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Dine-in dreams: Where will your first 'after' restaurant visit be, and why?

Marco Zappia has actually been standing behind Colita's bar this whole time… holding that drink, waiting *just for you.*

Marco Zappia has actually been standing behind Colita's bar this whole time… holding that drink, waiting *just for you.* Star Tribune

The only constant is change. –Heraclitus

A month ago you might have had reservations at a restaurant to celebrate an anniversary. Then a few weeks ago you learned that all the restaurants in Minnesota were likely closing due to coronavirus. Now you might be able to get takeout or delivery from that restaurant, and others that never offered it before. 

That's a lot of change—and it has been constant, in a very short amount of time.

I eat out a lot (like a lot a lot) so when this “new now” started to sink in, I wondered where I might eat first once a semblance of “before” comes back… because, as the kids say, I think it's going to "hit different." 

It made me recall the scene in Fight Club, where Tyler Durden holds up Raymond, and Tyler tells the Narrator how much better tomorrow will be for Raymond now that he’s survived near death. “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

I figured if I was having these thoughts, I probably wasn’t alone. So I asked colleagues what and where they're going to eat on that proverbial "tomorrow." Given the many unknowns we’re facing, I also wondered what we most vividly remembered about that restaurant, and asked them to record those memories for posterity’s sake.
 

Restaurant Alma
Sarah Moeller, president and CEO of the Greenlight Group, LLC and frequent stage at the Nomad in New York City

Moeller would first seek out Alma for a "warm, welcoming energy that has no gimmicks or fanciness about it: It is simply a place with delicious food and personal, thoughtful service." She'd go with the "three-course menu and a delicious wine James Hirdler has picked out to share with us all." To Moeller, the heart of Alma is its "delicious food and personal, thoughtful service," making for an ideal place to host "important conversations," be they about business or life events and "reunions with closest friends when we want it to be a really special night."

Bull's Horn
Natalia Mendez, expert snacker, sometimes food writer; and Joel Swenson, writer, dive bar enthusiast, Old Style aficionado… spouses who responded separately, but arrived at the same answer

For her part, Mendez wants back inside Bull's Horn, her "family's Cheers bar and our first stop after returning home from travel or for celebrations" for $1 happy hour tacos and a tap Old Style for an appetizer, then a "full dinner of a Bull's Horn burger with cheese, fries, and dry rubbed wings." In Swenson’s "humble opinion, Bull's Horn is the greatest place in Minneapolis, if not on Earth," and his first order will depend on the day of the week. If it's a Tuesday he'll go for the Southern fried chicken platter and an Old Style; any other day and he’ll get a cup of chili, some fried gizzards, a Bull's Horn burger with fries, and an Old Style.

Both Mendez and Swenson said Bull’s Horn “feels like home.” 

Swenson appreciates that Bull's Horn has always been dependable "no matter what was going on, whether you were celebrating something, bored looking for a place to curl up with a book on a Tuesday night, or just looking for the perfect burger." His favorite memory is playing tee-ball with mini pumpkins during "Rage Against the Cuisine," one of chef/owner Doug Flicker's occasional themed nights. Mendez says “They are everything a neighborhood bar should be including very engaged in their community, and that I feel is irreplaceable." She goes on to recall an equally irreplaceable time when Bull's Horn was doing karaoke. She asked a then-stranger cook to do a duet with her, "thinking he would say no. To my surprise he agreed and we sang an amazing rendition of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease. It was spectacular and we have been friends since."

Colita
Shawn Rodgers, business analyst and food enthusiast

Rogers says, “When things get back to 'normal' I'm likely going to visit Colita first. I live pretty close and it's probably where I go the most, so I want to continue to support them in any way that I can. I'm looking forward to a Trevino cocktail with a Wild Mushroom Tlayuda and an order of churros for dessert." 

Rodgers cherishes Colita’s people, “how they're very passionate about what they do and it's something that shows in all facets of the experience." His fondest memory involves "the first time I dined there, everything that came out from the bar or kitchen turned heads, eyes lit up in enthusiasm and anticipation."

