Top 10 Italian restaurants in the Twin Cities
School's in session, the sun is setting earlier in the evening, and there's a distinct chill in the early morning air. There's no denying it--autumn is upon us. Gone are the days when all you feel like eating are crisp salads and cups of frozen yogurt. Whether you're looking to fuel up for fall sporting events, or just to pack on a little insulation for the frigid days to come, nothing beats an Italian restaurant when it comes time to carb up. Here are ten of our local favorites.
1. Bar La Grassa No matter how hip and bespectacled the faces are in Bar La Grassa's always-busy waiting area, the cuisine that this nationally recognized restaurant serves up is centered on something that's been a favorite of carb lovers for centuries: pasta. Whether he's working with dried or fresh, executive chef (and James Beard award-winner) Isaac Becker has an incredible knack for knowing just what to do with noodles of every shape. Large, hollow tubes of paccheri are the perfect match for shreds of tender and fragrant saffron milk-braised chicken, semi-circles of agnolotti make an ideal home for earthy mushrooms and Taleggio cheese, and wide ribbons of pappardelle are the obvious choice to stand up to the slow-cooked intensity of veal ragu. It's not just the pasta that's noteworthy. In addition to nicely crusted, fall-off-the-bone, St. Louis-style ribs, the elegant simplicity of the soft scrambled eggs and lobster bruschetta is an experience every Twin Cities resident should have at least once.
800 N. Washington Ave, Minneapolis; 612.333.3837 Website
2. Broder's Pasta Bar If you want to eat an affordable plate of pasta, you have dozens of options around the area. If you want to eat a craftily concocted, beautifully presented, top-quality, affordable plate of pasta, your best bet is heading out to Broders' Pasta Bar and sampling the ever-changing variety of egg pasta dishes (from noodles prepared fresh daily) or imported semolina-based artisan pasta dishes. While the menu presents a seasonally aware, rotating extravaganza of Italian food, some evergreens call out to regular Broders' diners. The kicky, outrageously fresh-tasting penne alla puttanesca, for example, and the reliably bright and vivid linguine con pesto Genovese are guaranteed to keep pasta lovers streaming out of Broders' overstuffed parking lot and through the front doors. They don't take reservations, so wear your patient pants, knowing the wait will be worth it when you twirl that first bite of housemade pasta around your fork.
5000 Penn Ave S., Minneapolis; 612.925.9202 Website
3. I Nonni The veal shank osso bucco at I Nonni is the sort of dish that lingers in your memory...the tenderness of the braised meat, the rich, buttery marrow you scooped from the bone with a tiny spoon. I Nonni also offers fresh seafood; homemade gnocchi with tomato, basil, and ricotta; Brussels sprouts with crisp bits of pancetta; and paper-thin beef carpaccio piled with sharp arugula, shaved Parmesan, olive oil, and served with a whole lemon to squeeze on top. It's cuisine inspired by the Italian grandparents, or i nonni, of the owners, the Marchionda family, who founded the beloved Buon Giorno Italian Market and sourced more than 400 small-production, regional Italian wines to pair. The authentic meals are served in a dining room that's decidedly modern: glowingly lit, with vaulted ceilings, and windows looking into those of the neighboring McMansions.
981 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Lilydale; 651.905.1081 Website
4. D'Amico Kitchen D'Amico Cucina, the restaurant which spent decades at the pinnacle of luxury dining in the Twin Cities, has been reborn as D'Amico Kitchen, which presents Italian fare in a way that's hard to find in the Twin Cities, with an approach as urban and contemporary as the Chambers Hotel's chic setting. The ingredients are a bit more modest than those used at Cucina, but the cooking techniques are just as exacting. The pastas and entrees are somewhat mixed, but the changing list of small plates is as extensive as it is delightful: past favorites include raw hamachi drizzled with tangerine oil, lamb meatballs, fried baby artichokes, and saffron risotto balls filled with braised veal. D'Amico Kitchen is probably the only Italian restaurant in town that opens its doors daily at 6:30 a.m., so there's no need to wait for the dinner hour to get your Ciao on.
