Waterfront Dining at its Finest in Minnesota

By James Norton

Lord Fletchers outdoor dining Lake Minnetonka_Jon Sadeh
Lord Fletcher's on Lake Minnetonka / Jon Sadeh

Minnesota's "Land of 10,000 Lakes" slogan isn't mere hype—from unnamed country ponds to the sea-like majesty of Lake Superior, the state has aquatic splendor to spare. It's no surprise, therefore, that there's plenty of good food to be had by the shores of the state's rivers, lakes and waterfalls. From old-fashioned supper clubs to up-to-date casual seafood eateries, where there's open water, there's often a great meal (and usually a good local brew or cocktail as well).  

Angry Trout Cafe, Grand Marais

Lake Superior whitefish at Angry Trout Cafe / Becca Dilley

One the state's best-regarded farm-to-table (and lake-to-table) dining spots is the humble but ambitious Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais, where dishes like Lake Superior whitefish and grilled bison tenderloin share the menu with accessible fare such as fish and chips and maple-grilled chicken breast. The restaurant's relationship with the next door Dockside Fish Market means that much of its seafood is literally straight-off-the-dock fresh.

JJ Astor Restaurant, Duluth

JJ Astor is one of a number of Duluth eateries with Lake Superior views, but it's distinguished by the fact that it rotates roughly 360 degrees an hour, offering diners a sweeping view of both the harbor and the steep hills that comprise the city. An emphasis on locally sourced produce and fresh ingredients means that the menu is ever-evolving.

Zorbaz, Multiple Locations

Zorbaz on Green Lake in Spicer

Zorbaz on the Lake has taken its pizzaz, nachoz, wingz and burritoz formula for success to 11 locations, including Detroit Lakez, Big Zandy, Green Lake in Zpicer and Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapidz (all z's courtesy of Zorbaz in-house style guide.) Local beers, late-night menus, and an all-purpose wacky sense of fun make this a Mexican-pizza chain with heart and soul—plus plum waterside real estate.

Spring Cafe, St. Paul

Diners at Spring Cafe in St. Paul will be treated to an upscale picnic. Sandwiches, salads and even ceviche are on the menu for great grab-and-go options. If you're looking for heartier fare, diners can venture inside to find burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, fried chicken and wild rice brats. A third counter outside will focus on sweet treats for dessert. Live events (everything from yoga instruction to big band music) keep the place hopping, and the views of Lake Como can't be beat.

Maynards, Excelsior

Located on the shores of MaynardsLake Minnetonka, this lakeside establishment has been serving hungry and thirsty patrons since 1998. The large lakeside patio can seat up to 500 guests and features a roaring stone fireplace for cooler nights. Dine on the Mr. Jimmy burger named after Excelsior's former ambassador, Jimmy Hutmaker, or spice it up with the firecracker shrimp tacos. Snack on walleye fingers, Szechwan spicy green beans or waffle fries. Cool off with a refreshing mojito, Moscow Mule or sip a brew from the hometown brewery, Excelsior Brewing Company.

Lord Fletcher's Old Lake Lodge, Spring Park

Less a restaurant than a full-fledged, full-bore lakeside party, this sprawling multi-venue Lake Minnetonka-adjacent supper club and sports bar booms in the warmer months. Lord Fletcher's more than 100 boat slips mean that it's equally accessible by land or by water, making the eatery's steaks, walleye sandwiches and lobster rolls accessible to all.

Sea Salt Eatery, Minneapolis

Minnehaha Falls vertical
Minnehaha Falls

The waterside dining spot of Minneapolis par excellence, Sea Salt, which sits a few hundred feet from the famous falls at Minnehaha Park, boasts serious shrimp and oyster po'boys, excellent Asian-inspired curry dishes, local brews, live music, and first-rate ice cream via Sebastian Joe's. If the day is a particularly fine one and you arrive during prime time, you may be greeted by a line that emerges from the building and wraps around it. Grab a beer and get in line—it moves quickly, and the food is worth the wait.

Boat House, Winona

Light, approachable New American fare (everything from tacos to panko-crusted catfish) make dining at the Mississippi River-overlooking Boat House a relaxing breeze—and don't miss brunch, either.

Find more places to eat around the state on our Drink & Eat page.