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Rachel's: a first look at the long-awaited NE restaurant

What's behind the Rachel's sign?

What's behind the Rachel's sign?

We'd been waiting for years--what, four of them?--for John Rimarcik to open the East Hennepin restaurant's doors. Finally, this spring, it happened.

We were very curious to find out how Rachel's would fit in with other other nearby restaurants. (There are tons of 'em on East Hennepin, including the two Neapolitan pizza joints, Punch and Nea, two burger joints, the Bulldog NE and Whitey's, along with Masu Sushi & Robata, the Butcher Block, Nye's, Kramarczuk's, and Ginger Hop.)

And how would it compare to Rimarcik's other restaurants, among them Convention Grill, Annie's Parlour, and the Monte Carlo?

We headed in to find out:

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Just inside Rachel's door, the front dining area has lots of windows and a pretty bar--it looks a little like a French bistro.

Crossing into the main dining room, the Rachel's space gets more eclectic. Black-and-white photographs look rather like they belong in a Chicago steakhouse. Green-and-white check tablecloths are reminiscent of a diner. Maroon paint on the walls and colorful fabric on the banquettes suggests ... I'm not sure.

The Cleveland Olive Burger at Rachel's.

The Cleveland Olive Burger at Rachel's.

The menu is short, but varied, covering a range of reasonably priced, American cafe fare. About a quarter of the list is sandwiches--French dip, egg salad, ham salad--and an equal portion of the menu is made up of hamburgers. Straightforward items like steamed mussels, BBQ ribs, salads, broiled salmon, and corned beef hash round out the rest of the selection.

Burgers are the most dominant section of the menu, available with a dozen different toppings. Like the ones at the Convention Grill and Annie's, the ones I sampled were good--the patties are thick, substantial, and properly cooked, the toppings basic but satisfying.

But was there something about these burgers that would lure would-be diners away from the Bulldog NE, Whitey's, or the Wa Fu (Japanese-style) Hamburger at Masu? Not really. The space was the major differentiation, being less-crowded, lower-decibel, and more relaxed than some of its trendier, rowdier neighbors.

Can a restaurant without a strong, distinct identity compete on the popular E. Hennepin strip? Have you tried Rachel's? What did you think?

Rachel's 222 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis 612.379.3345