In light of the impending closure of Foreign Legion (its final day is April 16), the sense of sky-is-falling doom about downtown dining is understandable. And, it is a loss. If you're in the market for some good and fresh but casual Italian cooking downtown, you're now out of luck, despite the myriad of casual Italian options in other parts of the city.
But just as the sky was not falling when Foreign Legion's sister restaurant, Brasserie Zentral, closed, nor is it now.
Good eating still exists in downtown. It just looks different. And you gotta know where to look:
Dan Kelly's Pub
So sheathed in forlorn Irish Pub patina is the updated Dan Kelly's Pub, the cooking prowess is absolutely stealth. Inside, longtime name chef Kevin Kvalsten has pushed traditional Irish fare to excellent heights while at the same time not making it inaccessible or twee. Fish and chips are ethereal and golden using wild cod. The shepherd's pie makes sturdy yet elegant use of lamb, and they've added a roster of burgers that should send any burger lover into fits: check out the fried egg version that includes a pork sausage patty and bacon. And, it's one of the best beer, cider, and whiskey bars in either city.
212 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis
Not just surviving but thriving for almost a decade, Minnesota's most ambitious Middle Eastern restaurant is knocking at the door of institution status. It's now firing on all cylinders, so visit here for smooth-as-butter hummus, campfire-smoky baba ghanouj, a million ways with lamb, and one of the very few places in town to get a tagine. And it's still, as always, family owned and operated.
123 N. Third St. Minneapolis
Dong Hae Korean
One of the few Korean restaurants within the Minneapolis city limits, Dong Hae has a comprehensive menu, and extremely competent cooking chops. The throngs storming the doors of new and trendy Hoban Uptown would be wise to look here for superior cooking at better prices. Galbi short ribs arrive in a monumental pile, sizzling, sticky, and sweet. The Korean-style chicken wings can give a cocky middle finger to any other chicken wing in town, and chirashi sushi bowls are the most dramatic way to get your summer salad fix. The bibimbaps are as good as any we've had in town.
251 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
Butcher and the Boar
Yes, it's at the far end of downtown, and yes, it's finally shed its white-hot trendster status. Which means you should finally be able to get a seat to partake of the superior Southern-style, meat-centric menu, where the sausage stylings are practically a household name. The unofficial signature dish is the smoked beef long rib. It's Tabasco-molasses glazed and lands on the table like a humorously sized meal fit for Barney Rubble. But don't overlook sleeper hits like wood-grilled oysters topped with Parmesan butter, or the green chorizo, packed with cilantro, mole, cojita, and all the essence of Mexico. Plus, the beer garden is still our favorite downtown place to imbibe outdoors in the summer. Leave the rooftops to beer-sloshing amateurs.
1121 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Almost too luxe for the carnal act of eating and drinking, the room at Il Foro should probably be an all-out museum by now. But it's not. And since this art deco stunner can still be your dining room table, why not race right over and make this rare luxury happen for yourself? The cooking, while it started out as a finer brand of Italian, has been subtly changing. Turn to the updated menus for the likes of sausage and peppers, crab risotto, bucatini pomodoro, and other takes on classic Italian favorites. Plus, the Burger 2.0 is probably the official best burger in town, and that's in a town with so many best burgers there's one for each day of the week.
40 S. Seventh. St., Minneapolis
It's not the bare-bones taqueria everyone wants in their own backyard. But the food is almost as good as that, and when you want that pozole or tamal next to a frosty margarita and a flickering candle, Barrio is pretty much the go-to place. While you'll pay for the pleasure — prices are naturally higher than those off the taco truck — think of them at lunchtime, when quick and filling specials go for $10.
925 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
It's every chef's, every committed foodie's, everybody-who-just-wants-somewhere-good-to-eat's favorite place. The dim sliver of a bistro has always defied definition and convention, and that alone has been 112's calling card for a decade. When you just want a cheeseburger and fries, when you just want a perfect martini, when you just want an egg sandwich with frog's legs and sweetbreads and a side of gnocchi, then this is the place. 112 has all of this, plus so many other things, served a la carte so that your strangest and deepest cravings can all be had, in a wild and wonderful mashup. Servers in crisp white shirts will bring it all to you with a fine-dining level of service. That is, if you're lucky enough to score a dark wooden booth in the back. Wait to be seated on the original main floor. The ambiance is worth every hungry second of anticipation.
112 N. Third St., Minneapolis
The Copper Pot
When an Indian craving strikes, we're fairly flush in options downtown — see Kadai in the skyway and Dancing Ganesha on the southern end of downtown. But we love Copper Pot for crisp, tangy, and bright Bhel Poori, a tamarind and mint emulsion over puffed rice and lentil noodles; or the magnificent baskets of naan, redolent with garlic, blasted through with green chile, or sweet with nuts and raisin. Curries, kormas, and vindaloos all start with freshest-ever spices and chiles and are tempered with creamiest ever cream, butter, and coconut milk. Taking them in is like a one-two punch to the face followed by a soothing caress. Copper Pot has also got a pleasant urban vibe with low lights at night. Now serving lunch buffet.
Lumber Exchange Building
10 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis
While not previously anything to crow about, the cooking at Kieran's just got a big shot in the arm from the acquisition of Vincent Francoual, of the late Vincent A Restaurant. Having an erudite French chef at the helm of a massive, working-class Irish pub almost seems like the buildup to a joke. But so far, the results seem pretty straight-faced. The return of the beloved signature Vincent short rib burger (ground beef, pulled braised short rib, smoked gouda, and gherkins sauce on an egg bun) has been the main calling card to this coup so far. But also watch for things like red beet and pea shoot salad, and cheese-filled Peppadew peppers.
85 N. Sixth St., Minneapolis
Band Box Diner
729 10th St. .S., Minneapolis