Takin’ on the Twin Cities

Date, Dine & Dance Without Going Broke!

So you’ve journeyed to the depths of the Mall of America. And to the Xcel Center, and Nicollet Mall, and maybe you’ve even dared venture into the too-cool-for-school Walker Art Center. You love and adore the Twin Cities, but you find yourself whining to your friends in between studying stints at Walter Library or drinks at Downtime, “I’m booored!” just like the fun-craving 8-year-old you once were. “There’s nothing to do here!” You moan and groan. “And it’s all so expensive!”

Wait, what? Can you repeat that, please? There’s nothing to do in this sprawling metropolis full of restaurants, theaters, hundreds of stores and thousands of culturally varied citizens making up a veritable crazy-quilt of diversity? Oh, little campus complainer, do you ever have a lot of learning to do! You can be an intrepid explorer and do it without applying for a loan to cover your expenses – you’ve just got to know where to look!

And so, with the help of a fairy godmother known as A&E taking you under its wise wing, and your chariot, Metro Transit, at the ready, you’ve got the city at your feet. After all, aren’t you tired of McDonalds, frat row and Coffman Union?

Love is in the (6 Degree) Air!

$30 Date

The Depot
WHAT: Minneapolis indoor skating rink voted top 10 best places in the U.S. for ice skating
HOW MUCH: $8 admission, $7 skate rental

$4 chai

Uncommon Grounds
WHAT cozy Uptown coffeehouse
HOW MUCH: $4 small chai

$13 oysters

WHAT Lake Street French restaurant
HOW MUCH: $13 for 6 oysters

$11 cab

Taxi Fare
WHAT from downtown to campus
HOW MUCH: $11 (without tip)

Six layers of clothing, runny noses, frostbitten fingers – if there’s any time to feel romantic, it’s definitely now! If you’ve found yourself bitten by the love bug, have no fear, for our lovely city is just perfect for young lovers. And to celebrate your new amour, what better way than a trip to The Depot? The picturesque skating rink has been voted one of the top-10 best places in the United States for ice-skating, and for an $8 admission and a $7 skate rental, you’ve got yourself a truly memorable classic date – granted nobody breaks an ankle!

Afterward, with your adrenaline pumping and your cheeks all adorably rosy, a romantic meal of oysters at Barbette on Lake Street (six of them will run you $13) is a perfect locale to woo your sweetheart; its French influence is charming. Or, if a cup of absolute heaven is more your style than pearl-making seafood, Uncommon Grounds coffeehouse in Uptown has the most wonderful chai tea in the Twin Cities, or so says the populous. Grab a cozy velvet booth in the dimly lit sitting room and cuddle up together; it’s just like a scene out of a candy-spun Drew Barrymore movie, isn’t it? A small cup of the delicious wonder is about $4, and trust us, you’ll get addicted.

Then, since you’ve already spent a considerable amount of cash, why not stop over at First Avenue’s Saturday night dance extravaganza, Too Much Love? It’s free with a flash of your U-Card, and if the two of you don’t dance you’ll still be entertained by the over-the-top hipster kids shakin’ it hardcore to DJ SovietPanda. And with the money you saved, perhaps the two of you can hop a cab home! (A taxi from downtown to campus costs about $11, sans tip.) Quite a bit more romantic than waiting for the 16 bus, that’s for sure.

NOOOOOO-Chem Pick-Me-Ups

$8 Wrap

French Meadow Bakery
WHAT organic-friendly Uptown bakery & cafe
HOW MUCH: $8.39 hummus wrap
$4.29 organic heart-healthy oatmeal

$8 Sushi

WHAT grocery store
HOW MUCH: sushi under $8
$7/pound pasta salads, potatoes and fried chicken
$3.19 Naked juice

Finals week is looming like the Loch Ness monster just on the horizon and we’re sure you’re already dreading cramming your head full of organic chemistry. If all that studying gets to be a bit too much to bear, why not take a couple hours to relax? The French Meadow Bakery and Cafe on Lyndale is the perfect locale for a healthy pick-me-up; they’re known for their organic breads and dedication to keeping their ingredients fresh and local, and very little on the menu will run you more than $10! They’ve got breakfast, lunch and dinner, and wouldn’t a Hummus Wrap ($8.39) or a bowl of Organic Heart-Healthy Oatmeal ($4.29) be the perfect way to fuel your brain and unwind?

Another magnificent place to get a quick bite to eat is Lunds grocery store; before you write it off as just a place to buy your Captain Crunch and orange juice, take a look at their deli spread. They’ve got amazing sushi for under $8 – the California Rolls are particularly yummy, and their assortment of pasta salads, potatoes and fried chicken is the perfect place to create a proverbial “taste of home” for about $7/pound while you’re studying. (The potato salad is just about as good as Grandma’s.) Grab a Naked Juice ($3.19) and you’re set.

“Oh, Aunt Mildred, how lovely to see you!”