Grand Szechuan
Jeanne Eatsworld, food and travel enthusiast

Despite having many places in mind, Eatsworld’s first stop would be Grand Szechuan to order a bunch of her comfort food favorites, including Chungking spicy chicken, sweet spicy noodles, pork in Szechuan chili broth, country-style fried chicken, Szechuan green beans, and Dan Dan Noodles. Eatsworld considers the Bloomington restaurant “truly a gem” for serving "food as authentic as you can get here in the Minneapolis area."

Hola Arepa
Mike Mullen, City Pages news editor

Hola Arepa is the siren's call for Mullen. He "used to live right around there, went often, and knew when to beat the crowds." He'll be going for the "chips and salsa (with the three hottest salsas) arepitas, a Cuban arepa, and, if they'll make one, a Michelada. And if they'll make one I'll get two." 

Mullen hopes people remember Hola Arepa has been a "hot destination with crowds waiting inside and out .. a simple concept, with its beat-up food truck still parked in the lot, and whose basic patio is a loud, busy street away from a gas station. In short, that if the food is good enough, nothing else matters."

Kimchi Tofu House
Sarah Brumble, City Pages food and drink editor, several raccoons in a trench coat

Brumble can't wait to dine at Stadium Village's Kimchi Tofu House again for her usual combo of "Spicy pork and Silken tofu stew with dumplings (heat level 'spicy')," the later of which just isn't the same when it's takeout. "Cracking that egg into a perfect still-boiling cauldron of goodness is something that only happens in-house (duh). That participatory element is integral to the place's magic."

For those who haven't yet dined at Kimchi Tofu House, Brumble says it’s got a "unique balance of hustle, bustle, and intimacy" and "from people to food, it's a package deal… the tiny staff is helmed by a husband-and-wife team, who can only pull off this variety of soup in their own way."

Kyatchi
Jessica Armbruster, City Pages arts editor

“Like toilet paper and frozen peas, in the time of coronavirus access to sushi is limited and often hard to find," says Armbruster. This is why, when first out of the house, she plans to head to neighborhood sushi haunt Kyatchi, for "happy hour sushi and daily specials." Armbruster hopes people will fondly remember their "epic happy hour chirashi—a big-ass bowl featuring sashimi and veggies over sushi rice that costs around $11.50."

Cafe and Bar Lurçat
Lisa Patrin, food writer, blog author of The Empty Nesters Kitchen, and sustainability advocate

On Patrin’s list is a trip to Cafe and Bar Lurçat for their unforgettable Lurçat Burger (made with red wine and shallot butter) with crave-worthy French fries. She's been missing the incredible service, food, and general vibe of the bar and restaurant. 

Of Lurçat, Patrin wants people to remember their "dinners on the outdoor patio and spending cherished time with friends in the chandelier lit bar area with the magnificent views of Loring Park," and how, for nearly 20 years, "they have been wowing guests with innovative food and beverage menus."

Martina
Anthony "DJ Phat" Holznagel, medical laboratory technician, disc jockey, and foodie inspirator 

Holznagel says he's planning on going straight to Martina. And what will he order? "The burger if it's brunch or Beef Tongue Bruschetta and Spaghetti Fra Diavola if it's dinner time,” he says. "I love everything about the restaurant as a whole. Every single person on the staff is superb at their craft."

Explaining why Martina holds such a spot in his heart is easy for Holznagel: “It's instant love for everyone. I don't ever want to break up with that. Every time I've brought someone new, by the end of the night they've told me multiple times how much they've loved it and wondered when they can go again.”

May Day Cafe
Lauren Haun, food writer

Haun first wants a “warm almond croissant at May Day Cafe.” For them the croissants “are simple comforts, nothing too flashy. They are always just right, no matter my mood.”

When asked what they’d remember? “May Day Cafe was an honest community cafe, I couldn't swoop in for a coffee without running into someone I know.” Its portion sizes, familiar flavors, and affordability made it “a neighborhood landmark and unquestionably irreplaceable.”

