NOTE: An updated version of this list was posted in 2019.
Who doesn’t like a good view with their meal? Of course, if the food or service sucks, that view is cold comfort. I’ve spent the past year visiting dining establishments along the Upper Mississippi River to compile a list of my favorite places to eat out with a view, picking what I think are the best of the bunch from the Headwaters in northern Minnesota to the mouth of the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.
As usual, there are a few important conditions:
- The restaurant must have a good view of the river (duh!),
- The food and service must be good, and
- The restaurant can’t be part of a national chain.
There are a quite a few places that met the first criteria but many had real trouble with the second. Here’s a tip to restaurant owners: 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. It just doesn’t work.
The list has a good mix of places in terms of price and location, so you’ll find bars mixed in with fine dining. You may notice that this year’s version of the list does not include any places to eat between St. Louis and Cairo; I just haven’t found any restaurants in that stretch that meet all three criteria. Let me know if you think I’ve missed a worthy restaurant.
My personal favorites (in alphabetic order):
- Douglas Lodge; Itasca State Park, MN
- Kemoll’s; St. Louis, MO (NOTE: Kemoll’s downtown restaurant closed 1/31/2019)
- The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern; La Crosse, WI
So here’s the list for 2013, with the restaurants in geographic order from north to south (and pictures below).
Itasca State Park (Minnesota): Douglas Lodge Restaurant
Located in the historic 1905-era building, 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.
Minneapolis (Minnesota): Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge (1900 Marshall St NE; 612.788.9069)
One of the few places in the Twin Cities where you can dine next to the river, the menu at Psycho Suzi’s might be described as comfort food on steroids, like the tator tots with melted cheddar and sausage gravy or pickle rollups, plus 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.
Minneapolis (Minnesota): Nicollet Island Inn (95 Merriam St; 612.331.1800)
From comfort food to comforting food. Located on the historic Mississippi River island 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.
Hastings (Minnesota): American Legion Post 47 (50 Sibley St; 651.437.2046)
You may not think of the American Legion in Hastings as a place for good food, but think again. The Legion in Hastings offers classic American food with an awesome view, especially from the outdoor patio. Cash only.
Prescott (Wisconsin): Prescott Boat Club at Point St. Croix Marina (101 S Front St; 715.262.3161)
Simple can be very satisfying, and the broiled shrimp may be nothing fancy but they are quite satisfying. Snack on a few as you enjoy the views at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. Cash only.
Red Wing (Minnesota): The Veranda at the St. James Hotel (406 Main St; 651.388.2846)
Located in the historic St. James Hotel, The Veranda has a large rooftop patio with good views , which go will with the sandwiches and light entrées on the menu.
Hager City (Wisconsin): Harbor Bar and Grill (N673 825th St; 715.92.2417)
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 work at the Harbor Bar 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!
Lake City (Minnesota): Nosh Restaurant and Bar (310 ½ S Washington St; 651.345.2425)
While the shores of Lake Pepin will never be mistaken for the Mediterranean coast, the food at Nosh 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).
Alma (Wisconsin): Great Alma Fishing Float (608.380.5322)
The cafe on the Great Alma Fish 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 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.
Trempealeau (Wisconsin): Trempealeau Hotel (11332 Main St; 608.534.6898)
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.
Trempealeau (Wisconsin): Hungry Point Bar and Grill (W23797 Lake Rd; 608.534.7771)
Just south of the village of Trempealeau, the Hungry Point might have earned a spot just for the expansive patio along the river, but, thankfully, they also serve a mean burger (up to a full pound, if you’re that hungry!) and awesome fries.
Onalaska (Wisconsin): Blue Moon Saloon and Roadhouse (716 2nd Ave N; 608.781.6800)
With a sports bar on one side and dining room on another, the Blue Moon has something to please a variety of desires, so it can be a very busy place, especially on weekends. They do a good job with steaks, but there are lighter options, as well.
La Crosse (Wisconsin): The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern (328 Front St South; 608.782.5400)
I don’t think I could rave enough about The Waterfront, which combines fine dining and excellent service with great views of the river. This is another place where the menu changes with the seasons, so you should probably go back often to check out the latest creations.
Dubuque (Iowa): Catfish Charlie’s (1630 E 16th St; 563.582.8600)
Located on a harbor 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; if the weather cooperates, try to snag a table on the patio.
Le Claire (Iowa): Steventon’s Riverfront Food & Spirits (1399 Eagle Ridge Rd; 563.289.3600)
For over 20 years, Steventon’s has been satisfying the fine dining appetites of east-central Iowans, as well as visitors in the know (like you!). The basic menu is a collection of classic American steak and seafood entrées, but there is also a bar menu with a few lighter options.
Davenport (Iowa): Fresh Deli by Nostalgia Farms (421 W River Dr; 563.424.4561)
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!
Muscatine (Iowa): Elly’s Tea and Coffee House (208 W 2nd St; 563.263.5043)
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.
Burlington (Iowa): Martini’s Grille (610 N 4th; 319.752.6262)
Martini’s occupies space on the 4th floor of a bluffside building 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. While the food isn’t quite what it aspires to be, you will 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.
Fort Madison (Iowa): Lost Duck Brewing Company (725 Avenue H; 319.372.8255)
Located in an old storefront facing the Mississippi River, the Lost Duck Brewing Company is a relaxing place to sample locally-produced beer and creative pub fare (elk or bison burgers) or pizza.
Quincy (Illinois): The Pier Restaurant (401 Bonansinga Dr; 217.221.0020)
Another place with big windows so you can take in the great views of the river. The menu at The Pier has creative variations on American classics like the Fire Grilled Meat Loaf and Stuffed Pork Chop.
Grafton (Illinois): Aeries Riverview Winery (203 Mulberry St; 618.786.8439)
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).
St. Louis (Missouri): Kemoll’s (211 N Broadway; 314.421.0555) [NOTE: This restaurant closed 1/31/2019]
Kemoll’s began serving classic Sicilian food to St. Louisans in 1927, but only since 2009 have they have been treating guests to great food with great views from the 40th floor of the Metropolitan Square Building, the tallest in St. Louis. The food is upscale and prepared exceptionally well but the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. And those views…
Do you agree? Disagree? What do you think I missed? I’d love to hear from you.
Also check out the list of best places to get outdoors along the Upper Mississippi.
NOTE: This list was updated in June 2017.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2013