Minneapolis-St. Paul and Fargo-Moorhead really have more similarities than one might think. Both are two cities, separated by a river – the Mississippi and Red River, respectively. (Though, unlike the Mississippi, which only separates two cities, the Red River also runs through the state line between Minnesota and North Dakota.) Both are within close proximity to the Canadian border. Both are supported by a strong statewide agricultural industry and are home to land-grant universities. Both are cold. Damn cold. (But be honest, does temperature really matter once the thermostat drops below zero?) And much to an Upper Midwesterner’s delight, both have rapidly growing dining scenes. So, should you head northwest and find yourself in the Fargo-Moorhead area (known as the “Gateway to the West,” a nickname shared with at least four other US cities), try dining at one of the following.
This 24-seat burger and beer joint opened in downtown Fargo in November 2009. Vegetarians beware – nothing but beef here. If you’re not on friendly terms with meat, though, you can certainly fill up on beer. There are 32 on tap, 13 domestic cans, 33 import bottles, and 7 big beers to share. Tasting flights of six, like the “Best from the Midwest,” “USA! USA! USA!” and “Ales from the Dark Side,” are available for around $8 an order. Should you not finish your beer they’ll be happy to seal it up so you can bring it to go. However, if you’re on the wagon, be prepared to cough up $1.50 for a bottle of water. No tap aqua here.
Burgers are reasonably priced. You won’t find one for more than $5 – add on fries or hand-cut potato chips for a couple more bucks and your belly will undoubtedly be filled. “The fries are like McDonalds’,” the bartender says. Really? Many would be happy to test that comparison. If you’re having a tough time choosing between the two, though, go for the chips. They’re light and crispy, not too much salt. Plus it’s fun to watch them being made right in front of you.
Several pleasantries came out of the burger order: Patties aren’t so thick you can’t fit your mouth around them, buns are toasted and not too bready, they don’t scrimp on the cheese, and the special sauce is simply mayo and ketchup. To finish an entire burger here is a feasible conquest. The prices are reasonable, the beer is flowing, and you won’t break the bank — all admirable qualities for a burger bar.
518 1st Ave N
Fargo, ND 58102
OWNER / CHEF: Dan Vogel, General Manager
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
ENTREE RANGE: $3-5
This restaurant is nestled between storefronts, in a tiny strip mall next Moorhead’s massive Center Mall. The owners, Tony and Sarah Nasello, met while working aboard cruise ships. After years of travel, the couple decided it was time to settle down and open a restaurant. In December of 2000 the two opened Sarello’s in the Fargo-Moorhead area, as it was Sarah’s hometown. (Tony was born and raised in Toronto and comes from bloodline of Sicilian-Italian immigrants — in fact, his Italian-born mother is a regular contributor on his local weekly radio program, “LIVE with the Lost Italian.”)
Given Tony’s heritage, it seems only natural that the menu would have an Italian influence. That being said, one shouldn’t expect a purely Italian restaurant experience. Outside of the salad section, which only offers Italian standards such as Caesar and Caprese, the rest of the menu seems to be a reflection of Tony and Sarah’s experience working on cruise ships. It’s a global palate, Americanized. In the appetizer section, a Jamaican jerk chicken is listed next to curried scallops (four large scallops, a hefty serving size for an appetizer). They have a pleasant kick of hotness and spice, if you’re measuring using Midwestern standards. The soup du jour — potato and leek — is a soothing remedy for a cold winter’s night. It’s thick, but not heavy with solid sediment.
There is a surprisingly wide selection of seafood entrees for a non-coastal city. (Tony buys it through Twin Cities-based Coastal Seafoods.) The tender and perfectly cooked sea bass is a top seller. It’s oven broiled with citrus buerre blanc and accompanied by wild rice and seasonal veggies. The filet size is generous. It’s refreshing to have wild rice as a side, rather than a heaping pile of mashed potatoes. The Vitello Tricolore — veal cutlets topped with basil pesto, oozy fontina, and cooked tomatoes — is moist and not too heavy (although the side of Anna Potatoes could use a boost of flavor). The filet mignon with zinfandel demi-glace comes out at an ideal temperature and color. Even though a steak order in North Dakota seems a little safe and uncreative, Sarello’s certainly does Upper Midwest meat lovers proud. For dessert, definitely try the house-made gelato. If you’re lucky, one of the trio of flavors will be peppermint, a cleansing finish to your meal, and thankfully not overly sweet. As a final tip – if you’d like to finish a three-course meal here, dishes should be shared.
28 Center Mall Ave
Moorhead, MN 56560
OWNER / CHEF: Tony and Sarah Nasello / Tony Nasello
HOURS: Tue – Sat 5pm-Close
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $17-35
The HoDo Restaurant is in the trendy Hotel Donaldson off Main Street in downtown Fargo. This boutique hotel offers 17 rooms, each unique in design and filled with local art. Like the rooms, the restaurant walls are lined with local artwork, all for sale (one of the menus numerically lists pieces and prices).
The first thing you’ll find on the dinner menu is a description of the restaurant’s dedication to using local ingredients (meaning from North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin), along with pictures of the farmers whose hands partook in your food’s trip to your plate. Everything the kitchen sends out is made from scratch. Dishes are adventurous while maintaining a local feel and theme – think Bison Carpaccio with horseradish cream and cornmeal-dusted walleye fingers. If HoDo moved to Minneapolis, it would surely be able to hold its ground against local hotel hotspots like D’Amico Cucina in the Chambers or Cosmos in the Graves.
Do not overlook the bread basket here. One in particular — the baked potato loaf — will tug at your comfort-food heartstrings, waiting to be devoured. It has flavors (not chunks) of bacon, cheese, sour cream, and butter. The North Dakota Sausage Sampler appetizer is a sampling of of juicy house-made sausages made from local game meats like pheasant, elk, and boar. It’s not overly greasy, and a portion size not too overwhelming if shared by a pair of diners. The Cheese Experience comes with five different cheeses, four of which are from Wisconsin. It’s served with fruit, balsamic glaze, candied almonds, and olives. One night’s offering included Carr Valley Mobay from La Valle, WI and St. Pete’s Bleu from Faribault, MN. Even the organic garden salad doesn’t stray from HoDo’s local / scratch-made mission. Butter lettuce and crunchy veggies are drizzled with your choice of house dressings: three different vinaigrette variations and a buttermilk herb (a more delicious stand-in than its typical, cheaper, and easier sibling, store-bought ranch).
As far as entrees go, the Bison Filet Mignon (pictured top, with asparagus) is worth trying. It includes two thick filets of lean bison. Nightly specials are also available: A recent example was a short rib, scallop, and polenta dish. Each ingredient was stacked on one another, forming an upright cylinder. Thankfully the short rib didn’t have any fatty remnants, just pull-apart-with-your-fork meat. The tiny scallops on top were slightly undercooked, something the chef was happy to fix. However, the polenta made up for the disappointing scallop mishap. It had a surprisingly crunchy exterior and tasty center.
Fargo, ND 58102
OWNER / CHEF: Karen Stoker / Tim Fischer
HOURS: Mon-Thu 5-9pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $16-38