La Casita 

I have to say, I really love La Casita Mexican Restaurant. With locations in Columbia Heights, Roseville, Coon Rapids and Waite Park – I’ve heard it called the best Mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities, so I’m not alone in my conclusion. Casual with no wait, open and airy, festive atmosphere, bold colors, fun waitstaff and incredible food – yep, right up my alley! La Casita has been part of a lot of people’s histories as they have been coming to this Cantina-style place since they were kids. I only recently found them and fell fast. I could say that it’s the happy-hour salsa bar, or the grande prickly pear margaritas that are about the size of me – both true – but it’s actually because I really, really love their food. Baja tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, chimichanga, carnitas,… and don’t even get me started on the deep fried ice cream! Huge portions and a free dinner on your birthday?! Sign me up!  Do you have a  favorite Mexican restaurant?

Sammy Perrella’s Pizza and Restaurant

Up next on the #mnbucketlist is Sammy Perrella’s Pizza and Restaurant, a decades-old regional pizza chain. Sammy’s is one of my favorite places for pizza, specifically the one in Brooklyn Park. Say what you will about chain restaurants – Sammy’s is the place for authentic Italian cooking. Started 61 years ago as a small café in Keewatin, on Minnesota’s Iron Range, Sammy’s moved to Hibbing in 1954 and has since grown significantly, with locations all over; Cloquet, Coon Rapids, Downtown Duluth, Eau Claire, Grand Rapids, Hermantown, Hibbing, Lakeside (Duluth), Minot, Superior, Waite Park / St. Cloud, West Duluth, Winona, Woodland (Duluth). As for the pizza, I suggest trying the house special thin crust, it does not disappoint – and with four generations of pizza making, it comes as no surprise. You can stop in for lunch for their pizza buffet or grab a frozen pizza to go.  Some say they have the best pizza in the Twin Cities metro area and northern Minnesota, in 2015 PMQ Pizza Magazine, the pizza industry’s No. 1 publication, inducted Sammy’s into its Pizza Hall of Fame — which pays tribute to popular pizzerias in business for 50 years or longer. Also, Sammy’s takes part in local charity events, from delivering Random Acts of Pizza to giving back to local Disabled American Veterans chapters and they even have something called Pizza with Purpose fundraising program. How great is that?!

Cheap Skate Roller Rink

When it’s bitter, frigid cold in Minnesota, it’s tough to think beyond wrapping yourself up in a quilt and hiding in the house. Let me pose an alternative, if you’re willing to brave the plummeting temperatures. Venture to a place where the glow of the pinball machine illuminates the bold colored walls. The metal lockers, with their bright orange keys protruding, create a backdrop for the double patterned carpeted seating. Rows of roller skates expertly organized fill each passerby with a nostalgic embrace. Memories of your childhood have your heart bursting and yearning with sentimentality. I give you the Cheap Skate Roller Center in Coon Rapids.

I grew up coming here. Birthday parties and massive cakes, all-nighters and sleeping on the air hockey tables, Saturdays out for family fun days – any chance I could put on my rollerblades that didn’t include a trek around my own neighborhood, I took it. Cheap Skate was a palace, filled with strobe and flashing lights, popular music, giant pizzas, fog machines and more than anything, all of my friends. The archetypal roller rink is still everything it was when I was little; inviting, inexpensive, fun, family-focused, kid-friendly, full of games like Wheel of Fortune, Foosball, Snapshot Dome Hockey and Skee ball, concession-style food, and a roller rink the size of a hockey rink.  While my childhood is forever tied to this place, it is perfect for kids but really it’s for anyone.  Out of the ordinary, sure. Worth the trip, absolutely.

Acapulco Restaurante

Since it was just National Margarita Day, I thought I would give you a place to go that makes a pretty good one. Oh! Fun fact: this #mnbucketlist stop is also a favorite hangout for my Dad.  Acapulco Restaurante Mexicano, although sounds like a chain, isn’t. Owned by the Leon family, Jesus and Maria Leon and their nine children, Maria, Jose, Carlos, Alex, Sam, Veronica, Martin, Jesse and Lupita (I know, right?!), Acapulco has eight locations including Blaine, Coon Rapids, Maplewood, New Brighton, Ramsey, Stillwater, Woodbury and Ham Lake. They are known for their Chilaquiles and Churrasco Chicken but I went straight for the house made queso. I can’t help it, it’s one of the best. They are really fun too, and aren’t afraid to jump right in to conversation and keep you having a good time. All that, and margaritas the size of a fishbowl? I mean, what more can you ask for?

Davanni’s

Davannis MNBucketlist

I love pizza so much that I drag (usually willingly) my closest friends and even my Mom, pictured above, to any place that gives me my fix. I can’t help it, I have a thing for a good Italian food. So when I found out that it was Davanni’s 40th anniversary this month, I was pretty excited. I mean, to be honest, I didn’t know it had been around that long and also I didn’t know that it started in Minnesota. And I really ought to know these things! Anyway, did you know that they were actually the first to offer hot hoagies in the Twin Cities? Originally called Pontillo’s Pizzeria, Davanni’s first location, off Cleveland and Grand in St. Paul opened October 1st, 1975, they later changed names in 1983. I decided to check out the newly remodeled Edina location, which will be having a Grand Re-Opening / 20th Anniversary celebration on this Saturday. If you want to go, you can meet the owners, get special deals, play trivia, lots of samples AND Indeed Brewing will be tapping a special cask ale from 5-8pm.

I went early so I could see their new bar (lots of craft beer and wine), the new renovations and the overall revitalization of their brand. Let me jump ahead, I was really impressed! It’s definitely not the dark walls, dim lighting and cramped quarters that I often encounter with restaurants that have been around forever (40 is forever for me). The design is bright, modern, and incredibly inviting. The staff was what really made the atmosphere for me, though. Attentive, friendly, great with suggestions and they actually like their jobs, which isn’t always the case in the industry. I’m going to attribute that to being a privately held company and constantly trying new ideas, from nutriment to innovation.

Now let me get into the food.

Davannis MNBucketlist

We devoured all different kinds of salads, sandwiches, beer and dessert. Hey! We are eaters, and also sharers, so we had to have a little of everything! And the pizza? Deep dish, flat bread, thin crust, white sauce, red sauce, you name it – we tried it. The crowd favorite was the Southwestern Chicken Salad, the Turkey Bacon Chipotle Hoagie and the Artichoke Chicken Pesto Flatbread (see, they are trying new things!). I was partial to the Veggie Hoagie and Garlic Cheese Bread. Needless to say, their Chanhassen location (their 22nd store) will get a little too much of my attention in the future. With the Twin Cities bursting with really great pizzerias, the new changes from layout to menu, to keeping the forever favorites like the New York style pizza and pasta and using their own bakery for bread and desserts, I know that Davannis will have a home here for at least another 40 years.

WANT A GREAT DEAL: When you order online, you can get a 10% discount when you use the code “ANNIVERSARY” at checkout through Saturday, October 31. Otherwise in-shop through the end of the month, a regular pop (it’s Minnesota, we say Pop) is only $1.

 A few recent articles: Star Tribune + Minneapolis/St Paul Business Journal + KARE11