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Jan 20, 2007 07:49 PM

Good Ethnic Food at a Reasonable Price in Twin Cities?

I am a Chicago refugee that is very frustrated with the dining scene in the twin cities. I am hoping I can get some help from the good people on this board. I’ll start by saying I’m guilty of living the suburban life and am not in touch with the city at all. That said, I’m not bothered by driving far to get a good meal. Since we have a young child we like to take with us, I’m not looking for a very high end restaurant where only couples would be welcome/comfortable. We do often go out to restaurants with entrée’ prices exceeding $20.00 so I’m not looking for a burger joint either.

I’ve read the menu’s for many of the restaurants that are touted on this website like: WA Frost, Pazaluna, Luna Rosa, Heartland, A Rebours, etc.

As I read about other’s comments on the above places I find many say they like a place with the caveat that it doesn’t have anything remarkable or special. I’m not a food snob but I don’t like to go out for average food, especially food I can make myself at home like steaks, prime rib, ribs, and other typical American fare. My last whine about the food in the cities is the price. The places above are all very expensive relatively speaking. They don’t have very impressive menus and many people are saying they are not that remarkable but they are charging far more than better restaurants in other cities like Chicago. Ie. $20+ for chicken? $28 for duck? $34 for a fish dish?

I want to like it here very badly but the food scene is killing it for me. Can anyone please recommend great restaurants for: Italian, Mexican, Chinese and roast duck that isn’t so much about the place to be seen (price) but the quality of the food?

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  1. I will try to say this without being snippy, but basically if you look through this board for Minnesota posts you will find the answer to that very question.
    I won't end there, because I always hate when people basically say find it yourself. I would ask how long you have been here that you are frustrated? There are a TON of options and sometimes I worry that people come here from more "cosmopolitan" cities like Chicago or NYC (where I am from) and if they can't find what they want immediately they assume it is not here. Also, what suburb are you in?
    Anyway, for Chinese there are about 10 million posts about Little Szechuan in St. Paul and Tea House in Plymouth. Both are absolutely top notch, reasonably priced and kid friendly.
    For Mexican, there is a section of St. Paul that is heavily Mexican, and my favorite is El Burrito Mercado. In Mpls, East Lake has a lot of good options, especially at Midtown Global Market, Mercado Central and Manny's Tortas.
    For Italian Luci Ancora seems to be a board favorite.
    Don't overlook SE Asian around here. Vietnamese is huge, particularly Saigon and Mai Village on University.
    Also, dim sum is great here, particularly Jun Bo in Richfield.

    15 Replies
    1. re: AliceS

      I found almost everything I had at Jun Bo about a couple of weeks ago not to my taste. I am part of a group who prefer dim sum made delicately, i.e. wrappings that are made as thin as possible (especially for the Shanghai bun, har gow, all the different "funs"), and the use of young baby kai lan steamed until just al dente and remaining a vibrant green and crispy. The many steamed dim sum plates that we ordered had thick glutinous wrappings with very little filling and the steamed kai lan came looking brownish and dissolved to mush in the mouth. Moreover, most had stalks close to an inch in diameter. It's not what I am used to for dim sum.

      1. re: Dairy King

        Where do you go for dim sum in the Twin Cities DK? Jun Bo is better than the other places I've tried for dim sum in the Cities (i.e., much better than Mai Village), but I haven't made it to Mandarin KItchen yet. I agree, though, that Jun Bo's dim sum isn't exceptional: it would be considered only average in SF or NYC, in spite of the fact that I've heard the chefs were brought from SF, Hong Kong and Vancouver.

        I don't remember the kai lan at Jun Bo being mushy and brown! Ew--I would have just sent that back.. It was definitely bright green the time or two we tried it and I remember that it was much more slender and tender than what I've been used to elsewhere. I remember being pleasantly surprised. I wonder if they are having a hard time sourcing it this time of year.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Jun Bo is pretty good. Its not like in SF or NY but its not unedible by any

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            My new favorite place is Manana in St. Paul on East 7th Street. It has wonderful El Salvadorian food-really good prices and really good food. We had a chicken burrito there that was fantastic. I think it's going to be a once-a-week thing for quite a while.

        2. re: AliceS

          I bascially just find out where people representing the cusine I want happen to live within the city. That has worked everyplace I've lived and worked, particularly in NYC and Chicago. If you want "steaks" in Philly, go to South Philly to a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Look where the locals are eating and the rest is history.

