Lyndale Avenue Checklist, Part Three of Five: LynLake

The sheer density of stuff at the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street is difficult to overstate – within a stone’s throw, you’ve got Detroit-style pizza, an absinthe-heavy speakeasy, an Andean restaurant, a Mexican gastro-cantina, a plant-based soul food restaurant and much more. It’s one of the few intersections in Minneapolis that remind me of New York City, at least in terms of how densely packed the restaurants and bars are, and in terms of how quickly they open and shut.

Three of the restaurants we reviewed for this part of the list (It’s Greek to Me, Galactic Pizza, and Chicago’s Very Own) closed before we could publish it on the website. But the nature of that very precarious hold on life is what makes most of the restaurants in this part of town feel so fun – they’re necessarily current, and striving, and relevant, because if they lose sight of the plot, they’ll get washed away by the competition. – James Norton

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In this edition, from south to north: Iron Door, Wrecktangle Pizza, Volstead’s Emporium, Los Andes, Trio Plant Based, Chicago’s Very Own, It’s Greek to Me, Casablanca Restaurant, Moto-i, LynLake Brewery, Iconos Gastro Cantina, Gramsky’s Sandwiches / VFW246, Galactic Pizza, Lago Tacos, Kyoto Sushi, Abi’s Cafe, Waffle Bar, Milkjam Creamery, World Street Kitchen  

ALL FIVE INSTALLMENTS: PART ONE [Bloomington and Richfield] | PART TWO [South of LynLake] | PART THREE [LynLake] | PART FOUR [Northish and Northside] | PART FIVE [Coffee, Tea, and Breakfast]

Iron Door Pub | 3001 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | 612.200.9967

If you were opening a bar on a high-traffic, high-visibility location like the  Southeast corner of Lake Street and Lyndale, your instinct might be to embellish the place or create some unusual, elaborate concept. Not the Iron Door Pub.

This is as basic as it gets. Simple black and gray walls. A straightforward stainless bar that runs the length of the space. Some traditional high-top wood tables for eating your pub grub. No fuss. No frills. Even the generic punk pop that was playing on repeat over the Touch Tunes–while not our thing–kind of fit the basic bar aesthetic perfectly. 

About the only thing out of left field here were the sheer number of TV’s in the place. It’s not that we don’t expect TV’s at a bar. It’s that the place was positively drowning under the blue glow of a billion illuminated pixels playing ESPN all at once. Honestly, there are Best Buy showrooms with fewer flat screen options.

Finally, special shout out to our server who, even in the face of our manifest lethargy (from a long night of doping up on fats, salts and sugars), remained undaunted in being helpful, attentive and enthusiastic. Great service should never go unrecognized. And as our friends at Trio reminded us, it’s important to be kind to those who showed up. – M.C.

After tonight’s onslaught of fried food, we arrived at Iron Door Pub just about ready to burst – in no condition to assess a lot of serious business bar food. But we soldiered on, ordering the ridiculously large and beefy Royale with Cheese ($16), a super-sized Big Mac stand-in that boasted buns, special sauce, and cheese that we tailor-made for the role. The two burger patties weren’t the finest we’ve tasted, but they were situationally appropriate, and if you rolled into Iron Door Pub with a burger craving and about 1,400 calories of belly space, you’d be all set with this order.

Our side of onion rings was solid – great crispy batter with a lot of flavor and character. The onions did that wormy pull-out-of-the-ring thing, which isn’t great, but they were still commandingly tasty regardless.

The bar’s Blackened Buffalo Wings ($12) were… well, a lot. We’d expected classic creamy-hot buffalo wings with a little bit of welcome char, but we got wings that were mouth-pulverizingly salty, an overwhelming sensation that morphed into a burning, abiding spicy heat that lingered for minutes. 

And the restaurant’s French Onion Sandwich ($12) was a bit of a trip – caramelized onions on a ciabatta roll with an au jus dipping sauce. It was earthy and touched with just a bit of stone ground mustard for acid and heat. – J.N.

Wrecktangle | 703 West Lake Street, Minneapolis | 612.4444.420

Detroit-style pizza is having a moment in the Twin Cities, and Wrecktangle is bang in the center of it. They were recently named best pizza in America by Good Morning America

But no matter how much stock we put in these kinds of contests (not much really), we’d heard plenty of good things about Wrecktangle’s take on the Motor City pie. So at minimum, we went in expecting at least a halfway decent slice. But to our absolute surprise what we found in Wrecktangle wasn’t just a fantastic pizza, but a fantastic pizza joint. 

From the long bar to the cozy lounge area, the place is a great hang. Mod chairs and fixtures and wallpaper. Multicolor string lights strewn about the room in no particular fashion. A funky collection of potted houseplants sprinkled around. On paper, this shouldn’t work. In practice, it does. It’s an eclectic mishmash of late ‘60s and ‘70s throwback styles that coalesces into something altogether unique and comfortable. 

There is a playful, edgy spirit in the air at Wrecktangle. Even our server crackled with energy and attitude. It’s a vibe that seems perfectly suited to this corner of Lyndale and Lake Street. And if Wrecktangle keeps cranking out the kind of fun, tasty food they delivered on our visit, it seems like a surefire recipe for success. – M.C.

Ahh, Wrecktangle. I’ve tried them a few times in the past and always enjoyed their thing, which is seriously tasty Detroit-style pizza. The LynLake location of Wrecktangle preserves the culinary seriousness that defines the chain but adds a remarkably charming and legitimately fun ambiance (see above) that enhances the food still further. I know I’m poaching M.C. Cronin’s territory here, but the eclectic / legitimately hip / throwback-y kind of thing they have going on feels like the restaurant equivalent of Poker Face. I hope that reference lands for you. If it doesn’t, watch Poker Face, you’ll thank me later.

We started our meal with a couple $2 Pickle Roll-Ups and, as WACSO said, “grandma would be jealous.” Perfect proportion of cream cheese to ham to pickle, crisp-as-hell pickles, ever-so-slightly smokey tasting ham, everything cool and pleasant and tasty.

We tried a couple slices of pizza to confirm our prejudices – a Lil Shredder slice ($7), including pepperoni, pickled jalapeño, whipped Cry Baby Craig’s honey, pecorino romano and red sauce, and a custom slice ($6) with cheese, pickled jalapeno, and tajin aioli corn. Both were really good: puffy, yielding, chewy crust, a good proportion of toppings to crust, quality ingredients, obvious love and care throughout. Love that hot honey, too – it’s truly a condiment made for pizza.

Smoked Wingz ($13) were less of a hit, but they weren’t bad. They suffered from an excess of smoke and could’ve had more textural contrast and snap to them. It’s possible that part of the problem is that we ordered them “kitchen sink” style, which means Chipotle Buffalo, Dry Rub AND Garlic Parmesan – it was sort of a flavor traffic jam. The accompanying Wranch sauce, however? Pretty great.

And finally: the Breakfast Sandwich ($11). Oh. Man. Could this be the best breakfast sandwich in town? It could be. Cream cheese, American cheese, whipped Cry Baby Craig’s honey, folded eggs, and slab bacon, all warmed up on a fluffy, yielding, remarkably enjoyable bagel-like utility roll that held its shape without dimming the light of the creamy goodness it contained within. (The Star Tribune also loves this thing, their Hot Five write-up is worth reading.)

