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MSP Recommendations

I will be in St. Paul for 3 days at the beginning of July. I am on a somewhat tight budget as I just finished grad school, but I'd like to eat as much awesome Twin Cities food as possible while I'm there. I tried searching the board, but since this board covers the entire midwest and the current chowhound search function is difficult, I figured I would just ask.

I'm visiting from Boston and would especially like to eat things I can't get here or that are better there. If there are any regional specialties, I'd love to hear about them. I love Vietnamese, Japanese (esp. hamachi kama and vegetable sushi), pizza (not cracker crust but most other pizza if it's good), duck, and really good bread and baked goods. I tend to not like foods involving lots of cheese or cream, and I love most vegetables.

I'm really excited to finally visit the Twin Cities (I lived in Wisconsin for 5 years without ever going) and check out the awesome food there. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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  1. I have just returned to MSP after five years in Tokyo. One of the first places I go to is Cafe Latte on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

    Also, just had a great lunch on Lake Calhoun at an outdoors cafe called Tin Fish. A fish and chips place with a school of fish tacos. Best of all, with the good weather, you are in a fun location for people-watching and enjoying the wind-surfers on Lake Calhoun.

    Do also consider Eat Street in South Minneapolis on Nicollet Avenue around 26-28th Streets. Plenty of budget options there too.

    1. Sounds like fun. Here's a recent post about some chow that is unique'ish to the Twin Cities. Vietnamese and other South East Asian food is especially good here. And there are lots of wonderful bakeries, too, (which I am certain others will chime in on.) RE: pizza, you might want to give more detail on what defines "good to you" as there a couple of ways to go there.


      Have a great time. Please do report back on what you end up trying and what you thought of it.


      1. You're in luck. The South Asian food (I think the best is on University in St. Paul) is really inexpensive, so you'll be able to eat well. It might be fun for you to check out some of the asian markets in that area, too.

        TDQ's link has LOTS of good suggestions. I'd especially recommend checking out some of our ice cream, since we take it as seriously as MA folks do. I'm torn between Izzys and Sonny's (at Crema Cafe) as which is best.

        If you are in town over a weekend and you like to browse, I'd recommend hitting either the St Paul Farmer's Market (sat or sun) or the Mill City Market (sat only). Lots of good local stuff and most folks have things to taste. There's more "prepared" foods at Mill City Market (like tarts and a yummy watermelon tomato gazpacho). Of course, if you went to the St Paul market, you could stop by Tanpopo (Japanese noodle soups and more) afterwards - which is pretty much bliss in a bowl.

        I want to throw in a recommendation for Heartland. It's in St Paul, it's more upscale, and they focus on midwestern cuisine and ingredients.


        1. If you like pizza, the original Punch pizzeria in St. Paul on Cleveland Ave is outstanding. It is made in the VPN (authentic Neapolitan) tradition; in Boston, Bertucci's makes a VPN-certified pie, but really Punch is on a different plane of existence than Bertucci's.

          For really good bread, if you like the rustic/crisp crust style of baking, Rustica bakery in Minneapolis would probably be my favorite -- better than any bread I've had in Boston. For good baked goods, I would suggest Rustica, Lucia's-to-go in Uptown Minneapolis, or Birchwood cafe in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.

          I don't think you will get better Japanese in Minneapolis than you would find in Boston. We have some good Japanese options, but I don't think they are particularly unique to our region.

          Vietnamese is a specialty of the Twin Cities, however. There are a bunch of recent threads about Vietnamese options here, which will probably cover the choices in more detail than we can here. If you're looking for inexpensive Vietnamese, Quang on Eat Street is a great value.

          I personally like eating at Yukari's suggestion Tin Fish, but if you're coming from Boston, you might be better served focusing on river fishes of the Midwest (walleye, trout, etc.), which would be different than the seafood fare you would find in Boston. FWIW, Lucia's cooks a mean river fish.

          Given the timing of your visit (early July), you may be tempted to go to Taste of Minnesota, thinking that it may prove to be inexpensive, chow-worthy, and local. I don't think you will find an abundance of what you are looking for there; just a warning.

          Ehh, can you bring us some cannoli from the North End? :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chris Mitra

            Thanks for the suggestions. I love Neapolitan pizza and crusty bread (both of which are lacking in Boston). River fish sounds good. Man, I am definitely going to have to come back out for a longer visit!

