The intimate setting at Joan's in the Park — it's 50 seats, tops — is a fine backdrop for chef Susan Dunlop's straightforward cooking, whether it's a superb ribeye or well-prepared seafood. Don't miss the roast chicken, and Dunlop knows how to punch up a Caesar salad.

631 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-690-3297,

At Sapor Cafe and Bar, chef Tanya Siebenaler's restless curiosity takes diners on around-the-world travels without leaving the North Loop neighborhood, and hostess-with-the-mostest Julie Steenerson keeps things humming in her serene, warehouse-spare dining room. Love the eclectic snacks (and the knack for rooting out unusual beers) at the snug little bar.

428 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-375-1971,

Inside the storefront charm that is the Grand Cafe, chef Jim McIntosh's inspired, tightly focused menu places a seasonal emphasis on classic fare. On Tuesday evenings, McIntosh caters to date-nighters with a three-course dinner for two (with a bottle of wine) for $50.

3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260