We smiled on our way into this joyous place and grinned like idiots on our way out. – J.N.

Volstead’s Emporium | 711 West Lake Street, Minneapolis | 612.701.8101

You gotta hand it to Volstead’s. They commit to the speakeasy conceit. 

To get there, you have to walk down a darkened alley. And not just some Disney recreation of an “urban alley” either. This is a proper detritus-and-quite-possibly-bodily-fluid-filled alley.  And once you’re there, you get little indication where “there” is. The entrance could be any one of the many doors sandwiched between rickety staircases, dumpsters and utility boxes. There’s no signage, only a faint amber light glowing above a metal door with an eye-level sliding peephole in it.

You knock. The peephole slides open. You tell the pair of eyes on the other side how many in your party. The peephole slides shut and there’s a moment’s pause where you wonder if you’ll be let in just before the door swings open and you descend the stairs to another nondescript door. This is the entrance to Volstead’s. 

Inside, to nobody’s surprise, they play into the 1920’s theme with an art deco bar, fixtures, and decor. The staff wear era-appropriate attire. There’s even a stage in the corner where you could imagine some smokey-voiced singer in a flapper dress crooning some sultry siren song. 

Nooks and crannies abound. A low ceiling adds to the cozy vibe. There are snug booths tucked behind red velvet curtains. And of course, there are hidden rooms accessible only through secret portals—a false phone booth, a pivoting fireplace, hinged wall mirrors.

Yes, it’s all a bit theatrical, but that’s the point. We all know Eliot Ness isn’t going to bust in for a surprise raid and arrest us all, but even without the exhilarating thrill of breaking prohibition, the place is a solid hang. – M.C.

With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the secret door, all the painstakingly foofy and antique-y interior decorating, and all the lovingly fussy ceremony about the cocktail menu and absinthe program, food at Volstead’s Emporium could easily have been a mediocre afterthought.

But – and see Los Andes for a similar situation – someone in the kitchen seems to legitimately give a damn. The restaurant’s Spaghetti and Speck ($18) is a dish we remember from and loved at Brasserie Zentral, and this version is also spot on – it boasted just enough vinegar bite to keep this rich dish of al dente pasta, seriously good (and plentiful) Parmesan, and cured, lightly smoked ham from getting too ponderous. 

And the Volstead Burger ($14) was a seriously respectable specimen, boasting a lot of rich cheese, a tremendous amount of char, and one of those slightly wrinkly, elegant-but-durable brioche buns that speaks to a chef with an eye for detail.

Volstead’s is primarily a bar, and the drinks didn’t disappoint either. First and foremost is the absinthe menu, a collection of remarkably potent liqueurs that come with a custom rig to dilute and sweeten your absinthe to your desired proportions. 

Once you go hard enough with the water the solids in the alcohol precipitate, turning the liquor from clear to cloudy gray. This is a must – in its pure form absinthe boasts a ferociously big bite that is tamed by sugar water into a sophisticated edge. (We got Tattersall absinthe for $13, and quite enjoyed it.)

The restaurant’s Old Fashioned ($14) went hard on the bitters, but that’s not a bad thing – it was entertainingly bright and complex, and it wore nicely as it was sipped into oblivion.

The Red Planet ($15) brought together Iwai Japanese whiskey, Cocchi Torino vermouth, St. Agrestis Inferno Bitters, and Mizu Green Tea Shochu to make a drink that kind of an aggressive “grandpa’s aftershave” thing going on for the first few sips. But as the night and the cocktail wore on, it mellowed and grew on us, and we finished the cocktail with pleasure.

We also tried the non-alcoholic Amarno Spritz ($10), which was light, colorful, and packing just enough of a bitter bite to make it consistently compelling. – J.N.

Los Andes | 607 West Lake Street, Minneapolis | 612.825.1700

The main dining area is dominated by a mural on a brick wall that stretches from the front of the room to the back. Like the Andean Condor depicted at its center, the mural is impossible to ignore. With the Andes mountain range as a backdrop, this painting, along with other striking artworks adorning the other walls, celebrates the culture, folklore, and mythology of the region. 

All of this should give you some indication of the level of dedication Los Andes has to honoring its roots. There are as many nods to Andean culture here as there are items on the expansive menu—which seems to traverse every country the Andes mountains touch.

The space feels open and a bit sparse with its stock restaurant-issue furnishings and high ceilings. And the echoey brick walls, tile floors, and formica tabletops suck a little of the coziness and warmth out of the room. But there’s still plenty of personality here. 

Telltale disco lights and an impressive looking sound board gave us the impression the place might turn into a dance party at some point later in the night. It would certainly be easy enough to slide tables to the side and create a large dance floor here. As if to verify our suspicion, we even caught our server doing a little hip-shaking in the back of the room. Perhaps it was his natural reflex to the endless stream of latin rhythms playing over the sound system. Or maybe he was warming up for a big night. – M.C.

Every blessed once in a while, we go to a restaurant, start tasting the food, and have an instant and powerful revelation that there is someone in the kitchen who really and truly cares deeply about the food. Someone with a palate who is tasting everything, looking over the plates, and fussily insisting on doing things the right way, speed and expense be damned. Los Andes is one of those places – there wasn’t a dish out of place, and a few of the tastes we experienced were as good as anything we’ve had anywhere, anytime.

We would cheerfully challenge any of our readers to find a better ceviche in Minnesota than the Ceviche Peruana ($19) at Los Andes. With a ferociously lovely citric kick, fish that held its shape beautifully while being delicate to eat, and just the right cut and proportion of onions, this is a ceviche we could eat a shovel-full of and still crave the next day. This dish is a tour de force.

We’ve had a lot of Bandeja Paisa meals in our days of trekking up and down Central Avenue, University Avenue, and East Lake Street, and they’re usually … fine. The pork cracklin’ is generally tough and unpleasant, the steak forgettable, the beans and rice adequate, the fried plantain bland, the sausage tough but tasty. The Los Andes version ($22)? Whole ‘nother story. The pork cracklin’ was shockingly good – evenly rendered, not overseasoned, beautifully crunchy. The steak, evidently citrus-marinated, was pounded flat and beautifully tender, with just a kiss of lemon in each bite. The sausage was delightfully bright and delicate in flavor, the maduro (fried plantain) was tender and sweet, and the fried egg floated on a substantial but elegant arepa. Two people could dine and be thoroughly fed by this palace of protein.

And our group collectively wasn’t sure if it had ever tried a better Pisco Sour ($12) than the one at Los Andes, and one of us has had them in Peru. The citrus kick was delicate but resolute, the egg whites were perfectly foamy and in proportion to the liquid part of the cocktail, and the whole thing looked like an Andean dream. 

Our appetizers didn’t hit the heights of our mains and drink, but that’s not really a knock – they were all good or better. The Mote Pillo ($8), hominy with scrambled eggs and scallions, was blandly comforting and a perfect vehicle for the many sauces (ají de tomate de árbol, chimichurri, insanely hot pepper salad) floating around the table.

The Empanadas Mixto ($9) included one each of a cheese, beef, and chicken plantain empanada, and they were mild, mellow, savory, perfectly crispy, and delicious when sauced up and savored.

And the plantains with melted cheese (Maduros con Queso, $6.50) were cooked to sweet, tender perfection, and just completely enrobed in absurd amounts of lactose-rich, creamy, sweet-tasting mild cheese. 

