Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking for the “best of” places to dine in small towns & two recommendations April 10, 2018

Sapporo Ramen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.


MY FIRST AND ONLY ATTEMPT ever to eat with chopsticks happened nearly two years ago at Sapporo Ramen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I tried to position my fingers like my son demonstrated, to clamp the slippery ramen noodles between thin sticks and then maneuver the food to my mouth. I failed.


A ramen dish at Sapporo Ramen, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.


I was hungry. A spoon would work just fine, thank you.

I’ll admit, I haven’t had all that much exposure to ethnic foods. Choices are limited here in Greater Minnesota, the name tagged to any place outside the Twin Cities metro. Typical restaurant fare around here is standard American. Any ethnic restaurants are primarily Mexican.


One of my favorite burgers, the Strawberry Hill Burger, served at Fielder’s Choice in Northfield, Minnesota. The burger features peanut butter, strawberry jam, pepperjack cheese and bacon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I often wish we had more creative choices in dining. But the reality is that folks seem to like the usual burgers and fries, chicken sandwiches, deep-fried fish, the occasional steak—familiar foods to Minnesotans.


The Amboy Cottage Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.


Because of cost, I don’t dine out all that often. So when I do, I want something different, something I can’t prepare at home, something tasty and fresh and definitely something made from scratch. When I think about really good food that I’ve eaten at Minnesota restaurants, two places pop to mind—The Amboy Cottage Cafe and The Good Life Cafe.


My incredible raspberry chicken salad. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.


Spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.


Homemade blackberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.


Five years ago Randy and I ate at the Cottage Cafe in Amboy south of Mankato. We specifically stopped in this small town to dine in the 1928 cottage style former gas station. I’d read about the great homemade food. There I enjoyed the best salad ever—raspberry chicken—while Randy had spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. Both were superb as was our shared slice of blackberry pie. I need to revisit this restaurant.


My Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish with salad and bread on the side from The Good Life Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.


Some 4.5 hours to the north in the tourist community of Park Rapids I found another hometown restaurant that served up one memorable dish. That would be The Good Life Cafe and the Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish. I loved the creamy, savory flavor of the hotdish (casserole to those of you not from Minnesota), so comforting and delicious on a cool and rainy September day.

How about you? What do you look for when dining out? Tell me about a favorite restaurant and/or meal. I’m especially interested in hearing about restaurants in small (Minnesota) towns.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


37 Responses to “Looking for the “best of” places to dine in small towns & two recommendations”

  1. Jena Says:

    Love your foodie photos. The Cottage restaurant is adorable- do they deliver those salads to Ohio? My husband and I enjoy eating out, especially when we are on vacation.

  2. parkerozgood Says:

    I’ve eaten at Fielder’s Choice a couple times and I have never been brave enough to order that burger! Muddy Cow in Shakopee has a Peanut Butter Burger as well. Some Day!

    • I’m surprised. You seem like a guy who would try a Strawberry Hill Burger given your culinary skills. I hadn’t eaten burgers in decades until we did a trip to Boston and ate at the Boston Burger Company. I realized burgers could be good if lots of “stuff” is piled on them and if cooked right. I grew up on burgers that my siblings and I not so fondly recall as like hockey pucks. (Sorry, Mom.)

      • parkerozgood Says:

        A good Burger can really change the game! I’m going to have to sack up and give the Strawberry Hill a try next time I’m there

      • Excellent. I will tell you, though, that the last time I had one of these burgers at Fielder’s Choice, it was dripping grease. I hope that was a fluke. My husband’s burger was also way too greasy. It’s the first time we had a not-so-good burger there.

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    Those dishes all look really tasty and had great presentation. We do eat out quite a bit and tend to look for the unique places rather than chains if possible. Last night we ate at The Mission in Old Town, Scottsdale which appeared to be in an old church although I did not research it. We had some amazing lamb tacos which were totally unexpected and really wonderful. Too bad I ate too much salad and chips before and could not finish all of mine. Though it was not in Minnesota it was nice!.

  4. Colleen Hondl Gengler Says:

    The Cup and Saucer restaurant in Sherburn is excellent. The young couple who run it have an interesting story. I believe they wanted to open a restaurant in the Twin Cities but knew they could never afford to. Then an opportunity came in Sherburn. It’s an interesting blend of the morning coffee regulars and lunch goers, but the restaurant also does four or five course tasting dinners once a month. Groups of ten can also schedule a private dinner similar to the regular tasting dinners.

  5. I can tell you that I truly miss the bakeries and meat markets in MN. When I do dine out I look for great eats at good prices. I have a few favorites that I go back to again and again here. We are great cooks, so we like to cook and kick back at home too. I want some of that Chicken Wild Rice – YUM! Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  6. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Hi Audrey! Those food pics are mouth-watering. We had wonderful food last week when we went up to the North Shore for a little anniversary getaway. The Vanilla Bean in Two Harbors made some wonderful Swedish pancakes with lingonberries and the butter that came with them was infused with vanilla. Yum yum yum! We also stopped at the New Scenic Cafe outside Duluth on our way up Highway 61; three different friends suggested we eat there. I tried a Croque Madame (ham and cheese with fried egg on top, if you aren’t familiar with this sandwich) that was huge and the ham in it was amazing. Up in Grand Marais, we had lunch at a little place called the Harbor House Inn and Grille, where we had a seat right in front of the fireplace. They had a fish and chips special for lunch that I tried and it was some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten – very lightly breaded so the fish was front and center. And they served Castle Danger cream ale, which is one of my favorite beers made right here in Minnesota.

  7. Carrie Cronin Says:

    Delilas Cafe & Catering in Zumbro Falls Minnesota is a wonderful small town cafe. Great food & excellent service!

  8. Judy M Says:

    The Black berry pie looks so good. Dessert is my favorite food.

  9. I agree with wanting to go out and try new things that are harder to prepare at home! It’s nice to cook at home, but experiencing new flavors of dishes you’ve never tried can be fun.

  10. Barb W Says:

    you need to look closer @ Faribault, we have Japanese, Thai, and not sure what the Somalia place is called, but it is here. We have several Mexican places and they all have a different menu & flavors. Not to mention the Cheese Cave & Depot which has a renowned chef.

    • You’re right, Barb. Faribault does offer diversity in dining. I’ve dined at nearly all of the places you list. I especially appreciate the outdoor warm weather dining option at The Depot and the many tasty choices there. The Signature Bar & Grill serves my favorite pizza in town.

  11. Dawn Says:

    Area 57 Wanamingo Mn. Love their sandwiches, especially the Mozzarella Spinach BLT. Desserts are fabulous. I especially like their raspberry bread pudding.

  12. Littlesundog Says:

    Oh my goodness. I’m salivating!! Ha ha!! I think you and I share gastronomic similarities!

  13. I love anything with wild rice!

  14. Bella Says:

    indeed your food photos are mouthwatering particularly that blackberry pie. I totally agree menus in small towns are not too creative I term it Bar Food but I recently did a feature story on a new place in Brainerd called Sage on Laurel. Very creative dishes and not your standard fare and many with an Asian twist. You need to return to the area and make it your destination. .

  15. YUmmmmm. The photos are scruuuuuuumptious!

    My favorite, or one of them, is a place called “The Duluth Grill.” It is organic & has a twist on all of their dishes. One of my faves. is the Kale w/ curry dip!

    Also, a place on the North Shore called “The Angry Trout” w/ superb Portabella sandwiches.


  16. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    All of those meals look great. I agree if I’m going out to eat I want something I can’t make at home or steak.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.