$21 dinner

Twin City Grill
WHAT Mall of America swanky restaurant
HOW MUCH: $9 flatbread appetizers
$11.95 bacon & tomato toasted mac & cheese

$0 parade

16th Annual Macy’s Holidazzle Parade
WHAT Holiday parade on Nicollet Mall, Eighth Floor Christmas interpretation, “The Nutcracker”
HOW MUCH: free

$18 chicken

Chino Latino
WHAT Uptown hotspot, restaurant & bar
HOW MUCH: $18 banana boat chicken

Okay, so maybe dear Auntie Millie wouldn’t just show up on your doorstep in the Como neighborhood without giving you a call first, but as you probably well know, visitors just love to come check out the big city of Minneapolis, especially if their precious little niece or grandson resides there! But what on earth are you supposed to do with your kin and/or hometown pals once they’re crashing on your couch? The answer is easy: Take them to the Mall of America!

Besides being a shopaholic’s heaven on earth, the tourist trap has a few fabulous little restaurants tucked inside. The Twin City Grill in particular will make you forget you’re dining in the midst of the nation’s largest shopping center; it resembles a swank 1940s Bing Crosby-esque diner and offers up a variety of dishes for relatively cheap. Flatbread appetizers won’t cost you more than $9, while the toasted macaroni & cheese with savory bits of bacon and tomatoes is yours for $11.95. And after your $20.95 dinner, you can walk off all the calories around The Park at MOA.

Since it’s Yuletide season, the 16th Annual Macy’s Holidazzle Parade is perfect for cheap (it’s free, just find a good place on the sidewalks of Nicollet Mall and bundle up) and congenial Christmas cheer. Or, if the outdoor spectacle isn’t your thing as the temperatures keep dropping, take the elevator up to Macy’s eighth floor and check out their interpretation of Christmas classic “The Nutcracker.” It’s kind of cheesy and definitely animatronic, but if a crowd of screaming, nap-deprived 3-year-olds, sullen, dragged-along teenagers and gushing grandmothers doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, what does?

To really impress your visitors, take them Uptown to hotspot Chino Latino solely for the bragging rights – like, ultrafamous tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan is reported to have dined at the eatery while she filmed down-home film “A Prairie Home Companion,” putting Minneapolis fine-dining on the map for about five seconds before she crashed her Mercedes and took a trip or two to rehab. The banana boat chicken is particularly delicious for $18, and most of the Chinese-Japanese-Mexican fusion dishes are family-style, which is restaurant-speak for “tons of food.”

Just make reservations! And for dessert, hop the bus or walk the distance to Sebastian Joe’s on West Franklin (just past the Walker Art Center), the Twin Cities’ best ice cream café. We dare you not to be impressed; even the vanilla is to-die-for. That should show those out-of-towners a good time, eh?

Keepin’ it Cheap on Campus

$5 bubble tea

The Tea Garden
WHAT Stadium Village tea café
HOW MUCH: under $5 tea, hot, cold, black, green, white, tappioca pearls

$8 breakfast

Al’s Breakfast
WHAT tiny Dinkytown breakfast diner
HOW MUCH: around $8 for eggs, hash browns and pancakes galore

$15 meal

Annie’s Parlour
WHAT University burger joint
HOW MUCH: $15-20 meal, including burger, fries and shake

If you’re one of those whiners who complains incessantly about the cold and detests Metro Transit, well, our world on campus has a few little dining gems hiding between Caribou and Starbucks. Tired of listening to those fussy demands, like a half-caf skinny soy latte with no whipped cream? Bop into Stadium Village’s newest resident, The Tea Garden. They boast an enormous selection of teas, hot and cold, and their tapioca pearls are an experience in themselves; according to our very own Sara Miller, they are simply full of “gelatinous love.” Black tea, green tea, white tea in hundreds of combinations – it’s all here, and it’s usually less than $5!

Meandering around Dinkytown, one is sure to catch a glimpse of Annie’s Parlour; you’ve probably even eaten at the University institution once or twice. But the burger joint is the best place on campus to gorge yourself silly on juicy burgers, fantastically yummy malts in a smorgasbord of flavors and fresh-cut French fries. A meal will run about $15-20, which is considerably more spendy than say, Mesa Pizza, but at least you won’t have to deal with a horde of drunk kids hollering for mac ‘n’ cheese pizza!

When Sunday morning dawns and you rise to greet the new day with a sunshiny smile, of course you know where you’ve gotta be – Al’s Breakfast. After a weekend of studying or partying (or a combination of the two), the teeny-tiny diner is a University legend and award-winning spot to get ridiculously cheap and ridiculously delicious eggs, hash browns, pancakes and the like.

Wear a few layers for the wait outdoors because it’s a certainty; Al’s is so popular with young and old that you’re guaranteed a short stint in line, but rest assured that it pays off in the end. Even waking up at the crack of dawn (6 a.m. on the weekdays, 9 a.m. Sundays) is well worth it.

Well, there you have it – there are countless ways to amuse yourselves in the Twin Cities, and you didn’t need that annoyingly perky Rachael Ray’s input at all!

For just around $40 a weekend, or quite easily even less, you can have a fabulous time dining and perusing the veritable jungle of amusements scattered across our frozen metropolis, and soon the words “There’s nothing to do in Minneapolis” will be forever stricken from your lexicon!