In case you've heard, you heard right. Indian food authority and cookbook author Raghavan Iyer ("660 Curries," "The Turmeric Trail," "Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking") is the creative force behind a new restaurant under development in downtown Minneapolis. "Let's just say 'Yes,' I am working on it, but I can't share any more details," he said. "But yes, it's happening, and it's very exciting." Details to follow.

Eastern expansion

If all goes as planned, Barrio ( will be landing in St. Paul's Lowertown this year. "We're pretty far along with it," said co-owner Josh Thoma. "On a confidence scale, I'd give it a 95 percent." Thoma and business partner Tim McKee (the team behind La Belle Vie and Solera in Minneapolis and Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar in Stillwater) are planning to offer the same lengthy tequila program, the same Mexican small plates and the same late-night hours as their wildly popular Barrio in downtown Minneapolis. Even the size will be similar. "It might be slightly larger [than the Minneapolis Barrio]," said Thoma. "Our goal is to keep the same kind of intimacy and compression."

Thoma and McKee are eyeing a location next door to the new Bulldog Lowertown (thebulldoglower at 6th and Wacouta Sts., opposite Mears Park, with hopes of opening in June. Thoma said they're psyched about a downtown St. Paul move. "All we had to do was look at the demographics of the Bulldog," he said. "There are people there from Woodbury and Stillwater and White Bear Lake who are coming there instead of driving all the way to downtown Minneapolis."

Other downtown St. Paul news: Il Vesco Vino ( has left its Victorian-era home at 579 Selby Av. and moved into new digs at 242 W. 7th St. (the former home of the Vine Park Brewing Co., Chico Chica and El Patio), serving lunch and dinner daily.

Closed, and opening soon

After a 16-year run, the California Cafe at the Mall of America is history. The third-floor real estate won't remain vacant for long; look for a second Crave ( -- the first is in the Galleria in Edina, 5 miles to the west -- to materialize in the space. (Yes, the restaurant's "outdoor" patio, overlooking Nickelodeon Universe, will remain.) CA Cafe's sister megamall operation, the Napa Valley Grille, remains open. Also history? Intelligent Nutrients Cafe. The adjacent retail store (purveyor of some pretty incredible organic coffees, teas, chocolates and cocoas) is still doing business at 983 E. Hennepin Av. in Minneapolis.

Battle of the burgers

Two burger chains are making Twin Cities beachheads in 2009. Five Guys ( is landing first, at the Shops at Centennial Lakes (Gallagher Dr. and France Av. S., Edina). "The closest thing I've found to L.A.'s In-and-Out burger" is how Miami Herald restaurant critic Victoria Pesce Elliott describes the Virgina-based chain (endorsement enough for this I&O fanatic), which keeps its menu simple: burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. The chain opened its first Minnesota outlet in St. Cloud in 2008.

The second, Smashburger, is reportedly close to landing its first two Twin Cities sites. "We hope to open five to six in 2009, with closer to 30 when all is said and done," said spokesman Joe Hodas. The young Denver-based company -- started by the founder of Quiznos -- already has a Minnesota connection: former Leeann Chin president Greg Creighton is on board. Smashburger's counter-service format features one-third- and half-pound burgers as well as salads, fries, deep-fried vegetables, chili, malts and root beer floats. Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook gives the Smashburger chain (so named because the fresh-meat patties are, well, smashed on the griddle) an enthusiastic thumbs-up: "I was so pleased with my maiden voyage to this great-looking, friendly new spot that I can't wait to return," she recently wrote. Works for me.