Panino's (North Oaks, MN)

By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Star Tribune West
December 7, 2005

If you like pizza, you'll like a panino. If you like wrap sandwiches, a panino is exactly what you want. Imagine a good, and very thin, pizza crust, baked with your choice of dozens of ingredients, then topped with those items best uncooked -- and the whole deal wrapped, cut, and served piping hot. Simple idea, delicious execution.

Panino's menu features a mind-boggling 42 different paninos, with enough choice to please anybody we can imagine. Meat, chicken, veggie, ham, turkey -- all the traditional sandwiches you can think of and a whole lot more besides. And if that's not enough, feel free to design your own with exactly the filling you best like.

Here's a sampling. The Reuben panino is made with tasty corned beef and decent kraut, and is good enough that we didn't miss the rye bread. The steak fajita panino is good with cheddar or mozzarella; we liked both. We often order a panino without an ingredient or two, as some sandwiches seem a little overloaded with too many flavors. The fresh spinach panino is better without the tomatoes, we think. And avoid the club panino entirely.

These are huge sandwiches, easily large enough to share. Unfortunately, Panino's charges $2.50 to split an order. Many of these sandwiches reheat well; take the leftovers home.

We think the paninos are by far the best things on the menu, but Panino's also serves pizzas and pasta. Pizzas come in three sizes with a variety of toppings. It's a cracker-thin crust, which we like, and the kitchen is generous with toppings. A crisper crust would be better, and the sauce isn't all that flavorful, but the kids will probably like it.

Panino's spaghetti would be improved by a tastier sauce, too, and by some good parmesan cheese on top. They also have three styles of fettuccine, cheese and meat tortellini, and two styles of ravioli -- along with lasagna and rigatoni. These are all okay. Portion sizes can be daunting. The pastas are all available in whole and half orders. While a half order was more than enough for us, it makes sense to get a full order and take the rest home for lunch.

If you want something lighter, Panino's has several large salad options. Many of the dressings are homemade -- ask your server -- and generally tasty. The ranch dressing was terribly salty.

The chicken tortilla soup, a specialty and available every night, was delicious, with lots of chicken, cheese, and sour cream in a rich, creamy, slightly spicy base.

We didn't like the appetizers we tried. Cream cheese wasn't a good base for the hot artichoke spread. And the bread fries were far too salty. In fact, we were surprised to realize that there are no deep-fried foods on the menu, and indeed there must not be a fryer in the kitchen. We should all cut down on those fried fatty foods, of course, but we sure would have liked some hand-dipped onion rings alongside our paninos.

The restaurant is pretty, with trompe d'oeil scenes covering the walls, and the service is friendly. There's outside seating when it's warm, and friendly service year-round. We recommend it for lunch or a light dinner.

Location:
857 Village Center Drive
North Oaks, MN 55127
(651) 486-0296

Hours:
Mon–Thu: 11:00am–10:00pm
Fri–Sat: 11:00am–11:00pm
Sun: 11:00am–9:00pm

Atmosphere: Family-friendly casual
Service: Really friendly and efficient
Sound level: Not too loud, considering
Recommended dishes: Paninos, of course
Prices: About $9 for a panino
Children: No special children's menu

earlier review: Great India (Brooklyn Center, MN)
later review: Little Sushi on the Prairie (Eden Prairie, MN)
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