Dining Out

Catalina’s Restaurant


catalina's sign
I’m a firm believer that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. This is especially true with some of the best ethnic restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Catalina’s Restaurant opened up in our neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis about a year ago, in a small strip mall down the street.   They claim that “taste is our specialty”, and serve up both Mexican and various other Latin American cuisine.

We decided we were way past due to give Catalina’s a try. Upon walking in, I must admit that Catalina’s isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing place around…fluorescent lighting and plastic tablecloths in a tiny dining space. But seeing as taste is their specialty, we weren’t about to let the décor deter us. Besides, the space was very clean and organized, which is certainly a plus.

In true Latin American fashion, our visit started out right with a small basket of homemade chips and salsa. They had me at hello. We went through 2 of these baskets and ate every. last. drop. of the hot salsa.

 catalinas chips


Mike ordered the chicken burrito – a flour tortilla stuffed with beans, rice, sour cream, lettuce, cheese, and chicken. The meat was tender and super tasty with a nice smoky, cumin-y flavor.

 catalinas burrito

I ordered “la especialidad de la casa”, the scallop soup, cooked to perfection with a mixture of yucca, plantains, potatoes, scallops, carrots, and cabbage. This soup was absolutely BOMB (am I too old to use that word?). The broth was light but creamy (coconut milk perhaps?), and the sweet and savory flavors complemented one another so well. I almost licked the bowl clean.

 catalinas soup


I am disappointed that we waited so long to discover Catalina’s amazing food. It is a very affordable, no-frills restaurant that is truly dedicated to creating delicious food with quality ingredients. We look forward to visiting again (sooner rather than later). If you’re in the market for an authentic Mexican or Honduran meal, check out Catalina’s.

Paella for 4, anyone?


YUM RATING: 9.5/10


What’s your favorite family-owned ethnic spot?

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Healthier Alternatives to your Coffee Shop Obsession

News flash: I am a coffee FREAK. And one of the vices I just can’t seem to break is that I love it laden with sugar and cream. Although I’ve limited myself to just one Caribou Coffee run per week, I have also learned that there are several lower-calorie options for those of us that just can’t lay off the caffeine.

The next time you’re at the coffee shop register, try one of these alternatives instead:

You Love: Frappucinos
Then try this: Order an iced coffee with a sugar free flavor. Most coffee shops have at least 3 or 4 sugar free flavors such as vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, etc. Also, ask for it without whipped cream and chocolate on top and save yourself about 100 calories!

You Love: Mochas and their creamy, chocolat-y goodness
Then try this: There’s really no getting around this one, as a mocha has got to contain chocolate. But you can reduce the calorie count by ordering it with skim milk, no whip, and a sugar free flavor. And you know how there’s always extra chocolate at the bottom of the cup? Order it with ½ the amount of chocolate – you probably won’t even notice the difference, but the scale will.

You Love: Lattes and/or Cappuccinos
Then try this: These are not quite as bad as the two above options, as they contain just espresso and steamed milk. Ask for it with skim or soy milk instead and save up to 10 grams of saturated fat and 100 calories.

You Love: Chai Tea Lattes
Then try this: Chai Lattes contain whole milk and honey. Reduce calories and fat by ordering it with skim or soy. Or better yet, try green or black tea instead for a boost of antioxidants.

You Love: Coffee with cream and sugar
Then try this: Coffee doesn’t have to be all bad, even for those of us with a sweet tooth. Add a dash of skim milk and a packet of Truvia/Stevia to your daily brew, and you’ll only take in a negligible number of calories. Bonus: a cup of coffee 1-2 hours before exercise has been shown to increase performance!


What other coffee shop hacks am I missing?  Let me know in the comments below!

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Element Wood Fire Pizza



What’s not to love about wood-fired pizza?  Seriously. My ideal ‘za has a hand-tossed crust….somewhat thin and airy with a nice little crunch on the exterior. No, it’s not a pipe dream. It exists….in Minneapolis.

