1. The Gray House $$$ 610 W Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55408
My personal favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities. Located in Uptown, this fancyish farm to table gastropub is truly the groovy. They change their menu when they want (according to what’s in season and fresh) and just serve wonderful, interesting food. The ambiance of the place makes it quiet enough for a dinner with your parents, but it is also a bar so there’s a great mix going on here (see tap beer selection, ya?). If you order anything, make sure you get the incredible mushrooms, which they make sure to keep on the menu.
2. iPho $ 704 University Ave W, St. Paul, MN, 55104
Let’s talk about Pho baby. For those of you who don’t know, Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup and this place is doing it right. In fact, iPho might very well provide the best of Saint Paul. This is a perfect place to go if you want to show your parents the ever-changing nature of the Central Corridor and get a bowl of some truly crackin’ noodles. They also have a wide variety of the classic Vietnamese sandwich which is a steal at roughly $3 each. The service is great and you won’t have to wait long. But save some time to dive into the noodles!
3. Black Sheep Pizza $$ 512 N. Robert St., St Paul, MN 55101
In my somewhat limited experience with Twin Cities pizza, Black Sheep is far and away the best stuff I’ve had here (Sorry, Punch). This downtown St. Paul corner restaurant is an awesome place to take your parents with a few friends (so you can order and try more). They have a dynamic salad menu where the “Farmer’s Market Salad” will change depending on what they acquire from the St. Paul farmer’s market down the street. I recommend the Oyster Mushroom pizza with all of my heart. No sauce but lots of goodness. Enough said.
4. Fasika $$ 510 North Snelling Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104
Ethiopian food. If your visitors have a limited pallet, hop over to University and Snelling and expose them to some intensely flavorful cuisine. By the end of the night you will be stuffed with injera and whatever other yums you order. I suggest ordering the sample platters so you can try as much as possible, making it another place to go with a big group.
5. The Happy Gnome $$$ 498 Selby Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102
Everyone talks about the beer selection here and while that is pretty spectacular, the food options should not be taken lightly. It’s bar food with nice and classy twists. Get adventurous and order some elk. The risotto and duck burger are both favorites here.
6. Bar La Grassa $$$$ 800 N Washington Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55401
This is a more expensive option if you and your visitors are feeling frisky. On the surface, the menu looks a bit “eh, Italian” but the simplicity goes a long way and carries a lot more foodie nuance than you might expect. For example, one item on the menu simply says, “Chicken”. There’s a lot more than just chicken because that bird was something wonderful. Really exquisitely designed food focused on accentuating their ingredients.
7. Haute Dish $$$ 119 Washington Ave. N, Minneapolis, MN 55401
This Minneapolis grub destination is attempting to “reinvent” Midwestern cuisine and take it up a notch. This makes it a great place to take your midwestern family that think they know about midwestern cuisine…OR your non-midwestern family that needs exposure to midwestern food (Quail, Walleye are featured)! The neighborhood is not exactly picturesque, but make sure you go on a walk by the Mississippi River after dining.
8. Neighborhood Cafe $$ 1570 Selby Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104
You cannot go wrong with this Mac-Groveland favorite. While you might at times find yourself going here at midnight on a Friday, I suggest you go with your parents for breakfast on the weekend. They’ll get a perfect view into the type of neighborhood you live in and get to eat some delicious grub. SEE CAJUN BREAKFAST and whatever specials they have.
9. St. Paul Cheese Shop $$ 1573 Grand Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105
The closest of any of these places, Cheese Shop is a great place to go if your visitors have never seen Mac before. Grab a turkey and brie sandwich and sit outside on Grand Ave while watching the world go by.
10. Victor’s 1959 $$ 3756 Grand Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55409
In the mood for some Cuban food? Victor’s is calling your name! The decor in this miniscule restaurant makes you feel like you are not in Minnesota at all. If you are 21+, Victor’s offers some sweet n’ tangy drinks to complement whatever entree you get. Very fun place that not enough people know about (also on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives).
11. Cheng Heng $ 448 University Ave. W, St. Paul, MN 55103
This is a less discussed University Ave. joint, but it is zesty. If you want to really feel like you know the area, go here and expose your group to some Cambodian food. You might even come away with a coconut! Rather than examine the menu, ask the waiter or waitress what they like. That’s what I did, and it turned out great!
12. Birchwood Cafe $$ 3311 E 25th St., Minneapolis, MN 55406
I have to admit, I have not been here, but that does not mean its a bad place to go with your people. Located in Minneapolis’ fun Seward hood, Birchwood Cafe, is a farm to table spot known for twists on classic brunch items. On weekends they’ve been featuring the Autumn 2013 Breakfast Menu. Check out the Pumpkin, Millet & Guyere Savory Waffle. It looks out of control.
13. Cheeky Monkey $ 525 Selby, St. Paul, 55102
Another solid sandwich place. Similarly to Happy Gnome, this is a good place to show them the Cathedral Hill hood. Selby is a more interesting street than it gets credit for and places like Cheeky Monkey are a great amenity. Their motto is “deli by day, bistro by night”, so depending on what you want you can choose your atmosphere. The Cumin Pork and Mushroom and Brie are faves here.
14. Nina’s Coffee Cafe $ 165 Western Ave N, St. Paul, 55102
Not in the mood for a meal and just want to hang out with a warm beverage? Nina’s provides the perfect vibe in Cathedral Hill. Borrow the Scrabble board and play a game with your group. It’s especially a good place to go if it’s raining out and you want to sit somewhere for a couple hours.
15. Blue Door Pub (BDP) $ 1811 Selby, St. Paul 55104
This is one of the burger meccas of the Midwest featuring, the Juicy Blucy. If you come from a meat and fried food loving fam (I hope you do), then please go here. Cheese curds, fried green beans and a Surly (you know the rules!) are also musts on the menu. It’s a great joint to expose the vibe of the the adjacent Merriam Park hood to your visitors. Note: You can also get any of their burgers with a veggie patty instead!
16. The Nook $$ 492 Hamline Ave. South, St. Paul, MN 55116
The debate rages on. “Is the Nook better than Blue Door? Both were on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives!” A rival in red meat and fried sides, the Nook, located south of Mac provides a similar, local feel as BDP. It has quieter tables on the main floor and a vintage bowling and bar scene in the basement. The service is amicable in a distinctively Minnesota way with some “ya knows” thrown in there. The burgers are arguably “less sophisticated” than Blue Door’s, but they are just as yummy, I assure you.