One can’t-miss sign of fall? Students, faculty and staff are back at the University of Minnesota. They’ve returned to discover a ton of new (and newish) food and drink options near the school’s sprawling Minneapolis campus. Here’s a quick rundown.
The U’s dining epicenter hasn’t lost its supremacy. The small commercial district still remains home to the city’s most famous a.m. destination (Al’s Breakfast, 413 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-9991); a role-model burgers-and-malts magnet (Annie’s Parlour, 313 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-0744); a quintessential late-night by-the-slice joint (Mesa Pizza, 1323 SE. 4th St., Mpls., 612-436-3006, mesapizzamn.com), and everything in between. And by “everything,” I mean it, right down to a sugar delivery service (Insomnia Cookies, 402 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 1-877-632-6654, insomniacookies.com).
What’s new? Plenty. The biggest attention-getter is stylish K-Bop Korean Bistro (425 13th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-4993, k-bop.com), which is lighting up the neighborhood’s ugliest landmark — the concrete, Soviet-style Chateau apartment tower. Hurrah.
The cheap, plentiful fare doesn’t stray too far from boilerplate Korean, and there’s a distinct comfort food/home cooking vibe, all in a very good way. Order at the counter, wait for your number to appear on an electronic board, take a seat, eat, then begin planning a return visit.
Himalayan Dinkytown (1415 SE. 4th St., Mpls., 612-332-2910) is another total gem. The setup hews closely to the Chipotle manifesto, with design-your-own rice bowls, platters and burrito-like pita rolls, all assembled using a wide variety of fresh, vibrant and colorful Nepal-inspired ingredients. It’s a brilliant idea — quick, inexpensive and friendly — and I wouldn’t be surprised if it multiplied into units all over town.
The commercial district near TCF Bank Stadium has undergone the most radical change, food- and drink-wise.
Campus Pizza called it quits last year after 55-plus pepperoni-filled years, and four long-lived favorites — Village Wok (41 years), Espresso Expose (25 years), Bun Mi (eight years) and Abdul’s Afandy (two years in its tiny Washington Av. location, but a revival of a longtime Minneapolis favorite) pulled the plug in recent weeks; they’re all being replaced by an apartment tower.
Still, the newcomers keep coming. Ippindo Ramen House (817 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-9999, ippindomn.com) covers all the bases in the current ramen craze, and Bar Luchador (825 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-1450, barluchador.com) focuses on Mexican small plates — including a long list of affordably priced, well-garnished tacos — and tap beers. There’s a noteworthy happy hour, too.
There were 22 people ahead of me in line at Blaze Pizza (1000 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-1723, blazepizza.com) when I dropped in for an early weeknight dinner.
Turns out, following the crowd was the way to go. It’s the second Twin Cities location of an up-and-coming chain, one that also owes a great debt to the Chipotle build-your-own format.
The mix-and-match array of toppings doesn’t miss a trick, but it’s the well-rendered, plate-size crust — a nicely crisped-up and blistered exterior surrounding a hearty, chewy interior — that truly sets this operation above from its Pieology, PizzaRev and Pizza Studio brethren.
That, and fountain drinks — colorful blood orange-infused lemonade, refreshing mint-Key lime agua fresca — that move beyond the omnipresent sodas. Pizza prices start at an entirely reasonable $8. What’s missing? Wine and beer, and the late-night hours usually associated with campus pizza haunts.
Nearby Sprout Salad Co. (309 SE. Huron Blvd., Mpls., 612-886-3806, sproutsalad.com) also impresses. It’s the homegrown chain’s third iteration. Those familiar with the company’s skyway spots in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul are already aware of the — surprise! — Chipotle-like setup, which calls upon a remarkable inventory of fresh, flavorful, made-from-scratch ingredients.
The proteins — plump blackened shrimp, tangy Korean barbecue-style steak, grilled salmon — are first-rate; the scratch-made dressings have a global perspective; the sweet-tart flavored lemonades (if there’s cucumber-mint, order it) reflect the kitchen’s attention to detail, and the prices fall in line with the plentiful portions. There’s even breakfast: polenta-egg bowls, or yogurt-fruit-granola combos.
The big news is the debut of the Blue Door Pub (1514 Como Av. SE., Mpls., 612-367-4964, thebluedoorpubmn.com). Fans of the stuffed-burger emporium — instead of using the “Jucy Lucy” lingo, the password is “Blucy” — will recognize the stellar burgers, the addictive output (fries, Tater Tots) from the busy deep fryer and the smartly edited tap beer list.
Small-scaled, well-managed Obento-Ya Japanese Bistro (1510 Como Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-1432, obento-ya.com) has tweaked its format. Sushi is out; a greater emphasis on poke and noodles is in. Oh, and the waffles remain as tempting as ever at Black Coffee and Waffle Bar (1500 Como Av. SE., Mpls., 612-436-0719, blackcoffeeandwaffle.com).
Anyone on the hunt for a quick, easy, inexpensive takeout, look no further than Potter’s Pasties (1828 Como Av. SE., Mpls., 612-819-3107, potterspasties.com), a food truck that also hawks its flaky, richly filled savory pies out of an out-of-the-way basement counter.
Coincidentally, Dinkytown also sports a pasties operation, also highly recommended. It’s Lands End Pasty Co. (1316 SE. 4th St., Mpls., 612-315-4175, landsendpasty.com), and wouldn’t you know it? It’s located in a similarly off-the-beaten-path location, inside Dinkydale.
With so many options, it’s no wonder that students rarely cook.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib