On paper, the St. Anthony Park iteration of Colossal Cafe has "workhorse" written all over it, with a busy breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule. In person, it's a comfortable, inviting and laid-back operation, with a knack for turning out fresh, inventive and reasonably priced renditions of all-American classics.

2315 Como Av., St. Paul, 651-797-4027, www.colossalcafe.com

At Mona Restaurant & Bar, chef/owner Lisa Hanson concentrates on small plates ($5 to $13), with winning results. Dinner features nearly 20 choices, including meticulously garnished smoked oysters, a vibrant panzanella salad, pan-roasted duck with polenta fritters and a pretty eggplant lasagna. On Tuesday's date night, share four courses and a carafe of house wine for $35 per couple. Free parking after 4 p.m. in the building's underground ramp.

333 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-259-8636, www.monarestaurant.com

Nibble your way into an around-the-world excursion without leaving the North Loop neighborhood at Sapor Cafe and Bar, where chef Tanya Siebenaler is constantly introducing faraway flavors and cooking traditions: Ethiopian-style chicken stew, Southern-style mac-and-cheese with bacon, Thai-style grilled shrimp, and more. The snug bar puts the happy in happy hour (available 5 to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday).

428 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-375-1971, www.saporcafe.com