Five Restaurants You’re Overlooking

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Rinata | John Garland

Rinata doesn’t stand out from its row of nondescript storefronts on a particularly unsexy stretch of Hennepin Ave. It’s not mentioned in the same breaths as Bar La Grassa and Broders’ Pasta Bar when you ask for an Italian recommendation. But Rinata’s food fits its low-key stature. It’s understated and elemental fare, in an intimate spot with around 40 seats in a few slender, cramped rooms. The menu reads like Italian 101 – bruschetta, olives, and light antipasti; three salads; and a handful of pizzas and pastas. It’s comfortable and affordable, just like a good neighborhood spot should be.

Their pastas are built on the winning formula – house-made noodles, lightly sauced with classic flavors. The ziti is spot-on, with tender chunks of braised pork in a bright marinara, and the Spaghetti Vongole is a wonderfully simple winner.  The soppressata and mushroom pizza is a standout, nicely charred with a good salty-savory balance. You’ll find a lot of similarities on the menu with its sister restaurant, Al Vento.

Rinata also deserves mention as one of Uptown’s most under-appreciated happy hours. Five-dollar pizzas and specialty cocktails make for a nice clandestine rendezvous spot, especially late (9-11pm) on Fridays and Saturdays. The cocktail list is solidly crafted, with nice touches on the classics. The house old-fashioned, with its addition of Luxardo maraschino liqueur, is one of the best around. They mix a fine classic Sazerac as well. Bottles of wine are half price on Monday and Tuesday, which brings much of their good selection of pasta-friendly red wines into the no-brainer price range of $15-20.

It’s certainly not a game-changer, but Rinata is worth a visit just to see how well an unassuming spot can play by the rules.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Cavé Vin | James Norton

Amid the (somewhat justified) hoopla and hysteria that surrounds South Minneapolis food these days — from In Season to Corner Table to Patisserie 46 to Tilia — it’s not surprising that the nearly decade-old Cavé Vin sometimes gets a bit lost. Parked right next to the hip and thriving Pizzeria Lola, Cavé Vin projects an air of sober, traditional dining: French bistro food, straight, no twist.

This means that it’s not always packed to the rafters, particularly on weeknights. That’s a shame, because this unpretentiously classy little restaurant bats pretty close to a thousand when it comes to executing flavorful, beautifully cooked food. The prices are fair, the wine list is terrific, the atmosphere cozy, and the service professional – all it needs is a celebrity chef or some kind of Asian fusion gimmick, and it’d be on the citywide A-list.

Or perhaps it’s better that it stays the way it is: classic, restrained, and comfortable, putting food and wine first.

Don’t miss the Frog Legs Sautéed with lemon, garlic, butter, and parsley — they’re among the best in town, particularly since the closure of Fugaise. And the Steak Frites entree is Francophile soul food, plain and simple. It’s a simple-looking dish, but at Cavé Vin it packs wonderfully deep flavor and it’s plated with thoughtfulness and a sense of balance.

Honestly, though, we’ve never had a bad dish at Cavé Vin — the menu is short, thematically tight, and consistently well-executed. Next time you’re craving a trip to a bistro with soul — or the line’s too long at Lola — you’ll know where to go.

Peter’s Grill | Jason Walker

Editor’s Note: Peter’s Grill is now closed.

Peter’s Grill has been a downtown Minneapolis fixture for nearly 100 years, yet if you don’t lunch downtown, you may never have heard of it. But Peter’s is well worth the trip, both for its terrific small-town-cafe food and its utterly endearing eating experience. Peter’s has rotating daily specials (homemade hot roll included) like roast turkey dinner, beef tips with noodles, wild rice casserole, and in-season specialties like fried smelt. Breakfast is also served, and every night for dinner (early birds only; Peter’s closes at 7) there’s a super-cheap special like roasted chicken for around $6. The menu even includes both a white and a dark meat turkey sandwich and a top-notch Reuben.

Also in the “Where else?” file is a King Oscar sardine sandwich, served open-faced; and egg salad with chopped green olives, which, paired with the daily soup (split pea, navy bean, and especially the Friday clam chowder), could be my lunch every single day.