            I generally avoid going to Taste of [Anything], but thanks for the warning.

            Pre-filled cannolis are no good! You'll just have to come visit Boston. :)

          2. The wine bar at Heartland is a good choice. Much less expensive than the main restaurant, and they have over 20 small-plate selections organized by type. They are excellent and mostly local. Wine is decent too. The bison bratwurst is outstanding.

            1. I love eating cheap in the Twin Cities! It's easy to do. The Dairy Queen's list is superb, but I bet you won't be here long enough to try everything. My top three choices for good cheap eating would be:

              Al's Breakfast (Dinkytown).


              Midtown Global Market - this one is a must, especially since you won't be here for the State Fair. MGM is like an ethnic version of the fair, without the rides.


              University Ave., St. Paul, for southeast Asian food. I really like Pho Ca Dao (pho and papaya salad only) and Saigon for Vietnamese, and Va Lor for "adventurous" Hmong & Cambodian food (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/38901... ). For real adventure, I'd go to the Hmong market described in this thread:


              Ice cream! My favorite is Izzy's, but there are lots of choices: Crema, Pumphouse Creamery, Sebastian Joe's, Grand Old Creamery, and more.


              Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls - they're a bit hard to find, but I think Target and Byerly's have them.


              OK, so that's five choices. And here's one more: For a splurge dinner, I think I'd go to Lucia, because they have three different "price points" - a sit-down restaurant, a wine bar, and a take-out counter. And it's in the heart of Uptown, near Lake Calhoun.


              Enjoy your trip!


              5 Replies
              1. re: AnneInMpls

                Cub Foods has a big display of the Pearson's candies, and they often run them on sale. I didn't know they were hard to find...the first time I had one was out of a vending machine at the U of M.

                1. re: Quince

                  Maybe it's just that whenever I'm craving a Pearson's Salted Nut Roll, I can't find one - maybe because I tend to look in drugstores, convenience gas-station marts, etc. Cub Foods is a great tip! Now I have two reasons to go to Cub (they sell Bit-O-Honey in bulk, too).


                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                    If nothing else, maillard will certainly find them in the MSP airport.

                    And, yes, the Pearson's products are hard to find outside of the Midwest.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      This is the first time I've heard about the relative rarity of the salted nut roll, although I did know the originated here. I've always taken them for granted. I see them all the time, but I guess I'm always at Cub. God, I love those things.

                      I guess it's like a Hawaiian eating Spam. Which is kind of ironic, since Spam comes from Austin.

                      1. re: pgokey

                        All this talk of Pearson's Salted Nut Goodies has made me start craving them again! Luckily, I now know where to find them. (No more peanut-craving midnight trips to Walgreens that end in nothing but frustration and sadness.)


              2. You say that you are going to be in St Paul. Are you limited to one area of St Paul, and will you have a car?

                If you do not have a car and are truly only going to be in the downtown area of St Paul, then some of the other recommendations may be out of your area. In downtown St Paul I always recommend Babani's. They claim to be the only Kurdish restaurant in the U.S. (or at least the first.) I've only been there for lunch, but I think almost everything on the menu was under $10.
                (544 St Peter Street, St Paul, MN 55102)

                Sakura is a very good sushi bar/restaurant right in the middle of downtown. http://sakurastpaul.com/
                (350 St Peter Street, St Paul, MN 55102)

                A very short taxi ride from downtown will bring you to the east end of University Ave. Like others have mentioned, University Ave has a lot of good SE Asian restaurants that serve an inexpensive meal. One of my favorites is Cheng Heng for Cambodian food. I think I had the Hot Pot the last time I was there and thought it was delish. (448 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103


                About a block from Cheng Heng is one of the MSP Chow-board's favorite Chinese restaurants, Little Szechuan. ( http://www.littleszechuan.com/ )

                1 Reply
                1. re: StPauliGirl

                  Ack! Taxis are horribly expensive here. Cab fares are regulated in the metro, requiring a $2.50 fee to start and $1.90 per-mile on top of that. Take the bus to University.


                  I agree on the Salted Nut Roll front. They are available at some newsstands, gas stations and the aforementioned grocery stores.

