It’s been a very long year since the pandemic took hold in the United States.
For some of us, the curtains are parting a little as we get vaccinated, and for many of us, one of the first things on our list of things to do is dine in at a restaurant.
So the question is: Where should you go?
First and foremost — go to your favorite restaurant. They probably need the business, and you have a vested interest in keeping that restaurant afloat.
But if you’re looking for an east metro place with that “treat yourself” vibe, here are the places on my shortlist.
When you’re looking for a place to celebrate, The Lexington always fits the bill. The century-old surroundings, lovingly restored, amazing service and stellar menu can turn any bad day into a spectacular one.
Chef Jack Riebel is still out battling cancer, but chef Antonio Murry has added a few of his own touches while maintaining the high quality we’ve come to expect.
I like to start with a crisp martini (my husband always gets an old fashioned) and some wings or walleye cakes, then, depending on my mood, move to the salmon oscar, steak Diane or my favorite cut of beef — the New York strip steak. Honestly, though, I’ve not had a bad meal at The Lex, and I’ve tried most of the menu, so you do you.
The Lexington: 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-289-4990; thelexmn.com
Though it’s a relative newcomer to our dining scene, Baldamar has quickly established itself as a great place to bring friends, dates, or out-of-town guests (remember those?).
The space, in an outlot of Rosedale Center, is gorgeous, from the plush, high booths to the pretty tile, and the open kitchen allows you to keep an eye on the action.
Service here is so attentive it borders on over-the-top, but if you want to feel like you’re taken care of, this is definitely the place for you.
The menu is well-curated, and nearly everything we’ve tried has been something we’d order again. We are fans of the flavor-packed hangar steak with chimichurri, but if you’re a real steak lover, the custom-aged prime cuts are definitely worth the scratch.
They’ve even got an aquavit-based cocktail called The Vaccine (they recommend two doses), which is just perfectly on the nose.
Baldamar: 1642 County Road B2 West, Roseville; 651-796-0040; baldamar.com
This restaurant is everything I love — intimate, adorable and delicious. When I need to pamper myself, it’s one of the first places I think of.
I love their interesting, vegetal cocktails, but they also have a stellar wine list.
Pastas are made from scratch and knee-weakening good, and the small menu takes the stress out of what to order. Everything’s good. Just point your finger at something and you’re good to go.
The menu changes frequently, but last time I was there, the mushroom linguine and duck breast were amazing. And never skip a salad here — they’re some of the most creative, flavorful items on the menu.
Hyacinth: 790 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-478-1822; hyacinthstpaul.com
If you haven’t been to this tucked-away gem in Lilydale, now is a great time to check it out.
The Italian restaurant has hired award-winning chef Tim McKee and veteran front-of-the-house guy Joe Pirri to spruce up the menu and keep things running in smooth order.
McKee has the kitchen extruding its own fresh pastas and changing the menu with the seasons. If it’s a nice day, the patio behind the restaurant feels like a real getaway. It’s one of my favorite places to meet friends for happy hour — especially those who haven’t been before. They always walk away vowing to return, soon.
I Nonni: 981 Sibley Memorial Highway, Lilydale; 651-905-1081; osteriainonni.com
If you thought I wouldn’t include St. Paul’s original “treat yourself” spot, think again!
I love the old-school vibe at this friendly steakhouse, which has recently spruced up its interior, though the Mancini family was so paranoid about changing the vibe that you might not notice that the carpet is new and the paint is fresh.
Your options are steak, lobster, walleye or chicken. All come with a relish tray, salad, potato and the restaurant’s seriously addictive garlic toast. There’s always a Mancini or two on the restaurant floor, chatting up customers and keeping the machine running smoothly. It’s a very St. Paul place to celebrate, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Mancini’s: 531 W. 7th St., St. Paul; 651-224-7345; mancinis.com
Chef Justin Sutherland’s flagship restaurant really has it all. Atmosphere, great food and creative cocktails. Oh, and he’s added a killer patio, to boot.
When Sutherland moved from his original Lowertown space to the current, more spacious Capitol Hill restaurant, the addition of a wood-fire oven gave him more tools to play with, and the bigger kitchen meant he could expand the menu.
So if you haven’t been since the move, it’s really a must. We can’t get enough of the woodfire roasted mussels in bacon bone broth, and the Brussels sprouts are some of the best in town. Entree favorites include the smoked pork loin dip, the fried chicken, catfish and any of the more traditional barbecue platters.
Handsome Hog: 173 N. Western Ave., St. Paul; 651-219-4013; handsomehog.com
If you don’t think of pizza as treating yourself, Kyndred Hearth can change all of that.
James Beard winner Ann Kim’s lovely spot in the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel in Eagan opened during the pandemic, so you might have missed it.
You can have one of her famous pizzas, but also house-made pastas, fun wood-fired shared plates like meatballs and main dishes like Korean braised short ribs and a hangar steak. The cocktails and wine list are decent, too.
Best of all, the room is modern and gorgeous, with a giant, copper wood-fired oven as the centerpiece.
Kyndred Hearth: 2611 Nordic Way, Eagan; 651-689-9800; omnihotels.com/hotels/viking-lakes-minnesota/dining/kyndred-hearth
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Author: Jess Fleming