Yes, Rochester almost totally a chowhound wasteland. The region's food ethic can be summed up in one anectote -- the Indian restaurant in town is quite good and recieved a "rave review" in Rochester's small town paper, and this review is proudly displayed under the tabletop glass. The headline reads "Spicy food does not have to be hot." Like that's the best thing they could say. Seriously folks, rural Minnesota is not well known for food adventure beyond the substitution of cream of chicken soup for cream of mushroom in Aunt Ethel's tater tot hot dish.
BUT - don't despair Rochester chowhounds and visitors to this frigid burg. There IS good food to be had.
First, a grocery update. In a previous post you'll find a list of where to shop for good food in Rochester. Add to this list Just Rite foods, which is cleverly disguised as a convenience store on 6th Ave SW just south of 2nd Street SW. They have an outstanding deli with proper imported Italian sausages and some wonderful cheeses. They also have a very good butcher shop. If you love excellent grass-finished steaks, Misty Meadows Farm raises Scottish Highland Cattle that make succulent steaks. They can be found at the farmer's market, or you can buy individually from Paul and Lela Wiens in Pine Island, MN. Also, Rock Creek Farms now has a winter vegetable subscription. Find them at the farmer's market or by asking at the Good Food Store co-op.
On to restaurants and bars.
Barbeque: Much fuss is made about Roscoe's, which is good for sweet mapley midwestern barbeque, but John Hardy's, off of Highway 52 on the west side, south of the Smiling Moose, has very good Southern-style barbeque, much spicier with a vinegar-based sauce and a mean pulled-pork sandwich.
Ethnic: There is a good Thai place in the Barlow's shopping center at Civic Center Drive and 11th Ave SW, shares a parking lot with Hy-Vee grocery. The Indian restaurant is on your left as you head north on Broadway from downtown to silver lake. It is very good, but be sure to be very clear if you want your food spicy. For Mexican, best to drive to Minneapolis.
Nice evening hangout for good food, drinks:
Redwood room on First Ave NW just south of Civic Center Drive. Warm downstairs bar with live music on weekends, excellent menu of pizzas, appetizers, etc. They make a mean martini and have good wines by the glass as well.
Lunch: There's a sandwich place just south of the Mayo building, head south one block from the IBM Credit Union, that has good fancy sandwiches, etc.
Fancy: Broadstreet, which is above the Redwood Room and shares a kitchen. Nice atmosphere, good nouvelle American eclectic. Sebastian's, which is inside the Radisson hotel, has no atmosphere but excellent nouvelle American eclectic. Chardonnay, on Second Street SW, has beautiful atmosphere and is best for dessert. It's quite expensive and, while pretty good, not nearly as good a meal as you can get for the cash up in the cities.
Bar: Kathy's pub, on Broadway just south of downtown. Excellent local bar. Just about the only place you can smoke in public in Olmstead County. Beer, liquor, peanuts, pool, darts, and trivia.