We had been meaning to visit Element Pizza since it opened about a year ago. This place is TINY and is located right on Broadway Ave in NE Minneapolis, a couple of miles from our house.  The Sis and Bro-in-law were in town for a few hours, so we decided to do dinner somewhere local – enter Element Pizza.

The décor was warm and cozy, with just a handful of tables. You order at the counter and the food arrives quickly. The menu at Element consists of several unique wood-fired pizzas, appetizers, and a few salads. They have several different wines by the bottle, which happened to be ½ price on Mondays and Tuesdays with the purchase of a 2 topping pizza. Score.

I opted to share a pizza with the sis and also ordered a small spinach salad to accompany it. The salad was right up my alley, with spinach, gorgonzola, walnuts, and dried cranberrires in a raspberry vinaigrette. Mmm.



The pizzas are all very unique so we had a tough time deciding which to order. We ended up going with the “Earth” – which had artichokes, salami, garlic, and basil. Remember my ideal crust? Yeah…this is it.



The hubs ordered the “Fire” pizza, which is now competing for a slot in the top 5 pizzas I have ever tried. Spicy sausage, roasted red pepper, goat cheese, and basil. WOW.




The Bottom Line

Wood-fired pizza is the only way to go in my book. They are ready quickly and the crust is cooked perfectly. The pizza at Element reminds me of another Minneapolis joint, Pizzeria Lola in South Minneapolis. We weren’t sure if we could find a comparable ‘za, but it turns out this one is even closer to home. And they DELIVER! Whaaaat?  This could be dangerous.

We will absolutely be returning to Element when the pizza cravings strike again.


Yum Rating: 9.5/10

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Fogo de Chao

Never been to Fogo De Chao, or any Brazilian steakhouse for that matter?  O.M.G….get your butt to one as quickly as possible. Now.

Ok, so as a carnivore and paleo enthusiast, I may be a little obsessed with this place.

Fogo De Chao is an upscale chain with locations in multiple cities throughout the world. It is SPENDY, so it’s one of those “special occasion” joints.  Also, don’t take your vegetarian friends here or they may never speak to you again.

We have been to the Fogo De Chao in downtown Minneapolis twice thus far and will absolutely return once we pay off the debt from our previous visit (kidding). The last time we went was with a big group of friends for Restaurant Week. This is the only time of year when Fogo discounts their prices, so mark your calendar and make reservations waaaaay in advance.

The Concept

The restaurant is a Brazilian Churrascaria Steakhouse. You pay for an all-you-can-eat experience, which includes a beautiful salad bar and endless supply of delicious meats.

Waiters run around the dining room with giant slabs of meat on spits. Each guest has a coaster in front of them – when you’re ready for more, you simply flip it over to the GREEN side, which prompts the servers to stop by. If they have what you want, they will shave off a chunk of meat that is the temperature of your liking.

Before I dive into the glorious meats that Fogo offers, I need to give the salad bar some mad props. This is one of the most delicious salad bars I’ve experienced…And I eat a lot of salad. I have to be uber careful not to fill up before the main course – the salad bar includes over 30 items, including smoked salmon (my FAVE), aged cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian salami, asparagus, etc.

There are 15 different types of fire roasted meats to choose from for your main course, including filet mignon, pork loin, beef ancho, chicken, pork and beef ribs, pork sausage, cordeiro (lamb), etc.

My personal favorite is the traditional Brazilian cut of steak, called Picanha (top sirloin) – it’s juicy, garlic-y, and deliciously tender from the thick layer of fat around the outside. But the best part about this place is that you can try a little bit of EVERYTHING, and get seconds, thirds, or fourths of your favorite cuts.

Then there’s the polenta….oh lord, the polenta. The meal is served family-style with a number of sides (gooey cheese bread, polenta, mashed potatoes, and caramelized bananas). I ignore the mashed potatoes (although they are fabulous) and dive right into the polenta. It’s crispy, slightly sweet, salty, and oh-so-naughty. Plus, unlimited. don’t forget that.

