It’s been six years since I posted my first list of the best riverside dining along the Upper Mississippi River. It’s time for an update, especially since a few places on the first list have closed, and new places have opened.

A reminder about how I select places:

  • the restaurant must have a good view of the river;
  • the food and service have to be good, and
  • the restaurant can’t be part of a national chain.

It’s not hard to find places that meet the first criteria, but many have trouble with the second. Here’s a reminder to restaurant owners that’s just as true now as the first time I wrote it: if you are shooting for a fine dining experience and your servers are all in high school, you should rethink your concept or hire professionals.

The new list still has a mix of places in terms of price and location, so you’ll find bars mixed in with fine dining. My personal favorites (in alphabetic order):

There are many fine bars along the river that serve good bar food. If you know of some that stand out, please drop me a note, and I’ll check it out.

So here’s the list for 2019, with the restaurants in geographic order from north to south.

Douglas Lodge Restaurant; Itasca State Park, Minnesota

Located in the historic 1905-era building at Itasca State Park, the Douglas Lodge Restaurant has great views of Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, and does a solid job with the food, serving local specialties like wild rice and walleye. Open from Memorial Day weekend until late October.

Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge; Minneapolis, Minnesota

One of the few places in the Twin Cities where you can dine next to the river, the menu at this Minneapolis establishment might be described as comfort food on steroids, like the tater tots with melted cheddar and sausage gravy. They also make darn good burgers and pizzas; you’ll want to wash it all down with a fancy tiki drink. Psycho Suzi’s can be ridiculously crowded on weekend evenings.

Nicollet Island Inn; Minneapolis, Minnesota

From comfort food to comforting food. Located on the historic Mississippi River island in Minneapolis for which it is named, dining at the Nicollet Island Inn is a sumptuous affair, complete with white tablecloths, top-notch service, and succulent food to match. If you aren’t in the mood for a splurge, go at lunch when the food is still excellent but costs much less.

Point St. Croix Marina; Prescott, Wisconsin

Simple can be very satisfying, so while the broiled shrimp at the Point St. Croix Marina may not be fancy, they will make you happy. Snack on a few as you enjoy the views in Prescott at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers.

The Veranda at the St. James Hotel; Red Wing, Minnesota

Located in the historic St. James Hotel in Red Wing, The Veranda has a large rooftop patio with good views, which go well with the sandwiches and light entrées on the menu.

Harbor Bar and Grill; Hager City, Wisconsin

I’ve never been to Jamaica, so I don’t know what “authentic” jerk chicken really tastes like, but I trust that the Jamaicans who typically work at the Harbor Bar in Hager City (across the river from Red Wing) every summer do know. And man, is it good. If you don’t like jerk chicken, they have other Jamaican entrées you can try, as well as burgers for the less adventurous, but for Pete’s sake: be adventurous!

Harbor View Café; Pepin, Wisconsin

One of the most popular restaurants on Lake Pepin, the Harbor View in Pepin serves sophisticated food in a casual atmosphere; the views of Lake Pepin are quite good, too. Dishes are prepared from scratch, with the menu changing depending upon what fresh ingredients they can get their hands on, so you have a good excuse to keep coming back.

Nosh Restaurant and Bar; Lake City, Minnesota

While the shores of Lake Pepin will never be mistaken for the Mediterranean coast, the food at Nosh in Lake City might fool you into believing that you are a few thousand miles further west. The menu changes with the seasons, depending upon what fresh ingredients are available from local sources (but seafood paella is a staple that is always on the menu).

Great Alma Fishing Float; Alma, Wisconsin

The cafe on the Great Alma Fishing Float is the only restaurant that is actually in the river (except during floods, of course), and it’s a great place to relax for a hearty breakfast or lunch. Take the shuttle from the Alma shore to the float and dig into The Mess, which is a rare example of truth-in-advertising and very tasty; get it with sauerkraut.

The Boathouse Restaurant: Winona, Minnesota

The Boathouse in Winona has great views of the river, and the food is top notch. The menu emphasizes seasonal ingredients and includes a good mix of lighter fare like salads and snacks and hearty steak and fish entrées. You’ll also be pleased with the selection of craft beer, cocktails, and wine.

Trempealeau Hotel; Trempealeau, Wisconsin

Housed in the 1871-era hotel that somehow managed to survive Trempealeau’s devastating 1888 fire, the restaurant in the Trempealeau Hotel is laid-back, with a menu that leans toward lighter fare. They are well-known for their signature Walnut Burger, but the menu has many other fine choices.

Hungry Point Bar and Grill; Trempealeau, Wisconsin

Just south of the village of Trempealeau, the Hungry Point might have earned a spot just for the expansive patio along the river, but they also serve a mean burger (up to a full pound, if you’re that hungry!) and awesome fries.

The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern; La Crosse, Wisconsin

I don’t think I could rave enough about this La Crosse restaurant, which combines fine dining and excellent service with great views of the river. The decor is modern, but not stuffy. If  you prefer to be a little more informal, The Tavern is a relaxing place to enjoy a drink and a meal, while chatting with a bartender or that new friend sitting near you. The Waterfront is another place where the menu changes with the seasons, so you should probably go back often to check out the latest creations.

Catfish Charlie’s; Dubuque, Iowa

Located on a harbor in Dubuque just off the river, Catfish Charlie’s is a good choice for a steak or seafood splurge or just to sample one of the ways they prepare catfish. Some of the fish they serve comes directly from the Mississippi River—you can’t get more local than that! If the weather cooperates, try