The Restaurant Guide: THE SUBURBS

Updated 10/4/2012

The dining landscape in the burbs continues to expand.

Little Szechuan - West End

Chinese • $$ • 5377 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park • 952-322-7671

Defined by the small but mighty peppercorn, Szechuan is the kind of cuisine that has you fantasizing about your triple-pepper chicken days later, craving that crazy addictive buzz on your tongue. And like Thai, Szechuan is subject to all sorts of haranguing over authenticity, who does it like it's done in Sichuan province, and of course who doesn't. The best chefs can make or break a restaurant and can stage protest walkouts -- it's happened in the Twin Cities -- causing hot spots (ha!) to fade into obscurity. The newish Little Szechuan in St. Louis Park's Shops at West End is the real deal, with some of the same kitchen talent that began splashing Szechaun all over the Twin Cities dining map in the first place. And while this place boasts the requisite exquisitely rendered, chile-laced everything, the West End outpost also offers that unicorn-esque confluence of authentic Asian cuisine in an elegant, date-worthy setting with -- wait for it -- a full bar! So now, there's no need to play picksy-choosy over whether you want eggplant in garlic sauce or whether you want to sit in a nice room with a big-girl drink. Go ahead. Have it all. MECCA BOS

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Big Bowl: Quality-minded Asian-accented chain emphasizes quick noodle dishes, stir fries, curries and other freshly prepared fare with Thai, Szechuan and Vietnamese roots. Build your own stir-fry at the self-serve ingredient bar. (Three locations: 3669 Galleria, Edina, 952-928-7888; 1705 W. Hwy. 36 (Rosedale), Roseville, 651-636-7173; and 12649 Wayzata Blvd. (Ridgedale), Minnetonka, 952-797-9888.)

Galaxy Drive In: American. Classic drive-in fare in a classic drive-in setting. (3712 Quebec Av. S., St. Louis Park, 952-277-7777.)

India Palace: Traditional Indian cuisine including Tandoori dishes and curries. (2570 N. Cleveland Av., Roseville, 651-631-1222.)

Pannekoeken Huis: Dutch. Pannekoeken, those Dutch-style pancakebowls (filled and/or topped with anything from bacon to fresh fruit to hot fudge) are much loved by their fans. (4995 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park. 952-920-2120) (James Norton)

Peoples Organic Coffee & Wine Cafe: American. Breakfast all day, grab-and-go lunches and an emphasis on local and organic. (3545 Galleria, Edina. 952-426-1856.)

Rojo Mexican Grill: Fresh, traditional Mexican fare in slick surroundings. More than 75 varieties of tequila. (1602 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-657-5385.)

Travail Kitchen & Amusements: An unlikely address in sleepy Robbinsdale and an even more unlikely premise -- chef-driven flights of fancy at fast-casual prices -- make this fun-loving, trend-setting and idiosyncratic gem all the more remarkable and unabashedly enjoyable. The experience is like none other in the Twin Cities. (4154 W. Broadway Av., Robbinsdale. 763-535-1131.)

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Beaujo's Wine Bar & Bistro: American. Comfortable, well-managed neighborhood wine bar and bistro serving salads, small plates, sandwiches, soups and simple, well-prepared entrees, including roast chicken, walleye and New York strip steak. (4950 France Av. S., Edina, 952-922-8974.)

COOPER: Irish. Upscale pub fare is dressed up with touches like locally produced meat. Atmosphere to spare, and 16 tap brews to choose from. (1607 Park Place Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-698- 2000.) (J.N.)

Flame: American. The fire theme is taken literally: A wall of gas flames occasionally erupts off a mesquite-burning grill. The kitchen focuses on simple roasted chicken and beef, sold as plates with a half-dozen side dish options or available family-style. (863 Rosedale Center Plaza, Roseville, 651-315-5005.)

Good Day Cafe: American. The Good Day hoists breakfast onto a pedestal. Most of the standbys--from the lumpy crab cakes capped with poached eggs and hollandaise to the jaunty waffles-- are presented with lavish attention to detail. Lunch includes a fantastic pan-roasted steak sandwich, a textbook Reuben and a half-dozen salads, and a dinner menu has been added. (5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205.)

Mill Valley Kitchen: American. Chef Mike Rakun is demonstrating that restaurants can deliver robust and satisfying flavors without relying upon clarified butter, rich animal proteins and other dietary no-nos. With a few exceptions, his cooking is clean, sensible and occasionally exciting. (3906 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park. 952-358-2000.)

