Spin the Globe
The area referred to as “East Lake,” as we’re defining it for your visiting convenience, is a long stripe, covering about three miles of bustling, east-west Lake Street. Along with Cedar Riverside, this section of Lake Street is like a cultural superhighway, particularly in terms of food and shopping. There’s also a literal cabaret of local, indie entertainment options in the vicinity, which can make Lake Street a full-day, treasure trove of diversions all on its own.
Taste Bud Parade
The eating options along Lake Street are literally staggering (because you’d be in a walking food coma if you tried to sample them all too quickly). Here’s is just a sampling of what’s available.
Let’s get the food court places out of the way first. Midtown Global Market has been the home for a wide variety of cuisine, shopping and cultural events since 2006. We’re talking Mexican, Middle Eastern, Italian, Indian, Korean, Moroccan, Chinese, East African, a brewery, ice cream and baked goods all under one roof, to say nothing of the numerous apparel and craft stalls. Mercado Central is your one-stop goal if you want to try a number of great options for authentic tacos, burritos, pupusas, tortas, juices and grocery/bakery items. It’s also a great place to practice your Spanish.
Addis Ababa Restaurant serves Ethiopian (and East African) dishes, including numerous samplers it you just can’t make up your mind. More East African (and Mediterranean and American) cuisine is available at African Paradise Restaurant, namely chicken BBQ, salmon, and a short vegetarian menu. The deliciousness at Somali/Middle Eastern Hamdi Restaurant, includes a wildly popular goat dish which often sells out, so plan for lunch or an early dinner. Grab-and-go, great value A & J Fish & Chicken specializes in, surprise!, fish and chicken. They also do a variety of gyros and sandwiches, if you want to ignore the chorus of raves from regulars addicted to the chicken seasonings and catfish preparations. Highly regarded, “cheap date” authentic Nepalese, Indian and Tibetan food can be found at Himalayan Restaurant. Many attest that the buffet is among the best deals in the city.
There’s great Mexican up and down Lake Street, but that glorious path was largely blazed two decades ago by Pineda Tacos. There are two locations on Lake, serving great value plates of tacos, tortas and burritos. It’s not listed on the menu, but if you want to see the biggest burrito in your entire life, order the “burrote.” Having graduated into this brick and mortar location from its stall in the Midtown Global Market, Sonora Grill took Lake Street’s Mexican scene to the next level with chef-driven, Latin fusion takes on tacos (“carmelos”), sandwiches (“bocadillos”), meat skewers (“pinchos”) and a variety of seafood dishes. La Loma Tamale serves up fresh, hand wrapped tamales with a variety of fillings. Their menu is simple, but the flavors are what keep people coming back.
Family restaurant Dragon City Café has been a neighborhood fixture for decades with a fiercely loyal clientele. Portions are large, prices are not. Popular Gandhi Mahal is a frequent presence on local “best of” lists for its authentic Indian cuisine, wonderful buffet and its sustainable approach. Among other things, they grow food in community gardens and their basement, where they also raise tilapia!
The Hi-Lo Diner does many things well, but you haven’t lived until you’ve tried a “High Top” (various selections, all piled onto fried pastry dough for a savory-sweet result that will make you go limp with ecstasy). The diner is housed in a restored, stainless steel Fodero Dining car (circa 1957). The downright sacred approach to breakfast and brunch in the Twin Cities is likely responsible for the Modern Times Café. The small, no nonsense place get points for its atmosphere, affordability and multitude of vegetarian and vegan options.
Du Nord Craft Spirits is a few blocks off Lake Street, but we’ll make an exception for this scrappy place, serving cocktails made with their gin, vodka, and liquors. You’re allowed to bring in outside food from home or a restaurant, but if you skipped that step there’s also often a food truck just outside. Lawless Distilling is also a short hike from Lake to access their reasonably priced cocktails (starting at $8) and a friendly atmosphere. They also allow outside food, including having orders delivered to the bar! They’re open Wednesday through Saturday, evenings only. Previously only selling bottles from their location two days a week, Urban Forage Winery & Cider House is opening a taproom in November 2017. Be among the first to get their ciders on tap!
As mentioned above, both Midtown Global Market and Mercado Central have a substantial amount of shopping options in addition to their food courts, including apparel, jewelry, art, groceries, books, alcohol, and a wide variety of home goods. Lake Plaza is another food court and bazaar catering to the Hispanic community, with 84 food and retail vendors. The Midtown Farmers Market is open May through October, Saturdays (8 a.m. – 1 p.m.) and Tuesdays (3 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.). On hand is fresh produce, eggs, chicken, honey, maple syrup, flowers, spices, bread, sauces, jams, jellies, arts, craft and a variety of ready-to-eat food. There’s also live music!
Shantie Plaza carries traditional, handmade Indian apparel, including saris, kurtas, lehengas, and accessories. Forage Modern Workshop sells trendy and vintage home décor and furniture, like rugs, baskets, pillows, lighting and art. Hymie’s Vintage Records, described by Rolling Stone as “a classic, overstuffed mom-and-pop used-vinyl haven,” has been operating on Lake Street since 1988. And it wouldn’t be a proper Minneapolis neighborhood without a bike co-op, a role The Hub Bike Co-op serves wonderfully. They have open shop events for DIY repair, classes on things like bike maintenance and winter riding, and they sell rehabbed bikes and gear for budget-minded shoppers.
Be entertained and enlightened
Launched in 1992, the Pillsbury House Theater produces three main stage productions annually, focusing on contemporary works, a late-night series that includes a meal with the artists and “Naked Stages” where emerging artists perform new pieces after a seven-month training fellowship. Renowned institution, In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, produces full-length puppet plays geared for families and adults, using puppets and masks they design and build themselves. The Trylon Microcinema is a 50-seat movie theater run by volunteers that typically screens B movies, cult films, career retrospectives of famous directors and the like. The Somali Museum of Minnesota has a collection of more than 700 pieces of craftwork, paintings and sculptures. They also offer educational programs about traditional Somali culture.