Not many Rochester posts lately, so I thought I'd post my current faves. Remember, Rochester is not a food town (previous posts, esp by Garris, describe this well and postulate possible reasons). But, should you find youself here, you'll need to eat:
El Gallo Taqueria, hands down. No place in town comes close. Very good, very authentic Mexican food. The mole enchiladas, menudo, posole, and tamales are especially good. Absolutely no atmosphere, located in a strip mall near the big Hy Vee, but you can eat awesome tacos, watch telenovelas on TV, and drink beer. It reminds me of neighborhood joints back home in San Antonio. Dos Amigos is popular, but mostly the only reason to go there is to have a drink on the very pleasant outside patio when the weather is fine. Do yourself a favor and don't eat there though.
Not much for good Chinese down here, so don't bother.
There's a vietnamese cafe on Broadway just north of downtown called, I think, Vietnamese Cafe. It's quite good for pho and such, but the owner/chef/waiter/host really excells at seafood. Get whatever is fresh in his ginger sauce.
There is a new Indan place on Broadway just south of highway 14 (south of downtown) on your right where Phnom Phen used to be. Standard not too exciting indian cuisine, but reasonably good and not afraid to make it spicy. (Minnesotans are well known for considering garlic and ketchup to be spicy, so the waitress will let you know you still have to pay even if you don't like your dinner should you order it spicy.)
Newt's has great burgers and a wide selection of beer. Crowded at peak hours (6 to 7pm here) you'll have no trouble getting a table at 8:30.
The Break Room is a wonderfully dive-y bar that happens to have great burgers. My husband swears by the peanut butter bacon burger, which sounds gross to me, but their cheeseburgers really can't be beat. The burgers fall into the category of flat-well-done and are the best in town for that category. Newt's has the rounded patty-cooked-to-order variety.
Sandwiches - Nelson Cheese is on broadway just north of downtown. Great sandwiches and ice cream too.
Pizza - there really isn't a very good place in town. The best pizzas are at Sontes, a tapas restaurant described below. The pizza at Redwood room is okay, if too salty. Don't let anyone send you to Billotti's. It's close to downtown but not for eating. Pizza Man, Paradise Petes, and O'Neil's pizza pub are reaonable places to get a pie, but by no means good.
Nice places for a cozy glass of wine and a good/decent meal:
Jasper's is my favorite in this category. Very good Alsatian cuisine, OK if somewhat uninspired wine list, awesome desserts and an attractive atmosphere. On 3rd St SW between broadway and 1st Ave. (The cobblestone block downtown).
Sontes is a tie with Jasper's for my favorite place in town for dinner. On the corner of 3rd St SW and Broadway. Excellent tapas, a fun, varied wine list, and a stylish but cozy atmosphere. Some locals complain a bit about small portions and high prices, but the theory is small shared plates and the food quality is high with lots of meat sourced from local farms, excellent cheeses, and good produce. The people who with that complaint seem to overlap heavily with the people who love the Macaroni Grill and pine for a local Chilis franchise. Me, I prefer reasonable amounts of very good food to mountainous portions of cheap, bland filler.
Prescott's is at Broadway and 14 in the Crossroads strip mall. Really quite good food, sort of neuveau italian-y but not in a bad way. Excellent, well edited wine list and a sommalier who can always suggest something that I haven't tried before and love. Highly recommended.
Redwood room has a lovely atmosphere and live music most nights. A great place to hang out and have a drink, but the menu suffers from a heavy hand with the over-salting and the chef has a tendency to combine random ingredients that should never have met (just because you can doesn't mean you should) and loves to put sweet sauces on everything. Not really bad food, but I can't say it's good either.
Broadstreet is upstairs from Redwood room. The chef has a much higher opinion of his/her talents than is reasonable. Just about everything comes with a cloyingly sweet sauce, even things that you'd think really shouldn't. Good desserts, not a bad place to go if someone else is paying, but given that you're in for a good $50 per person, eat some tacos at El Gallo and save your money to head up to Minneapolis and eat somewhere actually good.
City Cafe has reasonable seafood much of the time. Owned by the same folks as Redwood Room and Broadstreet, technique in the kitchen can be VERY spotty and there is a heavy leaning toward the sticky sweet sauces. That said, not a bad place especially if you want something healthy. Also about the only place to eat after 9pm.
Chardonnay has great desserts and a wide selection of good wines, but their food has been abysmal each time I've tried to go and spotty by what I've heard from friends. Greasy, poor quality meats, cheap cheeses, etc. And yet very expensive. I've heard that there's a new chef, so maybe it would be worth trying again sometime (when someone else is paying.)
Victoria's is a popular italian place right downtown. Really terrible food, cheap ingredients, sauces thickened by something that is not cream and may be corn starch. One of the only places for a quick sit down hot lunch in between work obligations, but there really isn't ever a reason to go there for dinner.
Michael's is fun if you want to go a bit retro, but isn't all that good really. Old fashioned items like surf and turf. Not bad, but not good either.
A bit further afield but worth the drive:
Harbor View is awesome. About 45 min from Rochester in Pepin, WI. Closed in the wintertime, they have wonderful food, a varied, seasonal menu, and use mostly local products. No reservations and they take only cash, but you won't mind waiting for a table on the front patio sipping a Spotted Cow on tap and watching the boats on lake Pepin.
Nosh in Lake City is an inspired restaurant that uses amazing local ingredients and classic technique. Great service, great wine list, I can't say enough good things. About 20 minutes from Rochester.
Provisions - If Rochester suffers from a paucity of good restaurants, it makes up for that deficiency with a wealth of amazing local provisions for the home cook. The farmer's market is one of the best I've ever been to, the locally grown vegetables are comprable to what you'd find in Northern California markets, and there are really wonderful farms nearby who produce humanely raised meats.
My provision picks:
The farmer's market is Saturdays in spring, summer, and fall at 4th St SW and Mayo Park. Amazing selection of fresh, local produce and meats. In winter it's every other weekend indoors at the fairgrounds. Some storage crops, still lots of good meats and some cheese, butter, etc.
My picks: Rock Spring farm for veggies (they also do a killer CSA) and also a church co-op of Hmong farmers for beautiful vegetables. Misty Meadows farm for grass-finished beef and lamb and Hidden Stream Farm for pork. Both also have excellent chicken and eggs.
Bread/desserts/cakes/pastries - Daube's bakery on Civic Center Drive. Mrs Daube does great work. Beautiful cakes, excellent breads. Also a nice place to relax on Sunday morning with a kolache, coffee, and the New York Times.
Produce, cheese - Rochester produce on 2nd St SW, west of Hwy 53. Excellent produce with lots of local options. Best selection of quality cheeses in town, as well as other hard to find items (hard to find in Rochester that is) such as Israeli couscous and Italian farro. Also lots of local meats.
Organic meats, produce, bulk items, spices - The Good Food Store on 6th St NW just north of Civic Center Dr is a great organic co-op.
Indian provisions - Rice and Spice
Fish, seafood - the Asian Food Market on Broadway, on your left as you go north from downtown with a red awning. Hy Vee has some good fish sometimes, but doesn't do as much turnover and things are not reliably fresh. I've had much better luck at the asian market.
Butcher - Ye Olde Butcher shop. Not local or organic, but a real butcher with very good quality meats and they'll cut it any which way you ask.
Supermarket - Barlow Hy Vee at Civic Center Dr and 11th Ave. Good for staples, pretty good produce section, but cheap factory-farmed meats and iffy fish counter.