Twin Cities Insider Eats: 2012 Critics’ Picks

The best food nobody knows about: Our dining team reveals its black book of foodie secrets.

Twin Cities Insider Eats: 2012 Critics' Picks

Dives & Holes in the Wall


Deep-Fried Snacking

A huge selection of fried appetizers, a big burger menu, and a neighborhood vibe make this off-the-light-rail bar a great spot for grubbin’. 2920 E. 38th St., Mpls., 612-724-5837, cardinaltavern.com


Chili Dogs with Attitude

The area’s best chili dog, simple and inelegant but a drinker’s spot-hitter, is served in this gritty joint where they may or may not float the f-bomb at you. It’s half shtick, but only half. 241 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-291-9638, gopherbar.com


Wings Are the Things

You will drive down Excelsior Boulevard a hundred times and never notice this 80-year-old remodeled tavern that looks like the offspring of a tract home and a local pitcher-and-a-shot bar. Such a mistake. As would be ordering anything other than baskets of its plain drumettes and even more baskets of its Cajun dry-rubbed wings coated with the saltiest of lip-smacking herb seasonings that is not even vaguely Cajun, but who cares. I can sit all day in a corner and eat chicken until my mouth hurts, enjoying some of the best people-watching around. TVs are everywhere, the pull-tabs are all winners, and the console gaming makes it a great place to bring kids on weeknights. 5916 Excelsior Blvd., Mpls., 952-922-9515, bunnysbarandgrill.com —A. Z.


No Hype, Just Burger

Adrian’s isn’t interested in getting into the loud south Minneapolis Juicy Lucy wars—it’s just happy to churn out good and tasty burgers (and, yes, a decent Juicy Lucy) while offering a good old-time bar seat on which to enjoy them. 4812 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-4011, adrianstavern.com


Lethal Cocktails

A glowing green bunker of all things undead, with gore flicks on an endless loop, this square room is devoted to drinking, Halloween kitsch, and creatively lethal cocktails like the delightful F*@%ing Dead Froggie. Adding to its dive charm is the fact that it’s only open four days a week and serves pizza as its sole grub. Donny’s sister restaurant Psycho Suzi’s makes the pizza in-house; choose “human” pizza with pepperoni or “zombie” pizza with blood sausage. The service is inviting, and the bartenders are anything but hipster aloof. It has a fun, funky-friendly vibe that makes it impossible not to have a good time, even as the apocalypse looms. 2027 N. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-588-9700, donnydirks.com —M. M.


Single Malt Madness

The food is honest-to-goodness pub fare, all solidly served. But the reason to go is to pour over The Whisky Bible, a comprehensive catalog of all the pub’s Scotch and Irish whiskies. If you’re a novice, this is your school; if you’re a connoisseur, this is your church. 3601 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-216-2419, merlinsrest.com


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

You’re a legend if you buy your chums a drink even when you’re not there. Prepay for your pals at Tootie’s and their names go up on the buddy board. When they walk in, they see their first round is free and the karma wheel keeps turning. 2706 Lowry Ave. N., Mpls., 612-529-0200


Biker Bar by the Lake

You can tell a lot from the parking lot at this Lake Minnetonka bar. It’s equal parts gleaming Maseratis and beat-down pickup trucks with Harley hogs fencing the joint—a rough and ready, moneyed and manicured mash-up that mimics the town it’s in: Navarre. Not quite in tony Orono but not quite Mound and certainly not Wayzata, Navarre is a curious place near the end of the line. It swells in the summer with tanned boaters after a boozy day on Big Island and thrives in winter with bluesy live bands and a packed dance floor. Prepare to do shots of top-rail whiskey with a CEO or hang with the locals munching on fresh-from-the-fryer, good-and-greasy buttermilk onion rings and a frosty Bud in a bottle. 3380 Shoreline Dr., Navarre, 952-471-3352, thenarrowssaloon.com —M. M.


Pizza Buffet and Then Some

Skinner’s is not your standard neighborhood dive bar, but we’d all be better off if more dives were family-friendly neighborhood joints like this. At Skinner’s, kids are not only tolerated—they have their own menu. Imagine a place where the food is good, cheap, and plentiful. Weekday lunches feature an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet that includes tasty soups and a basic salad bar for $6.95. Pizzas are large and cheesy. There’s a huge Reuben sandwich, meaty Buffalo wings, crispy fried chicken, and cheap drinks that make this a full-service dive worth driving to. 919 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, 651-291-0146, skinnersmn.com —P. D.