As the birthplace of Minnesota, Stillwater isn’t short on history, charm, antiques or tourist traps. Sure, you could hit up the fake old-timey Dairy Queen on Main Street (slated to close soon!), but why would you when Mara Mi, across the street, serves delicious cones in an adorable setting and the Madcapper does some of the actual best burgers in town? Here’s where Stillwater locals spend their hard-earned cash.
Phil’s Tara Hideaway
Phil’s might be the east side’s best dinner spot. Housed in a log cabin once frequented by the mafia during prohibition, that cool, old school energy still lingers. Expect thoughtful riffs on supper club classics, but with a Greek twist. Rotisserie cut gyros are a crowd favorite, as is the 10-ounce Tara steak (excellent and affordable at $17). Love prime rib? Go on a Friday or Saturday night for a serving fit for Paul Bunyan. It isn’t exactly envelope pushing fare, just simple and well-executed. Frankly, that’s the way we like it.
Lift Bridge Brewery
Believe it or not, there are taprooms outside of Nordeast, and Stillwater’s Lift Bridge is amongst the finest. Sure, it’s in a weird industrial part of town far, far away from the actual lift bridge, but who cares when the beer is this good? Their Belgian-stlye Farm Girl pilsner, is refreshing and clean; floral beer lovers will nerd out over their Hopdish. If you’re lucky enough to stumble in when they’re pouring Commander Barley wine, you’re in for a vanilla-y, bourbon-aged treat. Just make sure you have a ride home. At 12.5 percent ABV, a little goes a long way.
In a town where casual food normally means burgers and fries, this stylish spot’s simple plates made with local ingredients are a breath of fresh air. Go early for smoked chicken and root veggie hash or cornmeal pancakes; lunch offers a smattering of soups, salads and sandwiches (think pot roast with horseradish, arugula and ciabatta). Dinner is the real deal, with entrees skewing Italian. Try the seafood Arrabbiata—mussels, shrimp and pancetta tossed in a spicy, garlicky tomato-basil sauce atop linguini; or seared flank steak, served with root vegetable goodness and bleu cheese butter.
Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque
Chef Shawn Smalley, one of Tim Mckee’s proteges, creates some of the best jerk-style barbecue outside of Jamaica. Eat the winter blues away with their spicy as hell chicken wings, jerk chicken tacos or braised brisket sandwich. The ginger-jicama slaw is actually a salad, and it’s incredibly light and refreshing. Drinks skew tropical—dark & stormies, mojitos, margaritas. If you’re looking to really tie one on, order a round of Kill Devil shots. We don’t know what’s in them because they won’t tell, but we do know they often mark a turning point in the evening, usually not in a good way.
Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar
There’s two familiar faces behind Stillwater’s newest notable dining destination. Brad Nordeen, former executive chef at Phil’s Tara Hideaway, and Joe Ehlenz, former GM at Smalley’s, opened Lolo last spring, packing the place nightly. Their fun, inventive plates and craft cocktails infuse a young, fresh vibe in the state’s oldest town. Share the bacon jam crostini; Korean barbecue wings; and crab tater tots. If you’re so over sharing, order your own Lolo burger (made with bacon, ghost pepperjack and balsamic A1); fish tacos or ancho-rubbed hanger steak.
Domacin Restaurant and Wine Bar
When every townie bar pours the same funky Joel Gott chardonnay, a place like Domacin is a godsend for wine lovers. Whether you’re looking to spend a Jackson or a couple of Benjamins, their extensive wine list offers fun bubblies, loads of Italian options, and rare vintage bottles. The menu, while limited, is perfectly curated for wine lovers: start out with a selection of cheeses, charcuterie and olives; steak tartare; or chorizo flatbread, topped with butternut squash, scallions and manchego. Larger plates include paperdelle with pork belly, grilled oyster mushrooms, bok choy and ginger; a rich and hearty duck breast served with celeraic mash, bacon, duck confit, mushrooms and a foie demi. It’s the east side’s little taste of NorCal.
River Oasis Cafe
The River O offers classic, mid-Century greasy spoon, complete with mismatched coffee mugs, curt waitresses and cheapie breakfasts. Go early and you’ll hear old timers discussing the Vikes at the counter; head there later for 20-somethings attempting to cure a hangover. Nestle into a turquoise booth and dig into one of their haystacks—hash browns loaded with goodies like ham, cheese, veggies and whatever else you’re into.
Known for their burgers, cheese curds, carpeted walls, and tacky but awesome décor, Meister’s is the quintessential Minnesota neighborhood bar. It’s perched on the South hill, not downtown Stillwater, along the route locals regularly take to avoid that pesky Highway 36-meets-Main Street traffic coming into town. Would you rather sit in traffic or sit at this awesome bar? Exactly.
--by<a href="http://heyeleanor.com/" target="new"> Molly Mogren</a>