          One restaurant I've not seen mentioned here, is Puerta Azul. A really great place for Puerto Rican food, owned and operated by a couple born in San Juan. Excellent
          date spot but I would get there early. Not a very large dining room.

          Also Big E's on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Exactly the same food I had in New Orleans (Jambalya, whiskey beans, corn bread, and other trimmings). And they have all the appropriate sauces necessary to kick up properly.

          1. re: TaylorRoot

            Be aware, Big E's has been closed for a little over a year.

            1. re: Foureyes137

              I recall some shifting of the chefs there and I suppose the most recent one didn't work out. I'm sorry to hear about it. Thanks for the information.

            2. re: TaylorRoot

              I'm not sure that strategy of seeking out neighborhoods devoted almost singularly to certain ethnicities is going to work as effectively in the Twin Cities as it does in other Metro Areas. While it is true that there are neighborhoods with higher concentrations of recent immigrants than others, I find the Twin Cities neighborhoods to be more blended than those in other metro areas. There isn't a "Chinatown" or a "Koreatown" or "Japantown" here...the neighborhoods are pretty diverse. In fact, the merchants along University Avenue in St. Paul tried to get a section of University declared to be a special neighborhood and the best they could come up with was "International Street" or something along those lines. (Here's a post that references an article in the Pioneer Press on that topic:


              If you're looking for "ethnic" restaurants in the Twin Cities, "Eat Street" in Minneapolis, portions of Lake Street in Minneapolis, and University Avenue in St. Paul tend to have the highest concentrations of those kinds of eateries, but none of those are exclusively focused on one particular cuisine over another. University Avenue, and the portion of Snelling within a few blocks of where it intersects University, for instance, has Hmong, Szechuan, Vietnamese, Thai, Turkish, Ethiopian, Korean, Caribbean, Cambodian, Ghanan restaurants, among others, practically stacked on top of each other. Certainly within blocks of each other.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                One of the problems I have with "Eat Street", is the level to which it has been publicized. I've seen the prices steadily rise, the portions decline, and authenticity be completely lost by some of the restaurants.

                My favorite Mexican place there (Taco Morelos) evolved from an establishment primarily serving Hispanic families to one primarily serving visitors from the suburbs, Uptown, and elsewhere. Along with this came increasingly more bland food at a much higher cost, smaller portions, and as you might expect, the local Hispanic population avoids it now. Properly prepared Mexican food (authentic) requires little seasoning in terms of the level of heat perceived. You find this at Mercado Central (possibly the next victim of it's own success ?) and others who continue to serve patrons who prefer this.

                Taco Morelos is basically Taco Bell in a nicer dining room setting at this point. I hope the other places on Eat Street can maintain their indentities more effectively.

                1. re: TaylorRoot

                  I don't think every restaurant along Eat Street is universally exceptional, but there are some chowish treasures there... Personally, I'm more of a University Avenue gal...with Little Szechuan being right at the top of my list of favorites.


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Zimmern & Platt drill this point home in this month's MSP mag with their reviews of several University Ave of them even tried to coin a cornball nickname for the stretch.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      We agree completely on University Avenue, it's a favorite place.

                      I did have some great German food at The Black Forest. It seems to have preserved it's authenticity regardless of how popular it has become. A nice thing to see anywhere here, and particularly on Eat Street.

                      Eat Street also has some interesting markets with great prices on woks, ceramics, and basic ingredients for oriental cuisine.

                      Be extremely careful parking in any of the store lots. They enforce their rules with parking boots and I know people caught by this. One friend parked in a lot near a market, visited an adjoining business for one component of the dish they were making, then returned to the market owning the lot. When they left, they had a boot on their car, and it cost them $150 in cash on the spot to have it removed.

                      City Council (Minneapolis) has investigated some of the practices regarding parking in this area of town and found several "scams" being run. They haven't taken action yet to try to stop it. So just be aware that the signs are strictly (if not overly so) enforced.

                    2. re: TaylorRoot

                      Taylorroot, I agree about the decline of Tacos Morelos - I used to love their tortas, but after they remodeled, the food turned into chain-style blandness.

                      Have you tried Pancho Villa at 2539 Nicollet? I haven't (I keep going to Mexican taquerias on E. Lake Street), but I hear it's pretty good.