We also dug our Tree Tomato Smoothie ($6.60), which was creamy and clean tasting with just a kiss of grassy plus peach-like flavor at the end of each sip. 

Every once in a while, we hit the jackpot in our staggering random walks down local avenues, and Los Andes was a big one. — J.N.

Trio Plant-Based | 610 West Lake Street, Minneapolis | 612.326.1326

There’s a sign on the counter of Trio that pretty much sums up where we’re at as a society right now: “The whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up.”

The sign is a reminder that we could all really stand to show each other a little more grace these days. But it also says something about who the owners of Trio are as human beings. They care about the people that work for them and about fostering a positive atmosphere around them. 

And that’s exactly the vibe we got from the moment we walked in. The server behind the order counter oozed enthusiasm for the food Trio makes, and the entire staff felt genuinely excited in being able share it with us. 

The place is bright and cheerful with a clean design aesthetic. Stenciled leaf patterned walls, organic wood tables and bright green nesting chairs all give a friendly nod to the plant-based theme. This is comfort food that’s good for the soul. – M.C. 

It’s unfair to complain that an order of food is too tasty, but Trio Plant-Based legitimately messed us up with their Cauliflower Wings ($15). Certain members of our group hit these crispy, full-flavored, satisfying wing stand-ins so hard that we were kind of wrecked for the rest of the night. Our only serious complaint was that the cauliflower was a little too tender in the interior – a little bit of crunch and fight would have been nice.

We figured The Mac Attack ($17) would be a Big Mac stand-in, and we were very wrong – it was instead a serving of rich, creamy, vegan mac-and-cheese on a Beyond Burger. The mac and cheese in particular could’ve passed for the real deal, and while the burger itself was fighting too hard to taste like legit meat, the mac and cheese confidently dominated the whole package and kept the patty in check.

Best of all was the For Your Soul Bowl ($16, $2 more for BBQ jackfruit riblets), which brought together a soft-spoken twist on mac and cheese, first-rate collard greens, crumbled cornbread, a dab of maple butter, and chewy, sweet, BBQ-style jackfruit “riblets” that were texturally delightful, even if they could have used a little less liquid smoke. This was a dish with a great deal going on, which made for entertaining eating, and while some plant-based food can leave you hungry for a lot more substance, it absolutely possessed the power to kick hunger’s ass into a neighboring county.

If you get to Trio, don’t miss the restaurant’s flavored lemonades ($5). While the Blueberry Mint is soft-spoken (it mostly leads with lemon), the Strawberry Lemonade was kicked up with a healthy dose of what tasted like frozen-in-syrup strawberry puree, which, as it turns out, is pretty damn tasty. – J.N.

Chicago’s Very Own | 2944 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | 612.208.0354

EDITOR’S NOTE: Chicago’s Very Own is now closed, replaced with New York Gyro.

The good vibes must have been contagious that night. The moment we opened the door to Chicago’s Very Own, a guy behind the order counter greeted us with an energetic hello and welcome and gladly walked us through some of his favorites on the menu. 

We later found out that the restaurant is a family affair and that this gentleman was one of the owners. Which tracked perfectly. He had an owner’s eagerness to share his work and a carnival barker-like instinct to draw customers in.

The space was recently updated and had that new restaurant smell about it. There was no patina from years of continuously used cooking surfaces spreading sticky, microscopic food particles around the place. The tables and chairs weren’t chipped and wobbly from years of customer abuse. The room was sparse and bright and clean and felt barely lived in. 


n a way you could say, it felt a bit cold as well. It just seemed like a place that hadn’t yet grown into its personality. But based on the enthusiasm and personality of our friends behind the counter, who did everything in their power make us feel welcome, it won’t be long. – M.C.

Chicago’s Very Own should get more press for one simple reason: They’re making food that you really can’t get anywhere else in town. Take their signature sandwich, the Chicago Sweet ($10). It’s a mix of American cheese, grilled onions, and a “steak” filling that is halfway between a Philly cheesesteak and a hamburger. But it’s richly studded with pieces of sweet pickles, the sort you’ll see colored in bold neon green and strewn across a Chicago dog in relish form. The pickles bring an incredible acid and sugar punch to the sandwich that makes it taste unlike anything we’ve had elsewhere, and the remarkably chewy Toronto-made roll that it rides upon multiplies that sensation. The value’s terrific: One of these sandwiches would feed a couple hungry people.

Also unusual: the flavored popcorn from the popcorn side of the business. We tasted our way through black cherry, green apple-and-peanuts, and lemon pound cake-flavored popcorns (among others, priced at $5-7 for 32 oz.) and enjoyed the bold but not cloying flavor and big, still fresh kernels of popcorn.

We didn’t know entirely what to expect when we ordered the Chili Fries ($5.25) but what we got is some of the best chili we’ve tasted in a long time – balanced, bold, full-flavored and really spicy without going over the line. I’ve judged a few chili contests in my day, and this stuff would easily be a contender for best classic profile chili in the bunch.

We also dug the Chicago Dog ($5) which was presented beautifully (see above) and offered classic proportions of canonical toppings. I ate my way through Chicago dogs for City Pages back in the day, and off the top of my head, I’d put this behind Uncle Franky’s and the Wienery, but ahead of pretty much everything else I tasted.

The only miss we tried – and it wasn’t a terrible miss – was the Classic Poutine ($13) which suffered from using fried (not fresh) cheese curds, making it a case of too much fried food on fried food. – J.N.

It’s Greek to Me Taverna e Parea | 626 West Lake Street, Minneapolis | 612.825.4151

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s Greek to Me is now closed, replaced with Casablanca.

Upon walking into the foyer of It’s Greek to Me, you may not think much of it. You’re funneled down a basic narrow corridor with a low ceiling and a bench for waiting patrons. The walls are white. The tile floors are unadorned. Other than a few wood beam accents and archways that give you a peek into the kitchen, it’s pretty straightforward, if not somewhat confining.

But round the corner into the main dining room and you’ll be reminded that sometimes hidden gems hide in the most obvious of places (like smack dab on the busy corner of Lake and Lyndale). 

The space opens up. There are high tin ceilings painted black. Wood floors and tables add warmth. Modest touches of Greek decor–statuary, vases, stringed Greek instruments (bouzouki), feta-aging barrels–dot the landscape of the room. An inviting eight-seater wood bar is nestled in back. Not a bad place to chat with friends over a few sips of ouzo.

There’s even an outdoor patio–complete with a fountain and greenery and plenty of tables–tucked back in a secluded area that you could easily miss if you’re just driving (or even meandering) by the restaurant. Given that our visit was in December, the patio wasn’t open, but we’ve been there before and can assure you, it’s a pleasant spot for a meal on a warm evening.

The staff were friendly and efficient. The food was decent to delightful. All in all, we’d say It’s Greek to Me delivers a simple, unassuming Greek experience that doesn’t bash you over the head but certainly makes its point. – M.C.

I’ve written so many of these miniature Checklist food reviews that when a spot feels palpably different, it sort of stops me in my tracks. We went into It’s Greek to Me expecting an average-to-good-ish sort of experience and we walked out completely charmed. The staff was warm and enthusiastic, the menu was inviting, and just about every morsel we tasted was really tasty to downright excellent, at a value prospect superior to most of what we’ve tasted on the Checklist to date.

