Where to eat in Duluth
Once known for its dives, this Lake Superior tourist magnet now boasts brewpubs and locavore cafes.
© Beth Gauper
On Superior Street, Restaurant 301 is lined by windows.
Duck confit with honey aioli and caramelized shallots. Grass-fed beef medallions with bacon potato croquettes. Vanilla cake with white-chocolate espresso frosting and pumpkin ale truffles.
Yes, you can get that in Duluth.
The restaurants in this Lake Superior port town haven't always had a great reputation. But that's changed.
Legions of tourists have brought pickier palates. Young new residents, lured from bigger cities by Duluth's outdoor scene, have brought a taste for craft beer and locally sourced ingredients.
Now, you can eat well in Duluth.
There are so many good restaurants it's hard to know which to try next. We like to sample them during Restaurant Weeks, usually in March and November, when a two- or three-course lunch is $10 and a three-course dinner is $25.
Some restaurants go all out, hoping to attract customers who will return.
Bellisio's and Midi generally offer the best three-course lunches. For dinner, 301 always offers an appealing showcase of its food (see the menu above), and JJ Astor has a good menu, too.
And for the rest of the year? Our pick for best fine dining is Restaurant 301. For casual dining, the Duluth Grill.
JJ Astor and Va Bene Caffe have the best views.
The best outdoor dining is at Silos Restaurant, overlooking the harbor at the new Pier B Resort. On Canal Park, it's at Canal Park Brewing (long wait) and Endion Station (no wait). For best cheap eats, head for 7 West Taphouse.
Trip Tips: Dining in Duluth
On summer and fall weekends, either reserve a table or call 15 or 20 minutes ahead to put your name on the waiting list.
Most of the best places to eat are downtown and on Canal Park, with one notable exception: the Duluth Grill in west Duluth.
For more about planning a trip, see Duluth 101.
© Beth Gauper
On the patio of Silos, diners have a view of the harbor.
Fine dining on Canal Park
Canal Park is where the tourists are, so restaurants can and do charge a lot of money.
Bellisio's Italian Restaurant: At this restaurant just a block from the Aerial Lift Bridge, a plate of pasta from the menu of Italian basics — alfredo, arrabbiata, bolognese, rigatoni — costs $21.49, and a wedge salad is $15.69. Filet mignon is $44.
Go for lunch, when a three-course prix-fixe menu is $13.
Why eat there? It has a romantic atmosphere and the city's largest wine list. There's a small covered patio for warm weather.
Lake Avenue Cafe: In the last few years, this locavore cafe in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, once our favorite place to eat, has become pricier, and service can be a little chilly.
Why eat there? The food is very good, and it has the city's quirkiest menu — try the cuttlefish if it's available — and one of the best for pescaterians and vegetarians. There's a deck for warm weather.
Silos Restaurant: In the new Pier B Resort on the other side of Bayfront Festival Park, this restaurant has a waterfront patio that faces the Lift Bridge.
Why eat there? The view, obviously, and music from frequent concerts and festivals. But the food also can be very good: Try the red snapper tacos and elk-bison burger with pear chutney.
While you wait for a table, take a drink up to the second-floor deck and enjoy the view. Bonus: You can park for free in the resort lot.
Fine dining downtown
It's rare that hotel restaurants are among the best a town has to offer. But that's the case in Duluth.
Restaurant 301: This restaurant in the Sheraton serves sophisticated, seasonal versions of such classics as short ribs, salmon and pork tenderloin.
Why eat there? The food and service are consistently good, and the space is small but comfortable, with a fireplace and large windows overlooking East Superior Street.
On the first Sunday of the month, it offers a five-course tasting menu for $45.
© Beth Gauper
On Canal Park, Endion Station is in an 1899 railroad depot.
JJ Astor: The menu is a little more straightforward at this revolving restaurant atop the Radisson on West Superior Street — New York strip, walleye, surf and turf.
Why eat there? It has a sweeping, 360-degree view of the lake and town.
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe: There are only a few tables at this restaurant, which adjoins a theater and cinema, and the atmosphere is casual chic. It offers classy comfort food — roast chicken, pot pie and Lake Superior trout as well as rice bowls and small plates.
Why eat there? It has a nice brunch menu, and large windows overlook East Superior Street.
The Boat Club: This new restaurant in the lower level of the Fitger's complex, replacing Midi, serves steaks, seafood and fish, with prices on the high side.
Why eat there? There's a beautiful view of the lake from wall-to-wall windows.
Casual dining on Canal Park
Canal Park Brewing Company: This popular restaurant offers well-prepared sandwiches, friendly service and its own beer, which you can try in flights of four. In summer, you'll have to wait quite a while for a table.
Why eat there? It has the city's best patio that faces the lake, and a rare side patio that gets afternoon sun.
© Beth Gauper
The Fitger's complex is home to Fitger's Brewhouse and Midi.
Endion Station: The casual restaurant in this 1899 stone railroad depot, owned by the Fitger's folks, mostly is interested in serving you craft beer, but its sliders and tacos are inexpensive and tasty.
Why eat there? You can almost always find a table on its quiet patio, and the beer choices — Fitger's plus a selection of guests — are superb.
Northern Waters Smokehaus: This small deli in a corner of the Dewitt-Seitz building offers a delicious selection of sandwiches made with cured meats.
Why eat there? You probably won't want to, but you can put together a nice picnic to eat while watching the boat traffic.
