Grocery stores aren’t just for milk-and-bread runs anymore — they’ve become the new neighborhood restaurants. In the mood for a ham frittata? Chicken with tropical fruit? Bahn mi, Danish salmon or a burger — with a beer? You can find that level of foodie fare at Twin Cities area supermarkets. We ate our way through 12 on-the-go eateries, rating each on restaurant-like metrics, including the quality of the food, the variety of the offerings and the ambience. We rung up a list of the best spots for a fuss-free family meal, for brunch with the girls or for sipping and shopping.
Best place to sip and shop
Whole Foods’ Selby Bar & Grill, 1575 Selby Av., St. Paul
Offerings: Breakfast all day, poutine with fried eggs, sandwiches, salads, burgers.
Price range: Pancakes are $2 each; nothing is more than $8, including all burgers.
Atmosphere: A pub vibe prevails with happy hour specials, two large-screen TVs and a “How ya doin’?” staff. Flatware comes wrapped in a crisp black linen napkin. Counters lining the windows are great for dining and grocery list making. The bar is handy for that “meet cute” moment in the produce department. It serves local craft beers on tap and red and white wine by the glass, even sparkling brut.
Best bite: They were out of beets for their popular Beet Reuben. (Yes, this is a grocery store, but the beets have to be smoked.) A serviceable spinach salad is loaded with a roasted mix of sweet potatoes, red onions and mushrooms. A basket of broccoli tots (more like hush puppies), just $2.50, is sized to be shared.
Best place for adventurous eaters
Kowalski’s Grand Avenue Market & Wine Shop, 1261 Grand Av., St. Paul
Offerings: A menu rich in Minnesota staples (chicken wild rice soup, mashed potatoes, pot roast) and culinary surprises (Hawaiian poke bowls, banh mi, vegetable makhani). Pasta bar, soup bar and salad bar.
Price range: Lemon herb salmon with two sides and dinner roll for $13.99; pasta bar for kids costs $5.99 and includes bread and butter.
Atmosphere: The mezzanine has a fairly clean dining area that offers a respite from the crowded checkout lanes below. Large windows along two walls make the space feel light and airy. Table settings are very cafeteria, with plastic cutlery and disposable containers doubling for dishes, but the potted-plant centerpieces add a homey touch.
Best bite: Lemon herb salmon, the house favorite, was moist and perfectly seasoned, although the Brussels sprouts tasted like they’d been sitting out a while.
Best place to take your kolache-loving parents
Festival Foods, Taste of Scandinavia Bakery & Cafe, 401 W. 98th St., Bloomington
Offerings: “Old World” favorites such as Swedish meatballs, Danish salmon and a Norwegian chicken lefse melt to make Grandma and Grandpa feel right at home. Traditional pot roast, burgers and waffles are also served from breakfast through dinner.
Price range: Most entrees are $9 to $10; soups are $6. On Fridays, there’s a $9.99 fish fry. The bakery offers European-style pastries, breads and cookies, most about $2.
Best bite: The dessert-like Swedish pancakes topped with raspberry jam, strawberries, bananas, lingonberries and swirls of chocolate curls can be ordered all day long. The Swedish meatballs tasted wonderfully homemade, but a spoonful of vegetables would be a bit more balanced than three scoops of mashed potatoes.
Atmosphere: Spartan, no-frills furnishings and decor fit the Scandinavian theme.
Best place for vegans and gluten-free
The Wedge Co-op, 2105 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
Offerings: The hot bar changes daily and includes Tex-Mex, Mediterranean, Indian, East Asian, Italian and Minnesota-themed dishes. Everything from Swedish meatballs to Tunisian fish stew to penne bolognese includes detailed ingredient lists and nutritional information. Even better, there are various vegan and gluten-free options. Sunday focuses on brunch foods.
Price range: $8.99 per pound at the hot bar and salad bar, $4.99 per pound for soups.
Atmosphere: A coffee and juice bar sports tiny potted succulents, and the small but warm newly renovated seating area offers flowers on the wooden tables and a view of bustling Lyndale Avenue.
Best bite: Sweet and sour tempeh served over a bed of sticky rice. The vegan dish doesn’t disappoint, with a pucker-worthy sauce made from organic ingredients.
Best place to feed the whole family
Hy-Vee, 8200 42nd Av. N., New Hope
Offerings: Homemade soups and salads, fried chicken, pizza, Asian buffet, family combo dinners.
Price range: $1.99 for a slice of pizza, $8.99 to create your own salad, $40 for a Chinese dinner for six.
Atmosphere: While you won’t forget you’re eating in a grocery store, you won’t mind because everyone will find something they like. If you want a more restaurant-like feel, step inside Market Grille, Hy-Vee’s full service restaurant and bar. (Go on Sunday for the $14.99 brunch buffet and $9 all-you-can-drink mimosas or bloody Marys.)
Best bite: The Asian-inspired fare was the tops. General Tso’s chicken was crispy and had the right amount of sauce; the spring rolls were fresh. (The lo mein, though, was mushy.) A salad bar offered everything from Buffalo chicken to toasted almonds.
Best restaurant with a side of groceries
Lunds & Byerlys Kitchen, 250 Superior Blvd., Wayzata
Offerings: Breakfast, brick-oven pizza, sushi, grilled entrees, weekend bloody Mary bar.