The coolest thing about the It’s Greek to Me menu are the Parea – I don’t think it’s too much of a bastardization to describe them as “Greek tapas,” as they’re small, simple, shareable tavern dishes that you order five or more at a go.

We got a platter including Paidakia ($6, a char broiled marinated lamb rib chop that was tender, perfectly cooked, and delicious), Beef and Lamb Gyro Portion ($7, not too salty and full of flavor), the similar-to-each other but beautifully marinated and charred Chicken Kebob ($6) and Chicken Gyro Portion ($7) and the delightful Tzatziki and 2 Pita Portion ($6), which paired up fresh-tasting and delectable pita pieces with a mega-thick and ultra-garlicky tzatziki that also matched everything else on the platter.

We really enjoyed the Saganaki ($10), too. Doused in a spirit (we’re guessing high-proof grappa) and ignited tableside to mild fanfare, this halloumi-like, egg-battered cheese slumps with the application of the flame but retains much of its shape, and is spreadable on pita. Half tableside performance art, half expressway to dairy goodness, this appetizer has become an American Greek restaurant staple for a reason.

It’s possible that the kitchen cottoned to the fact that we were not casual diners, because we were sent a delightful plate of appetizers that we did not order, and could not, in good conscience, possibly turn away. They included two remarkably light and tender Dolmades (as good as the ones I made from scratch with an Armenian friend of mine a couple months ago), a dollop of Htipiti ($9 on the menu, a beautifully balanced feta cheese spread blended with roasted hot peppers, red peppers, olive oil, and lemon) and a tasty dollop of Melitzanasalata, a puree of roasted eggplant, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, $9 on the menu.

Despite being a little overwhelmed by both the hospitality and food, we still pushed it a little further, ordering Baklava ($5) and sipping on Greek Coffee ($5), which was quite nice and – the waiter is the one to use this comparison, we wouldn’t dare bring it up on our own – very similar to Turkish coffee, as a matter of fact. 

The baklava wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as the stuff we’ve had at other spots (Filfillah on Central Avenue, or Gyropolis in Bloomington) – it was a bit heavy on the honey and walnuts, and the filo pastry was a little undercooked and claggy. But would we get it again, the next time we find ourselves sipping Greek coffee at It’s Greek To Me? Yes, we would. – J.N.

Casablanca Restaurant and Lounge | 626 W Lake St | 612.822.2905

Sadly, It’s Greek to Me closed shortly after our visit this Spring. So, when Casablanca opened in the same space, we figured it would be an interesting exercise to see how things had evolved. Right off the bat, the multicolored lights flashing in the window and the bouncer at the door hinted that we were in for a much different experience than the quaint one provided by It’s Greek to Me. We were right.

We were escorted through a dining area with tables and chairs shoved haphazardly against the wall behind a pedestrian barricade (to make room for dancing or a VIP section perhaps?). A PA speaker propped up on a table pumped bass-laden pop bangers directly into the main dining room/bar. It was a surprisingly low-tech but effective solution for making us question if we should immediately turn around and skip this one. 

Casablanca was clearly more nightclub than restaurant. But they had a dinner menu, and we are nothing if not committed soldiers in the fight to accomplish our Checklist mission. So, we carried on to the patio, where the party vibes continued.

The fountain at the heart of the patio survived the transition from It’s Greek to Me but was now crowned by a bottle of Moet & Chandon approximately the size of an emperor penguin. Around this were high backed booths, each with a VIP rope and pull-down shade for privacy. Rope swings (with a sandbox underneath) dangled in front of the outdoor bar. A stable of hookahs sat in the corner of the patio ready to be called into action when necessary. While there were few people in the place, we were clearly a few hours too early to experience what we expect is an interesting late-night scene here. 

But as for the dining experience, well, yeah, it’s a nightclub. – M.C.

After visiting Casablanca Restaurant and Lounge and marveling at the nightclub-ready decor, champagne-themed outdoor fountain, bar-side wooden swings, and roped off high-sided boothes, we were ready for the menu to confuse us. And confuse us it did. We steered clear of some obvious pitfalls (fried lobster mac and cheese, a $22 cocktail involving a lot of gold leaf) and went for three solid favorites that seemed executable even under wartime conditions. We went about 1 for 3. 

Let’s start with the one: the restaurant’s Catfish Nuggets ($12) came out in a collection of sizes and shapes, one of the key hallmarks of a house-made food. The taste clinched it – these had the earthy depth that is the calling card of real catfish, and they were nicely fried to boot. Our only complaint is that only about one third of our Catfish Nuggets plate was full of catfish nuggets; the rest was full of indifferently prepared seasoned French fries. 

The restaurant’s Halal Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($16) seemed like a no-brainer, but, as it turns out, even something as straightforward as a fried chicken sandwich with a spicy sauce is at least a part-brainer. The Casablanca version brought heat via the untamed and mostly unwelcome power of jalapeno pepper slices, and its cheese had a remarkably aggressive funk along the lines of a gouda or a French brie that did no favors for the understated – but, to its credit, very moist – chicken.

Last and probably least is the Lamb Chop Plate ($30), which came with three very modestly sized, overcooked chops, a mass of cheesy … root vegetable … stuff … and a motley collection of miscellaneous vegetables dominated by moderately edible Brussels sprouts that could have used more direct heat and more seasoning. In defense of this dish: the sheer number of components gave the impression that someone tried pretty hard to provide diners with value for their money. We appreciated that emotion more than the food itself. – J.N.

Moto-i | 2940 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | 612.821.6262

We sat in the dining area at an elevated booth that overlooked the sake bar. Simple wood-framed box lights pushed dim light through a canopy of rice paper and leaves. It was calming and pleasant and dark.

And there were only a few other patrons in the place. By far the chillest hang of the night.

But the shuffle board on the bar side of the room hinted at a different kind of nightlife scene. You could easily see the place filled with groups of friends doing sake flights and sharing small plates of steamed buns and gyoza. 

In fact, we know from experience, Moto-i has another wilder personality. There are private party rooms and a roof deck that can draw a crowd during the summer season. So, we got Dr. Jekyll, but it’s worth remembering, there’s the capacity for Mr. Hyde in here, too. – M.C.

Moto-i has been going strong since opening in 2008, when it attained wide recognition as the first sake brewpub opened outside of Japan. I ate there during its first couple weeks of business (and knew the opening chef), so it’s a little wild to be back again after 15 years with few visits in between. 

The sake has gotten better; not that it was bad before, but it feels like the program has advanced. We got a sake flight (three 2 oz. pours for $13) and liked two of the sakes we tried, which were pleasant and had distinct points of view from one another. We really liked the third, the Sirimiri, which had a light, bright flavor that suggested berries without any kind of flavor overkill or excessive sweetness.

The Classic Ramen ($17) sadly, has fallen on hard times. It looked lovely, but an aggressive acrid flavor that suggested Liquid Smoke dominated our palates, the dish was heavy with grease, and the noodles tasted undercooked and starchy.

The Rangoons ($10.50 for six) are still quite good – adorable little bite-sized packages that are fried quite crispy and packed (but not over-stuffed) with cream cheese, shishito peppers, bacon, and scallions. 

