Appetites: North Washington Avenue, the Twin Cities' newest foodie hot spot

Smack Shack
The Smack Shack's lobster roll at the new restaurant on North Washington Avenue.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Like other foodie metropolises around the country, the ever-expanding Twin Cities dining scene is producing its fair share of hot neighborhoods filled with new bars and restaurants.

The Star Tribune's Tom Horgen is here to tell us about one of his favorite corridors, suddenly busy with new restaurants and bars.

Tom Crann: Where is the latest foodie district in the metro?

Tom Horgen: When I travel to a city like San Francisco or Chicago, one of my favorite things to do is to find a neighborhood packed with restaurants and just hop around for the evening. I'm thinking of a place like Randolph Street on the Near West Side of Chicago. That street has turned into a restaurant row, packed with some of the city's most adventurous and busy dining destinations.

There are plenty of great little neighborhood pockets in the Twin Cities (13th Avenue in Northeast, Linden Hills, 48th Street and Chicago Avenue S, Grand Avenue in St. Paul). My new favorite is this short stretch of North Washington Avenue near Target Field where a few of the best restaurants in the city are now clustered.

Click for more photos of new downtown Mpls. restaurants

TC: Why has this corridor suddenly become a hot location?

TH: Washington has always has its share of bars like Bunker's and Cuzzy's. But in the past few years, we've seen the openings of Bar La Grassa (still one of the hardest reservations in the city), Black Sheep Pizza, HauteDish. There's also the hipster haven Clubhouse Jäger and the underrated Sapor.

But things have really picked up with the openings of Smack Shack and Borough, as well as Borough's downstairs cocktail bar, Parlour. These new spots, between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue on North Washington Avenue, have really helped to bring this strip to life. When you drive down Washington on the weekend, people are walking up and down the sidewalks. It's such a cool area too, with the old warehouse spaces towering above the streets.

TC: What kind of crowds are we seeing at these restaurants? Young, old?

TH: That's the interesting part. You'll really see a young clientele at these restaurants. And it's not just because it's downtown. The restaurant scene has spawned a younger, more sophisticated consumer. It's a crowd that's less interested in clubs and party bars, and really into chef-driven restaurants and craft cocktail dens. They want to spend their money on great food and drinks at places like Borough and Smack Shack.

TC: Smack Shack is the new brick and mortar restaurant that started from the popular and critically acclaimed food truck, right?

TH: Yes, most people know the name from its ultra-busy seafood-serving food truck. In my mind, Smack Shack has been the most anticipated opening since Butcher & the Boar. The restaurant is huge, very industrial and warehouse-y. When you walk inside you're greeted by the massive 100-gallon boiler. It has two bars, one of which is centered around the enormous lobster tanks. The food is top notch, but the vibe can be very casual. They even have pull-tabs.

TC: How about Borough?

TH: Borough has a great pedigree. A couple alums from Travail's kitchen are running the first level restaurant. It's also a bit industrial, but very sleek at the same time. The bar operation is overseen by one of the best guys in the business, Jesse Held. Beyond the great bar upstairs, there's another, almost separate entity downstairs called Parlour. It's not hard to find, but it still has a speakeasy feel with its own entrance below the street. The drinks are great — start with a Spicy N' Stormy, their version of a rum-ginger Dark and Stormy.

TC: What would be your ideal night on this Washington?

TH: I'd start with drinks at Borough, then head over to Smack Shack for some of some seafood small plates. Maybe dinner at Bar La Grassa. Quick dessert at Sapor. Then back to Parlour for more drinks. That's an amazing night.

MAP: North Washington Avenue

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