As I mentioned in my overview of Minneapolis, I didn’t have a lot of time to be a tourist in Minneapolis, but I did have the opportunity to sample some of Minneapolis’s fine restaurants during my time there. What would I recommend and what wouldn’t I?
Skywater at the Hilton
This restaurant and lounge is fine if you’re staying there, but it’s not your best choice unless you just need something quick on-site. The menu was limited and pricey. The food quality was fine, but not exceptional. And there are better restaurants within a block or two of the hotel on Nicolett Mall.
The News Room
This restaurant has a fun, unique theme–the news. Along the walls are mural-sized newspapers with major headlines most of us would recognize. Hanging from the ceiling are giant newspaper rolls. I ate at the bar, which is shaped like a Tall Ship–which doesn’t really fit the news theme, and I’m not really sure what that’s about, but I liked it. My young bartender was cute and nice and the food was much better than I expected.
I had the Coco Shrimp, jumbo coconut panko-crusted shrimps over a bed of white rice with pineapple salsa and fresh cilantro. The cilantro really made this dish. It was quite tasty. I couldn’t finish it, due to the amount of food, but I certainly enjoyed what I had. I also enjoyed watching the drama of Olympic table tennis unfold on the TV behind the bar with some locals.
Barrio was already busy on a Friday night at 5:45 and packed by the time I left. This restaurant has a terrific selection of margaritas and tacos. I sampled three tacos–the Pork Carnitas with serrano chile salsa, the Grilled Skirt Steak with roasted poblano rajas, and the Fried Mahi Mahi with citrus-cucumber pico de gallo. Each one was better than the last. The tacos cost between $4.50 and $5, and so did my drink (it was happy hour!), making this a very reasonably-priced meal out.
Barrio has a fun vibe and is very dimly-lit interior with bar and table seating, and it has outdoor patio dining as well. They might do well to change their menu so it’s not a black font on a red background (which is difficult to read under the best of circumstances, let alone in a dimly-lit bar). But otherwise, they’re obviously doing a lot right.
If you only have time for one restaurant in Downtown Minneapolis, make it MASA, a Mexican restaurant on Nicolett Mall. I had the most wonderful solo dining experience here. I arrived around 5:30, and the restaurant wasn’t that busy. When I told the hostess I didn’t have a reservation, she immediately said, “Oh that’s no problem.” It also wasn’t a problem to get a table by the window so I could people-watch.
The decor here is upscale, but not stuffy. There are large windows, which make it a light, airy restaurant, and the exposed overhead pipes give it a restored-warehouse feel (which it may be for all I know). There are some interesting pieces of art on the walls, and the overhead lights are kind of funky. In addition to the restaurant, there is a bar area and outdoor seating as well. The kitchen is open to the dining room, so you can watch the chefs at work–though I was more interested in the world outside the window. MASA is located on a well-trafficked corner.
My waitress, Ashley, was professional and knowledgeable, but also accessible and friendly. She knew the menu very well. I asked about portion sizes (I’m a light eater). She pointed out a few dishes that were smaller than others. I chose the crab enchiladas, and she was right. They were exactly the right portion size. Delicious almost goes without saying. It came with a little pile of greens that didn’t look like they had dressing on them, but didn’t taste naked, either.The only thing I didn’t care for were the little pile of pickled onions on top of the enchiladas; they were very spicy.
Before my food arrived, they brought out tortilla chips and two salsas–a red and a green–and something I’ve never seen before: chunks of lime and a little container of salt to season the chips. Interesting–and very tasty.
With my meal, I had a Sangria Espumosa, which contained sparkling wine, Gran Gala Orange Liqueur, grapefruit zest, and fresh lemon juice. It tasted mildly spicy, and I would have sworn there was ginger in it.
Since the entree was small, I was able to squeeze in dessert–the ice cream trio with Mexican cookies. I ordered one scoop of each flavor–vanilla, chocolate fudge chunk, and a superb salted caramel that tasted like butterscotch ice cream. The salted caramel was so phenomenally good, I wished I’d gotten 3 scoops of that instead. The cookies were delicate and almost didn’t require chewing at all.
In short, I was very impressed with Minneapolis’s culinary offerings. Foodies shouldn’t find themselves disappointed at all if they wind up in the Twin Cities for a business conference. In fact, consider yourself lucky.