When you think of Minnesota, what comes to mind? Its 10,000 lakes, the Minneapolis skyline, or Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe? All of those are certainly iconic aspects of the state. But there’s another side to Minnesota that often goes overlooked: its food. If you’re looking for a great restaurant scene outside of the Twin Cities, look no further than St. Cloud, Minnesota.
A few months ago, I visited St. Cloud to attend a conference. While there, I had the opportunity to check out the food scene and try out many different restaurants. From international cuisine to classic midwestern fare, these restaurants are my favorites for getting a taste of what the city has to offer.
Some restaurants provided free samples. All opinions are my own.
A unique dining venue with excellent food is Anton’s. This restaurant was built in the 1920s and was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Many items on the menu still refer to the Prohibition days, and they also serve moonshine.
When I visited, everyone in our group tasted a sample of moonshine.
They have several dining rooms, the original being the most unique with log walls, a covered wagon frame hanging from the ceiling, and booths that look like covered wagons. Plus, huge picture windows face the river. The decor is rustic and fun and the little booths would be great for a romantic dinner.
Other dining rooms and a screened-in patio provide close-up views of the river without the bugs.
When I visited, I had the glazed salmon with candied pecans served over wild rice and a side of Brussel sprouts. All entrees include a fresh, hot popover that is the size of a small loaf of bread.
Other entrees my dining partners recommended:
- Moonshine Sirloin: herb-crusted steak served with bourbon-horseradish sauce and caramelized onions over mashed potatoes
- Maple Glazed Roast Duck Breast: served with wild rice
- Three Little Pigs: If you like pork, this is for you. The meal includes a pork chop, barbequed ribs, and sausage served with mashed potatoes.
Pro Tip: After dinner, walk outside through the gardens and along the river to feed the geese. They have food available for a quarter.
2. Jules’ Bistro
At the conference, everyone was raving about eating lunch at Jules’ Bistro. I had to try it before leaving town. I quickly learned what all the fuss was about.
Jules’ is a small cafe in St. Cloud’s historic downtown. They have a cozy, artistic atmosphere and a casually sophisticated menu. Their motto is “Food crafted thoughtfully is food done right.” Most of their items are made from scratch, and locally-sourced ingredients are used when possible.
They serve paninis, pizza, sandwiches, soups, salads, delicious pastries, and treats. They serve wine and over 30 different craft beers.
I ordered the apple ham panini and it was a savory delight. The panini was served with a pickle spear and kettle chips (you could have fresh fruit or veggies as your side). The panini consisted of ham, apples, tomatoes, red onions, and the most delicious house-made brown sugar-cinnamon mayo spread on cranberry wild rice bread. (Provolone is usually on the panini, but I asked them to hold the cheese.)
Other items on their menu that were tried and recommended include:
- Rosemary Chicken and Bacon Pizza: Grilled chicken, crispy bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and some garlic and fresh rosemary make this pizza irresistible.
- Beef Brisket Grill Sandwich: Tender sliced beef brisket, a tangy barbeque sauce, bell peppers, green onions, pineapple, bacon, and cheddar cheese with whipped guacamole make this sandwich irresistible.
Pro Tip: Be sure to save room for their fantastic pasties and baked goods.
3. Mexican Village
If you enjoy a Mexican meal, you will want to dine at the Mexican Village restaurant located in the historic downtown. You can eat inside or outside on the street patio area. I recommend dining inside to enjoy the vibrant and authentic atmosphere and Mexican decor.
This family-owned and -operated restaurant has a huge menu with something for everyone to enjoy.
During my visit, I ordered the grilled chicken fajitas. What a treat this meal was with tender white chicken breast meat marinated and grilled. It was served over a layer of sizzling sauteed peppers and onions on a skillet. All fajitas are served with refried beans, Spanish rice, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, and sour cream. Three warm flour tortillas were also included.
The serving was large, so make sure you have a hearty appetite when you order this meal.
Other items recommended were:
- Taco Salad: I want to try this on my next visit. A neighboring table ordered it, and it looked delectable. A large crisp tortilla bowl was piled high with fresh shredded lettuce and cheese topped with taco-flavored, seasoned ground beef (I would opt for the shredded chicken), tomatoes, black olives, and sour cream.
- Cilantro Lime Fish Tacos: Soft corn tortillas are filled with lightly battered fish filets, shredded cabbage, cheese, pico de gallo, and fresh cilantro with a creamy chipotle sauce. The tacos are served with Spanish rice and black beans.
