This post was originally published in July 2020 and was in May 2022.
Whether you want to savor the all-too-brief Minnesota summer or are trying to reduce your COVID risk, patio season is here. Here's a roundup of my favorite restaurant patios in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with restaurants listed alphabetically within each geographical category. I update this post periodically with new finds—there are dozens of excellent spots for outdoor dining in the Twin Cities, and this is only a sampling.
Our meal at Sidebar at Surdyk's was comped as a media preview. I paid for all other meals out-of-pocket.
For a wimp like me, the heated, enclosed patio at Hai Hai is perfect for chilly evenings (uncovered patio seating is also available). The menu features small plates and entrees evoking the flavors of Southeast Asia—my favorites are the salt and pepper fried tofu with lime leaf sauce and Hanoi sticky rice, plus the Vietnamese coffee pot de creme or che with coconut milk for dessert. Many items can be made vegan or gluten-free by request, and there's a interesting selection of refreshing craft cocktails and rum-spiked slushies.
Hai Hai is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and reservations can be made online.
2121 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis; 612-223-8640; haihaimpls.com
Sidebar at Surdyk's is attached to the iconic liquor store and cheese shop in Northeast Minneapolis, with a sidewalk patio along Hennepin Avenue—it's nice to experience some urban hustle and bustle.
The menu has features entrees like a ribs, fish, pasta, and a cheeseburger. There are also plenty of appetizers, from fried cheese curds and fries to cheese and charcuterie boards. The creative cocktail menu highlights some unexpected spirits and flavors, and of course, there's an impressive wine and beer list.
Sidebar is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and lunch Friday and Saturday. Reservations are available online.
303 E. Hennepin Ave., Suite 2, Minneapolis; 612-455-2574; sidebaratsurdyks.com
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
Although the patio at Nightingale is right on Lyndale, it's surrounded by boxes overflowing with greenery and flowers, giving it a romantic, tucked away feel. The cocktail menu is a 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 love the (excellent) fries with malt vinegar aioli, and I also like 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
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. For brunch, I like the fried egg breakfast arepa (add the guacamole, it's well worth the 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
For a taste of Paris without leaving St. Paul, spend the evening on the streetside terrace at Meritage, complete with the twinkle lights, flowers, and French music. The classical French menu varies with the seasons, but the moules frites and anything chocolate on the dessert menu are always delicious choices.
Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday, and reservations are available online.
410 Saint Peter Street, St. Paul; 651-222-5670; meritage-stpaul.com
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
The patio at W.A. Frost and Company is a perfect setting for romance, surrounded by greenery and with leafy branches and fairy lights overhead. The build-your-own cheese plate is my go-to, and the menu also includes salads, sandwiches, steaks, and a handful of vegetarian entrees. The cocktail list features a nice balance of classic and house options, with a thoughtful selection of no-proof and low-proof drinks.
W.A. Frost is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, lunch Tuesday through Friday, and weekend brunch. Reservations can be made by online.
374 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-224-5715; wafrost.com
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. There's also a nice selection of craft cocktails.
A brunch menu is available on the weekend, and lunch and dinner are served Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations are available online.
788 Grand Ave., St. Paul and 201 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis; 651-444-5995 and 612-767-8855; redrabbitmn.com
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