Price range: $7 for truffle fries, $15 for tuna teriyaki salad.
Atmosphere: Dark wood floors and copper light fixtures give it the feel of a Cheesecake Factory. The bar and pizza oven dominate the open space, which is adjacent to a mini-market. Board games invite you to linger over coffee or a cocktail.
Best bite: Chargrilled, picnic-style pub burgers are a popular item, but the accompanying thick-cut fries steal the show. The salmon niçoise salad was ample and beautifully arranged, although the salmon was a bit on the dry side. The Boatload sashimi platter was no better than any supermarket sushi. The bloody Mary bar offers a creative spread of skewerables and three homemade bases to choose from. Go for the “beefy” version.
Best place to grab lunch with your latte
Lakewinds Co-op, 6420 Lyndale Av. S., Richfield
Offerings: A hot bar features an assortment of eight to 10 entrees and side dishes. Offerings change daily.
Price range: $9.99 per pound.
Atmosphere: There’s no in-store dining area, but you can fill your plastic plate or cardboard carton, then stroll a few feet to the in-store Peace Coffee. It’s a bright, inviting spot that invites you to linger while you catch up with your lunch pal or on your e-mails.
Best bite: Chicken with tropical fruits (papaya, mandarin oranges, grapes and more) in a light but flavorful sauce. Complement it with a vegetable side dish, such as zesty ratatouille or Buffalo cauliflower.
Best place to eat globally
Seward Community Co-op, 2823 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.
Offerings: The hot bar changes daily, with specials from around the country and the world, including an Indian menu and a Southern menu. There also are comfort foods and weekend “brunch favorites,” including buttermilk biscuits and Denver ham frittatas. The excellent cold bar boasts artichokes with capers, bahn-mi pickled veggies and pita triangles alongside the crisp salad offerings.
Price range: $8.99 per pound at the hot and cold bars; rice and beans for $1.99 per pound.
Atmosphere: At the busy lunch hour, the staff can struggle to keep the hot bar filled and fresh, but the dining nooks are a step up from a standard cafeteria, with ceramic plates, metal utensils and a small patio.
Best bite: Yellow citrus curry dal, a creamy, stewlike lentil dish, which had wonderful spice and flavor without overwhelming Minnesotans’ taste buds.
Best place to carbo-load
Costco, 5801 W 16th St., St Louis Park
Offerings: Hot dogs, pizza, frozen yogurt, Pepsi products.
Price range: $1 for a churro, $1.50 for a hot dog and a 20-ounce soda, $3.99 for a chicken Caesar salad, $9.95 for an 18-inch pizza.
Atmosphere: Kid-friendly scarf-and-go. No worries about spilling on the picnic tables, which are smushed between the registers and the exit.
Best bite: The food is supersized and heavily discounted. The drawback? Including calories next to the prices. The all-beef hot dog and soda combo is a steal compared with ballpark prices. The pepperoni pizza, while only just a step up from a frozen one, is comfortingly cheesy and chewy. The chicken bake — a mega hot pocket stuffed with chicken, Caesar dressing and bacon — is a Costco signature that’s delicious in a late-night, soak-up-the-alcohol way, until you realize you’ve just consumed 770 calories.
Best place to pretend you’re at Cosetta’s
Target, 7000 York Av. S., Edina
Offerings: Pizza, pastas, Italian sandwiches, salads, soups and gelato.
Price range: Pastas are around $8.50. At $4.50, soup is the least expensive offering.
Atmosphere: Before D’Amico took it over, the space felt like a food court in a small-town airport. Now it’s bright and white and filled with slightly whimsical tables and chairs.
Best bite: The pizza is the fave, but the pasta options are popular, too. They’re not overly encumbered with sauce, and they’re wonderfully savory. The kids will like the menu, as well as the soft drink machine, which is capable of dispensing dozens of pops. Parents may like the refills on wine.
Best place for pizza lovers
Fresh Thyme, 15760 32nd Av. N., Plymouth
Offerings: Among the beautiful produce and hard-to-find foods, there also is a sushi bar, soup and salad bar, self-serve baked goods area and made-to-order pizzas and sandwiches.
Price range: $4.99 for personal pizzas and cold make-your-own sandwiches, $6.99 per pound for the salad bar.
Atmosphere: The no-frills eating area includes plastic utensils and a microwave.
Best bite: The pizza. Although it took 15 minutes to get our pepperoni pizza, it didn’t disappoint. The crust was simple and thin, the sauce zesty. The salad bar also had a good selection of healthy pre-made salads, including tabbouleh and quinoa.
Best place to feed the team on the cheap
Cub Foods, 6775 York Av. S., Edina
Offerings: Convenience store fare.
Price range: Convenience store prices — $1.25 for a slice of pizza, $1.49 for a corn dog, $7.99 for a crowd-pleasing quantity of fried chicken.
Atmosphere: It has the ambience of a gas station, plus you get to stare at the backsides of people ordering deli meat in bulk.
Best bite: The pizza and fried chicken are pretty darn good, if they haven’t been under the heating lamps too long. The steam-table Swedish meatballs also fill the bill.