Pro Tip: They have 16-plus flavors of margaritas. Consider enjoying a pomegranate, banana, or electric blue raspberry-flavored margarita with your meal.
4. Pickled Loon
Not only do they have a unique name, but Pickled Loon offers food and beverages that have a unique twist as well.
Their menu is varied, and they offer vegetarian and vegan-friendly options.
Dine inside, on the patio, or around the fire pit table.
A few delectable menu items:
- Beer Battered Asparagus: beer-battered and deep fried, delicious with the maple honey sauce
- Thai Cashew Chopped Salad: chopped romaine and red cabbage mixed with sliced carrots, peppers, onions, edamame, and cashews with a spicy peanut dressing
- Peanut Butter Bacon Burger: a hamburger topped with cheese, peanut butter, and bacon with maple honey sauce served on a pretzel roll
- Blackberry Whiskey Lemonade: lemonade, whiskey, and simple blackberry syrup make this drink a summer favorite.
Pro Tip: The Pickled Loom is a happening place on weekends with drink specials and fun entertainment on the upstairs stage.
5. Green Mill
The Green Mill restaurant is attached to the Kelly Inn Best Western Hotel. It has a vast menu, so you are sure to find something for everyone in your dining party.
The oldest licensed pub in St. Paul, they are known for their award-winning deep-dish pizza. As their pizza fame grew, so did their menu.
Their menu includes made-from-scratch pasta, sandwiches, and handcrafted cocktails.
When I visited, I ordered the coconut chicken salad and it was out of this world delicious. It was a mix of spinach and romaine lettuce, cabbage and red onions with mandarin oranges, red peppers, and green onions topped with crispy hand-breaded coconut chicken strips. Pomeray vinaigrette dressing was drizzled over it and topped with toasted coconut.
On my next visit, I want to try the chicken asparagus stir fry bowl with chicken, cabbage, asparagus, red bell peppers, onions, and celery tossed in a sesame stir fry sauce on a bed of brown rice quinoa.
Try some of these favorites:
- Windy City Pizza: This pizza masterpiece includes a zesty tomato sauce, spicy Italian sausage, mozzarella, herbs, and parmesan.
- Coconut Chicken Hoagie: They start with a hoagie bun or oat bran pita and then pile on their hand-breaded coconut chicken tenders, red onions, and cabbage topped with vinaigrette dressing.
- Parmesan Walleye: Your choice of an oat bran pita or a sourdough hoagie roll, enjoy the lightly breaded walleye, which is sauteed in lemon soy sauce and topped with romaine, red onions, and parmesan cheese.
- Five-Layer Chocolate Cake: This delightful cake is the perfect dessert. Moist chocolate cake layered with the creamy smooth chocolate filling will tickle any chocolate lover’s taste buds.
6. Granite City Food & Brewery
Another St. Cloud restaurant that serves quality made-from-scratch food in a fun atmosphere is the Granite City Food & Brewery. They serve freshly-brewed craft beer straight from the tanks to the taps.
This award-winning restaurant has a full menu that includes:
- Slider Towers
- Handcrafted Burgers
- Homemade Soups
- Signature Sandwiches
- Pasta and more
Pro Tip: They have seasonal food and drink specials, plus lots of special events. Be sure to check their website for details.
7. The Krewe
Just a few miles away is the town of St. Joseph. The day before the conference started, we visited and had a sampling of the wonderful dishes served at The Krewe.
Bringing the heritage of New Orleans to downtown St. Joes, the owners used recipes passed down from generation to generation and their passion for quality food to bring mouth-watering dishes to town.
Stop into Krewe for a taste of New Orleans and Mardi Gras in a fun atmosphere. Using fresh ingredients, they have a diverse menu that is especially appealing to those with an adventurous palate.
The menu changes with the seasons and includes dishes with Cajun, Creole, Vietnamese, Italian, and Irish-influenced dishes.
During our visit, we tried:
- Fried Brussel Sprouts
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Shrimp Jambalaya
- Grandpa’s Gumbo
- Sunburst Salad
- Boudin Lumpia
All the items were delicious and the atmosphere was great. My favorite dish was the fried Brussels sprouts.
Pro Tip: To ensure freshness, they deliver dishes to tables as they are completed instead of waiting till the entire order is complete.
I hope you get a chance to check out some of the great restaurants in St. Cloud, Minnesota. There is something for everyone, and I am sure you will enjoy your experiences at each of these places. So grab a bite and explore St. Cloud — you won’t be disappointed!
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