I worked in North Dakota for a couple of weeks in July 2005 and have a few suggestions.
Downtown Fargo is fairly vibrant and worth a little time checking out. It has beautiful old Plains railroad-town architecture and old neon signs which I love. It also seems to be striving toward a little bit of an artsy big city feel, which ends up feeling nice and exciting instead of pretentious. For example, you get the feeling that the people drinking martinis at the fancy-ish new martini bar are like, "Wow-whee, we get to try all these neat drinks, isn’t this fun?" and not, "Ho-hum, is this sophisticated enough?" There are also three (!) independent bookstores within a stone’s throw of each other, several coffeehouses, an old Rexall drugstore with a lunch counter, some neat gift shopping, and a weird guy with a storefront who collects old bicycles. Not far from the downtown core is an well-established (I’m guessing it dates from the 70s) health food store, where you can get North Dakota bison jerky and local honey.
I ate lunch in downtown Fargo at the HoDo, which is not exactly roadfood, but interesting nonetheless. It’s a restaurant attached to the Hotel Donaldson, which is a recently restored boutique hotel. I was told that the hotel and restuarant are the projects of the wife of a Microsoft executive who was sent from Seattle to Fargo to run Great Plains Software after Microsoft bought it out. The story goes that she couldn’t find a job in Fargo, or much of anything else to do, so she bought this abandoned hotel and made something out of it the likes of which North Dakota had never seen before. She commissioned ND artisits to create work for each of the rooms, and she applied the principles of using locally produced, in-season ingredients to the restaurant. Of course, those principles are pretty a well-established school of dining elsewhere in the country, but it was a new thing for ND. The menu the day I was there featured things like Wild Rice Burgers and Walleye Cakes (like crab cakes, but made with the northern Plains’ signature fish), along with burgers made with ND-raised beef and the like. The food was good, and it was a fun menu to read, and like I said, everyone there was just enthusiastic about the place and not too jaded. Also, prices were a lot lower than what you’d find in similar places elsewhere.
Also, Zandbroz Variety, at 420 Broadway, has interesting shopping of really unusual stationary, jewelry, and homewares, a great selection of new books including a huge ND section, and a lunch place in the back that I didn’t try but looked interesting.
In West Acres, Fargo — you’re going to think I’m crazy for recommending this — is Space Aliens Grill & Bar. If you see it from the highway, you’ll think it’s just a crappy theme place where the focus is on the gimmick and not the food. That’s what I thought when my Fargo-resident co-worker told me to meet him there. But I was reluctantly proved very wrong. This is a regional chain that was founded in Bismarck and now has a few locations around ND and northern ND. And Lord knows, they do put a lot of energy into their Space Aliens theme. But the food is also excellent! Burgers, Quesadillas, stuffed baked potatoes, BBQ, pizza, and other grill/bar staples done right. (I know this site has lots of BBQ devotees, students, experts, and purists. I don’t pretend to be any of those, but I do know that what Space Aliens serves and calls BBQ is good food.) There’s also a good selection of beers on tap. The atmosphere is plain weird, and anywhere else in the country, it would have probably annoyed me, but there it’s taken on with this naked enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but sit back and enjoy.
Space Aliens Grill & Bar
1840 45th St SW
Fargo, ND 58103
Main Phone: 701-281-2033
Space Aliens Grill & Bar – MINOT
1400 31st Ave SW
221960,221959,221959,2006-07-26 13:07:05,RE: Mpls
Taking a big trip next month. Out route will take us through the following towns. Any suggestions along this route would be appreciated.
Glacier Natl Park
Mpls, 94 thru ND, Glacier, Banff, Jasper
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