If you can even manage to spare a pea-sized bit of space in your stomach for dessert, do it. Fogo de chao has some fantastic desserts (cough**turtle cheescake**cough). Also, be sure to mention if it is your anniversary, birthday, or another special occasion, as the dessert will most likely be on the house.

The Bottom Line

I believe that there are very few places that compare to the deliciousness that is Fogo de Chao. The service is top-notch and the food is absolutely delicious. Spendy, yes. But worth every penny and a fun experience for a special occasion or group outing.

Yum Rating: 9.8/10

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The Moose on Monroe


Every neighborhood needs a good ‘ol dive bar. Preferably, one with killer happy hour specials, pizza, burgers, and bingo at least once a week.

The Moose on Monroe is that bar for us in Northeast Minneapolis. We discovered it on a bike ride to downtown one day, as it sits right on our bike route. It has since become a tradition to stop in for a beer any time we are riding past.

The best time to visit the Moose is during Vikings games. There are different specials for each quarter, like 2 for 1 beers, $2.50 rail drinks, $1 taps, etc…and if the Vikes actually manage to win, the owner buys a round for everyone in the bar!!

We visited the Moose a few months ago for bingo and ended up staying a little later than we expected (oops!)…we just had to try our luck at blackout. No, we didn’t win ;( .  But we decided to stay and eat – the nightly special was a full rack of ribs, corn, and a baked potato for $9.99. Unreal!  We split the meal and it was enough for both of us (plus the dog got a whole bunch of bones to chew on). Sorry, I don’t have a photo. They weren’t the best ribs I’ve ever had, but for $9.99, we can’t really complain.

We had purchased a CityPages Voice Daily Deal for the Moose ($15 for $30), so we decided to return for another try on bingo night. Once again, we lost. But we did order a deep dish meat-lover’s pizza. Pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage, and hamburger in a deep dish with tons of gooey cheese. This thing was a serious artery-clogger, but oh…so…tasty.

The Bottom Line

The Moose is one of those joints that isn’t supposed to impress. It does a great job at being a local hangout with a great happy hour and decent eats. Plus, it’s big enough to accommodate lots of rowdy sports fans and bingo enthusiasts alike. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth dropping in for a brew or two. I know we will be back…probably on our next bike ride downtown.

Yum Rating: 6.5/10

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Wilde Roast Cafe

The St. Anthony Main area is such a nice dining spot. Right across the Mississippi from downtown Minneapolis, it’s great for people watching and relaxing in the summertime. I wrote about Tugg’s Tavern here….now let’s move a block down the street.

Wilde Roast Café is located in what was formerly a salsa club called Picosa. We had been out a couple of times to dance, and (more so) to watch people who could actually salsa dance. Apparently, Picosa wasn’t doing so well and shut its doors last summer. Wilde Roast Café was previously located just down the street, and jumped at the opportunity to expand its space three fold. After a $300,000 renovation, the restaurant reopened on St. Anthony Main.

I absolutely love the atmosphere of the restaurant. The décor is kind of hipster chic, with warm draperies and big booths. They also have a great 45 seat patio overlooking the river. At dinner, the restaurant is full-service, whereas at lunchtime, you order from the counter and a server brings over your meals when ready. We first visited Wilde Roast for the Dining out for Life event in April; a date in which the restaurant donated a full 30% of its proceeds to AIDS service organizations. I really liked the spot, so I suggested it again for a business lunch.

I ordered the blackberry salad, which included feta and toasted almonds over a bed of spinach, and was drizzled with blackberry vinaigrette. I loved the dressing, and somehow resisted the urge to actually lick my plate when I was finished.

My lunch guest chose the four cheese flatbread pizza – cheddar jack, mozzarella, and goat cheese. YUM.

The Bottom Line

I think Wilde Roast will do very well in this new location. It fits right in with the hipster vibe along the river, and I love the cozy atmosphere. It’s a little expensive for frequent visits, but I will definitely make a trip back someday to try out one of their other unique flatbread pizzas (roast duck pizza?  I’m intrigued….)

