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 to snag a table on the patio.

Fresh Deli by Nostalgia Farms; Davenport, Iowa

Adjacent to the Davenport Farmers Market, Fresh Deli has a bistro feel and nice views of the Davenport riverfront. Everything is made from scratch and portion sizes are reasonable, which helps keep the prices reasonable, too. The food is sourced mostly from local producers, including the farm run by the owners of the restaurant. Now that’s farm-to-table!

Elly’s Tea and Coffee House; Muscatine, Iowa

More than just a coffee shop, Elly’s offers fresh, light fare for breakfast or lunch to go along with your daily dose of caffeine. Grab a pasty or something a little more substantial like a slice of quiche, a salad, or sandwich, then take it out to the rooftop patio for great views of Muscatine’s portion of the river.

Maxwell’s at the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center; Muscatine, Iowa

Muscatine gets two listings this year, thanks to the arrival of the luxury hotel downtown. If you’re looking for a splurge with a view, Maxwell’s can satisfy both needs. The menu consists mostly of steaks and fish, with solid choices for sides and salads, all of which you can enjoy while staring out the windows that line the dining room.

Martini’s Grille; Burlington, Iowa

Martini’s occupies space on the 4th floor of a bluffside building in Burlington and, oh my, those views of the river are stunning! The restaurant has a modern and elegant interior with big windows and a large patio for taking in the river views. You’ll pay a premium for the food, which is good but not always as good as it aspires to be. Still, you’ll find something to satisfy your appetite and you’ll probably be so distracted by the views that you won’t much care if the food is great or simply good.

Lost Duck Brewing Company; Fort Madison, Iowa

Located in an old storefront facing the Mississippi River in Fort Madison, the Lost Duck Brewing Company is a relaxing place to sample locally-produced beer and good pub fare, like fish and chips or big tenderloin sandwich.

The Pier Restaurant; Quincy, Illinois

Another place with big windows so you can take in the great views of the river at Quincy (even on rainy days). The menu at The Pier has creative variations on American classics like the Fire Grilled Meat Loaf and Stuffed Pork Chop, and they put out an impressive array of food for Sunday brunch.

The Village of the Blue Rose; Clarksville, Missouri

The Village of the Blue Rose is an unexpected treat, hidden off the winding Great River Road between Louisiana and Clarksville, Missouri. The restaurant is part of a small residential campus for adults with developmental disabilities, who staff its restaurant, bed and breakfast, and shops. Stop in for lunch (currently served Wednesday through Sunday from 11-3) and enjoy delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches with breathtaking views. Save room for dessert.

**Looking for more ideas about what to see along the Mississippi River? Check out Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1 and Small Town Pleasures. Click the links above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.

Kinder’s Restaurant; Golden Eagle, Illinois

You gotta love a place whose motto is “On and Sometimes in the Mississippi”! You also gotta love a place that can cook catfish as good as they do. Kinder’s Restaurant is located in Calhoun County, Illinois at the foot of the Golden Eagle Ferry. It can be a busy place on weekends.

The Winery at Aeries Resort; Grafton, Illinois

Perched high atop the bluffs above Grafton, Aerie’s is in the running for most spectacular view of the river. The food is straightforward—freshly made pizza, salads, and sandwiches—and they have a good selection of quality wines from vineyards around the world (they do not produce any wines of their own, though).

Grafton Oyster Bar; Grafton, Illinois

Grafton has several restaurants that come with river views, and many are fine places to eat. For more variety in your dining options, though, head to the Grafton Oyster Bar, which floats in the middle of the Grafton Marina. The menu is largely inspired by New Orleans’ Cajun and Creole cuisine, plus you can also get those namesake oysters raw , whether Rockefellered or another delightful way.

My Just Desserts; Alton, Illinois

Located in an old storefront in downtown Alton, My Just Desserts serves lighter fare like salads and sandwiches, but they are probably most loved for their desserts. Save room for pie, or just make a slice or two of pie your meal. They are currently open daily from 11am-4pm.

Three Sixty (atop the downtown Hilton Hotel); St. Louis, Missouri

Whether you want to sip fancy cocktails and snack on small plates or enjoy a filling meal, you’ll find something to please you at Three Sixty. And while the food and drinks are good, it’s the amazing views of St. Louis and the river that make this rooftop space special. NOTE: If you show up after 10pm on a weekend night, you’ll have to pay a cover charge to enter.

Form Skybar (atop Hotel St. Louis); St. Louis, Missouri

I’m a fan of rooftop bars and restaurants and that concept seems to be catching fire. Form Skybar in St. Louis is one of the new breed; it debuted in early 2019 atop the Hotel St. Louis, a boutique hotel in the historic 19th century Union Trust Building designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan. The bar serves appetizers and finger food, many inspired by St. Louis culture. If you’re not in the mood to snack, you won’t have trouble finding a cocktail, glass of wine, or good beer to sip on while you enjoy the views.

Do you agree? Disagree? What do you think I missed? I’d love to hear from you.

Looking for ways to work off the calories you just consumed? Check out the list of best places to get outdoors along the Mississippi and the list of outfitters.

©Dean Klinkenberg, 2019

Community-supported writing

If you like the content at the Mississippi Valley Traveler, please consider showing your support by making a one-time contribution or by subscribing through Patreon. Book sales don’t fully cover my costs, and I don’t have deep corporate pockets bankrolling my work. I’m a freelance writer bringing you stories about life along the Mississippi River. I need your help to keep this going. Every dollar you contribute makes it possible for me to continue sharing stories about America’s Greatest River!

Become a Patron