The Restaurant Guide: UNIVERSITY

Updated 10/4/2012

College! The budget-minded restaurants around the U of M campus include many unexpected surprises.

Tea House

Chinese • $$ • 2425 University Av. SE., Mpls. • 612-331-8866

International students from China and their farm-raised Midwestern roommates can forge cross-cultural bonds over shared plates of Szechuan within one of the sateen-curtained booths at Tea House. Amid the shifting colors of the backlit bamboo wall, they can break bread via the Shanghai scallion pancake -- chewy-crisp, puffy deep-fried triangles flecked with bits of sweet green scallion made for sharing. Or the endearingly small and squat pork and crab soup dumplings, filled with hot savory soup and custardy minced meat. (Pro tip: Avoid haphazardly piercing these pretty plump vessels to prevent a hot-soup-in-the-face situation.) More seasoned Szechuan eaters can enjoy such specialties as spicy pork feet or pork ear in yum-numbingly spicy Szechuan pepper-fueled sauce. Their more Minnesotan colleagues can try sweet brown-glazed, crispy-fried General Tao's Chicken with giant tender-crisp broccoli florets. Or the garlic, ginger and chile-spiced Kung Pao Tofu, brimming with caramelized crisp tofu, red and green peppers, and plenty of peanuts. This Szechuan feast will provide all the sustenance necessary to impress your new bud with your soulful post-dinner karaoke rendition of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" at the Otter.KAT KLUEGEL

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Al's Breakfast: American/breakfast. A Minnesota dining icon and Dinkytown institution. You can't find better pancakes anywhere, particularly the slightly tangy buttermilks. Al's griddlemasters also craft the best waffles in the state. (413 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-9991.)

Annie's Parlour: American. Second-story Dinkytown hangout does three things exceedingly well: burgers, fries and malts. (313 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-0744.)

Bun Mi: Vietnamese. Fast food shop featuring the signature Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. (604 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., 612-886-3286.)

Cupcake: Bakery. The focus is on simple and lavish versions of its namesake. Also features other sweets, soups and sandwiches, in a fun, eclectic environment. (3338 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-378-4818.)

Dilla Ethiopian Restaurant: African. Authentic chicken lamb, beef and vegetarian dishes. (1831 Riverside Av., Mpls. 612-332-2898.)

Hard Times Cafe: Vegetarian. Vegan items and coffee in gritty surroundings. (1821 Riverside Av., Mpls., 612-341-9261.)

Korea Restaurant: Dinner entrees come with four different side dishes of marinated radishes and kimchee. (211 SE. Oak St., Mpls., 612-746-0559.)

Mesa Pizza: The Dinkytown pizzeria's twist on toppings is exhaustively novel: There's mac and cheese, penne marinara, "guacamole burrito," "kalamata mozzarella," and on and on, all for $3.25 a slice. (1323 SE. 4th St., Mpls., 612-436-3006.)

Obento-Ya Japanese Bistro: Robata, the little charcoal-grilled skewers of meat and/or veggies, are healthy and absolutely scrumptious. A healthy selection of Japanese tavern food and sushi. (1510 Como Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331- 1432.) (James Norton)

Shuang Cheng: Chinese. Popular with local Chinese students; specialties include live lobster and inexpensive rice plates. (1320 SE. 4th St., Mpls., 612-378-0208.)

Stub & Herb's Restaurant & Bar: American. Classic campus sports bar with burgers, grilled sandwiches and plenty of all-American beer. (227 SE. Oak St., Mpls., 612-379-1880.)

Village Wok: Chinese. Not a lot of ambience, but the inexpensive Chinese food is some of the most authentic in the Twin Cities. Many vegetarian items. (610 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-9041.)

The Wienery: American. Some of the best hot dogs (including a killer Chicago dog) and other diner food in the area. A funky lowbrow dive with a secret gourmet heart. (414 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., 612-333-5798.)

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Jewel of India: Full Indian menu plus lunch buffet. Vegetarian dishes. (1427 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-0002.)

Kafe 421: European/Greek/Middle Eastern. A modest storefront setting and a potpourri of imaginative, multi-ethnic cuisine: Greek spanakopita, Russian borscht and Latin/Caribbean influenced dishes. (421 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-623-4900.)

Loring Pasta Bar: Italian. Pasta dishes in ornate surroundings in Dinkytown. (327 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-378-4849.)

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery: American/ brewpub. Beer geeks and students looking for a standout brewpub have one right under their noses. (1430 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-339-8696.)

Pracna on Main: American. Built in 1890, the oldest restaurant on the oldest street in town. Featuring a sidewalk cafe overlooking the Mississippi River with an American menu of steaks, pasta, fish, specialty sandwiches and 20 beers on draft. (117 SE. Main St., Mpls., 612-379-3200.)

Republic: American. Craft beers on tap and a kitchen that tosses off first-rate burgers (grass-fed beef, or locally raised turkey), a killer fish taco, five-spice-rubbed pork ribs and other smartly prepared bar fare. (221 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-338-6146.)

Signature Cafe: American. Intimate little neighborhood bistro. (130 SE. Warwick St.,Mpls., 612- 378-0237.)

Vic's: American/seafood. Fresh seafood, steak, chops, salads and pasta dishes, overlooking the Minneapolis riverfront and city skyline. (201 SE. Main St., Mpls., 612-312-2000.)

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Restaurant Alma: American. Alex Roberts' confident, attention-to-detail cooking focuses on bringing out the best in organic, local ingredients. The menu changes frequently and is structured for create-your-own three-course fixed-price dinners. (528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909.)