901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.767.6960 Website
5. Rinata Rinata deviates from its Hennepin Avenue neighbors, most of which consist of bustling pizzerias and upbeat coffee shops, with its dim, romantically lit dining room and slipper-footed waitstaff. Rinata's menu draws from all over Italy, but its heart and soul is its stellar, fresh pasta. With a daily changing menu of dishes--everything from standards like spaghetti and meatballs to less-common oxtail agnolotti--all priced less than $15, Rinata offers an upscale-feeling experience and gourmet-tasting food for a reasonable price tag. They offer cocktails and full meals until 1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, giving the Uptown bar crowd a classier alternative for late-night dining than the typical greasy spoons. A Sunday "date night" special includes a four course meal for $20 per person, and bottles of wine are always half price on Monday and Tuesday evenings, and from 4 - 6 p.m. daily. Rinata also offers a lovely weekend brunch, for when you're dying for a big, juicy meatball with your hash browns.
2451 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.374.8998 Website
6. Zelo Zelo has been recognized by the City Pages for having both some of the best appetizers and the best service in the metro area. Splashy and sexy, this downtown Minneapolis hot spot is a great spot to impress a first date or kick off an indulgent night on the town before a game, movie, or live performance. The downtown power lunch scene is hopping here on weekdays, with the ambiance turning more atmospheric in the evening hours. Menu highlights include the affettato misto appetizer platter, brimming with Italian hams, salamis, cheeses, olives, salads, and a very good bruschetta; the wood-roasted mussels; the light, zingy caesar salad; and the show-stopping dessert sample platter, crowned with the best tiramisu in town, an ethereal little tower made of light sponge cake soaked with coffee and Marsala and layered with rich mascarpone.
831 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.333.7000 Website
7. D'Amico and Sons Need bread and Parmesan for dinner? To D'Amico, for an airy ciabatta and a chunk of imported reggiano. Dog ate your birthday cake? To D'Amico for a lush chocolate-mascarpone torta! On a diet? Green salad! Dispirited? Coffee! Getting married? Catering! When you want an upscale Italian feast, head to the fancier D'Amico Kitchen. For a quick but pleasant fix for those everyday Italian cravings, head to one of the 12 Twin Cities metro area D'Amico and Sons outposts for affordable but well-made pastas, pizzas, soups, sandwiches and salads. For a little under $7, add a bottomless glass of house wine to your meal. They have takeout down to a science, so there's no need to whip out the cookbook the next time you have a hankering for some authentic-tasting spaghetti with Sicilian meatballs at your own kitchen table.
12 Twin Cities locations Website
8. Pazzaluna Glamour and color bloom in the jewel-colored murals and extravagant floral arrangements in one of downtown St. Paul's white-tablecloth destination restaurants. Also flowering are portions of such things as grilled calamari, house-made mozzarella, fresh gnocchi with four imported cheeses, or veal chops stuffed with prosciutto and fontina. If you're downtown for a show at the Ordway, this is one of your best bets for a pre-show dinner (or post-show nosh and nightcap). Luxurious meals can be stretched over many courses with fine oils and various imported wines--and a price tag to match, but the budget-minded can get away with spending less than $10 for a pizza in the bar and basking in the reflected glory of the snazzy surroundings.
360 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651.223.7000 Website
9. Cossetta's Cossetta's can safely be called a downtown St. Paul institution, where you're fed for a song, there's abundant romance and sense of place (and cannoli!), and where the Lady and the Tramp meets Minnesota Historical Society décor (push aside the faux prosciuttos some night and look at those black-and-white photos)--and where, finally, you're never, ever disappointed by the forthright Southern Italian-American cuisine. Sausage and peppers or Veal parmigiana, anyone? And with a $10 million expansion in the works, it's only going to get bigger and better. Upcoming additions are rumored to include outdoor seating, an expanded menu, an on-site bakery, and a possible wine cellar. This is your one-stop Italian shop.
211 W. 7th St., St. Paul; 651.222.3476 Website
10. Yarusso Bros Yarusso-Bros., on St. Paul's East Side, has been a neighborhood favorite since 1933. A true old-school Italian joint, it's family-owned and operated, with pictures of regular customers and neighbors lining the walls, and serious grandma-style cooking. The Godfather trilogy is on constant rotation in the bar, and the plates of pasta with their secret-recipe red sauce are always heaped high with goodness. Some of the best deals in town can be found here, with large plates of pasta--plenty for two or three to share--for around $11. Then there are specials like the pasta bucket for four (yes, a bucket) for $25. A measly $5 is enough for spaghetti and a meatball all day, every day. And there's more: get a free glass of wine with dinner on Thursdays, on Sundays kids eat free all day, and there's free pasta on the patio for bike riders the first Saturday of each month.
637 Payne Avenue, St. Paul; 651.776.4848 Website
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