Aside from businesses and residential buildings, downtown Minneapolis is also home to the city’s main theater district–main, since the Twin Cities have one of the most lively and varied theater scenes in the country. Downtown is also home to numerous restaurants including both high-end and easily affordable, chain restaurants and independent ones. There has been a lot of turnover in downtown restaurants over the last few years, but Zelo has kept going. We’ve been coming here for quite a while, and the consistently high quality and good service explain why, even on weeknights, Zelo is almost always crowded for dinner.
Zelo presents a mix of Italian dishes and techniques, on the one hand, and international flavors (especially Asian and more recently North African) on the other. This yields some interesting results, like Asian-inspired duck accompanied by a risotto made in the Italian fashion but with an Asian flavor palette. Surprising, but very good.
The menu varies seasonally, but some items often stick around when the bigger menu items change. Among these, the parmesan shrimp appetizer is a particular favorite. I have also always found the fish dishes to be reliable.
Some recent standouts have included the lamb meatball appetizer, available in two sizes, flavored with ras al hanout. The portion sizes are fine, but you’ll still be sad to see the last one go. There are some good pizzas at very reasonable prices, and there are always a number of good pasta options, including vegetarian options.
Zelo’s space is divided into three areas: a two-part main dining room and a bar, narrow but still a decent size. All three parts are attractive. The central section features large tables under a vaulted ceiling. The other dining room is brighter and more colorful with smaller tables. Both spaces feature interesting paintings and sculptural elements (for example some of the light fixtures).
Service is good; in fact, the one “mistake” I can remember (a waiter brought the wrong drink) was rectified immediately and quite graciously. I’ve been happy with the bar here as well as the food. Like many Minneapolis restaurants, Zelo can be quite loud when full.
Zelo has a good location on the east side of the southern part of Nicollet Mall, directly opposite McCormick & Schmick and diagonally across the intersection from Target’s flagship and headquarters. Exterior signage can be hard to spot, but that doesn’t seem to keep people away.
831 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, Minn. 55402
Reviewed for Olives-n-Okra by Chris Nappa