILAND: Thai food in the heart of Uptown. (3024 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-822- 5588.)

BAR ABILENE: Southwestern. The lively bar pours more than 40 tequilas and shakes up two dozen margaritas. The menu focuses on contemporary Tex-Mex fare. (1300 Lagoon Av., Mpls., 612-825-2525.)

BAR LOUIE: American. Dallas-based chain with a menu of mainstream gastropub fare (order your calamari traditional or doused in buffalo sauce) and an impressive 100-seat patio centered around a shallow LED-lit pool. (1348 Lagoon Av., Mpls. 612-824-1529.)

BLUESTEM BAR & TABLE: Wine bar. French Meadow Bakery’s new back-room space is a wine bar with a strong emphasis on sustainable/organic/biodynamic — plus similarly-minded small plates and entrees. (2610 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. 612-870-7855.)

BRYANT-LAKE BOWL: American. Perhaps the most creative menu you’ll encounter at a bowling alley. The kitchen cranks out an appealing range of snacks and meals. Breakfast is hugely popular. The beer list is exceptional. (810 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612- 825-3737.)

BURGER JONES: American. Burgers and all the fixings get the premium treatment: velvety and addictive shakes and malts made with frozen custard, large hand-formed beef patties on toasted sesame-seed buns with Minnesota-made cheese, a tower of fries with multiple dipping sauces. (3200 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-746-0800.)

CHIANG MAI THAI: Serving appetizers, curries, Thai noodles, stir-fries, Thai soup and desserts. (3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-1606.)

CHINO LATINO: Fusion. Colorful, trendy and enormous, Chino emphasizes highly seasoned street foods from the world’s equatorial regions, served in meant-to-be-shared portions. A late-night happy hour knocks out tacos and other fast food at bargain-basement prices. (2916 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-7878.)

ECOPOLITAN: Raw/vegetarian. A pioneer in the raw-food movement that lies well to the left of vegetarianism and a few steps beyond the vegans. (2409 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-874-7336.)

FAMOUS DAVE’S BBQ & BLUES: Barbecue. Restaurant and blues club serving Dave Anderson’s St. Louis-style ribs. (3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612- 822-9900.)

FRENCH MEADOW BAKERY & CAFE: American/Bakery. Vegetarian selections, soups, salads, sandwiches, soups, along with a few meat dishes, and baked goods. 2610 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-7855.)

FUJI-YA: Sushi. Japanese-style noodle soups, tempura, sushi bar, seasonal outdoor seating and private rooms for two to six. (600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-4055.)

GALACTIC PIZZA: Pizza. The long list of nontraditional options includes morel and shiitake mushrooms, wild rice, buffalo sausage, and for vegan customers, mock duck, nondairy mozzarella, and sauces including tomato, ranch, barbecue, Thai peanut and garlic and olive oil. Better than average, especially the Thailander. (2917 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-9100.)

GIGI’S CAFE: American/Coffee. Neighborhood coffeehouse, plus a wine bar and expanded food offerings. (822 W. 36th St., Mpls., 612-825-0818.)

HEIDI’S: American. Chef Stewart Woodman transforms familiar ingredients, deftly layering in unexpected embellishments. His excursions into molecular gastronomy are all about razzle-dazzle playfulness (and deliciousness). (2903 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. 612-354-3512.)

IT’S GREEK TO ME: Greek/Middle Eastern. Authentic Greek specialties in a tavern atmosphere. (626 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825- 9922.)

JJ’S COFFEE + WINE BISTRO: American. Pastries, egg sandwiches and burritos at breakfast, sandwiches and salads at lunch, and bruschettas, flatbreads and cheeses in the evening. (1806 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-522-8000.)

THE LOWRY: American. Blue Plate Co.’s served-until-2-a.m. menu includes oysters, a half-dozen snacks (bacon deviled eggs, jalapeño cheese curds), a curry-and-peanut-garnished turkey burger and a scrambled eggs-hash browns breakfast platter built for two. (2112 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-341-2112.)

LYNDALE TAP HOUSE: American. Gastro-pub with slow-roasted beef and 18 tap beers. (2937 Lyndale Av. S. Mpls., 612-825-6150.)

MOTO-I: Japanese. Moto-i’s food tends to get overshadowed by its sake-making efforts, but the tasty bar snacks more than stand up. (2940 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-821-6262.)

MT. FUJI: Sushi. Irreverent sushi with generous happy-hour deals. (2819 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-872-1778.)

MUDDY WATERS BAR & EATERY: American. Pot roast sliders, pizzas, burgers topped with chicken-fried bacon and fried onions, yucca fries with chimichurri. Breakfast, weekend brunch, late-night, craft beer, pastries, it’s all here. (2933 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. 612-341-2112.)

REPUBLIC: American. Craft-beer bar’s second location lands in Calhoun Square with more locavore pub grub and an expanded beer list (including many Belgians). (3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-886-2309.)

RINATA: Italian. A dozen pasta-risotto-gnocchi options anchor Jonathan Hunt’s crowd-pleasing menu, with a satisfying rendition of spaghetti and meatballs. (2451 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-374-8998.)

ROAT OSHA: Thai. Stylish second effort by the spouses behind Tum Rup Thai. Lengthy menu covers all the familiar bases, much of it rather boilerplate. (2650 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-377-4418.)

THE SOCIAL HOUSE: Asian. Sleek mixology bar and Asian fusion lounge provides potent cocktails, gorgeous tricked-out maki rolls and sexy, red-lit ambience. Small plates, like the Bacon Cheeseburger Egg Rolls, are oddly, gluttonously good. (2919 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-824-6300.) (Kat Kluegel)

SPARKS: American. A wood-burning oven is the inspiration for Jonathan Hunt’s eclectic menu — pizzas, chicken and merguez sandwiches, bulgogi tacos and roast chicken. (230 Cedar Lake Rd. S., Mpls. 612-259-8943.)

SUSHI TANGO: Sushi. Sushi restaurant in Calhoun Square. 3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612- 822-7787.)

UPTOWN CAFETERIA AND SUPPORT GROUP: American. At this populist palace, the food is still playfully Retro Diner, prices remain focused on the post-college crowd and portions continue to be gihugic. (3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-1688.)

URBAN EATERY: American. A slick corporate feel and a gastropub menu that subverts clichés at the Calhoun Beach Club. (2730 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-920-5000.)

 

$$$

AMORE VICTORIA: Italian. Definitely Italian-American rather than “authentic” Italian, but it offers more variety and better quality than the usual red sauce restaurant. (1601 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-823-0250.)

BARBETTE: American/bistro. Local, seasonal and organic ingredients for satisfying bistro fare. One of the best late-night menus in town. Extraordinary wine list. (1600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-827-5710.)

THE KENWOOD: American. Chef Don Saunders is best known for his seasonally inspired culinary wizardry. (2115 W. 21st St., Mpls. 612-377-3695.) (K.K.)

RUDOLPH’S BAR-B-QUE: Barbecued ribs and chicken with an old-time Hollywood theme. (1933 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-8969.)

SPILL THE WINE: American. The formerly downtown wine bar moves to Bryant & Lake in Uptown with a tapas-style American menu and an expanded late-night focus. (901 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-339-3388.)

STELLA’S FISH CAFE & PRESTIGE OYSTER BAR: Casual seafood restaurant with the soul of a low-country lunch counter. Best asset is the famed rooftop patio. (1400 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-824-8862.)

TRYG’S: American. Skillful combination of trendy and nostalgic with updated comfort-food offerings. (3118 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-920-7777.)