The Restaurant Guide: NICOLLET AVENUE -- beyond Eat Street

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 10/4/2012

Nicollet's culinary charms move from "Eat Street" to South Side.

Nicollet Avenue S. is one of Minneapolis' most food-friendly passages, and it's not just the so-called Eat Street (Nicollet between 14th and 29th Streets) that has the goods. No matter your mood, you're sure to find fare you fancy along the avenue's stretch from the Kingfield neighborhood to downtown's edge. Here's the skinny on a few of our faves.

Looking for a casual date spot? Blackbird(3800 Nicollet) might be the feather in this corridor's cap. While the decor, a cozy contemporary kooky (see the wall of antlers), says you've got style, the agreeably priced dinner menu won't induce a wince at tab time. Entrees and specialty sandwiches, like a horseradish mayo-topped beef brisket, mostly run from $10-$20. When you're not quite sure of your date's eating habits, this Kingfield haunt is a safety zone, with a few vegetarian options, including spicy peanut noodles ($10 plus add-ins), and a small-plates menu for a lighter, sample-and-share supper.

Three blocks north, Pat's Tap (3510 Nicollet) is the neighborhood bar that the area's gradually shifting demographic needed. A better beer list, comfortable gastropub comestibles and the more-fun-than-they-oughta-be skee ball machines make Pat's a hip, relaxed fit for maturing Uptown migrants. Consistent with the rest of Kim Bartmann's enterprises, the easygoing eatery favors locally sourced and organic goodies. Go big with the steak frites ($18) and its lemon tarragon aioli, or try an explosively juicy burger ($9-$13), with turkey and black rice options for those kinder to their arteries.

With cooler weather settling in, hearty grub is back in season, and Black Forest Inn (1 E. 26th St.) is a favorite for belly-dwelling fare. Stretch your stomach at the South Side's go-to German joint with sauerbraten ($18.50) or schnitzel varieties ($12.25-$24.25), or stop by the regular-lined Old World bar for a liter (pints are for sissies) during Oktoberfest, which starts Friday. For smaller, suds-soaking bites, try a potato pancake ($4) or the ham and sauerkraut balls ($5.75), deep-fried meat wads so savory the thick but sweet Bavarian mustard they come with seems superfluous.

After a lengthy renovation period, the legendary late-night hotspot Little Tijuana Cafe (17 E. 26th St.) is back. The good news? Little T's now boasts a full bar, offering boozy bliss with its Tex-Mex grub. The bad? A (gasp) 2 a.m. closing time! Truthfully, it wasn't the food that made the punk-rock-branded restaurant a Whittier institution -- avoid the taco/enchilada dinner ($12). It was more the fact that it was a kitschy after-bar hangout. Still, satisfying snacks like the deep-fried, cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos ($7.25) longed for adult-beverage accompaniment.

If ever there was a cuisine best enjoyed with an elastic waistband, it's barbecue. An Eat Street staple for more than 65 years, Market Bar-B-Que (1414 Nicollet) has a history of tempting calorie counters with its homestyle cooking. Skip the apps and dive into a rib platter ($18-$27) or 20-ounce pit-smoked ribeye ($30). If you're not ready to punch your ticket to glutton-fest, assorted burgers and sandwiches ($9-$12) might be more your speed. Whatever your order, the '50s diner-meets-mama's kitchen dining room is an appropriate spot to be unironically delivered food on a metal tray.