Truthfully, there are a lot of bad restaurants open on Christmas. Mediocre, or at best, middle-of-the-road places where many items get poured from Cryovac bags into a pan — tinny Christmas carols that drone away like a Walmart PA, or just staffers who would clearly rather be Netflix and chillin'.
What you want is someplace that can offer a reasonable facsimile of a home-cooked meal — or perhaps even better, a complete departure from Christmas schlock, because you've had enough of that already.
Here are the best bets for those who cannot or will not cook a holiday meal at home. They're a way to outsource the fuss and muss to someone else, all while keeping your dignity (mostly) intact. (It's advisable to call ahead for reservations):
A Christmas Eve tradition for many local families going back for decades, Rainbow Chinese is opening their second floor dining area to accommodate the throngs. If you've never seen it, it's worth a trip alone — all blond wood floors, soaring ceilings and airy space. Keep a keen eye out for new menu items, as Tammy Wong has been working diligently on a fresh new menu that calls to mind the pure, crisp, and spicy dishes you had on your last Chinatown trip in NYC.
You don't have to be one of the chosen people to attend the gleefully festive annual Jewbilee at First Avenue. Entertainment runs from klezmer music to comedians to Bobby Z to Rabbi Glaser ("the Twin Cities' inappropriate rabbi"). For eats, they generally put out a spread of Chinese takeout, natch. The event is happening on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 7 p.m. Admission is $4.00 and it's 18+. Buy tickets here or pay at the door.
Squint, and you're in somebody's Parisian farmhouse this Christmas Eve, where they're serving bison pot roast and Norwegian salmon with blood orange and curried winter vegetables. And lots and lots of wine.
Dramatically presented and surprisingly tasty Middle Eastern favorites at this strange and interesting restaurant tucked into an old (but impressively remodeled) Panera Bread space at the back of Excelsior and Grand. It's worth seeking out at Christmas Eve when lots of other stuff is closed. Grandma always overcooks the lamb, anyway. Price points can run high here, so stick to the appetizer menu where a big Mediterranean platter with baba ghanoush, fire-roasted peppers and artichokes, hummus, tabbouleh salad, and good bread easily serves four.
Feel far away from the cold north with the heady spices of the East. Dine on Indian this Christmas Eve at Bluefox, where they're working on building a better dining room, with a full bar, cozy booths, and modern presentations. Have the chicken chettinad, a curry that blows any Christmas goose out of the water.
Because sumo, ramen, sake, shuffleboard, and bibimbap is almost always more celebratory than anything else you can put up against them, including tipsy grampa in a Santa suit. We like their sleeper hit, the maitake ramen, a vegetarian and brothless concoction of maitake mushroom, corn, ponzu, and pickled red onions. Open Christmas Eve noon to 5 p.m., so get those sake bombs in early.
The been-around-forever, all-welcome-here vibe of Rudolph's makes it one of our Uptown favorites. The fact that they're open until 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve means rib tips, beans, sweet potato fries, and slaw, instead of tuna tatertot taco hotdish.
What says Christmas better than beer? The Herkimer will be open on Christmas Day starting at 6 p.m. The kitchen will be open as well, but food is sort of besides the point (wings, curds, nachos). More importantly, there will be beer!
Have Christmas Eve breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then Christmas dinner 5 p.m. to close. Breakfast is classic American-style: omelets, benedicts, hash, and skillets. So is dinner: crab cakes, steaks, big salads, and meat and potatoes presentations. Perfect for a groaning Midwestern holiday table.
Open both Christmas and Christmas Eve, the Oceanaire is a much-ado dining room that mostly delivers on high-quality seafood for when you're feeling cashy (though there are certainly better values to be had at indie spots). But since we're celebrating, we'd like a saucer-sled portion of oysters on ice, crab cakes the size of a boxer's fist, and a bunch of bubbly.
We especially love a steakhouse and cocktail lounge experience at the holidays because its classic charms make us feel all Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, and Lawrence Welk-like. A good old steakhouse is like a crackling fire, a snifter of good bourbon and lighting up a stogie while Ava Gardner sits on your lap. It makes us go all soft in the eyes. Ruth's Chris, Monte Carlo, and Manny's are all open on Christmas Day, and all will fit the bill for unironically strapping on some sequined heels and tucking a pocket square into your fella's vest.
Also, check almost any hotel restaurant, because the show must go on at hotels. The better hotel restaurants include Monello, Marin, and Lela Restaurant, all of which are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.