Best Restaurant in the Far-Northern Suburbs?

Sara wrote in: “It is our six-month wedding anniversary—celebrating makes us as giddy as Jr. High kids! We want to go out and have a nice dinner. Both of us work in the city, but call Forest Lake home. While we enjoy the lake and our cozy little apartment, the area seems to offer nothing in the realm of culinary excitement. The best we’ve found so far is a little Mexican place called Dun Julio’s, which is cheap and fast, but that’s not quite what we have in mind. People around here rave about Za! and Norman Quacks, but they just don’t do it for me. Have I missed some great gem in all of my fussing that there isn’t any good food in a 30-mile radius? Am I just too spoiled having lived in NE and South Minneapolis with the 112 Eatery, Azia, Red Stag, and Al’s Breakfast only a short jaunt away? My only thought was that maybe we could drive up to Taylors Falls and check out the Tangled in Blue restaurant I’d seen last summer, but I just called and was informed that they are under new management and have not re-opened yet. Any ideas?”

This immediately made me wonder: Where is Forest Lake again? Answer: Due west of Scandia, right off I-35, about half an hour north of St. Paul. I wrote back to Sara to tell her that I could think of a few places within her 30-mile radius that might fit the bill. To wit:

Restaurant Cru: The fine, but casual dining Blaine restaurant is helmed by Robert Moore, the longtime sideman of Lenny Russo, the chef best known for his pioneering work at local cooking standard-bearer Heartland. I went to Cru a few months after it opened and was just blown away by the fineness of the cooking. 

For something less locally focused, and more Italian, why not Acqua in White Bear Lake? It was opened by two veterans from Uptown Minneapolis’ lost and lamented Campiello. (I can’t help but notice that, like Sara, these are fellow south Minneapolis food-lovers who headed north.)

Then of course there’s Tria, sister to the St. Paul Hotel, Pazzaluna, and Restaurant Max, and, in another vein, Minnesota’s most resolutely and adorably old-school steak house, Lindey’s.

So, I sent those to Sara and she told me one would fit the bill for a newlywed’s anniversary dinner. However, in the middle of the night the question came to haunt me—what am I missing? People always know their own neighborhoods better than any roving restaurant critic. So, residents of the northland, share your secrets: What’s your favorite restaurant up in that neck of the woods?