Whoever said, “You can’t have it all,” clearly never wandered Eat Street.
If the U.N. ever relocated to Minneapolis, they’d stake out this avenue (officially Nicollet) to assure no member would turn homesick for his homeland’s cooking. Oh, a few enticing new upstarts serve New American fare (we’ll get to those in a minute), but most in the line-up that stretches from 24th to Lake Street celebrate cuisines from far-away nations, drawing diners richer in the spirit of adventure than what’s in their wallets to explore menus that gallivant from pho to sauerbraten.
That quintessential sweet-sour, long-marinated beef is one of the uber-German specialties hallowed at The Black Forest Inn, 1 E. 26th St., established by Bavarian butcher Erich Christ and his wife in 1965—back long before Eat Street earned its title. MCAD profs and students beat a path to its door (and arbor patio) to dispel hunger with platters of schnitzel and kalbshaxe, spaetzle and strudel, and beer steins that require gym membership to lift.
Another Eat Street long-timer is Rainbow, 2739 Nicollet Ave. S., pioneer in offering authentic Chinese fare not yet showcased elsewhere around town when it debuted in 1987. It quickly became a foodie’s destination—still is—under the guidance of Tammy Wong, who added Asian artifacts and composed the menu that marries contempo fare with classics, including walleye in black bean sauce, Szechuan spiced shrimp, dumplings rich with chives and chicken, and lots of vegetarian specialties.
Other Asian establishments soon followed. Among them, Evergreen, 2424 Nicollet Ave. S., in its modest setting, is the go-to place for familiar Cantonese fare such as lo mein and sweet and sour chicken, as well as the “grandma” cooking favored by chef Connie Fan, spotlighted in more off-center dishes like steamed pigs’ ear, drunken chicken “served cold, like revenge,” and bamboo/pork belly stew. Dim sum, too.
Among the street’s many Asian kitchens, Pho 79, 2529 Nicollet Ave. S., stands out for its popular Vietnamese lunch buffet, banh mi sandwiches and vermicelli salads, as well as its namesake soup; choose from rare beef to combos including brisket, tendons and tripe. Pho is also the magnet on Quang’s menu of Vietnamese favorites in the spacious setting that’s served as an Eat Street beacon since 1989. It’s served with a side of fresh bean sprouts, jalapeno, lime and springs of Thai basil amid family groups from the homeland who know a good thing when they taste it. Head also to Krungthep, 2523 Nicollet Ave. S., for Thai dishes and Peninsula, 2608 Nicollet Ave. S., for luscious Malaysian specialties.
I’ve been welcomed by the Karkases—Gus and Carol—since 1988, when their iconic Christos, 2632 Nicollet Ave. S., restaurant opened, fast becoming a destination for generous Greek and (even mores sensuous) Cypriot dishes in an airy, blue-and-white taverna setting. I’m crazy for the moussaka, the tangy avgolemono soup, the fresh Greek salads, and especially the sampler plates for folks, like yours truly, who cannot bear to make decisions (Spanikopita? Dolmathes? Eggplant dip? Just say yes).
You crave Mex? Me, too. Little Tijuana, 17 E. 26th St., has stood the test of time—it opened way back in 1964, when the mighty-few Mexican kitchens in town were considered exotic, serving only the daring diner. Today what’s become staple Mex and Tex-Mex fare still anchors the menu, but bar food such as onion rings and chicken fingers share the list with the tacos, chimis and burritos under those vintage hand-painted murals. Pancho Villa, 2539 Nicollet Ave. S., named in honor of the Mexican Revolutionary general, is your go-to place for humungous, share-able platters of seafood (try the soup called Seven Mares and/or the Parrilla of Mariscos) as well as homemade guac.
Stroll over to the Karmel Square Somali Mall at Lake & Pillsbury for more imported taste treats. Its main restaurant serves goat, beef and chicken with cardamom-raisin rice, salad and bananas—easily enough eats for two. The second building is home to a bakery and source of spicy kebabs.
Then there are those American menus to fill the gap, starting with Black Sheep Pizza, 2550 Nicollet Ave. S., (nothing says USA more than a slice, right?) Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza fuels its ovens the way they do in Brooklyn, with anthracite. Results ramble from simple cheese and sauce atop the smoky crust to equally blazing toppings, like hot salami with dried chilies.
Eat Street Social, 18 W. 26th St., rules the gastro-sphere with a hyper-foodie menu that segues from roasted bone marrow with housemade kraut to duck breast with fig risotto, caramelized Brussels sprouts and strawberry gastrique. Live music and summertime patio, too. Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., divides its claim to fame between live music and its Modern American kitchen, serving pork belly with mussels, and pappardelle with smoked lambs’ neck ragout among the starters, followed by lobster gnocchi, Tuscan pork chop or features from the chef’s corner, ranging from scallops to short ribs to—yes, right here on Eat Street— foie gras. Crafty cocktails, too.
No foie at The Copper Hen, 2515 Nicollet Ave. S., no siree bob: Here the mantra is farm-to-table, from bounteous meat and cheese boards to granny-entrees like pot pie, mac and cheese and roast chicken. But you really came here for the cakes, right? Choose cupcakes or Mason jar cakes in flavors ranging from carrot to Red Velvet to vanilla-raspberry buttercream. Booze, too.
But wait! Your Inner Glutton always counseled you to eat dessert first. The place to be is Glam Doll Donuts, 2605 Nicollet Ave. S., where co-owners Arwyn dreamed up the décor while Teresa concocted the flavors. Choose (I dare you) between raised (salted caramel and chocolate), filled (provolone and muenster) and cake (PB and sriracha) styles. Intelligentsia coffee, too.
Finally, a word about burgers. And milk shakes. And eggs. Tuna melts and Reubens. Those diner classics are the bricks and mortar of the short-order kitchen called, with a side of snark, The Bad Waitress, 2 E. 26th St. Every ingredient possible is local and organic, including the staff. (Stats: 80 percent bike or walk to work; 22 boast college degrees; 17 sport tattoos.) It’s more than a diner; it’s the enviro-focused help center of the ’hood.