If you've got visitors with the stones to come to town during our infamous cold weather months, you'd best reward them properly, proving that just because we live here all year long, it don't mean we're nuts. We've got culture enough to keep us anchored, charms enough to hook those with the right constitution.
Here are 10 places to dazzle out-of-towners, even when it's cold outside.
10. Midtown Global Market It's mean to expect the uninitiated to traipse around our slick, saltlick streets, and yet you want to pack in maximum opportunities for eats, so the MGM is a no-brainer. There's something here for literally everyone, and if you've got kiddies in tow they can run around the inner food court relatively unhindered. Ankle-biters will also enjoy the Mexican candy store that abuts it, tempting with colorful pinatas, Chupa Chups, and tamarind candies. For everyone else there's some of our finest Mexican (Los Ocampo), Indian (Hot Indian), Middle Eastern (Holy Land), pastries (Salty Tart), Korean (The Rabbit Hole), and more, more, more.
9. Union Depot If you want to convince anyone that they're in a world-class city, all you've got to do is get them down to the train depot, toot suite. A grand, impeccably restored 1920s train depot offers appeal to even the most world weary, especially one with a golden domed, skylit ceiling and gleaming marble floors as far as the eye can see. Christos Greek Restaurant is located in the original waiting room of the depot, complete with ticket windows, but this is more an occasion to sip a glass of wine and make like you're on an old-time sophisticate's journey. Wear a hat.
8. International Marketplace A way to punctuate our city's diversity is to get over to Midway's Hmong Marketplace, as transporting a place as there is anywhere. It's where our vast Hmong community goes daily to wheel and deal in herbs, produce, Asian language DVDs, hoochie mama dresses, squirt guns, Tiger Balm, spatulas, soap, and a trillion other things. Also: some of the finest Southeast Asian food anywhere. Do not miss the made to order papaya salads, where a giant mortar and pestle catches green papaya, copious chile, fish sauce, sugar, dried shrimp, garlic, and lime, and a brawny armed woman pounds it together, spicy as you like.
7. Mickey's Diner Not every town has a bonafide neon-emblazoned historic 1940s dining car, but we do. To boot, the short order cooking is also real deal, with rafts of hash browns the size of frisbees, fork-thick malts, fluffy pancakes, and one-skillet-meal potatoes O' Brian (green pepper, onion, and ham). Prices are cheap, servers are industry-hardened, and clientele is real America. We might take it for granted, but your company will swoon. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
6. Grand Ole Creamery Ice cream in the winter means you'll avoid the epic lines at the Creamery, but still enjoy the hand-churned goodness with the malted milk ball at the bottom of the cone. It's also a good excuse to drive or stroll down Grand Avenue, maybe stopping off at Tavern on Grand for an obligatory pan-fried walleye.
5. The Kenwood Because it's essential to show off our chain of lakes, but Calhoun is for amateurs. The shore of Isles twinkles with all the jaw-dropping real estate, like diamonds around a milky-skinned neck. When you tire of fantasizing about where you'd put the baby grand, have brunch at the Kenwood, where chef Don Saunders awes millionaires and regular folk alike with clam omelettes, salmon Benedicts, and pancakes with black walnut butter. When full, stop at the adjacent Birchbark Books, owned by local French/Ojibwe novelist Louise Erdrich, and take in some native history.
4. WA Frost or The Salt Cellar A drive up Cathedral Hill, past the majestic Cathedral with its restored copper roof, is an obvious must, especially when the end of the trail offers steak. Go classic at WA Frost, in its turn-of-the-century building with ornate fireplaces and vintage tiled floors -- the steaks are big and the wine expense-account impressive. Or go nouveau and head across the street to the Salt Cellar, where young forager chef Alan Bergo is taking your dad's steakhouse by the collar and wrestling it to the ground with his updated takes on relish trays, rainbow trout, turtle soup, and of course, meat.
3. Spoonriver The best way to see the big, blue Guthrie building is from outside of it, so have an appetizer and a drink at Sea Change, but then dine at Spoonriver, across the courtyard. Chef Brenda Langston has been at the cooking game for almost longer than anyone in town -- about 30 years, so she's a piece of Minnesota history in and of herself. Her artful take on vegetarian-friendly (though all creatures are sold here) cuisine puts locavorism center-stage (she's also the mind behind Mill City Farmers Market). And the nearby view of the river and St. Anthony Falls is not to be missed. Skip the Guthrie observation deck and do it al fresco for posterity.
2. The Wienery It's important to show off not just our loveliest neighborhoods, but our most interesting ones too, so the West Bank it must be. Watch African immigrants walk side by side with bike punks and University of Minnesota students, and when that endeavor makes you hungry, sit down next to all of them at the Wienery. This charming dive sells counter-service all-beef Vienna dogs (best in town) for around $5 with fries and bottomless pop. Need further proof that it's the best cheap meal deal in town? Check out all the jail bracelets lining the bar. Its the best place to fill your belly and set the world straight when you're sprung. Cash only, please. Afterward get our town's most generous Jameson pour at Palmer's and cut a rug to Cadillac Kolstad's piano stylings.
1. Betty Danger's Country Club Leave your crew with a "What the hell?" sensibility by at least driving by Betty Danger's Country Club when the Ferris Wheel is all lit up and spinning. From the people who brought you Psycho Suzi's, there's now a "country club" for the 99 percent, complete with Mexican fare (what else?), mini golf, and club memberships. Then head over to the corner of 13th and University Avenues Northeast for boundless drink and nibble options all within a two-block radius -- Anchor Fish and Chips, the Modern, Northeast Social, and the 331 to name a few. When you're good and soused, have that final nightcap down the street at Jax. It's one of the original Minneapolis restaurants, family-owned since 1933, because you'll want a classy send off.
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