What's the definition of a "cozy restaurant"? It varies from diner to diner, but it usually includes warm hospitality, comforting food, a lack of pretense, and quiet surroundings.
The restaurants that follow illustrate the idea that while Minnesota may not lack glossy, contemporary fine dining, it also has some charmingly low-key spots to grab a bite to eat and reconnect with those important people in your life.
Forager Brewery, Rochester
Craft beer (brewed on-site) meets cured meat, cheese, pizza, locally foraged greens and mushrooms, and more in a charmingly presented space in Rochester. Forager is proof that some of the trends dominating the biggest cities (in Minnesota and elsewhere) can be successfully translated elsewhere. That means everything from a seasonal and local bent to the menu to an atmosphere that welcomes rather than intimidates.
Mucci's Italian, St. Paul
This St. Paul newcomer has already established itself as one of the coziest joints in town. Its emphasis on classic, red sauce Italian food made with top-quality ingredients results in a place that's simple, timeless and welcoming. Mucci's combination of don't-worry-about-it atmosphere and serious eats lets you have your tiramisu and eat it, too. (Incidentally, the house-made tiramisu may be the best in the state.)
Domacin Wine Bar, Stillwater
You might not be searching for European hospitality on the shores of the St. Croix River in Stillwater, Minn., but if you do, you’ll be pleased when you stumble upon Domacin, one of the state's loveliest little wine-and-cheese bars. With an unpretentious but knowledgeable approach to wine and a simple, small plates-heavy menu that evokes dining in Spain or provincial France, Domacin is a perfect place to curl up and relax, with Continental flair.
The Kenwood, Minneapolis
Upscale but relaxed, stylish but welcoming, The Kenwood represents the best that Don Saunders, one of the state's best-loved chefs, has to offer. With its hunting lodge-like decor and cooking that reflects the balance and restraint of a serious working chef, The Kenwood is a lovely place to unwind for an evening—or start a leisurely Sunday, if you're the type of person who takes brunch seriously.
Tay Ho, St. Paul
Sometimes coziness is nothing more than a bowl of warm noodles and broth—with a comfortingly spicy undertone if you're talking about the bun bo hue at Tay Ho on University Avenue in St. Paul. This small, old-fashioned neighborhood staple also serves up an excellent meatball banh mi and a variety of pho and other noodle dishes that taste equally good in the depths of winter or the heat of summer.
Duluth Grill, Duluth
With a range that stretches from slow-roasted turkey dinners all the way to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes, you might think that Duluth Grill is biting off more than it can chew. But the experience says otherwise. This place combines the appeal of a small-town diner (breakfast all day!) with the sophistication of a contemporary urban restaurant. It's also spawned a couple of well-regarded cookbooks, so pick one up if you'd like to bring the laidback deliciousness of the Grill home with you.
Find more fine places to dine on the Drink & Eat page.