And the buns ($5.50) were a split decision. The Pork Belly Bun missed the boat by offering a lot of crunch but little sensuous yielding richness. But the Tuna Bun brought together seared ahi tuna, wasabi mayo, scallions, and red onions to create a complex, balanced, and compelling overall package. In both cases, the house-made buns were delicate and cooked properly, rather than being steamed to death (as is so often the case.) – J.N.

LynLake Brewery | 3025 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.224.9682

LynLake Brewery occupies the old Lyndale Theater building which, according to a passing internet search, originally opened in 1914 and over the course of its more than 100 years has been a theater, a grocery store, a furniture store, a bingo hall and an antique store. 

While the telltale theater marquee still thrusts out over the entrance, LynLake Brewery has transformed this place into something entirely different. Inside, the space is urban industrial chic. Exposed brick walls, black metal staircases, graffiti art on the walls, hand painted chalkboard signage, plank wood tables. Brewing silos tower over the back of the room, and old bicycle wheels with hops vines woven through the spokes dangle from the soaring ceiling.

The night we visited happened to be trivia night, so that might explain it, but whatever the reason, for a Tuesday night, the place had a real buzz. There were enough people to make it feel busy, but not so many as to trigger any latent claustrophobia you may have.

Perhaps LynLake has finally unlocked the building’s true potential. It would be nice to see a historical building like this survive. And why not as a gathering spot for those looking for burgers and brews? We just wish they spent as much care with crafting the burgers and brews as they did in coming up with cheeky names for them. – M.C.

Despite a fairly extensive dinner menu, food feels like an afterthought at LynLake. Our Single with Cheese hit the required notes (lots of American cheese, thin lightly charred patty, shaved slices of onion, sliced pickles) but this small burger felt basic for $11; there was neither unexpected joy nor meticulous attention to detail, just a straightforward cheeseburger. The menu claims that its burgers are made “Oklahoma Style,” but based on this order, “Oklahoma Style” could just as easily be described as “America Style.”

That said, the burger stood head and shoulders over The Firebird ($16), a Hindenburg-style disaster of a sandwich that featured chicken overfried to the point of inedibility and a one-note, low-octane approach to hot sauce. The sandwich’s name alludes to a phoenix, but any bird fried this hard is absolutely not returning for another shot at glory. 

We tried one of each of the brewery’s tacos ($14 for three), and thought the chicken probably came the closest to working – while it didn’t seem to have much of a connection with the lettuce and the flour tortilla that enrobed it, it did taste flavorful and properly marinated. The chorizo wasn’t great, but it had a “taco night at home in White Bear Lake” sort of straightforward affability. You’d think the beef would be like that but more so, but it was so underseasoned as to be actually disturbing. – J.N.

Iconos Gastro Cantina | 2937 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis | 612.824.0800

Iconos turns into a nightclub (complete with bouncer and DJ) on Thursday nights at around 10pm. Which seemed a bit random to us as we were turned away on our first attempt to eat here. But in fairness, the place is open until 1am Thursday through Saturday, which should have been a good indication that while Iconos calls itself a “gastro cantina,” it is heavily “cantina” forward.

So, when we visited again another night, we entered with some apprehension. Was this going to be a legit restaurant or just a nightclub disguised as a restaurant? Would the food just be a ruse to get drinks in gullets and butts on the dance floor? 

We’re happy to report, our concerns were unfounded. The bad taste left in our mouth from our initial visit was immediately washed away when we saw the amount of effort and care poured into the place. 

Brightly colored walls are accented by occasional neon signs offering sayings like “Mi cocina es su cocina.”  Twinkling star lights dangle from wood beam ceilings. There’s a long bar with an intricate back wall made from the circular ends of cut wood logs. The place is a party waiting to break out.

Iconos pays off its name by sprinkling colorful portraits of cultural icons like Bob Marley, Frida Kahlo, Prince and Pelé around the room. It’s a curious cross-section of  Latin American, Caribbean, and Minneapolitan figures that somehow works if you don’t think too hard about it. And after a couple of the butt-kicking agave-centric cocktails off the vast, well-crafted drink menu, you won’t be thinking too hard about anything. 

But where does Iconos stand on the “gastro” side of the equation? Again, the level of effort placed not just in the food itself but in the presentation of the food was truly surprising. More specifics are covered in the food notes below, but let’s just say going to this level is not easy or cheap to pull off for a restaurant. Clearly, someone cares about serving up a party, and we’re putting on our dancing shoes. See you Thursday night. – M.C.

It’s tough to get over the fact that the Iconos Gastro Cantina Watermelon Salad ($14) is served inside of a little wooden wheelbarrow emblazoned with the restaurant’s name, but – ultimately – that whimsical detail has very little bearing on the salad itself. Even though the wheelbarrow is a lot larger and deeper than you might imagine. And even though it’s cute as the dickens, despite the fact that the front wheel doesn’t actually turn (for stability reasons, one might imagine.) Let’s put the wheelbarrow aside, and concentrate on the salad, despite the fact that this is exactly the sort of ridiculous, delightful stylistic risk more restaurants should be taking more often – a flight of fancy that some might find absurd, but people of a positive disposition will absolutely groove to and rally behind.

Anyhow, where were we? Oh, yes, the wheelbarrow. No, wait. The salad. The salad! The salad is delicious. The watermelon tastes pressed, which is to say: denser and more flavorful and less watery than watermelon typically is. The dressing is light to the point of vanishing, the sprinkles of cheese gentle and tasteful, the greens delicate and in balance with the fruit and the generously sized bacon bits scattered throughout. And, since we’re looking at a whole wheelbarrow full of salad? This’ll feed 3-4 adults pretty comfortably and luxuriously.

We order chimichangas any chance we get because they’re surprisingly complex beasts – from the quality of the fry to the proportions of shell to filling to exterior sauces and interior meats, there’s a lot that can go wrong (or right) with this deep-fried tank of an entree. The Iconos Chimichanga ($18) generally goes right – from the evenly fried and deeply flavored tortilla to the delicious lakes of deeply flavored salsas verde and Mexicana that it swims within, to the remarkably rich and tasty guacamole atop it, to the felicitous mix of rice and meat within, this is a big honkin’ bull of a dish that is surprisingly light on its feet. 

The final dish we ordered at Iconos may have been our favorite – the Trompo Al Pastor ($18) is a set of three tortillas filled with melted cheese, waiting to be pried open and stuffed with richly spiced and beautifully charred bits of pork that you, the diner, shave from a tiny mock “trompo” that arrives at your table on a custom-made stand. Sides of salsa and slices of lime finish the dish, which is as legitimately delicious as it is patently ridiculous. This is party food – if you’re able to order and receive this dish without busting out a mammoth-sized grin, you should consider seeking professional help sooner rather than later. This thing is a hoot and a half.

We dipped into the surprisingly vast and thoughtfully composed cocktail menu at Iconos and were glad we did. The Al Chile ($13, or $9 for a miniature-sized version) is a mix of jalapeño-infused tequila, mint syrup, and lime, and the heat from the jalapeño complemented by the salt on the rim makes this drink, elevating it from being a mere collision of tequila and lime. 

Also good was the Mangonada ($14), an alcoholic slushie version of a drink we’ve had up and down East Lake Street, which in this case brings together tequila, mango, lime, chamoy, Tajín and a ultra-tart tamarind-wrapped straw. The slushie nature of the drink almost overwhelms its contents, but a chili burn from the rim keeps it complex and compelling. This was plenty good on a chilly night in March –  on a hot summer day it would absolutely rule. – J.N.