                2. If you like Indian food, two options that are amazing and inexpensive are Bombay 2 Deli on Central and the halwa puri at South Asian Foods in Fridley which is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or so.

                  Heartland is awesome, as others have said; also, Lucia's in Uptown (31st off Hennepin) has a wine bar and a bakery/takeout (with indoor and outdoor seating) where you can get great, locally sourced food for very reasonable prices.

                  1. As a Boston expatriate (I get back there at least 1x per year), here are my recommendations:

                    COFFEE SHOP CUISINE
                    Boston, in my experience, does not have coffeeshops like we do here- nowhere near the numbers, and very few that do great food, as well. Here, many serve as good, small restaurants with limited menus. In Minneapolis, my favorites are Anodyne, My-T-Fine, Gigi's, Clicquot Club Cafe, Moose & Sadie's, and Wilde Roast. In St Paul, I'd try Jerabek's, Blondie's, and Coffee News.

                    BAKED GOODS/DESSERTS
                    I can't tell you how much I miss Italian bakeries- the cannoli, esp. the huge anise biscotti (only the wispy wimpy ones here), everything about them. But there are some great places to go for sweet stuff: Birchwood Cafe, Caffe Latte, Rustica, Breadsmith, My-T-Fine, Wilde Roast, Patrick's French Bakery, Great Harvest, French Meadow.

                    Bryant-Lake Bowl: a restaurant/bar/theater/bowling alley. And food is quite good.
                    Vietnamese: my favorites are Quang and Jasmine Deli on Eat Street, there are so many more already mentioned
                    Caffe Latte: Bostonians I know love it when they come here
                    Dakota Jazz Club- great atmosphere, excellent food
                    Town Talk Diner and Ike's- excellent burgers and 40s atmosphere
                    112 Eatery- everyone talks about it, and I like it too
                    Punch Pizza- very different than Bertucci's, and excellent at every location
                    Chino Latino- this is a real "eatertainment" kind of place, but I've always liked the food, and I don't think there's much like it in Boston.
                    Erte- an affordable steak place, and nearby Modern Cafe, which has the best pot roast and pan-sauteed chicken.

                    What most impresses me about the restaurant scene here vs. Boston is that there is a huge number of affordable, accessible (in terms of price as well as cuisine) middle-level places to go regularly. Boston seems to have lots of high and low, not much middle.

                    Gotta get to bed, maybe more later. Can you bring everything from Bob's Foods in Medford on the plane with you? I miss that place terribly.

                    1. There will be some disagreement here but for a local treat I suggest you try the pan-fried Walleye at Bonfire in nearby Woodbury, http://www.axelsbonfire.com/bonfire/l...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MN Hick Chowhound

                        Any reason to avoid the Bonfire that's right in St. Paul where he'll be staying? (Victoria and Grand across the hall from Cafe Latte)

                      2. Thanks so much to everyone who's replied. I will take all these recommendations with me. Just to give a bit more info... I'll have access to a car and I'll be over by Macalaster in St. Paul and Uptown area of Minneapolis.

                        I think I've decided that my top priority foodwise is to eat the very best Vietnamese food I can. Most of the better Vietnamese food I've had was in cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but the very best stuff I've had was at a slightly upscale restaurant in Portland. So I am wondering what the very best Vietnamese food in MSP is, regardless of price or location. The friend I'm staying with was thinking we could trying out Ngong Vietnamese Bistro. I'm about to search the board for opinions of that place, but if anyone wants to add in some info here, that would be great. http://ngonbistro.com/

                        I also was wondering if Friday Night Fish Fry is a big thing in Minnesota or if that's mainly just Wisconsin.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: maillard

                          Ngon is apparently the place to go - I'm trying it Friday. There is a recent thread about it:


                          Some places will serve fish on Friday, more so during Lent, but a Friday Night Fish Fry sounds so church basement. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Places like Key's might do something like that. Anyone remember King Oscar's in Richfield?

