West Bank - Cedar Riverside

Find amazing food, theater, and eclectic shopping in West Bank.

What was once Minneapolis’ hippie ground zero in the 60s and 70s has transformed into a thriving hub for the Twin Cities’ East African community. Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the country and a strong community lives here. The campuses of Augsburg College and the West Bank of the University of Minnesota contribute a youthful, vibrant air to the mix. Good, inexpensive international food and great theater bring in everyone else.

World Food Tour

A few steps from the Cedar-Riverside intersection, Dilla’s Ethiopian Restaurant gets high marks for its authenticity, the combination platters and affordability. They offer lots of vegetarian and vegan-approved dishes, namely the Thursday and Sunday buffets, which are only $11. Lucky Dragon draws a crowd of regulars, hooked on the lovingly prepared Vietnamese dishes, giant servings, low prices and affection for the owners. Top notch southwestern Indian food is available at Malabari Kitchen, including biriyani (mixed rice dish), seafood and HOT curry. A student ID will get you a 10 percent discount. The owner serves, cooks, buses tables and a lot more, so wait times can be long during peak periods. The grab-n-go, hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean Deli serves delicious, inexpensive items like falafel, sambusas, lamb gyros and a few West African dishes. Service is at Mediterranean speed, so budget adequate time.

Opened in 1990, the Red Sea was the first Ethiopian (with Eritrean influences) restaurant in Minneapolis. Their vegetarian options are universally adored as is their generous, 4-9 p.m. daily happy hour. They have a full bar that transforms into a nightclub and live-music venue in the evening, featuring reggae, R&B, soul, hip-hop and more.

Occupying a coveted spot at the Cedar Riverside nexus intersection of Cedar and Riverside Avenues, Adacia Café, has been a socially-minded, neighborhood-active café/restaurant/pub/music presence for decades. Their sandwiches and burgers hit the mark and they maintain a great craft beer selection. Across the street is long-time neighborhood fixture Hard Times Café, aptly described as “vegetarian eats with a punk rock vibe.” The hippie/grunge atmosphere might not be for everyone (you write your order on bits of paper, serve and bus your own dishes), but the food, portions and prices are the great equalizer. Cash only.

Drink Up

A full listing of the innumerable cool, indie coffee shop hangouts in the area would require a whole separate website. Just know you’ll never to search long for a spot to sit down and start your novel.

The Cedar Riverside area has a lot of successful drinking holes with storied histories, but none of them quite compares to the landmark, dive bar notoriety of the Viking Bar. There was a time when the floor was so sticky that if you dropped something you did not pick it up again - even if it was money. After a many year’s pause, the Viking re-opened in 2016, all scrubbed up and ready to re-claim its Cedar Riverside legend. It’s still as casual as ever, with arcade games and a jukebox. They regularly have live music, a limited menu of bar food and snacks, and they’re partial to local beers.

The Cabooze attracts music artists ranging from up-and-coming, buzz-worthy acts to groups on nostalgia tours to those that aren’t quite ready for an arena show, but almost. If an act is big enough, they stage it out in the parking lot.

With walls infused with over a century of saloon antics and essence, in recent decades Bullwinkle’s Saloon & Fun Bar has been a go-to, divvy, Gopher sports-fan bar. Its appeal continues to rise with a recently re-launched, chef-supervised menu of bar food classics (“The Coney Dawg”) and new zingers like their po’boy, al pastor tacos and banh mi. Their happy hours and ladies’ night specials are priced for scrappy university students.

Nomad World Pub doubles as a lively soccer (futball) viewing spot and live music venue. It’s on the small side and leans to the hipster crowd (there’s a bocce ball league), but the patio draws in the crowds in summer.

Entertain Yourself

After many moves in its first 17 seasons, the Theater in the Round settled in its current space in 1969, which, obviously, is an in-the-round layout. Still staging nine productions each year, TRP was one of the early players that contributed to the Twin Cities becoming a renowned theater destination. First opened as a theater in 1910, The Southern Theater went through several incarnations before being reborn as a theater once again in 1983. The theater caters to experimental works of theater and dance. The Saturday night “Ball’s Cabaret” is the “longest-running, weekly, midnight cabaret in the history of human kind (as far as we can tell).” Across the street is the Comedy Corner Underground, a tiny venue that holds regular shows and an open mic every Friday at 10:15 p.m.

Originally a movie house, the Cedar Cultural Center has been one of the city’s most respected music venue since 1989, hosting jazz, indie, world, blues and folk artists as well as other live performances.

Founded in 1976, Mixed Blood Theater puts on over 500 each year, highlighting thought-provoking performances “injustices, inequities, and cultural collisions,” with a focus on civic engagement. The theater is housed in a former firehouse.

The People’s Center Theater is an intimate space that has been home to various theater companies since the 1970’s. These days it hosts irregular productions, including plays, musicals, dance, concerts, lectures and workshops. The theater is upstairs from the health clinic of the same name.

The four theaters inside Rarig Center are home to the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance, with performances throughout the school year.

International Bazaar 

There are a number of shops and “malls” around Cedar Riverside selling clothing, jewelry, art, food, hookhas, and other imported merchandise from Africa and Asia. The online presence of these shops is virtually nonexistent, so the challenge is up to you, intrepid explorer, to home in on that perfect item that will make you the envy of your friends. To get you started, check out Al Karama Exotic Clothing & Furniture (415 Cedar Ave S) and Dalab Jewelry & Fashion at the same location, upstairs in Suite 5.

Many stores in Cedar Riverside have thrived across the neighborhood’s many transformations over the decades. The outdoor gear and apparel wonderland that is the sprawling Midwest Mountaineering has occupied prime Cedar Avenue real estate since the mid-70s. They stock equipment for camping, mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, skiing and skating, and hold regular sales and special events. Upstairs is Thrifty Outfitters, who stock (and repair!) discounted outdoor apparel and gear.

The original Freewheel Bike (they now have three locations, plus a mobile service van) is a beloved retail and repair shop. Since 1974, they have been a promoting Minneapolis cycling culture, including a repair shop open for public use. Their fiercely loyal customers credit the low-key, friendly, expert staff for their ongoing patronage. Much later to the scene, but nevertheless a popular, community-oriented option is The Hub Bicycle Co-operative, who sell new and used bikes and gear and do repair.

Mayday Books, founded in 1975, is a volunteer-run, progressive, non-profit book shop that now resides in a cozy basement location on Cedar Avenue. It’s a decidedly political outfit that runs meetings, readings, film screenings, discussion groups and more. 

Depth of Field sells a variety of yarn, fiber, knitting supplies, fabrics, futons and platform beds.