Gramsky’s at VFW Post 246 | 2916 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | 612.823.6233

There are two different experiences at the Uptown VFW: the front room and the back room. The front room is open and modern with newer furnishings, crisp black paint, industrial lighting and a roomy rectangular metal bar. The back room is cramped with aged wood paneling, creaky booths, neon beer signs for lighting and an old wood bar with a dogleg in the middle.

You want the back room. Because—as we’ve found in almost every instance when a place has a “back room”—that’s where all the character is, and where all the characters are.

Sure, you may have a little less elbow room, and you’ll have to order your food from the bartender like some kind of animal, but celebrating character is what a VFW is all about. Specifically, the character of the men and women who served our country in foreign wars. 

But there’s more going on at this particular VFW. There’s such an eclectic group of individuals coming together here on any given night. That’s largely due to its central proximity to the eclectic scene around Lake and Lyndale but also to its plethora of entertainment options. 

In addition to two full-fledged bars and one of the fanciest pull-tab booths we’ve ever seen, there’s a fantastic concert hall where you can catch major local and even national bands perform. And then, of course, there’s the nightly karaoke, which is renowned in these parts for being top notch. Where else will you find well-oiled military veterans arm-in-arm with wide-eyed Gen Z revelers belting out “I Will Survive” by Donna Summer?

If you survey enough people around Minneapolis, you may find there are plenty of tales of memorable nights had at the Uptown VFW. Almost as many as there are nights we might like to forget. – M.C.

The “Gramsky’s”-branded menu at the VFW is a humble one – fried beef tacos, catfish, fries, and walleye dominate the short and fairly unambitious looking list. But when you look a little deeper, you can see that this isn’t an off-the-rack food service solution (see: The Sports Page), meant to be prepared with maximum ease and profit margins. There’s love written into this little menu, and that comes through on the plate.

Gramsky’s is unapologetically focused bar fare, and it tends toward the salty and fried. But within those constraints, there’s a lot to like. The Catfish Filets ($13) lacked some of the signature earthiness that we’ve come to love about this fish, but they were moist and tender, and jacketed with a beautifully herbed crispy crust that leaned toward the salty side of things without going overboard.

The Beef Fried Taco ($11 or $9 on Taco Tuesday) was fairly mammoth in size, and leaned toward the “gringo taco” end of things with its reliance on copious stacks of shredded lettuce and !Si, Ortega!-style basic seasoned beef. But the fried tortilla itself was elegantly fried and delicately crispy, making an incredibly satisfying racket when bitten into. Two or three beers into an evening, it’d be a hit.

Better still was the Breakfast Sandwich ($10), which we got on Texas toast with sausage. To say that this combination of sausage, scrambled eggs, and American cheese is “simple” is missing the point – the proportions were lovely, the sausage mild but pleasant, and the overall package filling, satisfying, and remarkably comforting. Whoever decided that breakfast sandwiches belong on bar menus deserves a serious pay raise, as they absolutely do. – J.N.

Galactic Pizza | 2917 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.824.9100

EDITOR’S NOTE: Galactic Pizza is now closed.

You may have experienced a high level of service before, but you’ve never experienced a “Galactic Dave” level of service before. 

Before you ask, no, Galactic Dave is not the owner of Galactic Pizza (we were confused, too). But if you owned Galactic Pizza, he was everything you could ask for in a server. He cared about giving us exactly what we were looking for in our meal. He was attentive. He covered the menu methodically while pointing out those things that make Galactic special. And he did this while avoiding the pitfall of sounding scripted, inauthentic and/or insincere. Sure, some in our group found Galactic Dave a bit much, but no one could deny his commitment was admirable.

Before we go on, it’s important to point out that Galactic wears its values on its sleeve and has been doing so since 2004—long before every publicly held company on the planet decided Corporate Social Responsibility® was a thing. They were doing deliveries using electric vehicles before electric vehicles were chic, let alone readily available. They became know for delivery drivers appearing at your door wearing superhero outfits of their own creation much to the delight of giddy neighborhood children and we’re guessing quite a few stoned adults. In fact, delivery was likely how many people (including ourselves) grew to know Galactic.

So it was somewhat of a surprise to us just how fully realized their dining room was. The room is, in a word, theatrical. Bold black-and-white checkered floor and ceiling tiles. Big red booths. Funky, patterned green and red wall coverings. A couple of mannequins displaying the aforementioned superhero costumes. There was even a small stage near the front window. 

Sure, it felt a bit like we’d entered some kind of late 90’s, early aughts time warp (probably not helped by the soundtrack playing over sound system), but it’s good to know that in addition to delivery, Galactic provides a comfortable, friendly place to gather around a delicious pizza and suck down a few  brews, too. – M.C.

Galactic Pizza might be the best pizza in the world from a “ratio of reputation to actual quality” perspective – it’s rarely (if ever) mentioned among the best in town, its style is so bog standard (“you know, it’s just pizza”) as to be impossible to describe, and it’s consistently delicious. 

Its crust – which is neither thick nor thin – is crispy, chewy, and beautifully developed. The cheese is high quality and applied in neither an aggressive nor scant manner. Toppings are locally sourced and premium, distributed in a generous but not excessive way on each pie. You could certainly call it “average,” but you could also call it “perfect.”

We tried a couple of pies. The menu text describing the Paul Bunyan ($18 for 10″) boasts about its ties to the Minnesota food ecosystem, what with the wild rice, free range bison sausage, and morel mushrooms. It’s a mellow, earthy, nutty, comforting pizza, kicked up into the realms of deliciousness with the application of a little Sriracha sauce (available upon request).

And the Old School ($17.05 for a 10″) was just that – a “Supreme”-style pizza with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, sausage, organic button mushrooms, organic green peppers, and organic red onions. The herbal and slightly spicy kick of the sauce tied it all together, and the quality of ingredients and the evenness of their distribution made this a pie that far outpunched its humble name and ambitions.

What with THC-mania sweeping the state, we felt obligated to try the (non-intoxicating) Hemp Brownie Sundae ($8.85). The main contribution of the hemp seems to be a grainy, delicate texture, but that didn’t detract from our overall enjoyment of this dessert, which packed a tremendous amount of cocoa-forward flavor into a package that was sweet but not overly so. – J.N.

Lago Tacos | 2901 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.353.6736

Lago Tacos is one of those places that’s difficult to write about. Not because there’s anything substantially wrong with it, but because there’s nothing substantially right with it. It’s perfectly fine. And “fine” is a problem for a person tasked with trying to capture the essence of a place. You want something to grab onto. Something that stands out. Be it good, bad or simply interesting. And there’s just not much to go on here.

With its open layout, its wood plank floors, and its color scheme of muted oranges, greens, browns, grays and blacks, the decor is right down the middle of “modern taco place.” There’s a u-shaped bar surrounded by hightop tables. There’s a dining room with bench seating and low tops.  There’s a cabinet displaying a selection of various tequilas and other booze. And, of course, there are flat screen TVs on virtually every wall.

Probably the most outstanding feature of Lago is the patio, which wasn’t open during the mid-March snowstorm we encountered the night we came. It appears to be a nicely protected area with plenty of seating and a permanent outdoor sunroom with a bar that extends from the interior bar.