MASU SUSHI & ROBATA: Japanese. Masu's Mall of America sequel is virtually identical to the Northeast original. The menu is the same, save for a few additions such as Takubetsu na men (a noodle bowl special that changes daily). (334 South Av., Mall of America. 952-896-3884.)

Mozza Mia Pizza Pie and Mozzarella Bar: Italian. Finally, 50th & France has a decent pizzeria. Ten well-calibrated options, starting with a fine Margherita. (3910 W. 50th St., Edina. 952-288-2882.)

Parma 8200: Italian. Chef Michael Dalton's cooking isn't flashy or trendy at this D'Amico venture, but given his meticulous attention to detail, it doesn't need to be. (5600 W. 83rd St., Bloomington, 952-896-8888.)

Porter Creek Hardwood Grill: American. Out in the 55337, dishes such as lamb shanks and roast duck are borderline revolutionary. Also recommended: flatbreads, roasted chicken, Southwestern salad, Israeli couscous salad, hanger steak, walleye, panna cotta. (14201 Burngarten Dr., Burnsville, 952- 698-1888.)

Q Fanatic BBQ and Grill: An unsung gem of the barbecue scene, Q Fanatic adds imaginative and artfully executed sauces such as Espresso BBQ and Pepper Vodka to traditional slow-smoked meats and well made, substantial sides. (180 Miller Rd., Champlin, 763-323-6550.) (J.N.)

Raku Japanese Restaurant: "Upscale Japanese fusion" restaurant featuring creative sushi and other dishes with European and other Asian influences. (3939 W. 50th St., Edina. 952-358-2588.)

<Rice Paper: Asian. The menu tiptoes between the subdued flavors of Vietnam and Thailand's more aggressive tastes. The quality of ingredients is evident in every bite. (3948 W. 50th St., Edina, 612-926-8650.)

Samba Taste of Brazil: The Pantano family infuses a warm and gracious sense of hospitality into their colorful, casual restaurant. Entrees lean on the comfort-food end of the dining spectrum. (922 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-935-2708.)

Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar: Chef Shawn Smalley flames up pimento wood and puts a blackened stamp on pork ribs and chicken, insinuating that smoky goodness into pork shoulder, beef brisket, shrimp and sausages. (423 S. Main St., Stillwater, 651-439-5375.)

Thanh Do: Asian. The casual St. Louis Park spot combines Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian favorites -- with a cranberry curry and a version of the cranberry puffs app made famous by Azia. (8028 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-935-5005.)

Wok in the Park: Thai. A splinter restaurant from ThanhDo across the street, Wok in the Park adheres to its estranged brother's philosophy of easy, accessible Asian dishes made with care and quality ingredients. (3005 Utah Av. S., St. Louis Park, 952-657-5754.) (J.N.)

Yum! Kitchen and Bakery: American. The menu, which changes twice a month, is nothing fancy -- just fresh ingredients, clean flavors and uncomplicated preparations. (4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000.)

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ACQUA RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR: Italian. A non-trendy menu of specials and entrees unlocks the flavors lurking deep inside ingredients. This place does a great job balancing the unexpected with the standard. (4453 Lake Av. S., White Bear Lake, 651-407-7317.)

Bacio: The Italian-inspired menu at this warm, handsome restaurant and bar emphasizes fish. (1571 Plymouth Rd., Minnetonka, 952-544-7000.)

Crave Restaurant: American. There's something to suit just about every craving. Sushi, wood-fired pizzas, rotisserie chicken, salads, sandwiches, pastas, a big New York strip with creamy mashed potatoes: It's all there -- a superb burger, a bunch of super-fresh salads. (Three suburban locations: 368 South Av., Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-854-5000; 3520 W. 70th St., Galleria, Edina, 952-697- 6000; 1603 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-933-6500.)

Lord Fletcher's: American. Outdoor decks allow full view of the cavorting, waterskiing, flirting and boating on Lake Minnetonka. Classic steakhouse fare makes this a restaurant that will go down with just about any diner, particularly those seeking shrimp cocktail- and ribeye-style familiarity. (3746 Sunset Dr., Spring Park, 952-471-8513.) (J.N.)

Redstone Grill: American. Huge, cabin- styled restaurant serving steak, chicken, ribs and more. (Three locations: 12501 Ridgedale Dr., Minnetonka, 952- 591-0000; 8000 Eden Lane, Eden Prairie, 952-903-9500; 294 Grove Ln. E., Wayzata, 952-404-3333.)