                          1. re: maillard

                            The fish fry is more of a Wisconsin thing as you may have experienced in your years there. The fried walleye is Minnesota's trademark so if you are in St. Paul and looking for something you will not find in Boston I would recommend a trip to the Tavern on Grand Avenue (Tavern on Grand). You can get a walleye sandwich or you can eat an entree of walleye. Here is my photo gallery of a dozen Minnesota restaurant walleye sandwiches. This is kind of my backup collection when I don't find a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in a restaurant. :)


                            1. re: Davydd

                              Wait... there are restaurants that serve breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches in the twin cities? That's my favorite! Or, at least, the one time I had one it was amazingly tasty. I took an hour plus detour during a cross-country move to go to Joensy's in Iowa (see Pork Tenderloin #6 at http://www.allenbukoff.com/wildBPTiow... ). Where is the best BPT sandwich in MSP?

                              1. re: maillard

                                Davydd is obsessed (I assume he'd agree with this characterization) with finding the best breaded pork tenderloin in the Twin Cities. Here's the thread he started. I can't personally vouch for any of them as I have never had the pleasure of eating a breaded pork tenderloin in my travels.


                                1. re: maillard

                                  Go here...

                                  http://www.porktenderloinsandwich.com and then follow onto to my pork tenderloin sandwich blog reports. Joesny's BTW is not the biggest and best. Biggest was in St. Olaf at the Tap (and better) and the best so far in Iowa was at the Townhouse Supper Club in Wellsburg, IA.

                                  As for the Twin Cities I have found over 20 places I have sampled so far and know of a few more yet to try. They are out there and they are all pictured in my gallery.

                                  My favorite places for a pork tenderloin sandwich are the Minnetonka Drive-in in Spring Park (extra special delight on Thursday nights with classic cars), Lyon's Pub on 6th in Minneapolis, Grumpy's Bar on Washington Ave. in Minneapolis, and the Nook in St. Paul. The Machine Shed in Lake Elmo serves a good sandwich.

                                2. re: Davydd

                                  I don't know how it is in Wisconsin, but lots of places, particularly neighborhood type bars and "old timey" diners and supperclubs in St. Paul in particular, serve fish fry on Fridays, even outside of Lent. You just need to be on the lookout for it. Unfortunately, I just don't think they are all that fantastic. For instance, St. Clair Broiler (Snelling/St. Clair), Obbs, and, yes, Tavern on Grand (http://www.tavernongrand.com/) all have it. My favorite of all I've tried in St. Paul (I haven't tried Obb's, though) is still Groveland Tap: white fish deep fried in a Leinenkugel beer batter.


                                  St. Clair Broiler:

                                  Recent thread on Fish Fry in the Twin Cities--Lent in particular:

                                  I haven't tried Glockenspiel (for fish fry), either, but they have it, too:
                                  I do love their German beer hall atmosphere and their meats and cheeses appetizer platter. Usually you'll do pretty well at Glockenspiel if you order whatever is the special of the day.

                                  EDIT: another one I haven't tried:

                                  I've heard DeGidio's does a Friday fish fry: I'd call ahead to confirm. Otherwise, their politically incorrectly named "hot dago" sandwich is always a winner:

                                  St. Clair Broiler and Groveland Tap would likely be walking distance for you if you're staying near Mac College. Tavern on Grand would be very close, though, maybe not walkable.



                              2. Two more quick questions... First, is there anywhere that has a really fantastic duck dish? I love duck more than most foods, but almost never get it in Boston since my friends here are all vegetarian/kosher/unadventurous/unloving. I realize that duck is also not going to fall under cheap eats, but if there's a tasty enough dish, it'd be worth it...

                                And also, should I check out Little Szechuan if I have time? There's lots of good Szechuan food in Boston, but LS sounds so good and I really love szechuan food (hooray for numb lips!). The Spicy Crispy Chicken, Szechuan Tofu, and the green bean dish sound particularly good.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: maillard

                                  Ngon Bistro, Saigon (fantastic bahn mi sandwiches made to order), Trung Nam French Bakery (wonderful croissants and pretty good basic bahn mi--get there before noon if you can; they are closed on Sundays) will all be very nearby to you if you're in St. Paul near Macalester and are all outstanding Vietnamese. I've only been once, so I can't speak to consistency, but Ngon Bistro had a very nice duck confit appetizer on their menu. Little Szechuan would also be very convenient to you and is fantastic. My particular favorites are the fish fillet in spicy tasty broth, the green beans in special sauce, the cucumber appetizer, and the dan dan noodles. I've had one duck dish there, called "beer duck" or something, only once, but I remembered liking it. (My dining companion remembers it was "awesome.") All these places I've just mentioned are on University Avenue, East of Snelling, are very solid, and are all really "cheap eats" as far as I'm concerned. On University Avenue just West of Snelling is Cafe BonXai which is Asian Fusion--not as solid in my opinion as the others I've just mentioned, but very good and astonishingly affordable. Alas, these restaurants are not in the most attractive part of St. Paul, but it's the low rent that keeps these places so affordable, I think.


