Just as the Chatterbox Café is the popular place to go in Lake Wobegan, so are there many restaurants throughout Minnesota that are well-liked by locals. Lacking an expensive website, fancy advertising or golden arches, these restaurants attract patrons simply by providing good food and treating customers as neighbors.
413 14th Ave., S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Reportedly the narrowest restaurant in Minneapolis, Al’s is only 10 feet wide. It has fed many students through the years on its 14 stools. Some notable patrons include Garrison Keillor and James Lilaks. Patrons line up at the door and stand behind the stools waiting for a seat. The décor is dated. Yet, every morsel prepared on the grill opposite the counter is eagerly devoured by avid devotees of this adored diner. Try the whole-wheat walnut blueberry pancakes with crisply fried bacon or the bacon cheddar broccoli omelet with hash browns, or just toast drenched in butter and coffee. Every item on the menu is worth the wait. Al’s does not advertise, but may be the most widely recognized establishment in Dinkytown, USA.
11888 Aberdeen St., N.E.
Blaine, MN 55449
Everything at Carol’s is genuine. Home-style turkey, pot roast or meatloaf dinners will take you back in time to grandma’s house. The desserts at Carol’s are fabulous, whether it is homemade apple pie, banana cream pie, carrot cake or red velvet cheesecake. Carol Brown has been serving hungry North-metro residents since the 1980s, first as Carol’s Calico Kitchen and now in a modern-looking restaurant with her name above the front door. Carol does not maintain a fancy website to advertise this restaurant. The quality is in the food.
Joan’s in the Park
631 Snelling Ave. S.
Saint Paul, MN 55116
Joan’s is a true neighborhood restaurant with absolutely outstanding food and flawless customer service that far surpasses its humble housing. Maître d’/Owner Joan Schmitt personally greets every customer entering the restaurant. Attentive wait staff brings a crispy-crusted hot loaf of bread to every table. Servers will offer a taste of any wine to undecided tasters scrutinizing the ample although unostentatious wine list. Chef/Owner Susan Dunlop is always seeking feedback on her cuisine by engaging diners about their dining experience. It pays to make reservations for popular restaurants like Joan’s to avoid long waits at the door.
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Egg and I
2828 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Best for breakfast and good for surrounding yourself with the clatter and chaos of an urban diner, the Egg and I serves large quantities for reasonable prices. Kamikaze cakes loaded with blueberries, bananas and nuts fill an entire plate. Omelets or poached eggs with toast and coffee are good, too. The parking lot is small and requires a lot of maneuvering so it is wise to get there early.
1081 Payne Ave.
Saint Paul, MN 55130
Magnolia’s is a genuine hometown diner serving the kind of food your grandma made. The southern-fried chicken and the mashed potatoes and gravy are so popular that the restaurant does a brisk business in take-outs. But the soups, steaks and many varieties of potatoes keep the restaurant patrons coming back. Save room for a cheesecake or cream pie for dessert. Go early because the restaurant draws a lot of people in its small space.
Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from Richfield High School and then the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for Examiner.com, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at Examiner.com.