We continue to be astounded by the number of restaurants opening during the pandemic, and we’re very grateful for the business owners who are willing to take a chance in this environment.
Also, it keeps us very busy checking out all the new spots. If you are having a hard time keeping up with what’s new, what’s hot and what’s worth a visit, we totally understand.
To help you out, here’s our list of St. Paul restaurants that opened in 2020 that we think you should consider. We’ve vetted every single one and can tell you they’re all worth your time and money.
Use this as a checklist to get takeout, eat on a patio, or even have a socially distant meal indoors if you’re comfortable with that.
The guys who brought us Burger Dive at Tony Jaros in Northeast (which has since closed) and at Potluck food hall in Rosedale are at it again, this time taking over Bay Street Grill with their short and sweet menu of burgers and sides. But this time, because the neighborhood was accustomed to having breakfast, they’ve added a down and dirty menu of morning favorites like pancakes, omelettes, biscuits and gravy using Betty & Earl biscuits and a breakfast burrito that we are dying to try. It’s hard to get everywhere for every meal, folks.
731 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 651-294-3240; burgerdivemn.com
If you haven’t caught wind already, there’s a new place on Grand Avenue serving up traditional and off-the-beaten-path Thai fare. Brought to you from the team behind Nong’s Thai Cuisine in Golden Valley and the original Coconut Thai in Edina, the eatery on Grand Avenue just west of Dale Street is offering a sizable menu of appetizer, soup, salad, curry, stir fry, noodle and fried rice dishes. You can get all the standards here, as well as try dishes you don’t see as commonly around town — curry puffs, Squash curry and crab fried rice among them. Be warned that even for this fish lover, the crab fried rice was on the fishy side.
720 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-348-7250; coconutthaimn.com
EAST SIDE BAR
The former Ward 6 has reinvented itself. Owner Eric Foster kept everything the same except the menu and opened the day before restaurants were forced into takeout-only. The menu at East Side Bar has a few Ward 6 favorites, including that amazing reuben, but also an expanded burger list, commercials with turkey or fried pork and a fried pork sandwich that we are often daydreaming about. The restaurant was basically forced to start out as a takeout operation, so they got very good at it. In other words, this could be just the place to pick up dinner once the temperatures drop.
858 Payne Ave., St. Paul; 651-348-8450; esbstp.com
While the Hog is not new, it has relocated to larger digs on Cathedral Hill, so there is no more waiting in a cramped bar for a table, and, most importantly, there is a sprawling, brand new patio. The new space was most recently The Fitz, and the pizza ovens and sizable kitchen have allowed chef Justin Sutherland and crew to expand the menu as well. Don’t sleep on the wood-fired clams, brisket pizza and spare ribs. Oh who are we kidding? It’s all delicious.
173 Western Ave., St. Paul; 651-219-4012; handsomehog.com
The pandemic hit shortly after this chef collective restaurant relocated to the former Golden’s Deli space in Lowertown. We visited before the stay-at-home order came down, and the casual, upscale bar food menu impressed us. The juicy burger and sticky/nutty wings were great, and so were the umami rich, herby brussels sprouts. The operation is essentially a walk-up window with patio seats at the moment.
275 E. 4th St., St. Paul; 763-290-8431; justusmn.com
This impossibly adorable “secret back-alley pizza” place opened quietly late this summer, but it didn’t take long for neighbors and food lovers to find it. It’s basically a few staff members using little ovens to crank out pizza on the back patio of The French Hen on Selby Avenue in what looks like a movie set filled with lush greenery and just the right amount of wooden infrastructure. Oh, and the pizza is good. We think the veggie — topped with Swiss chard, broccolini, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions — might be our favorite veggie pizza in town.
In the alley behind French Hen, 518 Selby Ave., St. Paul; frenchhencafe.com/moonflower-pizza
Tender chicken, encased in a spicy (or not, if you’ve got a sensitive palate), shatteringly crisp breading, served sandwich or tender style, with fries. Those are your options at the hot new Nashville Coop (it was a food truck until a few weeks ago) on Snelling Avenue. We arrived as the doors opened at 11 a.m. on a recent weekday, and the line was already a half a dozen people deep. Basically, the place is not a secret, but they do move orders pretty quickly, so don’t let the lines deter you. The dining room is small, so plan to arrive early to get a spot or better yet, take your chicken to a nearby park and chow down.
300 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul; nashvillecoop.com
While the atmosphere here is definitely a sports bar, the food is a step up from your average bar food. The owners of Jersey’s in Inver Grove Heights wisely hired chef Graham Messenger to class up the downtown St. Paul Pillbox Tavern menu with delicious burgers (at least the straightforward ones — we didn’t care for the deep-fried jalapeno popper version), a killer chicken sandwich, a tasty wet Italian beef sandwich and kung pao brussels sprouts that knocked our socks off. We can’t wait to go back and try more.
