Twin Cities Patio Dining: Pandemic Edition

April 7, 2021
Serving dish with three types of salsa, chips, and menu
Chips and salsa, Hola Arepa

This post was originally published on July 22, 2020 and was most recently updated on April 7, 2021.

Patio season has arrived in the Twin Cities—in part thanks to the warmest spring weather I've ever experienced in Minnesota, and in part due to necessity.  Although COVID-19 vaccines are gradually becoming available to the general public, the pandemic rages on.  For many diners (myself included) indoor dining seems too risky, and outdoor dining feels like a safer option.

However, dining at a restaurant indoors or outside elevates COVID-19 infection risk for both patrons and restaurant staff.  Wear a mask whenever you're not seated at your table as well as when you're interacting with staff (i.e. placing your order, when your food is dropped off, etc.)  Don't go out to eat if you or someone in your household is sick.  Follow all of the restaurant's rules and procedures.  You should always be respectful towards restaurant staff and tip generously, but consider this a friendly reminder. 

There are many safety precautions that Minnesota restaurants are required to follow for patio dining, including a mask mandate when not eating or drinking; occupancy limits; spacing tables six feet apart; and requiring reservations to facilitate contact tracing (many places offer "walk up reservations" where they take your contact information before seating you). 

All of the restaurants that I've highlighted below were following those requirements to the best of my knowledge when I visited, and many had taken additional steps such as providing hand sanitizer, adapting the ordering process to minimize contact between staff and diners, and using signage to direct foot traffic one way. 

I'll be updating this post periodically with additional patio recommendations as restaurants reopen for outdoor dining and I check out new spots.  Restaurants are listed alphabetically.  Keep in mind that restaurants may close without notice and hours and menus are ever-changing—be sure to call ahead.

If dining at restaurants isn't something you currently feel comfortable with, and you're financially able to do so, I encourage you to find other ways support your favorite local restaurants.  Many places continue to offer takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery.

Hand holding a cocktail garnished with a palm frond
Tepache cocktail, Hola Arepa

Since travel is currently off the table, Hola Arepa is one of the best local options for soaking up some vacation vibes.  The menu features Venezuelan-style stuffed arepas (cornmeal griddle cake sandwiches), Latin American-influenced small plates, and tropical cocktails.  The chips and salsa are a must—you pick out your own assortment of salsas, with a variety of heat levels.  Since we were there for brunch, I ordered the fried egg breakfast arepa (add the guacamole, it's well worth the $1 surcharge).

Patio reservations are available, and Hola Arepa serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday and weekend brunch.

3501 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis; 612-345-5583; holaarepa.com

French fries with a cup of ketchup and cocktail with a salt rim
Fries and Mad Monk cocktail, Icehouse

To be honest, what drew me to Icehouse was the cocktails: craft cocktails are my drink of choice, and the drink list at Icehouse is a nice mix of classic and specialty cocktails, as well as sipping shots (basically miniature cocktails).  However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much ambiance the patio offered.  The courtyard is set back from the street, with umbrellas for shade and some faux grass to spruce up the setting.

As far as food, there's a lineup of elevated appetizers, salads, and sandwiches (the current menu has changed a bit since we visited in July 2020).  Obviously I opted for an order of fries, which were a perfect complement to my Negroni, and the chicken nachos were also on point.

Icehouse is open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner and serves brunch on the weekends.  When making a reservation, you can specify whether you want indoor or outdoor seating.

2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-276-6523; icehousempls.com

Cheese-filled bread and plate pickled vegetables
Khachapuri and pickled vegetables, Moscow on the Hill

Moscow on the Hill has always been one of my favorite patios in the Twin Cities: a shady, leafy escape with hearty fare and house-infused vodka shots.  Their menu features Russian and Eastern European appetizers, dumplings, and entrees.  Yes, there are substantial plates of meat and potatoes, but they also have house-pickled vegetables, salads, and vegetarian options.  Be sure to try the khachapuri, a Georgian cheese-stuffed bread that puts stuffed crust pizza to shame.

Moscow on the Hill takes reservations by phone and online, although patio seating is not guaranteed.  Lunch and dinner are served daily.

371 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-291-1236; moscowonthehill.com

Hand holding a cocktail garnished with a dried orange slice with a board of pickled vegetables in the background
Smoky and the Bandit cocktail and pickle plate, Nightingale

I think Nightingale was been my favorite patio experience last summer.  Although it's right on Lyndale, the main patio area is surrounding by boxes overflowing with greenery and flowers, giving it a romantic, tucked away feel.  The cocktail menu was the highlight for me, with a fascinating selection of drinks that feature unexpected ingredients and creative names.  The food menu has snacks, small plates, and entrees—obviously I ordered the (excellent) fries with malt vinegar aioli, and I also enjoyed the pickle plate, which has some unique items like pickled shiitakes and house cultured butter.

Reservations are available online or by phone for indoor or patio seating.  Dinner is served daily.

2551 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-354-7060; nightingalempls.com

Pizza topped with tomato sauce, fresh basil leaves, and burrata
New World Margherita Pizza, Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit offers a nice selection of appetizers, salads, and pastas, but I always order a Neapolitan-style pizza.  There are a handful of vegan and vegetarian options, with gluten-free crust available by request.  The New World Margherita, topped with red sauce, burrata, and fresh basil leaves, is my all-time favorite, but the cheese and PB & J (pineapple, bacon, jalapeno) pizzas are good too.  The craft cocktail list is respectable, including the on-tap aperol spritz.

Red Rabbit takes online reservations, and you can specify whether you want indoor or patio seating.  The breakfast menu is available Tuesday through Friday, a brunch menu is available on the weekend, and lunch and dinner are served Tuesday through Sunday.

788 Grand Ave., St. Paul and 201 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis; 651-444-5995 and 612-767-8855; redrabbitmn.com

Lobster roll and fries
Lobster roll, Smack Shack

If you're in the mood for seafood, you can't beat the sunny streetside patio at Smack Shack.  They're open daily for lunch and dinner, with a comprehensive menu that includes peel and eat shrimp, crab cakes, a New England-style seafood boil, oysters, and lobster in every imaginable variation, from lobster guacamole and lobster poutine to a lobster cobb salad and lobster mac and cheese.  I'm partial to the original lobster roll, made with chilled lobster salad and served with Cajun-seasoned fries.

Smack Shack takes reservations online, although patio seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis when you arrive. 

603 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis; 612-259-7288; smack-shack.com

Further reading Twin Cities Takeout: Pandemic Edition

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