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Vietnamese like White Lily? + Hoa Bien Review (MSP)

or like saigon on 38th street in Mpls.

I like pho alot and banh mi but sometimes I want what I consider to be the vietnamese food
I grew up on..By this I mean curry chicken or beef, ginger chicken, and lemongrass chicken.
You know the kind with both scallions and onions and crushed peanuts on top..I'm guessing this type of food is less authentic then Pho etc...

We ate at Hoa Bien this afternoon and it made me miss this "old school" (old school vietnamese minnesota style i mean) vietnamese even more. I haven't eaten at Hoa Bien in years and I kind of dragged my husband there today. He would have preferred to go to the Saigon on university. I was thinking they did this kind of food. Unfortunately they didn't. We knew it the second we layed eyes on our plates; everything had this dull, semi-opaque cornstarchy sauce on it. Or (and I'm not sure which is worse) no sauce at all and no nice carmelized goodness on the lemongrass chicken. The jasmine rice was also undercooked and stuck together in a big hard ball. To be fair, the service was really excellent. Everyone was nice and friendly but not overly so and we were in and out of there in about 30 minutes.

So the question is, Is there any of that tasty vietnamese like I remember? It does exist in Mpls. still(at saigon 38th as I mentioned) I'm looking for St. Paul though. I know it might seem regressive but I really miss the food at White Lily on Grand (which I thought was the best at this) I miss the sweet spicy gingery curry-y (?) Kind of rich and fresh tasting at the same time. Oh and the rice..fluffy and fragrant and not at all crunchy. Any of the places on University? Should I just move on?

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  1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Saigon on 38th closed last year. Details here:

    http://www.startribune.com/456/story/...

    1 Reply
    1. re: bob s

      Dang! that's probably my fault. We went there about 3 times a month before we moved to St. Paul....Maybe there's nothing in mpls.anymore either..?

    2. I'm not completely sure I understand what qualities you're looking for since I really like the curry chicken at Hoa Bien but have you tried any of the entrees at Pho Tau Bay? All that I've had have been quite good.

      3 Replies
      1. re: katebauer

        Did you ever have the curried chicken or lemongrass chicken at either Saigon on 38th in mpls. or at the old White Lily in St.Paul? It was completely different than what I had yesterday at Hoa Bien..It's hard to describe if you haven't had it..Sort of similar to the Lotus' curried chicken and imperial chicken if you ever had that..but Lotus wasn't as good as the above 2 places either..Does anyone else know what I mean?..We haven't been to Pho Tau Bay that I remember..we'll have to try that. Is their curry chicken similar to Hoa Bien? Thanks for responses..

        1. re: cherrylime

          Sorry - I've never been to Saigon or White Lily. I went to the Saigon in Uptown once and they took about half an hour to make me spring rolls for takeout. I never went again I was so annoyed.

          1. re: katebauer

            the uptown one is/was owned by relatives of the 38th but the food is not at all comparable. I only went to the uptown one once..

      2. Just the other day, I was just musing on the styles, or waves, of Vietnamese restaurants in the Twin Cities.

        The first wave introduced a few Vietnamese dishes surrounded by familiar Chinese-style stir-fries. I remember that the first Vietnamese restaurant I went to (Que Viet, way back in the day) had all Chinese dishes on the menu - except for asparagus soup, hot and spicy lemongrass chicken, and those wonderful Vietnamese egg rolls.

        Later waves brought noodle salads and rice-paper spring rolls (Bona), Pho and sweet bean drinks (Trieu Chao, Hoa Bien, Quang), and 7-Bo Mon with its cook-at-your-table dishes (Mai Village). And, finally, my vote for the pinnacle of Vietnamese cuisine, banh mi sandwiches (Trung Nam and many follow-ons).

        I've only eaten at Saigon and White Lily once each, but if I remember rightly, they're part of the earlier wave of Vietnamese restaurants. Quang, Jasmine, Pho Tau Bay, and Hoa Bien belong to much later waves and have very different styles of food.

        Cherrylime, in your quest for "old school" Vietnamese food, give these places a try - they're early-wave places I really like:

        Que Viet Village House - 2211 Johnson St NE, Mpls (there's also a branch in Eagan)

        Vina II - 756 Cleveland Ave S, St. Paul (at University Ave.)

        Kimson - 8654 Lyndale Ave S, Bloomington

        Good luck in your quest!

        Anne

        4 Replies
        1. re: AnneInMpls

          Great! I'm glad someone besides me has been thinking of the history of minnesota vietnamese food..

          I know the first "later wave" place I went to was Quang when it was across the street from where it is now and only had I think 6 booths..it was also entirely painted this completely awesome minty-seafoam green color on the interior then. That was kind of the rice noodle salad wave, though they had pho, It seemed like most people were having the salads..I remember seeing the little plate of beansprouts, basil, and jalapenos there for the first time and the little baguettes! My husband discovered the banh mi sandwhiches at Quang (discovered as far as we knew I mean) and he's been addicted ever since.

          I actually waited tables at the Lotus uptown just after high school..it got kind of ..I don't know..diluted or something but it was good too at it's peak.

          I will definitely try some of these "old schools" places (I think I went to a Vina somewhere else a long time ago..?) but haven't been to the other places. Thanks!

          1. re: AnneInMpls

            I'm curious to hear more about Vina II in Highland Park. Is it worth a stop? Anything you can recommend particularly? Thanks...

