If your taste ranges anywhere from hipster to high-class, I guarantee at least one of my St. Paul favorites listed below will catch your eye. Similar to my “Best Neighborhood Gems of Minneapolis,” there are many fantastic places to visit in this historic city. If crossing the river is a task, I am going to tease you with several ideas to freshen up your lifestyle, in no particular order.
Lowertown Anyone who knows me understands I am a huge fan of the Barrio restaurants in the Twin Cities. This location is a sure-thing and a great place to dress it up, or keep it casual. The aura of Barrio St. Paul is sassy-sophisticated. If you are up for a mean margarita, try the Caesar Chavez. Learning to speak Spanish will be on the top of your priority list, post cocktail.
Lilydale If you’re response to “What do you feel like doing tonight” is “When in Rome,” that is a sign you should just “do it as the Romans do.” Whether going out for dinner or out for a simple cocktail, I hear people raving about this place, all the time. Their wine selection is broad and the staff is educated and fun. I recommend telling your server or bartender you are looking to try something new. They will know exactly what will be the right fit for you. Oh, and buy some pasta sauce at its market next door. Your friends will think you’re a cooking genius.
42 Dale St. S.
St. Paul, MN 55102
Grand Avenue Do you remember the scene in the movie “Ghost” when Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are throwing clay on a wheel? (You know the one.) If your answer is yes, this scene will flash though your mind before you can say “hot and steamy” when strolling though this shop. Regardless, it is the vibrant color usage and originality in form that makes this pottery different. If you need to add a conversation starter piece to your home, check out Evla. This was recommended to me by a friend. From him, to me, to you, I guarantee stopping by Evla will be worth the trip (and the gazillion stop-lights).
Midway If you’re a fan of a little spice and want to eat lean but filling, the sandwiches here are some of the best in the city. Vietnamese food is one of my long-time favorites due to the variety and use of flavors such as cilantro, lime, chile sauce and red onion. If you like Pho, a type of soup, it also has flavors to match any craving. If you are vegetarian, this is a must-do. Did I mention most of the sandwiches sell for $4 or less? Ask about the “Pho-King Challenge.”
West St. Paul OK, we know that this one is technically *just* outside St. Paul, but channel Homer Simpson here for a moment. Mmm … donuts. Did you ever cook with your grandma when you were little? Do you remember the smell of treats baking in the oven and the fun glazes she’d use? You will feel like a kid again when you stop by this donut shop. On that note, how often do you get to go to an actual bakery these days? Donuts are baked fresh daily and if you are getting them to-go, you’ll want to sneak one (or two!) on the way home. Try the Devil’s Food or the lemon bismarck.
Snuffy’s Malt Shop
Highland If you are looking for a classic joint that reflects the old-world character of the city, make an excuse to go here ASAP. My favorite is the butterscotch malt with a burger and fries. Diet starts Monday, right? Great service. Great diner-like experience. If you have kids, get a sitter. Just kidding, kids are always welcome and they’ll love it.
Como I recently returned from a trip to New York City and of course, I couldn’t leave without sampling the pizza. Since I’ve been back to the Twin Cities, I found a pizzeria that lives up to the flavor and originality of what I tasted in NYC. If you consider yourself to be a true pizza eater, meaning you fold your pizza, then eat it (versus cutting it with a fork), this place is for you. Big slices with an excellent crust recipe will be found here. You may have a natural urge to tuck a napkin into your shirt collar.
The Blue Door Pub
Merriam Park If there’s one thing I love about St. Paul, it’s the random bars, restaurants and retail shops littered throughout its neighborhoods. This restaurant is between a hole-in-the-wall (my favorite) and something upscale. The happy hour will have you saying, “Well, I don’t mind if I do.” The menu will saying, “I’m going for a run tomorrow.” My favorite is the black bean burger and I’m not even a vegetarian.
The Strip Club
Dayton’s Bluff My new favorite restaurant, located just outside of downtown, is a step back to the old-world class of St. Paul. The dramatic ambiance coupled with the aromas of steak, fish and grilled lemon are impossible to ignore. Try the Smooth Operator small plate — the crew from Mad Men would be pleased. (You get more than what you pay for. Great prices.)
St. Anthony Park This is a St. Paul staple, probably a little more familiar to many of you. When you begin to walk to the entrance, you’ll say, “Wow. This place is cool.” I’d recommend this as a second-date place as it is a bit more formal. The gnocchi is amazing.
-Justin Reis is a WCCO intern studying broadcast journalism at the University of Minnesota. His passion for finding the “best” in the Twin Cities is inspired by his role as a group fitness instructor and interests ranging from “anything artistic” to “anything social.” Please leave a comment on what you think of his recommendations.