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
Hannah Jones, City Pages writer

Jones is heading to Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, the reason being "[Ngon] has always been my girlfriend and I’s fancy date night place. We celebrate most of our successes there—even a few anniversaries." They’ll likely pick “a fancy cocktail and an app I’ve never tried before, and also a big steamy bowl of their vegetarian delight pho."

Beyond the aforementioned vegetarian delight pho, with its "depth of flavor there you wouldn’t normally find with a lot of vegetarian/vegan options," Jones thinks people should know that Ngon "had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted, and it always had this soothing, quiet, candlelit atmosphere I really loved. You feel like you’re away from everything there, even though you’re right off the Green Line." They fondly recall one night, after bantering with their server, being presented with "two shot glasses of slightly cloudy liquid. He told us this was their spice blend for the broth" to see if they could guess the flavors. "It pickled my tongue instantly—like a shot of hard liquor. I’d never felt like I was drinking an actual smell until this. We each got a few ingredients right, and missed about a million others."

Reverie
Emily Utne, City Pages art director

Reverie will be Utne's first dining destination because "they make the best tasting vegan food with a great casual vibe and cool music." Her order? "Mac and cheese, lemongrass tofu tacos, side of smoked Brussels sprouts followed by beignets for dessert!" 

Reverie has already prevailed through one closure by becoming a food truck, which makes Utne believe in them, even if she misses “putting their food in [her] mouth—especially the mac and cheese.”

Victor's 1959 Cafe
Shelby Lano, City Pages layout editor, musician, and Animal Crossing enthusiast

Lano went with south Minneapolis staple Victor's 1959 Cafe because, "it's delicious, plus I have a lot of fond remembrances of brunches with friends, birthdays, other feel-good times when socializing was okay." They'll forever remember splitting mango pancakes with friends, "the incredible employees who kept such a busy and beloved place functioning… and that Bistec Criollo, baby. I could eat it every day." 

It comes as no surprise their first meal will be an order of Victors' signature Bistec Criollo, as well as a side of plantains.

Young Joni
Matty Tucker, sous chef at Zen Box Izakaya and food writer

Tucker looks forward to eating with people again, and he wants to do it first at Young Joni. "I can't wait to get the whole grilled fish,” he says, noting the lack of large format entrees around the Cities, “It's such a simple, excellent dish that changes with availability, but it's always grilled over wood, and served with naam jim—a Thai fish sauce packed with herbs." In addition to the fish, Tucker and friends would share "a few fire-roasted veggies, and of course a couple pizzas."  

Though Tucker can't imagine Young Joni’s owner, Ann Kim, not weathering the storm, he doesn't know if anyone without external help is really safe. "The accolades are great, but I hope everyone remembers how warm that place is,” says Tucker. “The service, the hospitality, the decor. They're doing their best for you."

Grand Cafe
JD Hovland, software engineer, food enthusiast, and occasional writer

I want to go back to so many places, but I think I'd first end up at a sidewalk table at Grand Cafe for the hot and chilled seafood, the omelette with Japanese milk bread, and a Pinot Noir Rosé. The former reflects what the fish mongers can get them, and is served with a variety of great sauces plus whatever seasonal ingredients fold best into eggs for the second. I'm a huge fan of the creativity that Jamie Malone, Nikki Klocker, and their entire crew imbue into every facet of Grand Cafe and sister restaurant Eastside.

The thing I most want people to hang onto is Grand Cafe’s magic—be it animatronic puppets in the window, old movies playing on the wall, excellent food coming out of a small kitchen mostly hidden by a gargantuan oven, or the consistently stellar service. The team behind Grand Cafe (and Eastside) rejuvenated two spots and made them destinations again.

***

Our first hopeful meals and our fondnesses run the gamut—pho, sushi, burgers, vegan, shellfish, cocktails, sparkling wine, and cheap beer. While a few people mentioned signature dishes, most were those that could be ordered on at least half a dozen menus around town.

But for everyone, again and again, it came down to people. People who, according to the stats, make up nearly 1in 13 working Minnesotans. Losing these places to eat isn’t just about the restaurants’ food or ambiance. Ultimately it’s about the people that make them happen. We’d miss them if we couldn’t visit them again.




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