                                  Very nearish to Macalester in St. Paul is a place called the Groveland Tap (on St. Clair at Fairview)--it's just a neighborhood bar but they have good Friday AYCE fish fry. There are other places that do it, but this is my favorite outside of Lent. Also, something very local to the Twin Cities would be a "jucy lucy" (cheese stuffed burger)--the Groveland Tap does a twist on the Lucy called a cajun lucy. Very good.


                                  The best Jucy Lucy in the Twin Cities, in my opinion, is pretty near to where you will be staying, too: the Nook (yet another neighborhood bar) on Hamline near Randolph. The lucy is served on a bakery bun and the fries are handcut.


                                  One other favorite I'll mention because it is so close to Macalester: Shish recently named the best "Middle Eastern food" in the Twin Cities by City Pages (weekly alternative magazine whose food writer is a multi-time James Beard award winner for food writing)--I'm not sure it's the best, but it's awfully good and is right there on Grand Avenue, just a couple of blocks West of Snelling.

                                  EDIT: One more place: Heartland is a fine dining, focusing on local, artisanal ingredients. Probably out of your price range, but, their adjoining wine bar can be more affordable if it's something you want to check out.


                                  Have fun. Please report back!


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    TDQ's recs are awesome.
                                    i also want to mention that brasa is now open in northeast & might be in the op's interest and price range! :)


                                    i don't think brasa has a website yet.

                                2. Some of the places mentioned in this thread. I'll try to finish later....

                                  Midtown Global Market
                                  920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                  Lucia's Restaurant
                                  1432 W 31st St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                  The Tin Fish
                                  3000 E Calhoun Pkwy, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                  1806 St. Clair Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

                                  Saigon Restaurant & Bakery
                                  704 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                                  Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe
                                  2034 Marshall Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                                  Grand Ole Creamery
                                  750 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

                                  Al's Breakfast
                                  413 14th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

                                  Quang Pastry & Deli
                                  2719 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                  Punch Neapolitan Pizza
                                  704 Cleveland Ave S, Saint Paul, MN 55116

                                  Cafe Latte
                                  850 Grand Ave Ste 1, Saint Paul, MN 55105

                                  Tanpopo Noodle Shop
                                  308 Prince St, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                                  Sakura Restaurant & Sushi Bar
                                  350 Saint Peter St Ste 195, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                  Crema Cafe
                                  3403 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                  Saint Paul Farmers' Market
                                  290 E 5th St, St Paul, MN 55101

                                  Rustica Bakery
                                  816 W 46th St, Minneapolis, MN 55419

                                  Mill City Farmer's Market
                                  750 2nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55402

                                  Pho Ca Dao Restaurant
                                  439 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103

                                  Golden Palace (formerly Va Lor)
                                  371 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103

                                  Pumphouse Creamery
                                  4754 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                  Sebastian Joe's
                                  1007 W Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55405

                                  Babani's Kurdish Restaurant
                                  544 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                  Cheng Heng Restaurant
                                  448 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bob s

                                    Linking in Ngon Bistro (now at the site of Pho Anh Vietnamese Restaurant)


                                    Pho Anh Vietnamese Restaurant (CLOSED)
                                    799 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104

                                  2. Golooney's for some choice pizza, not to mention some tasty sandwiches. Galactic Pizza is a lot of fun. Caffrey's Deli has one of the most amazing sandwiches I've had in my entire life.

                                    Caffrey's Deli & Subs
                                    3008 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                    Galactic Pizza
                                    2917 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                    Golooney's East Coast Pizza [CLOSED 2009]
                                    2329 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55405

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: loincloth

                                      i think caffrey's was awesome the first 9 months it was open, then they switched to more foodservicey ingredients-- bottom line sysco stuff & the sandwiches don't taste as good anymore.

                                      if i was in the lake & lyndale neighborhood & wanted something fast & cheap i'd hit galactic pizza-- or maybe falafel king.