I’m putting it right out there in print: I love my husband. He’s a wonderful man and truly the person I have the most fun with. However, when I’m dining out, which I do at a rate that would alarm most people, he’s often stuck at home. For one, we have children, and someone responsible should be around to make sure dinner is more than Goldfish crackers and juice boxes. Secondly, it’s expensive! A nice meal out times two, plus the cost of a sitter, factoring in gas, gratuity, and suddenly we are digging deep into the bank account.
On the rare night that we can wrangle the sitter, there are a select few occasion-worthy restaurants that we know we can count on for fabulous food, service, and a reasonable-for-a-weeknight cost. These are our go-to spots.
Hola Arepa: While everyone is (rightfully) fawning over Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen’s newer restaurant Hai Hai, it’s important to remember what launched the phenomenon. Hola Arepa is hearty, rustic fare with fantastic sauces. Trust me, you’ll want to bathe in that chimichurri. The arepas are stuffed with all kinds of ingredients and everything on the menu is under $15. Don’t miss the cocktails here, either. They are fresh and fruity without ever being too sweet. It’s just a darling spot.
Mucci’s Italian: Start with the on-tap prosecco. It makes every occasion more festive and it’s just $6 a glass ($14.50 for a carafe). The service here is delightful and the pastas are eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head amazing. Pasta dishes hover between $16/17 and are worth every penny.
Brunson’s Pub: This is where we end up most often. It’s a dive bar, and that’s kind of how we roll. I met my husband when he was a bartender at a dive bar. Thomas LaFleche is living Matt’s bartender dream. He opened a neighborhood spot that serves really, ridiculously good bar food with craft cocktails and affordable craft beers. Plus, there’s all the good ol’ regular beer and booze behind the bar, too. Stop by on Whiskey Wednesdays if you’re like me and appreciate a good beer and a bump. The No Payne No Gain burger is a steal at $11, topped with this pulled bacon situation that’s just unreal: somewhere between bacon and shredded, crispy pork belly.
Costa Blanca Bistro: Chef/owner Hector Ruiz owns several restaurants around town, but I’d say this one has to be my favorite. It’s a Spanish restaurant specializing in tapas, so it’s good to grab a couple of little snacks to share. The affordable, killer wine list helps make the whole experience feel that much more luxurious.
Bar Brigade: The intimate nature of this small restaurant in St. Paul’s Highland Park is utterly romantic. It’s also a fantastic spot to catch up with an old friend over a cocktail and the fabulous smoked trout, $16.
Stewart’s: Another casual neighborhood spot, just over the river from Minneapolis and by St. Thomas. Stewart’s feels like a secret little nook for stealing away hours of conversation over snacks like the Buffalo Brussels sprouts or the outrageously good Korean French fries.
Red Wagon Pizza Company: The pizzas can be ordered half a flavor, so already you’re set up for a spectacular night where everyone gets a little bit of what they want. Throw in one of the best wine and beer lists to be found in a pizza restaurant.
Terzo: This gorgeous little slip of a restaurant reeks of rustic glamor, ideal for making the good goo-goo eyes at your beloved. Hover around the small plates section of the menu or share one of the famous Porchetta sandwiches, all for under $15.