And that’s really it. All in all, Lago Tacos seems a perfectly fine place to sit with friends and share some chips and quac, put away a couple of tacos and throw back some margs. Hey, sometimes “fine” is all you’re looking for. – M.C.

If Lago Tacos ever needed to rebrand, I might suggest the following: “Okay Tacos.” Because just about everything we ate was fine – not exactly the heights of East Lake Street Mexican food, but not the overpriced / soulless fare we’d worried about based on Lago’s sports bar-meets-taqueria business concept.

The restaurant’s Chips and Guacamole ($8 happy hour / $11) aren’t exactly an awe-inspiring molcajete piled high with deliciousness, but they aren’t bad, either – the seemingly small dish of guac is deceptively deep, and it’s rich and avocado-forward, without some of the less desirable fillers that can take over and ruin restaurant guac. 

We got two tacos for $7 during happy hour (normally $4.75 each) and … they were not bad. The Chicken Tinga was mellow and mild with just a pleasant kick of tanginess on the back end of each bite. The Carnitas were underseasoned and instantly forgettable, but there was nothing so wrong with either the flavor or the proportions to make them hateable. 

Our Guava BBQ Pork Taco ($5) varied from bite to bite. Some of us got barbecue sauce-driven bites and tasted only sweet, commercial-grade barbecue sauce. And some of us got pork-rich bites and enjoyed the rich, tender meat that filled this taco. Similarly, my bite of the Firecracker Shrimp Taco ($6) had some pleasant kick and robust texture, but other tasters complained of an insistent sweetness.

We also got a Margarita ($6 happy hour / $10) and though it had a “shot from the lemonade setting of the soda gun” sort of blandness of character, the tequila flavor shone through in a balanced way, the lime was present without being too aggressive, and we found it surprisingly drinkable – on the patio in the summer it would actually be just perfect.

Now, for that exception to the “okay” rule – the Birria Ramen special ($11) seemed like a weird abomination in theory, and… tasted like commercial hot dog chili dumped onto a $.79 packet of Nissin Top Ramen noodles in practice. Somewhere out there, a chef has made a proper chunk of bold, rich birria meat and placed it lovingly on a bed of quality noodles and rich ramen stock, and I would be interested in trying that dish. The Lago Taco version is something else entirely. – J.N.

Kyoto All You Can Eat Sushi | 2841 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.870.9999

The prominent “Sushi All You Can Eat” sign above the entrance set an extremely low bar in terms of expectations. And yet somehow Kyoto managed to squirm beneath it.

Let’s start with the sushi bar. Typically, this is the centerpiece of a good sushi restaurant, providing anyone seated there a magical window through which to view chefs working at notoriously tidy prep stations crafting colorful culinary art out of raw fish and a few simple ingredients.

In contrast, the sushi bar at Kyoto appears to be off limits to seating. Not that’d you want to sit there if you could. The space in front of the bar has become some kind of catch-all storage area. I’d describe it in more detail, but the only image I can conjure now is a nebulous blur of detritus. It’s as though my mind is blocking out what I saw to protect me from the trauma of remembering what was actually there.  

There is an attempt here at a modern, designer aesthetic, but in some ways, the attempt makes things far worse. On first glance, it might appear like a nice room. Then you start to notice the chipped paint, sinking booth benches, threadbare upholstery, and flimsy furnishings. It’s as though they only built a facade of a “hip Japanese restaurant,” and now the veneer is starting to crack and peel away to reveal what’s underneath: a basic dive takeout joint. Honestly, it felt like we were sitting on some flimsy “Japanese restaurant” set built for a B-horror movie. – M.C.

If we had placed a bet on Kyoto All You Can Eat Sushi before strolling through its time-ravaged threshold, WACSO and M.C. Cronin would have wagered that we were in for a rough go of it (based on the “all you can eat = bad news” premise) and I would have wagered that things were going to taste perfectly fine (based on the “it’s actually difficult to do sushi at a less than ‘meh’ level of quality for any length of time” premise.)

Score one for WACSO and M.C. Cronin, because while Kyoto’s food (which we ordered from the ala carte menu) might have beaten its ambiance, that’s a low hurdle to clear and it didn’t clear it by much.

An order of Vegetable Tempura ($8) featured nearly flavorless vegetables and an adequate fry job that was a touch too greasy and a little underseasoned.

The flavor of our Philadelphia Roll ($10) came down to just one note: Cream cheese. The avocado and salmon were missing in action entirely, and the rice on this roll – as was true for all of our rolls – was wet, underseasoned, and largely flavorless.

Similarly, our Volcano Roll ($14) should have been powered by a pop of bright, bold, spicy tuna, and warm, gently crunchy shrimp tempura, but the only thing we could really taste was the breading on the shrimp, which was little more than salty and crunchy.

The Avocado Roll ($6) is one of our favorite things to get at sushi restaurants that know their stuff, as expertly prepared rice, taut maki, and properly ripened avocado can convey a lot of flavor and texture in their own right. But the Kyoto version was just a damp squidge, without much texture, fight, or personality. – J.N.

Abi’s Cafe | 2828 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.721.0013

Our server told us they didn’t have enough menus for everyone at the table because all their other menus had been spilled on by other patrons. This was either a good sign or a bad sign. 

We chose to hope for the positive—that the food here must be so good, people just rip into it without utensils or regard to the rules of etiquette like a pack of lions devouring a fresh kill. (Spoiler alert: this pretty much describes the scene at our table when the Giant Quesabirria landed between us, but more on that later.)

The bold, brightly-painted Abi’s billboard in the parking area had given us hope In terms of atmosphere. But, much like their utilitarian food truck (also parked in the lot), the place was about as basic as it gets. 

It’s mostly a large, stark rectangle with a few booths, a few tables, a few plants, a few pieces of wall art, and a lunch counter. And that’s about it. With the exception of a giant TV playing the manufacturer’s default showroom demo video featuring close-ups of coffee being poured on an endless loop, there wasn’t much else of note.

Of course, we’ve seen enough on these Checklist outings to know that a simple room could easily become the setting for something special. So we anxiously awaited our food while counting the myriad of creative and uninteresting ways a videographer can shoot coffee being poured. (Spoiler alert, part two: it is much, much more than you could ever possibly imagine.) – M.C.

We were legitimately rooting for Abi’s Cafe, which we remembered with muted fondness from its previous location, via our trip down East Lake Street. This is the sort of humble, family-run joint that people of good cheer want to see hammer a home run out of the park. Our meal, however, was more of a single or double depending on how you’re keeping score.

Things started on a rocky note: the restaurant’s aguas frescas both fell short. The Horchata ($3.75) had a skunky, earthy quality that we haven’t tasted in the many dozens of horchatas we’ve tasted around town, and while it wasn’t overly sweet, it wasn’t something we cared to finish – or even sip at idly during the meal. And while the Jamaica ($4.75) was better, it felt toned down – typically these drinks clash intense hibiscus tartness against a strong blast of sugar, and this one seemed far less bold and therefore less interesting to drink.

Our Combinacion Guanaca ($20) seemed like a sure thing, offering as it did a whirlwind tour of popular flavors. On the positive side: the dark, stiffly thick refried beans and elegantly cooked rice were terrific together. But the pupusa revuelta came without slaw or salsa and was bland on its own, and the fried plantain was starchy and underseasoned. The chicken tamale had a claggy, wet texture that made it difficult to enjoy the filling.