Grandma's Saloon & Grill: This place galvanized development on Canal Park when it opened in 1976 and sponsored the first
Grandma's Marathon in 1977.
Why eat there? It's still a fun place, and the portions are huge.
Little Angie's Cantina: This restaurant in the Dewitt-Seitz building offers Mexican-American food that's especially popular with tourists and the younger crowd.
Why eat there? It's got a great deck overlooking the Canal Park hubbub.
Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe: This small cafe in the lower level of the Dewitt-Seitz building offers sandwiches, bars and cookies. It also has a small selection of wine and beer.
Why eat there? You can hear live music.
Canal Park also has a lot of chain restaurants, including Green Mill, Old Chicago, Famous Dave's and Red Lobster.
Casual dining downtown
Va Bene Caffe:
Just beyond Fitger's, this sunny Italian cafe offers well-prepared panini, pasta and salads.
Why eat there? Its glassed-in porch above the Lakewalk has a lovely view of Canal Park, and the gelato is wonderful.
Fitger's Brewhouse: This lively restaurant is a good place to go for an excellent burger and excellent beer. It's usually hard to get a table, but hosts will give you a beeper so you can shop while you wait.
Why eat there? It's got a fun atmosphere, consistently good pub food and live music.
© Beth Gauper
The glassed-in porch of Va Bene has a killer view of the Aerial Lift Bridge.
7 West Taphouse: In this little bar at the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street, you can get a decent burger for $5.
Why eat here? It's cheap, friendly and has a huge beer list with flights — you can choose four 4-ounce samples of any beer for $7.50 ($6.50 on Mondays).
Pizza Luce: This large restaurant, on the other corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street, is very popular for its brunches as well as the Italian menu of pizza, pasta and hoagies.
Why eat here? It serves good pizza and has a friendly atmosphere.
Martha's Daughter: This small restaurant serves a global menu that includes small plates.
Why eat here? It offers interesting specials and is handy for theater-goers.
Wasabi Japanese Cuisine: This restaurant in the Old City Hall on Superior Street offers tempura, teriyaki and poke bowls as well as sushi.
Why eat here? It offers all-you-can eat sushi.
Pickwick: This restaurant next to the Fitger's complex has a large, traditional menu that's been popular since 1914.
Why eat there? Its Germanic dining room is beautiful, with wood paneling, painted murals, a wood-beamed ceiling, fireplace, stained glass and a view of the lake.
Black Water Lounge: This dimly lit restaurant in the middle of downtown is secondary to the lounge, which offers live music Wednesday through Saturday. A few of the menu items are pretty good; others are just a step above bar food.
Why eat there? It's a good place to have a martini while listening to jazz.
© Beth Gauper
The PortLand Malt Shoppe, in a 1921 former gas station next to Fitger's, is a favorite stop for ice cream.
Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake: Across
from Fitger’s on Superior Street, it serves soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza.
Why eat there? You can soak up the sun on its patio and watch the world go by. It also offers a lot of live music.
Fine dining elsewhere
New Scenic Cafe: This sunny little cafe on old Highway 61, between Duluth and Two Harbors, is a fixture of farm-to-table dining. The atmosphere still is casual, but the dinner menu has become mostly French and high-priced.
In summer, you'll have to wait quite a while to get a table.
Why eat there? It's a good place to treat yourself to a fancy lunch or pie and coffee.
Casual dining elsewhere
Duluth Grill: This plain family restaurant is far off the tourist path, next to a Burger King just off the 27th Avenue West exit of I-35. But the locals definitely know about it, because it's always packed.
Don't expect diner prices, because portions are huge and everything is made with fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients. It doesn't serve beer or wine.
© Beth Gauper
On a warm day, it doesn't get any better than sampling beer on the patio of Canal Park Brewing.
Why eat there? All of its food is homemade, and service always is friendly and efficient. Entrees come with two sides from a fantastic selection (ask for the red-flannel hash of root vegetables). It also has vegan and gluten-free entrees.
If you call ahead by 20 or 30 minutes (218-726-1150), you can get your name on the waiting list during busy times.
OMC Smokehouse: This convivial barbecue joint (the name stands for Oink, Moo, Cluck), on West Superior Street near Bent Paddle Brewing, offers a variety of meats plus fish, burgers and salads. They come with a choice of large sides . . . be hungry.
Tavern on the Hill: This restaurant is across from the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus, up Woodland Avenue from the 21st Street East exit from I-35.
It's very popular, especially with students and their parents, and everyone can find something appealing on its huge menu. Service can be spotty but generally is enthusiastic.
Why eat there? It's got a big patio with fire pits and festive lighting. And because it's two miles above the lake, it's warmer there.
Burrito Union: This popular student hangout, at the foot of Chester Park at East Fourth Street and 13th Avenue, is yet another outpost of Fitger's and serves its beers.
Why eat there? It's got a deck with a view of the lake, and good specials, especially the weekend breakfast burrito and bloody Mary for $8.50.
At Sara's Table/Chester Creek Cafe: This homey spot at East Eighth Street and 19th Avenue, near Chester Park, serves "creative cuisine with a conscience.''
Why eat there? It's a good place to treat yourself to breakfast or coffee and dessert.
Whole Foods Co-op: This co-op at East Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue has a large deli and makes made-to-order sandwiches.
Why eat there? It has a pleasant eating area overlooking the lake, but you also could take a picnic to the Rose Garden at 13th Avenue off London Road.
Last updated on November 21, 2018