We report the design, characterization, and validation of an optimized simultaneous color and near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence rigid endoscopic imaging system for minimally invasive surgery. This system is optimized for illumination and collection of NIR wavelengths allowing the simultaneous acquisition of both color and NIR fluorescence at frame rates higher than 6.8 fps with high sensitivity. The system employs a custom 10-mm diameter rigid endoscope optimized for NIR transmission. A dual-channel light source compatible with the constraints of an endoscope was built and includes a plasma source for white light illumination and NIR laser diodes for fluorescence excitation. A prism-based 2-CCD camera was customized for simultaneous color and NIR detection with a highly efficient filtration scheme for fluorescence imaging of both 700- and 800-nm emission dyes. The performance characterization studies indicate that the endoscope can efficiently detect fluorescence signal from both indocyanine green and methylene blue in dimethyl sulfoxide at the concentrations of 100 to 185 nM depending on the background optical properties. Finally, we performed the validation of this imaging system in vivo during a minimally invasive procedure for thoracic sentinel lymph node mapping in a porcine model.