Yum Rating: 8/10

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50th Street Cafe

My pal Jess and I try to do lunch together at least once every couple of weeks. She works from home a couple days a week, which is right near my office. I saw a pretty great deal through GrouponNOW for 50th Street Café in Edina; $8 for $15 worth of food at lunchtime. Neither of us had ever been there, so we decided to try it out.

50th Street Café is located in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. The 50th and France area of Edina is very upscale, with lots of boutique shops and restaurants. This restaurant is seemingly a misfit in the area, and is more reminiscent of a classic small-town diner.

We decided to try out 2 of their salads and split them between us. We also agreed that the pineapple upside-down pancakes were far too intriguing not to try (duh!).

Pineapple upside-down pancake with housemade vanilla creme and cinnamon butter:

O….M….G. This was absolutely fabulous.

Buffalo Chicken Salad: Chopped romaine, carrots, celery, blue cheese crumbles, and sautéed buffalo chicken breast:

Lime Cilantro Chicken Salad: Mixed field greens, chicken, corn, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, Monterrey jack cheese, cilantro, and lime vinaigrette:

The salads were just okay…not bad, but it’s obvious that breakfast is the real fan favorite at 50th Street Café, so I’d prefer to judge my first experience on that amazing pancake instead.

The Bottom Line

I love the “homey” feel of this place. It feels like a small-town diner. I would really like to come back on a weekend morning for breakfast. An entire section of the menu is dedicated to “The Art of Hollandaise”, and includes items like crab cake benedict, Cajun sausage benedict, carnita benedict, etc…Yes, please!

Yum Rating: 8.5/10

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Yum! Kitchen and Bakery

Yum! Kitchen and Bakery is located in St. Louis Park, and is one of my favorite lunch spots in the area. It’s the type of café where you order your lunch at the counter and pay in advance, and they bring you your food a few minutes later. This place is adorable. It’s bright and open with high ceilings and clean décor. They have a pretty extensive menu for a café, and some seriously delectable desserts.

From pizzas, fresh salads, artisan sandwiches, and multiple soup options, to impressive entrees like filet mignon, fish & chips, and lemon chicken, this place has something on the menu for everyone. Their bakery also includes fresh-baked muffins, scones, cakes, cupcakes, cookies and breakfast sandwiches.

Mike and I met for lunch during a workday (a nice, rare occasion) and headed over to Yum! (how do you punctuate this anyway? Yum!. or just Yum! ? I digress…).

I ordered the blueberry salad – mixed greens, goat Gouda, blueberries, strawberries, and almonds with blueberry vinaigrette. I chose to add chicken for an additional $2.

This salad was very light and tasty. The Gouda was nice and tangy and the shaved almonds added a great crunch. I’m glad I ordered it with chicken or it definitely wouldn’t have filled me up (I eat a lot, okay?).

Mike got Hugo’s baja mahi tacos – a marinated filet of mahi mahi on romaine lettuce with spicy pico de gallo and cotija cheese, served with 3 corn tortillas. The fish had big flavor and did not disappoint. The portion size was a bit small for him, however (he eats a lot, too!).

The Bottom Line

Yum! Kitchen & Bakery serves up a wide variety of options for a nice quick lunch, using lots of fresh ingredients. I would definitely recommend it to those who live or work in the uptown/west metro area. Be advised that it can be difficult to find a table (and a parking spot) right around the lunch hour. It is also a bit pricey, which is the only reason I don’t go there on weekly basis! This would be a great spot to take a business client, or for an occasional sunny-day lunch on the patio – if you can manage to snag a table.

Yum Rating: I give Yum! a Yum Rating of 9/10

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Mill Valley Kitchen

Mill Valley Kitchen is a relatively new restaurant in the Uptown/St. Louis park area. I drive by it on a regular basis and have been itching to try it out since it opened last year. A couple of clients in from out of state made the perfect excuse for a work lunch.