            1. re: eleaticstranger

              Vina in Highland on Cleveland Ave has great egg rolls and stir fried potato beef. I'd characterize it as part of the "earlier wave Vietnamese" restaurants. We used to live in Highland and would eat there a couple of times a month. The kids of the folks who used to own Vina II now own the restaurant and a couple of the siblings havve branched out and now run Vietnam Restaurant near the Maplewood Mall and a restaurant (don't remember the name) in Woodbury. I believe the Vietnam Restaurant is offering both pho and bun noodle dishes in addition to many of the same dishes at the Highland Vina restaurant including their wonderful egg rolls.

              1. re: spahkee

                I've had the chicken curry there, which wasn't great, but the eggrolls and spring rolls are worth going for.

          2. white lily was dh's very first serving job 15 years ago. he says that he's looked around town in fruitless searches for something akin to white lily's curry chicken for years, and that to his knowledge there is nothing in town similar. . .

            3 Replies
            1. re: soupkitten

              soupkitten, DH must understand what my obsession is then..The thing is, it's impossible to recreate it at home..I've even managed a pretty good Pho at home
              but never that certain something I'm talking about here..Also that's saying something
              if he worked there and still craves it!

              1. re: cherrylime

                As someone who's moved away from the Twin Cities from 1997 to 2003, I know exactly what you're talking about. Things were completely different Vietnamese-foodwise upon my return.

                Where do you stand on Kihn-Do in Uptown? I'm embarrassed to admit this becauase, yes, I realize it is not good. But I lived nearby when I first moved to Minneapolis in 1990 and went there often. Now I think of it as comfort food and, after years of being turned off by its greasiness and cornstarch glop, crave it again. That supersalty fried rice....

                Also know exactly what you mean about the Saigon on 38th. Used to live near there and ordered the mock duck curry thingee frequently. I'd say a dish with mock duck is "old school"....Also crack up at the slogan, can anyone remember that? The owner's slogan: I didn't come 38,000 (or however, many) miles to cook you crap. Or somthing like that. I'm paraphrasing this.

                Jean

                1. re: jeanmt

                  Kinh Do's imperial chicken or hot and spicy chicken or whatever they called it was good (yes,in a comfort food kind of find it in your fridge after a night out kind of way) It was is (?) different than any other vietnamese I've had in TCs though. I'm feeling sad about Saigon on 38th and letting it slip away
                  without my noticing. I think the slogan was "I didn't come 38,000 miles to cook you bad food" But I like yours better...!

            2. When I'm in the mood for "old school vietnamese" like was served at Lotus or White Lily, I hit The Lagoon a couple blocks north of University on Rice. I absolutely love their hot and spicy chicken. However, I definitely hear where you're coming from. I miss Lotus. When I lived on Grand, we used to walk to Lotus two or three times a week for their curried mock duck, imperial chicken dr. chungs (?) chicken and egg rolls.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Nathan_1118

                I'll have to try Lagoon especially since it's in saint paul..Actually I'd be curious to know how authentic this type of vietnamese is or isn't (not kinhdo..because of the grease factor I think that's more like state fair vietnamese)..I mean do they eat any sort of lemongrass/curry chicken in Viet Nam?

                Also soupkitten, I was just trying to remember the other day..what was the name of that big punch drink at the Nankin called? I thought it had some kind of funny name..

                1. re: cherrylime

                  the drink your thinking of was called "Wanderer's Punch"... Red Dragon in Uptown serves a knock-off called "wanderous punch"... Of course, Nankin's were best :) Good times!!!

                  1. re: shel476

                    i posted the recipe for the wanderer a while back (i bt'ed at the nankin when i was a little kitten)

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/400688

                2. re: Nathan_1118

                  There is a Lotus over by the U, right next to the theater, about a block south (??) of Stub & Herbs. I can get myself there but forget the street it is on (Oak?)

                  I used to work with the woman who owned the White Lily and they moved to CA. Not sure if they opened a new restaurant there. Food days at work were always good when Lang would bring in the egg rolls and other goodies!

                  1. re: liesel

                    It's on Oak, right next to the Oak Street Theatre.

                    1. re: bob s

                      Has the Stadium Village Lotus gotten any better? I gave up on that branch of the Lotus "chain" years ago because the food at that location was so horrible.

                      Instead, I go to Bona - second-wave Vietnamese - around the corner on Washington, or Jasmine Orchid - third-wave Vietnamese - across the street on Oak.

                      But if the food has gotten better, I'd like to know. I'm craving lemongrass chicken, and Bona's version isn't my favorite (I always get soup or pork over rice noodles at Bona).

                      Anne

                3. There's a comprehensive list on the Twin Cities Dining Guide site:

                  http://www.twincitiesdiningguide.com/...

                  One of my Vietnamese colleagues swears by Cam Ranh Bay in Burnsville (I know - nowhere near St. Paul).

                  1. Have you tried Mai Village? I think they might have what you're looking for. They also, by the way, have good dim sum without MSG on weekends.

                    1. A new place just opened near the Maplewood mall!
                      It's owned by vietnamese, but also offers thai and chinese.
                      Large selection of pho!

                      http://www.bambuonline.com/

                      1. Remember Kim Long's on University Avenue, kind of near the Capitol?

                        That was first-wave and we just loved loved loved it. They had wonderful chicken stir fries, a mild curry one and a hot and spicy one. The chicken was nice big chunks and the sauces were great. Also good eggrolls.

                        Can anyone say what place that still exists is closest to it?