Minot, ND

Hidden Gems: Charlie's Main Street Café, Minot, North Dakota

Claire Handscombe

image is author's own

Just before 8 am on the sunny Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the train I'd been taking across the country pulled up ahead of schedule and let us off for an hour. A slightly dangerous game, if you're me, and forever getting lost, and yes, it was slightly out of breath and panicked that I arrived back at the train at 9.01 am, just minutes before we pulled away to continue our westward trek to Seattle. But I'd never been through North Dakota, let alone to it, so I chanced the adventure.

We'd been told most things would be closed, and the town did seem sleepy -- but what else are Sundays for, unless you're at the First Baptist Church just up the hill from where the train pulls up. Still, with the aid of Google maps, I crossed the small town and peered into shop windows. Finding a couple of people outside one café, I asked if they, too, had come off the train, and they said that yes, and in fact they'd ordered four meals to go from the café.

I ventured into the café, Charlie's, meaning to grab, perhaps, a takeaway bagel and a better coffee than those featured on Amtrak (though they aren't terrible on board, either, by any means). But the kind man who greeted me let me know that if I ordered one of the first few items on the menu, he could have it ready for me to eat right there in no time.

He kept his word. Within minutes, I was sitting at an old-school, classic American diner having bacon, eggs, and fluffy pancakes alongside orange juice and coffee. As a foreigner whose endless fascination with this country has led me to live here more years than I ever planned to, it was a delightful treat to land in the heart of Real America for a small, snatched moment. I took in the friendy, relaxed atmosphere, the small boy helping guide people to their seats and taking orders, doubtless learning the family trade as he went. I wondered how often Minot is briefly invaded from out of towners like me briefly leaving their train journey -- or perhaps stopping by on a road trip -- and whether I was the first in a while with a British accent.

If you live in Minot, North Dakota, I doubt that Charlie's Main Street Café is a hidden gem. In fact, their website calls it "a local, family-owned diner which has been part of Minot's community for over several decades." It goes on to say that "it is the oldest restaurants in Minot, located in the heart of downtown. It holds many memories for locals passing down generations. It is a classic American diner which serves breakfast all-day and brunch/lunch menu which offers variety of different choices. Ask any local where you should eat for breakfast/lunch, and they would all say, "Charlie's Main Street Cafe." Come and visit us located in the heart of downtown Minot, serving the best breakfast in town!"

But to someone who had never heard of Minot, it was a welcome discovery. If you're ever driving through North Dakota, or you find yourself on a cross-country Amtrak train and it stops there for long enough, I highly recommend making a beeline for this place, a little more than 5 minutes' walk from the station.


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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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