Mill Valley is unique in that they strive to use local and sustainably-sourced ingredients so everything on the menu is extremely fresh. Each menu item also includes the nutritional information such as the calorie, fat, carb, and protein content of the dish.

The ambiance is modern, fresh, and clean, with a fairly upscale feel. The restaurant has a nice patio and valet service if you don’t want to deal with the area’s sparse parking. The menu includes salads, burgers, flatbread pizzas, a few select entrees, and even fresh smoothies.

I started with a cup of the vegan chili. As I’ve mentioned before, I love chili but I honestly think that our secret recipe is top notch…so I’m pretty bad at judging others on their chili prowess. It was, then, just okay in my opinion. Not spicy, but with nice chunks of veggies.

I had the warm spinach salad with strawberries, basil, walnuts, and goat cheese (hold the red onion). I also added salmon. The goat cheese was melted and essentially created a dressing for the spinach. I LOVE LOVE LOVE goat cheese, so this was a winner for me.

The others at our table humored me while I photographed their lunches, validating any suspicions about me being a huge nerd.

Italian Chicken Sausage, Green Pepper, Mushroom, and Onion Flatbread:

Shrimp Noodle Salad with Cucumber Slaw:


The Bottom Line

The atmosphere is very welcoming at Mill Valley. It’s definitely a good choice for a business lunch, but I think it may be a bit upscale for my general taste…for lunch, anyway. That being said, the food was quite good and I’d like to go back and try one of their flatbread pizzas.

I’m not sure if I like seeing all the nutritional info on the menu or not. Yes, I’m a health nut, so you’d think I would be all over that. It IS smart to know what you’re putting in your body, but at the same time, it kinda takes the fun out of eating at a restaurant…right?  What do you think about this?

Yum Rating: 7.5/10

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Good Earth

Good Earth is part of the Parasole group of restaurants, which include some fabulous Twin Cities eateries like Chino Latino, Salut Bar Americain, Mozza Mia, Burger Jones, and more. There are 2 locations – Roseville and the Galleria in Edina.

I got off work around 9pm on a Saturday night and wasn’t in the mood to relax at home. So before we caught a late movie (MIB3), we ran to Good Earth in Roseville and grabbed a light dinner on the patio just before closing time.

The restaurant has a café feel and is known for their fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. I love that they focus on responsibly grown and organic produce. The menu has a TON of healthy options like salads, soups, small plates, fish, etc… unlike most restaurants that only have a few to choose from.  They serve beer and wine (no liquor), and have a pretty impressive wine list that even includes a couple of organic, sulfate-free options (if you’re into that sort of thing).


I opted for a glass of the Gaucho Club Malbec. This Argentinian wine is nice and velvety with a hint of chocolate. Mike chose the Gravity Hills Zinfandel, a spicy red with blackberry flavors. He liked his better, I liked mine J. Looks like we made the right choice.


As it was pretty late and we knew we’d get popcorn at the movie, we both chose something on the light side. I ordered the Tropical Spinach salad, which was tossed with candied pecans, jicama, red bell peppers, and mango. The tahini poppy seed dressing was creamy but still light.

Mike ordered the Bangkok chicken satay off of the “small plates” section of the menu. 2 skewered chunks of marinated chicken breast over coleslaw with 2 different dipping sauces (one peanut, the other a sweet chili).

An Added Bonus

A couple of years ago, we signed up for Parasole’s free Dining Club card. Each time you dine at a Parasole restaurant, you begin earning points on your card. Every dollar you spend is one point, and for every $150 points, your card is credited with a $10 reward. Apparently, we like these restaurants…as we discovered that we had a $30 credit on our dining club card. Score – “free” dinner!

The Bottom Line

We’ll definitely go back to Good Earth. The fresh choices and small plates on the menu provide a lot of options for both health and budget-conscious customers. They even have a “Tender Prices for Tough Times” option, which is available Sun-Thurs after 4pm and offers a daily special at a great price. There are so many things I want to go back and try!

Yum Rating: 9/10

Photo Credits: Logo & Patio, Dining Club Card 

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