We got the Giant Quesabirria ($20) more or less as a lark, because this massive assemblage of meat and cheese plus consomme dipping sauce promised to be a clunky mass of potentially delicious drunk person food. But our expectations were far off base – this thing was shockingly elegant. A lightly crispy and beautifully cooked tortilla concealed a restrained filling of stewed meat and the perfect amount of melted cheese, and we found ourselves collectively compelled to keep pecking away at this unexpectedly gorgeous culinary triumph.

The housemade flan we wanted for dessert wasn’t available, so we settled for the Buñuelos con Ice Cream ($10) which arrived at the table in a depressing-looking food service skillet looking like a bunch of fried noodles from a neighborhood Chinese joint plus a scoop of ice cream. And then, despite our initial misgivings, we started eating it. The warm fried strips of dough had an ideal amount of cinnamon-kissed sweetness, the ice cream was drizzled with and swimming in an outrageously good caramel sauce, and each bite of crunchy dough plus ice cream plus sauce was better than the last. Never before in our experience has such an underwhelming looking dessert served up such a tasty surprise. – J.N.

Waffle Bar | 2758 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis | 612.353.4524

Don’t be fooled. You might think the waffles referred to in the name are of the Belgian, American or Eggo variety. But you’d be wrong. This place is another entry in the recent and seemingly unstoppable trend of Insta-ready boba tea/ice cream/bubble waffle joints. 

For those keeping count, this is the third spot of this nature we’ve hit so far on our trip up Lyndale. The fact that we’ve already run across so many, yet didn’t encounter a single one on our excursions down Central Ave, the Green Line or East Lake Street tells you how quickly food trends can take off.

Waffle Bar is located at the end of a tiny strip mall in an area rife with retail spaces that are not located at the end of a tiny strip mall. It’s got a vaguely generic name with matching generic strip mall signage and it sits generically next to a generic Subway sandwich shop. On paper, this place shouldn’t work. In practice, it does the job.

The space is barebones with a small order counter, polished concrete floors, a couple of high-top tables, a few metal chairs and a short wood bench for sitting. All of which might sound familiar if you read about Milkjam and WSK above. The difference here is there’s less emphasis on design and more on function. Not that that’s a bad thing. There’s something to be said for a space that doesn’t feel the need to overpromise. – M.C.

There was something about the funky, low-rent signage at Waffle Bar that signaled to us we were about to walk into a dangerous situation – a late-night roost of desperate characters gnawing on substandard waffles amid the urban squalor of owners who’d just plain given up. But, nope – it turns out it’s basically yet another cute bubble waffle / bubble tea shop, like the two we hit much, much further south on Lyndale (Tii Cup and Pink Tea).

We ordered a Blue Mermaid Latte ($8), which comes in its own adorable glass container plus lid. A combination of milk, condensed milk, and (surprisingly mildly flavored) blue pea tea plus big chewy boba, this beverage tastes an awful lot like … slightly sweetened milk, plus boba. It’s not bad, but the most compelling thing about it is its striking appearance.

We also picked up a Salty Unicorn ($9), a bubble waffle wrapped around cotton candy ice cream bedecked with glitter and a ribbon of sour candy. There’s not much to this beyond its staggeringly cute appearance, but it works as food thanks to a simple gimmick: the waffle is too salty, and the ice cream is too sweet, and together there is a harmonious marriage of adorable foodstuffs. – J.N.

Milkjam Creamery | 2743 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.424.4668

Pass through a small side door at the end of World Street Kitchen and you’ll be teleported to the tiny but mighty Milkjam Creamery. The industrial chic vibe of WSK carries through here and that is not a coincidence. WSK and Milkjam share an owner. 

But while similar in aesthetic to WSK, Milkjam packs a personality all its own into its diminutive space. It’s crisply designed with a smart black plank wood counter topped with clean white marble. They’ve got their own funky wallpaper, mod light fixtures and a compact seating area fit for a quick sit.

And you will only need a quick sit, because the ice cream is so delicious, you’ll devour it in seconds (and wish you’d ordered more). Also, if you’ve ever passed this place on a hot July day, you will have  seen the lines out the door. Which means lingering any longer may garner you some nasty stares from waiting patrons. – M.C.

As longstanding fans of Christina Nguyen (and all she hath wrought, at both Hai Hai and Hola Arepa) we were pretty tickled to see a Women’s History Month ice cream named after her at Milkjam Creamery, the scoop shop co-located with World Street Kitchen. Christina Nguyen (the ice cream) combines a full-flavored passion fruit ice cream with a light-on-its-feet rum caramel and a tart, bold lychee ice cream, making for a powerful tropical kick of flavor in balance with the sweetness of the dairy.

And, as usual, we got a scoop of Black, the coconut and almond milk vegan ice cream that contains more concentrated cocoa kick than maybe anything we’ve tasted in any other context ever. 

Both of these ice creams were lovely. Milkjam was great when it opened in 2016, and it’s still great. This makes us happy. – J.N.

World Street Kitchen | 2743 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis | 612.424.8855

World Street Kitchen gives off the energy of being just one outlet in a much larger quick-serve restaurant empire. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is deceiving. Because WSK is a true local independent. And unlike many of those chains, the folks behind WSK clearly care about the food they serve here. 

The space is well-designed and surprisingly welcoming considering the simple, industrial vibe. Polished concrete floors. Enameled metal chairs. Glossy wood tables. The open ceiling features an intricate network of ductwork, electrical and pipes surrounding mesh metal lighting set at the perfect level. It’s all grays and blacks and pops of red. Simple interior design, executed beautifully. 

The flow works much like a quick serve restaurant, too. You’re directed to order at a kiosk or sit down and scan a code at your table to order through an app. It’s a service approach that’s grown in popularity (especially since the pandemic). So we’re trying to be okay with it. But if we’re being honest, it still bums us out a little. Nothing kills a vibe faster than a group of friends sitting down for dinner and immediately burying their heads in their phones to pull up the menu.

Yet with all the people coming and going and wandering about while they wait for their food or for a seat the bar overlooking the buzzing kitchen, there is an undeniable energy here. So maybe we just need to get over it and welcome our new, QR-coded reality. – M.C.

Will World Street Kitchen ever give up the fight? Will it ever go downhill? It has been 11 years since this remarkable casual fusion restaurant opened on Lyndale Avenue, and, based on this visit at least, it’s still kicking major amounts of ass. 

We tried the Turk Hummus ($9.75) and found its toppings of caramelized paprika butter, za’atar, and crispy chickpeas to be in balance, adding depth and interest to a rich, skillful version of a Middle Eastern favorite. The accompanying pita is supposedly handmade, and we believe it – while so much store-bought pita looks and tastes like cardboard, this stuff had soul and texture.


couldn’t resist ordering my old favorite, the Yum Yum Grilled Chicken Rice Bowl ($14.75), because this thing is seriously a beloved friend at this point in my existence. Everything I dig about it – the richness of the poached egg, the char and spice on the expertly grilled chicken, the herbs and zesty sauce – arrives at your table in harmony, making this one seriously compelling bowl of food.

We also got a Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs Burrito ($13). And why not? The rich sweet heat of the beef was enough to enliven and define the rice and tortilla that contained it, making for a compelling and comforting meal in a cocoon. – J.N.