Since 1877 the city of Excelsior has been the hub for summer tourism in Central Minnesota. In the 1920s, trolley cars brought people in from the cities by the thousands. They came to play at Excelsior’s shorefront amusement park, stay in its luxury hotels, and sail ‘round the glistening shores of Lake Minnetonka on one of the iconic yellow steamboats.
Almost a century later Excelsior remains a cultural hotspot, renowned for fine dining and summer leisure activities. Tucked away on the edge of the western suburbs, this gem has spent the last 20 years transforming into a cultivated center for foodies and brewery enthusiasts alike.
Growing up in Minnetonka, my friends and I biked to Excelsior as often as we could. Back then it was about getting ice cream at Licks Unlimited and seeing kittens at the pet shop. Now we’re college graduates and, reliable as ever, Excelsior has matured right along with us. Here are some of my favorite spots to grab a bite or glass of wine for the perfect Excelsior night out:
One of the newer additions to Water Street’s international food crawl, Miyabi is where the locals go for authentic Japanese and Asian cuisine. Its diverse menu offers a broad range of traditional dishes—from beautifully plated fresh sashimi and sushi to Indian curry and Chinese Szechuan. With the sophisticated allure of a modern ambiance, combined with affordable dining, Miyabi is a great choice for a night out.
Victor’s on Water
An elegant setting and homegrown Italian cooking is what you’ll find at Victor’s on Water. Their creed is to pair Mediterranean ingredients with produce from local farms and businesses, creating fresh dishes rooted in the community that supports them. When eating at Victor’s, patrons can expect to be fully immersed within the dining experience. From the scents and sounds that sizzle from the open kitchen, to the main street sights afforded by the unique panoramic views, dinner at Victor’s is sure to entice your senses. Reservations are recommended.
Since opening in 2013, word has spread about Lago Tacos. On any given night, this trendy restaurant and bar is packed. However, with their street vender influences and food truck roots, the wait to be seated is never long. Boasting “one of the best happy hours just off the lake” Lago Tacos is ideal for fresh margaritas and ice-cold beers after a long day exploring Lake Minnetonka’s many bays and inlets, or just as a quick top-off for girls’ night out.
Jake O’Connor’s Public House
Also known as Jake’s Pub, this classically designed tavern reflects the charm and character of owner Dermot Cowley’s native Irish roots. According to the website, once an old hardware store, the pub is now fully refurbished complete with fireplaces, “buttoned-leather” booths, stained glass dividers, and an ornate bar, built by Irish woodworkers. Jake’s Pub offers 16 beers on tap, casual dining, live music, and a fun atmosphere. Check the website for their summer entertainment schedule.
With an intimate setting and refined décor, Coalition provides a memorable atmosphere for special occasions. Diners can enjoy fine-tailored American dishes and handcrafted cocktails—regionally sourced from “boutique distilleries” including 45th Parallel Vodka (New Richmond, Wis.), Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon (Swisher, Iowa), and Bittercube Bitters (Minneapolis)—in a warm and welcoming environment. The space, located in an 1886-era brick building, features rustic floors, industrial lighting, tall booths, a white marble bar, leather bar stools, and oversized chandeliers.
One of my favorite intimate live music venues around the lake, the 318 Café is cozy, classy, and always inviting. Known for their music and events—as well as their craft beer, coffee, and small plates, flatbreads, and dessert—318 is the perfect place to unwind with a glass of wine and a few good friends on a summer evening (the café sits only 50 people). Built on the grounds of the old Excelsior Mill, pinewood beams fill the air with a fresh, rustic scent, adding to the charming ambiance.
Excelsior Brewing Company
Perhaps the most talked about venue in the Excelsior community is the Excelsior Brewing Company and their newly renovated taproom. Located on the corner of Third and Water streets in downtown Excelsior, the new expansion now includes 16 draft lines (and a rotating beer list), a dog-friendly outdoor patio, and an indoor stage where live, local music is played on an almost nightly basis. Take a tour of the brewery during the day and finish with a sample pint of one of their Lake Minnetonka-inspired microbrews. Growlers and merchandise are available for purchase. They don’t serve food at the brewery, but if you’re hungry, you can order pizza from nearby Olives and have it delivered to the taproom.