Dining guide, old-school: If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to St. Paul

My kids love the place and are begging to return. It’s a rare restaurant where they can order the specialty and lap it up and I enjoy it, too. There’s a fun Italian party vibe at DeGidio’s, which has been a fixture on West Seventh Street in St. Paul since the 1930s.

By Jessica Fleming  |  October 24, 2012

When I took over the Eat beat a few months ago, I quickly realized no Pioneer Press food writer worth her salt could cover the capital city without having visited certain restaurants that define St. Paul.

Though I’ve lived here for most of the past 19 years, for one reason or another, I simply hadn’t been to the Nook, Mancini’s, the Lexington or a few other restaurants that readers, prompted on social media, told me I just had to try.

So I set out to eat my way through a list of places that have served steaks, burgers and spaghetti through good times and bad. All the restaurants on this list have been open more than 10 years, and each has a different personality that makes it uniquely St. Paul.


When traffic derailed us from reaching a reading by a favorite author, my husband and I decided to abandon ship for burgers and beer.

At first, I was a little depressed about missing the event. Then we had to wait 25 minutes for a table in this tiny, narrow bar.

But any lingering irritation melted away with my first bite of juicy Nookie, topped with caramelized onions, on a fresh, pillowy bun. As molten cheese oozed out the back end of the burger onto my crisp, hand-cut fries, I wondered how it was I had never been here.

In 2000, lifelong pals Ted Casper and Mike Runyon bought the Nook, which had been a 3.2 beer bar since the 1960s. Word about their fantastic burgers and fries quickly spread, and now there’s almost always a wait for one of the 12 tables and 15 bar stools.

But trust me, even if you’re already cranky, the burgers are worth the wait.

Casper & Runyon’s Nook, 492 S. Hamline Ave., St. Paul; 651-698-4347; crnook.com.


Looking for a potpie as big as your head? The Lex is your place.

Portions are 1980s huge, drinks are strong, and locals have been celebrating their special occasions and mourning their dearly departed at this restaurant since 1935.

The old-fashioned supper-club vibe has a certain charm, and updated menu items like addictive truffle fries and fish tacos rest comfortably alongside the restaurant’s more traditional steaks and chicken dishes.

My potpie, for the record, was delicious. I’ll be back soon for the happy hour, when food items, including pot-roast sliders with fries, are only $6 and house wine is $4.

The Lexington, 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-222-5878; thelexongrand.com.


If the Lex is old-fashioned, Mancini’s is an absolute time warp.

When a friend and I walked in on a Friday night, I thought I had stepped back three decades to when my grandparents used to take me out for steak dinners in Green Bay, Wis.

We sat down, ordered some wine, and a massive basket of addictive garlic bread, irresistibly charred on the same grill as the steaks, appeared on the table.

I looked around, wondering if we were supposed to take a few slices and pass it on, but no. Each table had its own basket.

The menu at Mancini’s, which opened on West Seventh Street in 1948, is refreshingly retro, too: Choose from steak, steak, steak, steak, chicken or lobster.

We went for steak, which was cooked to our liking and seasoned well and came with a giant baked potato and typical side salad.

After dinner, we stopped for another glass of wine in the lounge, which looks like the set of “Solid Gold.” Fittingly, the band Midas Touch plays there Thursday through Saturday, and a crowd of regulars was cutting it up on the dance floor, making for some of the best people watching I’ve done in a long time.

Mancini’s Char House, 531 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-224-7345; mancinis.com.


I’m originally from Wisconsin, and my parents love a good dive bar. I grew up stopping for a pizza or burger or whatever the specialty happened to be at corner bars across the state.

So, when I walked into the Gopher Bar, I felt right at home.

Of course, the Gopher isn’t exactly kid-friendly.

Their motto is “Best F—-n’ Coneys in Town,” and that and other cuss-word heavy phrases are proudly plastered all over the bar’s wood-paneled walls.

Trophy bucks hang menacingly above the bar, adorned with dusty necklaces and hats.

And just like any good dive bar, the Gopher’s specialty is almost the only thing on the menu. The Coneys come slathered in meaty chili, diced onions and shredded cheddar cheese, and they are as messy as they are delicious. It’s greasy-spoon food that makes a good base for a night out drinking — or a good cure the day after.

Gopher Bar, 241 E. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-291-9638; gopherbar.com.


It used to be that a red-sauce Italian joint was never what I was looking for when I ate out. If I wanted calorie-laden comfort food, I’d go for a burger. But after trying the al dente spaghetti and meatballs with bright, tangy red sauce at DeGidio’s, I think I’ve changed my tune.

My kids love the place and are begging to return. It’s a rare restaurant where they can order the specialty and lap it up and I enjoy it, too.

There’s a fun Italian party vibe at DeGidio’s, which has been a fixture on West Seventh Street in St. Paul since the 1930s.

With its friendly service and massive portions, DeGidio’s likely will last another 80 years.

DeGidio’s, 425 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-228-0118; degidios.com.


Though the exteriors of Mancini’s and the Lexington are charming and old-school, my award for best restaurant facade in St. Paul goes to the St. Clair Broiler.

The neon flames and striped awning have been calling to me for many years, yet I never found my way inside.

During a recent lunch, we sat in the front room, in a comfy booth alongside the old-fashioned soda fountain.

The Broiler has existed since the 1950s, when it was one of the first restaurants in town to offer flame-broiled burgers.

My burger was decent — not Nook good but, hey, not every burger can be — and accompanied by crispy Tater Tots.

Next time, I’ll probably skip the burger and go straight for the cheese curds from Ellsworth Creamery and a ridiculously thick hot-fudge malt from the fountain.

St. Clair Broiler, 1580 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul; 651-698-7055; www.stclairbroiler.com.

See the article at TwinCities.com.  Jess Fleming can be reached at 652-228-5435. Follow her at Twitter.com/jessflem.