                      Another Eat Street place that doesn't show signs of blandification or too much success is Pho Tau Bay (Vietnamese). But I haven't been there for at least 6 months - I hope they haven't remodeled recently! I also hope that they have enough success to stay open...


                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                        Thanks for the tip about Pancho Villa. I'll have to try it when time permits.

                        I travel a great deal, so sometimes I'll find a great restaurant here and not visit for a period of time (usually distracted with something new). All too often I find the places closed or under new management. I imagine this is a function of the high rents here in many areas. It's happening even in NYC in prime areas of Manhatten. Chains and owners with better funding come in and force out the long term tenants. I'd rather not see an Olive Garden in NYC where a "mom and pop" Italian place once existed which was unique.

                        I've been to Pho and it's pretty good. Again, thanks for the Mexican tip.

                    3. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Eat Street has the three of the best restaurants of their genre right next to each other.

                      Seafood Palace - Sophisticated Cantonese cuisine -- the squab is to die for.
                      Pho 79 - By far the best pho in the Twin Cities, and I've tried every one of them.
                      Pancho Villa - Whole Red Snapper cooked 6 different ways, and Mexican Coca-Cola made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.

                      Gotta pity the folks in the 'burbs.

                2. I am not exactly sure what you mean by "ethnic" but "Moscow on the Hill" is great for Russian food. Large selection of vodkas too. The service is usually wonderful. They have a website. They are located on Selby.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MIKELOCK34

                    I have had several work aquaintences confirm that Moscow On The Hill is very authentic. All are new citizens from St. Petersburg or Moscow.

                  2. AliceS - Thanks for the reply. I live in Savage (South Burbs) where there isn't much to offer. I have been here for about a year and a half but we don't do the restaurants in the summer because there's too much outdoors stuff to do. I have read many pages of this forum prior to posting and found many repeats that are very pricey (see original post) but not many of the names you shared.

                    1. I'm originally from New York also and at first glance the Twin Cities don't have much. However, when you actually get out and about and start readings websites, weekly papers, etc. you'll find that there are many good restaurants.

                      We primarily eat at ethnic restaurants, 90% of which are low priced and family friendly. Off the top of my head our favorites are:

                      Midori's (Japanese)
                      Holy Land (middle eastern)
                      Little Szechuan (Chinese)
                      Jasmine Deli (Vietnamese)
                      Pho Tau Bay (Vietnamese)
                      Fasika (Ethiopian)
                      King's (Korean)
                      Midtown Global Market (assorted)
                      Khyber Pass (Afghani)
                      India Palace (Indian)
                      True Thai (Thai)

                      I could go on but I'll agree with AliceS that most of these restaurants have been discussed in depth in previous posts.

                      1. ooohhhh...Savage....Never Been

                        I'm originally from Boston - and I had the same mindset.

                        I agree with the above posters... & their recommendations...

                        I'd also add
                        King & I for Thai - downtown MPLS behind the Hyatt
                        Ristorante Luci vs. Luci Ancora for Italian - they have a 4 course tasting menu that is excellent and reasonable. Don't think I would take my kids there. (just went this week!)
                        Koyi - sushi (downtown mpls - off 1st ave)
                        Broders pasta bar - mpls - 50th and penn - pasta & pizza

                        I'm also trying to think of anything in your corner of the metro - but I'm at a loss.

                        edit - also LaGrolla - Selby Ave in St paul - excellent italian.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: St Paul Susie

                          I've had some great Italian food at Ciatti's (sic) on Selby in St. Paul. Some of the dishes were identical to what I had in Northern Italy when visiting. Florence, Alessandria, Pietra Santa, and that neck of the woods.

                          1. re: TaylorRoot

                            You mean La Grolla, I think -- Ciatti's used to be on Grand Ave, but is long gone.

                            1. re: mcgeary

                              Yes, sorry about the confusion. I'm also sorry to hear Ciattis is gone. It seems nothing stays around here very long. It was packed with people as I recall. But then so was Big E's and it's gone as well. I remember having to show up early on weekends to avoid a crowd due to the tiny dining room.

                              Why do apparently popular and thriving restaurants move and or disappear here so much ? Is it the rents or just other factors ? Just the nature of the business
                              these days ?

                              I know many favorites had to move downtown due to construction. Keys, Jitters, and that entire strip which used to be adjacent to Peavey Plaza. When I lived
                              downtown I really enjoyed those places.