Run by the affable Peter Atsidakos, who greets and seats every patron, Peter’s Grill also employs a well-oiled machine of experienced waitresses who get that food out fast, especially the daily pies. Perhaps to expand from its mostly masculine clientele, Peter’s even upped the ante recently, adding a salad bar and outdoor seating along 8th St. That’s right: Have your Thursday roast turkey special, pie, and coffee in the wide-open air.

On an early trip to Peter’s, I heard an elderly fellow order “apple pie with a slice of American cheese” while sitting at the vast, undulating lunch counter. Yep, it’s that kind of place.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Citizen Café | John Garland

Editor’s Note: Citizen Café is now closed.

Citizen Café is likely under-appreciated because of its location. Though Andy Sturdevant has pointed out that 38th Street is host to a lot of solid spots, it’s a bit lacking in that section of Standish-Ericsson, which is probably why Citizen’s egalitarian style seems so natural.  They claim be a “Cafe for the People,” just a couple of cozy rooms and a small patio.  The walls are neatly adorned by select pieces of Americana and the menu is geared towards the every-day — straightforward salads, sandwiches, and a few entrees. The white tablecloths even seem a little out of sorts with how basic the concept looks.

But a closer look reveals how well the basics are done here. Everything is house-made and the little touches seem personalized. For example, the house ketchup is so good it needs to be bottled for retail immediately.

The sandwiches should find their way into your lunchtime rotation if you work anywhere nearby. The pulled pork is a quite satisfying rendition, with caramelized onion and blue cheese adding a flavorful yet non-intrusive tang.  The waffle-cut potato chips are light, perfectly salted, and a nice surprise — Citizen opts for house-made where many cafes go industrial.

Citizen Café is also worth checking out for breakfast. They serve a very respectable frittata, rather impressive pancakes, and a group of lightly fried hashes. And the house-made Gravlax is impossibly good. Pair it with two eggs over easy and a cup of tea for the classiest little brunch where you’d least expect to have it.

Café Twenty Eight | Tricia Cornell

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Editor’s Note: Cafe Twenty Eight is now closed.

When Tilia, Steven Brown’s long-awaited and much-praised restaurant, opened in Linden Hills late last winter, it brought crowds of new visitors to the quaint corner of 43rd and Upton. While these folks were waiting for a table in Tilia, many of them may have strolled next door, past an old firehouse with a banner that reads, “Café Twenty Eight.” Most of them probably wondered, “What’s that?” Several of them may have even gone inside and had a seat. And that’s when the locals realized, “Rats! The cat is out of the bag.”

For a decade, Café Twenty Eight has been serving up simple, well-executed food, much of it locally and sustainably raised, without much fanfare at all. It’s a reliable choice for brunch (get the soft scrambled eggs with smoked salmon from Ducktrap River, $9, if you’re feeling savory, hearty French toast with figs, $9, if you’re not). Those in the know have long enjoyed sitting on the patio with a burger (made with beef from Clancey’s) and a Surly (four kinds on tap) on a quiet evening, but they weren’t eager to spread the word. With the current — and deserving — darling of the dining world next door, though, it won’t be quiet for very long.

Many dishes have a Latinesque inspiration: huevos rancheros ($9) and chilaquiles ($9) for brunch, tacos and pork in adobo sauce ($16) for lunch and dinner. (Don’t listen to the waitress when she warns you that the adobo sauce is hot. It is smooth and rich and tasty, but it is anything but hot.) While something like a tuna melt might get overlooked, this one does have the “wee kick” the menu promises and has its passionate partisans.

If this is the age of the neighborhood restaurant, Café Twenty Eight is years ahead of the game and deserving of a little more attention, even if the locals have to wait a little longer for a table.


  1. Durk

    I don’t think Rianta is overlooked — have had quite a few people tell me how much they like it. But I couldn’t disagree more. Had a shrimp pasta special there that had those tiny salad shrimp in it — very pathetic. Sauce tasted like bottled lemon juice and chicken broth.

    Agree that Cafe Vin is overlooked. Great spot in a neighborhood that has had a lot of great stuff pop up in the past few years (Cafe Maude, Pizzeria Lola, etc).

  2. SarahinMinneapolis

    Good post. Rinata really does have the best happy hour in town. Scrumptious glasses of vino for 3 bucks. I get cravings for a tuna salad sandwich from Peter’s Grill. They put hard boiled eggs in their tuna salad.

  3. Kyle

    I was driving in NE yesterday, and passed Erte. It occurred to me that a) I really like Erte and b) No one ever talks about it.

