A Sunday morning visit to Al’s Breakfast in Minneapolis, MN

The tiny Al's Breakfast in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis

The tiny Al’s Breakfast in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis

It was my last day in Minneapolis before having to head back to Los Angeles. For my last breakfast in the city, I knew I had to head to Al’s Breakfast, for what I was told, was the best breakfast in the city.

I actually first heard about Al’s Breakfast when Guy Fieri stopped by on his Food Network television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” I knew this was the place for me when I saw the tiny diner with only 14 bar stools serving up delicious plates of pancakes, eggs, hash browns, and more.

There's almost always a line out front

There’s almost always a line out front

It was a Sunday morning.

After reading reviews on Yelp, I debated whether to go at all since 1) it was a weekend and 2) I knew the wait would be long. To make matters worse, the Vikings were in town. They play just half a mile down the road, so I knew the area would be even more crowded than usual.

After much debate, I realized that I couldn’t come all the way to Minneapolis and not visit Al’s Breakfast. I told myself that the wait would be worth it.

My goal was to arrive early, but I woke up later than expected and didn’t leave my hotel until 10:30am.

When I arrived to the restaurant around 11:00am, there was a line out the door as expected. The facade of the tiny restaurant was simple with a blue awning, wooden shingles, and a small window. It was funny to watch everyone peaking through the window at the diners inside. Al’s Breakfast was the epitome of a dive bar.

With only a few people ahead of me, I was optimistic about the wait.

Sadly, the wait continues once you get inside the restaurant

Sadly, the wait continues once you get inside the restaurant

It took about 20 minutes to reach the front door of the restaurant. Once inside, I realized the wait, and the line, continued on.

The single person line extended towards the end of the tiny dining room. Those waiting in line had to calmly stand against a brick wall directly behind seated guests, hoping and waiting for them to finish eating and move on.

When one person left, one person from the line would sit. With people waiting behind the stools, there was just enough room for people to pass by and exit.

Since there were only 14 bar stools, seating was extremely limited. If you are dining alone or with another person, you should have no issues. If you are in a group of three or more, then you might be able to sit together but you might not. It wasn’t uncommon for the servers to ask people already sitting to get up and move down to another bar stool, making room for more people.

It was all part of the experience.

Somehow, this tiny grill feeds hundreds of hungry people a day

Somehow, this tiny grill feeds hundreds of hungry people a day

I was so excited when I made it to the front of the line.

After 56 minutes of waiting, I finally got the chance to sit in one of the 14 coveted bar stools. The red bar stools may have been extremely uncomfortable and the bar was slightly slanted, but I was just happy to be sitting.

Once you have a seat, you will soon forget about the wait and you will forget that there are hungry people standing right behind you waiting for you to hurry up and eat.

After you order, look around at your surroundings. It’s entertaining to watch and listen to the servers and the chefs as they yell food and drink orders back and forth. You can smell the amazing food while it sizzles away on the grill. This is what makes Al’s Breakfast so great.

The kitsch interior of Al's Breakfast

The kitsch interior of Al’s Breakfast

The decor was what made Al’s Breakfast special.

It’s a little hard to describe the decor. Dim lighting, low white ceilings and walls, tacky Christmas lights and lamps, and money hanging on the wall from all corners of the globe. I felt like I stepped back in time into a 1950s diner. It was strange, but I enjoyed it.

If you look behind the bar you might see the names of customers on yellow cards. These yellow cards were prepaid tabs of frequent customers. When these customers spent money at the restaurant, money was deducted from their card.

Enough about the decor and wait, it was now time to eat.

The Jose

The Jose, one of the more popular dishes served at Al's Breakfast

The Jose, one of the more popular dishes

If there was one signature dish at Al’s Breakfast, it would have to be The Jose with one ($5.50) or two ($6.90) poached eggs, cheddar cheese, hash browns, salsa, and a side of white or wheat bread. This classic dish, popular with locals and tourists, has a cult following and has even been featured on television shows. Just remember that The Jose is massive, so come hungry.

I was told that The Jose was originally created by a customer named, well, Jose. Ironically, he didn’t enjoy the dish but over time the dish became popular among college students from the nearby University of Minnesota.

This thing is greasy and good. Nothing fancy here, just a bed of crispy hash browns topped with a couple poached eggs, lots of melted smoky cheddar cheese, and a little bit of spicy salsa. Somehow it all comes together perfectly.

Each bite of The Jose was perfect. The eggs, though slightly overcooked, rewarded me with a silky and yellow yolk that mixed in wonderfully with the gooey cheese, the hot and crispy hash browns, and the fresh salsa.

Though there wasn’t much of it, the homemade salsa was spot on. The fresh and bright salsa added color and a good kick of heat to the dish. The salsa seemed to work well with the otherwise greasy and cheesy dish. Even with an assortment of hot sauces available, I think next time I will ask for an extra side of salsa.

I think I might try to make my own version of The Jose at home, but I don’t think I could ever make it as well as Al’s Breakfast does.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberries and Walnuts

Short stack buttermilk pancake with blueberries and walnuts

Short stack buttermilk pancake with blueberries and walnuts

Having read great reviews about the pancakes, I knew I had to order a Short Stack Buttermilk Pancake with Blueberries and Walnuts ($3.20).

At Al’s Breakfast, you have the option of four sizes of pancakes: Short Stack (S.S.), Short (Sh.), Regular (Reg.), and Long. I went for the smallest pancake possible since I already ate every single morsel of The Jose.

Just as with The Jose, I was blown away with how something so simple can taste so delicious.

The pancake was fluffy and cooked to a perfect golden brown. Each bite was moist. What I also loved about the pancake was that each and every bite was filled with blueberries and walnuts. When they say blueberries and walnuts, they mean it.

For an extra 85 cents, you can get a half order of pure maple syrup to add to your pancakes instead of the house syrup. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Service

Before I arrived, I had this idea that the service had to be cold and unfriendly since the main goal of Al’s Breakfast would be to get people in and out as quickly as possible.

Surprisingly, the service was friendly, efficient, and laid back. Though the servers did seem like they were always running around and rushed, they managed to check up on me constantly and refilled my drink when needed.

It was also fun to watch the servers and chefs yell orders at each other and banter back and forth.

Conclusion

Al’s Breakfast might not be the best breakfast I have ever had, but it definitely was one of the most unique and memorable restaurant experiences I have ever had.

The wait might have been long for a seat, the restaurant was tiny and claustrophobic, and I had to eat quickly and move on, but the effort was worth it. I could tell right away when I took a seat at the bar that the chefs put a lot of love and care into the food they made.

The greasy and delicious food, reasonable prices, charming and quirking interior and decor, friendly servers, and the unique experience makes Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown a must visit restaurant in Minneapolis.

Pros

  • The Jose
  • Unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else
  • Intimate setting
  • Great pancakes
  • Reasonable prices

Cons

  • Usually a wait, which can be long on weekends
  • Cash only
  • Only 14 bar stools, so be prepared to get up and move when asked
  • People will be standing behind you while you eat
  • No bathrooms

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Jon
    December 29, 2017 at 7:20 am

    They do have a bathroom, just have to ask. They have to move a chunk of the counter and let you in the back.

    You can and will be seated if you have a large group, but agreed that it’s kind of a pain.

    Weekdays closer to closing time is probably the best time to come busy wise.

  • Reply
    Anthony
    January 3, 2018 at 7:58 am

    Jon,

    Thanks for the tips! I had no idea about the bathroom.

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