400 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul; 651-756-7566; pillboxtav.com
ST. PAUL BREWING
Pizza and burgers are hot right now, as restaurateurs try to appeal to budget-conscious diners in the time of a pandemic. The other thing that’s hot is patios, and St. Paul Brewing has our new favorite outdoor spot. Created by the folks behind Can Can Wonderland, the patio features lots of little hidden spaces, sculptures, dioramas, repurposed junk and more. And they’re making wood-fired pizzas from the back of a vintage Ford pickup truck. It’s seriously cool, and it’s catching on, so we recommend reservations before the snow flies.
688 E. Minnehaha Ave., St. Paul; 651-698-1945; stpaulbrewing.com
TASTE OF RONDO BAR & GRILL
Of the new places that have opened this year, this is our favorite new place for wings. And there’s so much more to the menu, made up of mostly traditional Southern dishes with an emphasis on from-scratch cooking. The shrimp etouffee is also among our top picks off the menu. We can’t wait to return and try other items such as buttermilk fried chicken, burgers and brats as well as cornbread made with house-ground cornmeal. Next time, maybe we’ll check out the cocktail menu too. Dine inside, on the patio or order takeout.
976 Concordia Ave., St. Paul; 651-348-2615; tasteofrondostp.com
THE GNOME CRAFT PUB
We love the fun vibe exuding from this newly minted bar and restaurant. And thanks to an expanded patio and an upstairs event space that has been converted into a lounge and game room for daily use, there’s now more than double the capacity in the former Happy Gnome on Selby Avenue. All the more room to eat (supper-club fare), drink (tiki cocktails) and be merry. The menu is varied, ranging from casual items such as sandwiches and beer can chicken to more formal entrees such as steak and fish. Must haves include the Milwaukee Pretzel, a giant 30 oz. braided pretzel with shaved raclette, and the shishito peppers that are both great for sharing. Also a dish that wows us — the Flinstone-sized Beef & Bone Marrow Pot Pie that we’re not sure is supposed to be shared but is so giant that most of us will need help finishing it. Wash it down with a Mai Tai or other Polynesian-themed cocktail or beer from the extensive tap list.
498 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-219-4233; thegnomepub.com
We have been waiting for this ramen spot with a cult following to reopen in its relocated St. Paul digs on West Seventh. The spot is now up and running and offering takeout only for the time being — there’s even a takeout window for picking up orders. Just order online and set up a pickup time.
It’s worth noting that the second iteration of Tori in St. Paul is so much more than just ramen, hence the changed name from Tori Ramen to just Tori. The menu has expanded to include rotating dishes that can include Vegan Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepes), Japanese savory pancakes, cold noodle dishes, salads, fish tataki and braised fish in a seafood broth on any given day.
But ramen fans need not worry. The spot still serves up all types of (pork-less) ramen for takeout. When ready to eat, just pour the broth into the bowl with noodles and accompaniments (broth and noodles are cleverly packaged separately to keep the noodles from getting soggy) and slurp away. Favorites are the Best Seller, a vegan ramen that’s not just a clever name, and the Dra(mn) with chicken chashu when we’re craving meat. And great news if you want to pair your meal — sake, wine and beer are also available for takeout.
603 7th St. W., St. Paul; 651-340- 5866; toriramen.com
Food cooked over a 20-foot wood-burning hearth is at the heart of this new Southern California- and Mexican-inspired spot at Keg and Case West 7th Market. Get takeout, or pick and choose from a few dining options: The expansive space includes a dining room and bar area, upstairs tequila lounge as well as a patio with plenty of bench seating. The spot not only suits a variety of dining moods, but cravings too. Dishes such as nachos, tacos, ceviche as well as woodfired meats, fish and vegetables are all featured.
If there’s a must order item, it is the wet tacos, a French dip-like dish, that are not only delicious and memorable, but hard to come by in the Twin Cities. So get it here when the opportunity is in front of you. The wild mushroom quesadillas, with a wonderful crisp and char on the tortillas thanks to that giant hearth, are also a must order. To complement your food, specialty margaritas and craft cantina cocktails are at the ready. And know that some of this treating yourself to a restaurant meal goes toward a good cause: a minimum of 3 percent of proceeds will go to the nonprofit Give Hope.
Keg and Case West 7th Market, 928 7th St W, St Paul; woodfiredcantina.com
YUMI JAPANESE RESTAURANT + BAR
We’re elated that this popular Excelsior eatery landed in St. Paul for its second installment. While new to the neighborhood, the spot on Cathedral Hill doesn’t seem to miss a beat in great service and food, making it seem as if it’s been there all along. If dining inside isn’t your jam right now, there’s a pretty patio and the place offers takeout and delivery too. Noodle dishes such as udon soup and yakisoba as well as teriyaki, tempura and fried rice platters can be found on the menu. But for us, we can’t come here without at least ordering some raw fish dishes off the sushi, sashimi or specialty roll menus. The platters are beautifully composed and bursting with flavor. Food and art colliding — we love it!
400 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-207-6810; yumisushibar.com
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