When the Blue Line opened almost exactly 10 years ago, savvy partiers were among the first to understand its potential, plotting out all-night bar crawls that started at quirky pubs in south Minneapolis and inevitably ended, well, somewhere seamy. But the Green Line, which connects the downtowns of both cities, seems poised to become a sprawling tour of an entirely different variety. With so many amazing restaurants — from cheap eats near the U of M and hidden gems in Midway, to the many authentic global culinary traditions represented from Little Mekong to Lowertown — we predict the Green Line will inspire some epic restaurant crawls. Here are our zone-by-zone best bets.
Stops: Cedar-Riverside station, West Bank station
Good eats: If you're just feeling a little peckish and don't mind a split-open vinyl seat with your split-open hot dog bun, make a pit stop at the Wienery for hand-cut fries and a bang-on Chicago dog. If you don't do meat, or if you just don't do the meat that's in hot dogs, the vegetarian Italian sausage is secretly one of the best things on the menu. Keefer Court Cafe's BBQ pork buns make for a perfectly portable meal, or if you prefer to sit and stay awhile the house noodles with crispy-skinned duck make a fabulous lunch. For dinner, go spicy with Dilla's siga wot or zilzil tibs, grilled beef in a buttery chili sauce. Stepping off the station a little later at night? Head to Republic at Seven Corners, where from 10 p.m. to midnight you can get discounted draft beer and stunningly good fish tacos.
Stops: East Bank station, Stadium Village station
Good eats: It's hard to resist the garlicky allure of Punch Pizza, but consider popping into Bun Mi, a quick-serve spot specializing in the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. Get any menu item that features the lemongrass chicken and wash it down with a fizzy lychee water or a fancy bubble tea. Dinner calls for a table at Kimchi Tofu House and their signature soondobu jigae. It arrives steaming and spurting, stocked with creamy, uncurdled tofu, mushrooms, crunchy veggies for texture, and a raw egg cracked into the hot broth tableside. If you're pre-gaming and need some deep-fried sustenance, we recommend the delicate calamari or dry-rubbed jerk wings at the Hole Sports Lounge.
Stop: Prospect Park station
Good eats: For a breakfast of house-made quiche or a gouda and caramelized onion three-egg omelet, or Manchego and figgy jam paninis and an orange and quinoa salad for lunch, or that 3 o'clock sugar crash that only a Key Lime cupcake can fix, it's all about Cupcake on University. There's also great classic breakfast served daily at the Egg & I, tucked away in an unassuming office building overlooking the freeway. If you're up for a bit of a walk, Signature Cafe on Warwick is only about 15 minutes from this stop and serves reasonably priced, crowd-pleasing entrees like seared scallops with orange-ginger glaze and smoked pork ribs. Note: This stop is also future home of the new Surly Brewing compound, so look for new eateries to pop up in the area this fall.
Raymond Creative Enterprise Zone
Stops: Westgate station, Raymond Avenue station
Good eats: There are a handful of restaurant options just steps from the Raymond Avenue station. Cafe Biaggio, famous for its luscious creamy tomato-basil soup and delicate fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, is consistently tasty. Fans of Foxy Falafel's dilly cheese curds and cauliflower steaks will already be familiar with the brick-and-mortar storefront, located just north of University. The original location of Key's Cafe is right next door, serving enormous Monte Cristo sandwiches, perfect chicken wild rice soup, and hearty, cheese-covered breakfasts the same way they have been since the '70s.
Stops: Fairview Avenue station, Snelling Avenue station, Hamline Avenue station, Lexington Parkway station
Good eats: Midway is such a big, busy zone that there's always a solid restaurant option, no matter what you're craving. Sole Cafe, just a few blocks north of the Snelling stop, serves family-style Korean dishes like unique, thin-cut grilled ribs and the haemul pajeon, a light and crispy seafood-studded deep-fried dish that's somewhere between shrimp tempura and a savory funnel cake. On's Thai Kitchen is great for warming your bones with a bowl of Tom Yum or green curry; ditto for Flamingo Ethiopian, which has some killer vegetarian options. Eden Pizza makes an impressively light gluten-free crust and toppings like sauerkraut, mock duck, and one combination that tastes just like a Bloody Mary.
Stops: Lexington Parkway station, Victoria Street station, Dale Street station (exit south)
Good eats: This historic district, the site of the annual Selby Avenue Jazz Festival, stores some well-kept dining secrets. Get the taco-shaped hole in your heart filled at Homi Mexican Restaurant where the tamales are moist and steamed in banana leaves, the mole spice lingers on your lips, and almost everything comes covered in a light dusting of queso fresco. You're probably feeling pretty full by now, but a fluffy, light, raised, glazed doughnut from SugaRush is well worth the extra calories. The super-small dining room at Trieu Chau puts off some customers, but this spot is a must-visit for its delicious pork dishes.
Stops: Lexington Parkway station, Victoria Street station, Dale Street station (exit north)
Good eats: If you can only choose one place to eat near the Frogtown stations, make it Trung Nam, a French-Vietnamese bakery whose croissants — both plain and almond — are without rival, and whose banh mi sandwich sets the standard for others in the area. If you're staying for dinner and looking for outstanding barbecue steeped in local history, Hickory Hut is absolutely the way to go and the chicken wings are absolutely the thing to order. For all the other parts of the bird, head to Daily Diner, known for rib-sticking pressure-cooker fried chicken and waffles. Ngon Bistro, with its well-curated beer list and $30 dinner for two special on Wednesdays, is a smart pick for date night.
Stop: Western Avenue station
Good eats: Though this is technically one of the smallest zones, specifically named and plotted out to coincide with the opening of the Green Line, it's also one of the densest areas in terms of restaurants. You could close your eyes, point at a storefront, and end up having a memorable dinner, but if you want a little extra insurance, we love Mai Village for accommodating large groups, Ha Tien for all your Asian grocery needs (including whole suckling pig) and a truly great roast pork sandwich, Bangkok Thai Deli for cold noodle salads and chicken rama with chunky, vinegary peanut sauce, and Little Szechuan for tongue-tingling, sweat-inducing, infection-clearing Szechuan spiciness and traditional offal-based dishes.
Rice Street/North End
Stop: Capitol/Rice Street station
Good eats: Options are a little sparer in this zone, but if you happened to bring your bike with you on the train, pedal down Rice Street to Coffee Cup, a no-frills spot that serves our favorite diner-style breakfast classics in St. Paul. University Buffet is more conveniently located, just a few yards off this station, serving affordable Chinese-American standards and a handful of sushi rolls. But for our money, it's all about the Hmongtown Marketplace. Numerous stalls serve handmade snappy pork sausages flavored with garlic, lemongrass, and hot peppers over sticky rice; racks of shiny barbecued beef ribs decorate and perfume the corridors; and you'll be hard-pressed to find better fried chicken anywhere in the city.
Lowertown Arts District
Stops: Robert Street station, 10th Street station, Central station, Union Depot station
Good eats: The Green Line's terminus is the majestic, historic Union Depot, which happens to house Christo's, a Greek restaurant with one of our favorite buffets in downtown. Load up a plate of parsley-flecked tabbouleh, tender chunks of souvlaki, and dollops of hummus and tzatziki for a filling, flavorful lunch. We never can resist the famous Coney Dog at the Gopher Bar on East Seventh Street or the excellent short rib Reuben on house-made caraway rye at the Buttered Tin, directly across the street. Dinner is a toss-up between the hearty, toothsome buckwheat noodles at Tanpopo and the meatball and ricotta pizza at Black Sheep.