    I highly recommend it for an excellent meal at an affordable price.

  4. Jeanne

    You are so right about Rinata, Citizen Cafe and Cafe 28! It makes me want to check out Cave Vin and revisit Peter’s Grill. The roasted vegetable salad at Citizen Cafe, the Friday fish fry at Cafe 28 (with a nice frosty Surly), and Rinata’s Sunday supper specials are great favorites of mine.

  5. howard_child

    Spot on for Rinata! (Good article too, got bored with all the drinks/brewery stories). Whenever I passed by, I think ‘oh shoot! I hope they are still operating!’
    Cafe 28, isn’t super great for food perse, but it’s every single thing else. The place, the space, even just walking up to outside doors is a treat. Darn you Linden Hills for capturing my fantasy!

  6. David Foureyes

    Agreed on Erte. They make a mean plate of hashbrowns, and the tri-tip sirloin steak is ever so slightly livery and delicious.

  7. John

    Cafe Twenty Eight is truly one of the best kept secrets in Minneapolis! Solid focus on local, seasonal flavors. Their egg scrambles with Larry Schultz’s chicken sausage is one of the best brunches in town.

  8. Stu B.

    Rinata is one of our favorite spots for a weekend or weekday and especially on a Sunday evenings. Never, did I say “Never”, yes, NEVER have I had a less than wonderful meal there. Twice this season I have had the Zucca, squash ravioli. It is classic. Not too sweet and very generous with the ravioli filling. It is served with browned butter and fried whole sage leaves. This presentation and house made ravioli is as good as I had in Italy in the city of Farara which is the city claimed as the birthplace of pumpkin ravioli. They have sweeter pumpkins in Italy which they use in their product, we use a butternut squash here in the states.
    At very high end restaurants I have NEVER had mussels served like I have had at Rinata. Here they stand every mussel up on it’s end, open (NEVER an unopened mussel comes out of this kitchen) in the bowl of wonderful broth. I think you can tell, I love this place.

  9. Jody

    I have never had a bad meal at Erte. Their steaks are delicious and reasonably priced. Love Rinata, too, especially the Sunday night date night special. Very good deal.

  10. Stu B.

    Erte does not get enough press. It is consistently excellent. Generous portions all well prepared and reasonably priced. Service is consistent and comfortable. That little area has some of the cities best restaurants….Anchor Fish & Chips, Erte, The Modern and the N. E. Social Club.

  11. annmartina

    Love Cave Vin. The atmosphere is cozy. I’ve never had a bad meal there. Love the calamari, steak frites, frog’s legs, pots du creme . . . The service is always warm and friendly without being intrusive. The staff loves to educate people on their wines and they’re happy to bring you a sample.

  12. Alissa

    I love Citizen Cafe, especially for brunch. Thanks for the post and comments, I know the next 4 restaurants I need to try out!

  13. DannyRoxanne

    “On an early trip to Peter’s, I heard an elderly fellow order “apple pie with a slice of American cheese” while sitting at the vast, undulating lunch counter. Yep, it’s that kind of place.”

    can you be more clear about what you are saying?

  14. Stu B

    To DannyRoxanne; The “elderly fellow” should have said, “cheddar cheese please”. The guy must have been quite old and had forgotten the correct yellow cheese to go with apple pie. I personally like the cinnamon ice cream. What is American cheese anyway?
    I wonder how old is “elderly”? It seems to get younger and younger as I get older and older.

  15. Dan

    Rinta is my favorite!! I’m kind of a food snob as well as my wife. We love this place and visit 2-3 times a month. Pizza is crazy good, bread is soo rich with olive oil and the pasta is no doubt home made. I’m excited they started doing brunch and I gotta go.

  16. Andrew Moorehouse

    All those restaurants have menus that could be translated to unique food truck items. Like the frog legs from Cave Vin or the sardine sandwich from Peter’s Grill. Imagine these guys branching out with mobile units!

  17. Mark Peterson

    I discovered several restaurants in your posting that I think I would enjoy. But where are they? What hours are they open? What is their telephone number? Your descriptions are too vague and general (“on a particularly unsexy stretch of Hennepin Avenue”, “in Linden Hills”, “38th Street”). For a non- native Minneapolitan who doesn’t even know, for example, where Linden Hills is, the information you provide is interesting but useless.

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