Rochester goes to sleep early, and during the week many restaurants have the chairs on the tables by 9 p.m.
300 First (300 1st Ave. NW, 507/281-2451, www.300first.com, 4–11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 4 p.m.–midnight Fri.–Sat., 4–10 p.m. Sun., $15–30) makes excellent use of the old warehouse building it calls home, with copper-topped tables playing off the exposed brick. The atmosphere is relaxed in the way that only people who can afford $29 steaks can pull off.
Downstairs, the Redwood Room (507/281-2978, www.redwoodroom.com) is a romantic candle-lit, jazz-infused basement space with thin-crust pizzas and homemade pastas.
Before you walk through the wall of wine into the candle-lit dining room, check out the photos of celebrities who have dined at the venerable Michael’s (15 Broadway S., 507/288-2020, www.michaelsfinedining.com, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $10–40). Greek dishes are the specialty of the house, but make up only a small part of the meat and seafood menu. The filet mignon with wild mushrooms has been called the best steak in Rochester.
Everything changes once you step inside Chester’s (111 Broadway S., 507/424-1211, www.chesterskb.com, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun., $8–18): You were in a strip mall; now you’re in one of Rochester’s top fine-dining restaurants. Locals rave about the rotisserie chicken dinner, thin pizza, and pork chops.
The more casual, but no less class, sibling of 300 First and the Redwood Room, City Café (216 1st Ave. SW, 507/289-1949, www.cccrmg.com/city_cafe.htm, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 5–11 p.m. Sat., 5–10 p.m. Sun., $12–18) specializes in seafood, from tuna sliders to mussels in curry sauce. The parmesan-crusted grouper in basil cream sauce was voted Rochester’s best seafood dish.
Ask any local, and they’ll tell you the best place to get burgers and fries is at Newt’s (216 First Ave. SW, 507/289-0577, www.ccrmg.com, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–midnight Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun., $7–10). Half-pound patties sit next to tall piles of crispy, hand-cut fries.
Mac’s (20 1st St. SW, 507/289-4219, 6 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $4–13) is a simple café on Peace Plaza where they will serve you a heaping platter in no time flat, though you are welcome to linger like many of the coffee-sipping regulars do. The menu includes some Greek standards and breakfast is served all day.
City Market (212 1st Ave. SW, 507/536-4748, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., $5–6) is a small gourmet grocer with deli sandwiches and salads. The lunch-hour lines may look long, but they zip right along. The roast beef and gouda sandwich on a Portuguese bun is more than worth the short wait.
In the back of the Good Food Store Co-op hides a little vegetarian restaurant, the Backroom Deli (1001 6th St. NW, 507/289-9061, www.rochestergoodfood.com, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., closed Sun., $5–8), a favorite with locals in the know who love the house-made hummus and hearty vegetable stews.
There are several very cheap (and healthy, of course) cafeterias in the main Mayo Clinic buildings.
India Garden (1107 Broadway N., 507/288-6280, lunch 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun., dinner 5–10 p.m. daily, $9–17) has an extensive menu covering the whole of the subcontinent, though their tandoori dishes are the specialty of the house.
Rochester’s best Chinese restaurant is Hunan Garden (Northgate Shopping Center, 1120 7th St. NW, 507/285-1438, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $8–13). Its huge menu covers nearly the whole of China and it is noted for its use of fresh ingredients.
This isn’t Memphis, but Rochester takes its barbecue seriously. Though the competition is stiff, John Hardy’s (929 W. Frontage Rd. N., 507/288-3936, and 1940 S. Broadway, 507/281-1727, www.johnhardysbbq.com, 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun., $4–30) is many locals’ top pick. Its wildly popular sauce—available in seven levels of heat, three of them hotter than just plain “hot”—is also available to go.
The other strong contender for the title is Roscoe’s (3456 E. Circle Dr. NE, 507/281-4622, and 603 4th St. SE, 507/285-0501, www.roscoesbbq.com, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $5–21), locally owned roadhouses.
With an astonishingly large menu, ordering a meal at Victoria’s (7 1st Ave. SW, 507/280-6232, www.victoriasmn.com, 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, $6–29) can be tough. The choices run from mix-and-match pastas to pork tenderloin Sorrento, and there’s even walleye with Alfredo sauce.
The red-vinyl Bilotti’s (304 1st Ave. SW, 507/282-8668, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 4:30–9 p.m. Sun., $4–12) has a full Italian and American menu, but it is their piled-high, thin-crust pizzas that keep them so popular.
Once the only Mexican restaurant in Rochester, Fiesta Mexicana (1645 Broadway N., 507/288-1116, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $5–20) is still the best. This friendly, family-run place has a large menu with all the usual fare, plus some less-common additions like potato chimichangas.
Also popular is Dos Amigos (20 4th St. SE, 507/282-3300, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, $5–14), which serves an interesting salsa blanca with the complimentary chips. They have another location (1611 Hwy. 52 N., 507/536-4527, same hours) north of downtown.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition