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New Yorker visiting Minneapolis / St. Paul [MSP]

I'm a New Yorker making a weekend trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul. I am looking for advice about where to find the local delicacies. I know that the Twin Cities have a reputation for excellent Southeast Asian food, and I'd LOVE to find some great Vietnamese, Lao, Hmong, Cambodian, Indonesia, or other food. Any suggestions? Somali? Any other ethnic foods I should check out? I can get great Chinese in New York, and some good Vietnamese, but from what I understand there's a larger Vietnamese population in the Twin Cities. Are there a lot of Mexicans or Central Americans, like in Chicago? And if so, where do they eat?

Also, I was hoping for recommendations for other local specialties. Venison? Scandinavian food? Does anything come to mind? I've been looking through the boards, and I've heard recommendations for Birchwood Cafe, Quang, Amazing Thailand, Peninsula Malaysian, Mai Village, Saigon, Heartland.

I'd love to hear any advice, thoughts, suggestions, and so on.

Also, are the Twin Cities places where I can just walk through the whole city? I love to walk for five or eight miles on a sightseeing/eating extravaganza.


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  1. Great Lao Menu @ Thai Bazil (704 University Ave W, St Paul)

    (everyone is going to be sick of me promoting it as it seems no one else has tried).

    For walking: check the weather. This is a pretty random time of the year. You may be able to walk through Minneapolis from one end of Nicollet @ Washington down towards Lake Street (=>http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&h...


    .. but walking *to* St Paul is a bad plan! There's a bus (21) that goes from Nicollet & Lake all the way downtown St Paul, but even that'll take you an hour. It stops about a mile from Nicollet & Lake at Chicago & Lake where you can find the Midtown Global Market. It's an inside place w.a good variety of food - but most of my favs are all mexican or african inspired. Only one Vietnamese, and not the best in town (although they do use real (whole) milk in their bubble tea instead of powdered coffee creamer, which is honorable). It'll also stop by some other fun restaurants, and even by Izzy's ice cream that you may read about a lot in other postings.

    From downtown St Paul you can take another bus back (16A) to downtown Minneapolis through a completely different food route.

    Or you can just take a cab. Not sur wehre you're staying anyway.. =)

    Bus lines are available at metrotransit.org


    1 Reply
    1. re: reannd

      Take the 94 bus, it is faster. Direct connect from Minneapolis to St. Paul.

    2. For a complete list of restaurants in the MSP area serving cuisines that are harder to come by, I compiled a printable list, updated about a month or two ago, which you might be interested in: http://www.geocities.com/tvdxer/chow.... .

      I don't think Minneapolis has an especially large population of Central Americans or Mexicans. There are Mexican neighborhoods (the one in the West Side in St. Paul is probably the largest), but it's nothing like in Chicago or many other cities.

      Minneapolis does have unusually large (the largest or among the largest per capita in the country) populations of Hmong, Somalis, and Tibetans. The Hmong are from the highlands of southern China and Laos; most come to Minneapolis as refugees (I think) from Laos. The best place to sample Hmong food, extremely rare in the U.S., is the cafeteria at the Hmong International Market. You'll also find a lot of Thai and Lao food sold by vendors there, but Hmong items can be distinguished quite easily by the language's very unusual spelling system...lots of words that look completely unpronounceable, as the last letter or two of each word indicates the word's tone. From my visit to the Hmong International Market with fellow Chowhounds (report here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/428244 ), it seems that most Hmong food is fairly plain, meaty fare, eaten with rice. The (HOT) papaya salad and Thai curries there are good, though. Also check out the remainder of the market, bustling with an almost exclusively Asian clientèle and selling everything from traditional herbal remedies, arts, and (interestingly enough) silver pieces used for making marriage transactions to Hmong movies and CDs (produced in the U.S.), to all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables.

      There are about twenty Somali restaurants in the Minneapolis area, per this site (Google-archived, was up the last time I checked): . Some of the ones on the list may lean towards Ethiopian, however. The Somali restaurant I ate at was Safari, located just out of downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Ave. between 14th and 15th St. I chose the Somali "beef suqqar", which was delicious. What really stood out was the basmati rice - absolutely delicious, easily the best I've ever had. You can also (in true Somali style) order the dish with "baasto" or pasta.

      Not aware of any Tibetan restaurants in MSP, as there are in NYC, but there are three Nepali restaurants, at least one of which gets regular favorable reviews. The most well-known seems to be Everest on Grand ( http://www.hotmomo.com/ ) in St. Paul, but there's also Namaste Café in Uptown Minneapolis ( http://www.namastechai.com/ ) and, oddly enough, Highland Park Cafe ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/417443 ) in St. Paul, which now has a small Nepali menu accompanying its traditional standard American fare menu.

      Hope your visit goes well!

      Safari Restaurant
      1410 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403

      Namaste Cafe
      2512 Hennepin Ave Ste 1, Minneapolis, MN 55405

      Hamdi Restaurant
      818 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

      Everest On Grand [DUPLICATE
      ]1278 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN

      1. From your list of recommendations I would cross off Mai Village and Saigon...they are not bad, but Quang and Jasmine Deli are quite a bit better. I strongly recommend Heartland as they have a unique regional menu and excellent food.

        1. If the weather is nice when you're here, walking and eating is the way to go!

          You could walk along Eat Street (Nicollet Ave, which is called Nicollet Mall downtown) to Lake Street. You would pass dozens of great places along the way, like the previously-mentioned Safari (Somali/Middle-Eastern), Pancho Villa (Mexican), and Jasmine Deli (Vietnamese). Once you got to Lake Street, you'd be close to many hole-in-the-wall taquerias (like La Hacienda on Lake near the freeway overpass). Lake Street is about 2-1/2 miles from downtown.

          From there, you could either go "up" Lake St. (west, towards the higher numbers) to Uptown and our beautiful trio of lakes (Harriet, Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles). Tons of good eating up that way. If you followed Lake of the Isles to Franklin Ave, then went down Franklin, you'd pass Sebastian Joe's ice cream (Franklin Ave almost at Hennepin). Then you could walk past the Walker Art Center (20.21 Restaurant) and Loring Park on your way back downtown. This entire round-trip walk is probably more than 8 miles, so you could hop a bus for part of the trip.

          Or instead of going to Uptown and the lakes, you could head "down" Lake St. (east) to the Midtown Global Market - a must visit for a foodie. I recommend anything from La Sirena Gorda or Los Ocampo, but there's also tasty Scandinavian food near the west door.

          If you wanted to head the other way from downtown, you could walk up Hennepin Ave, across the river, and explore N.E. Minneapolis (Kramarczuk's, Surdyk's deli/liquor, Fugaise). Further along University Ave, Restaurant Alma is near the Stone Arch Bridge, which leads back downtown. (Alma is my vote for locally sourced food if you want a moderate-to-expensive splurge.) Or you could continue on University Ave to Dinkytown, home of the marvelous AL'S BREAKFAST (open until 2pm, I think). Walking all the way to Al's and back is well over 5 or 6 miles - to be sure, check http://www.gmap-pedometer.com .

          Enjoy your visit!

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

          Jasmine Deli
          2532 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404

          Pancho Villa Restaurant
          2539 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404

          1 Reply
          1. re: AnneInMpls

            Oops - I clicked "post" too soon. Here are the other places links for the comment above.


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

            Restaurant Alma
            528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

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

            Surdyks Liquor and Bistro 2go
            303 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414

            Kramarczuk East European Deli
            215 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414

            Fugaise [CLOSED 2009]
            304 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414

            20.21 Restaurant & Bar
            1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403

            Taqueria La Hacienda
            334 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

          2. I second the Midtown Global Market suggestion others here made. In fact, you can "hit two birds with one stone", since Everest on Grand and Safari Restaurant ("Safari Express") both have stands there. Something Chow-friendly Safari Express in the MGM offers is "Safari cup cuisine" - a smaller portion without salad for $4.49. Perfect for trying a little of Safari, while enjoying the other vendors' offerings without incapacitating yourself!

            One tip for MGM: Arrive on a weekday, not too late. Otherwise you might find most of the stands closed. I went there on a Sunday around 6 pm, and almost everything was locked up.

            1. Wow! I guess that reputation for friendliness is well earned. Thanks for all of the great and well-thought-out suggestions. I'm going to have to compile an eating map--really a gluttony map, if I try even 10 percent of these suggestions. I'll report back after my trip.

              Thanks again.

              1. Besides our ethnic communities, I think you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't hit up at least one of our local ice cream shops. You'll find an ongoing debate between the loyalists of Izzy's, Crema Cafe, and Pumphouse Creamery (there's a plethora of other places too, but those three are consistently at the top of the list.)

                We're a dairy state, so try to get to (at least) one of those three.

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

                Crema Cafe
                3403 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                Pumphouse Creamery
                4754 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                1. First report! I arrived today, dropped off my stuff, and decided to embark on a food adventure. A lot of the recommendations focused on places on Nicollet Avenue, so I thought I'd head over and have a walk around Eat Street. It looks like a fun neighborhood with really wide ranging food options, from Indian-West Indian to Mexican to German to Vietnamese. I'll probably be back.

                  For lunch I had a pho tai at Quang. I feel that a simple beef pho is a great gauge of restaurant quality. And this was possibly the best I've had in the United States. The beef in it was incredibly tender, and I suspected that the chef just put it into the hot broth, raw, as the dish was ready to be taken to the table. The broth smelled subtly of anise. It was perfectly flavored without adding anything. I did squirt in some hot sauce, since I think most delicious things are even more delicious when they're spicy. The noodles were perfectly tender and seemed to have been fresh, not dried. Overall, I was extremely impressed. My one quibble was that I like to get more herbs on the plate of items to add to the soup--there was some nice basil, but I also like the other leafy things (although I don't know what they're called). To be fair, there were other kinds of chopped herbs in the soup, just not on the plate.

                  The Vietnamese coffee was take-no-prisoners. I'm feeling ready to take on the world, although I slept three hours last night.

                  THANK YOU Minnesota chowhounds. I'll report more later.

                  Also, Danny, thanks for the ice cream tips. I'm also planning to hunt down your legendary beers.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: nerdgoggles

                    Not that you'll go back bc there's so much other cool stuff to explore, but if you ask for more herbs @ Quang they give them no questions asked :) I know, I know.. why should you have to ask.. but I guess maybe that's how they stay cheap. I'm so glad you liked it there, too, though.. it's one of my favorite places in town :)

                    Next you should try our mexican & let us know! Maybe @ Midtown Global Market.. although if I went there I'd order the super red dish at Safari, the Momo's at Everest, or the Verde Ceviche at the place w.a blinking MEXCIAN SEAFOOD sign (La Sirena Gorda). =) Go big. (yes, these are all recommended above, too.. cuz they're good).

                    Beware tomorrow is some big Yoga festival there.. not sure what's all involved, though.


                    1. re: nerdgoggles

                      Wow - on-the-road reports from a visitor! Great stuff! Here's to a weekend of good eating. Luckily, it's currently warm enough for ice cream - maybe you can try *all* the top places in town.


                    2. I'm not a local, but I'm a New Yorker like yourself and had a wonderful trip visiting friends in Minneapolis recently. I had a lot of great food (happened to catch the State Fair!), but what I remember the most, which I haven't yet found in NYC is deep fried cheese curds. I had them at the fair, but I believe there is a diner (Town Talk?) that serves a them as well + deep fried pickles. The other food I loved for the 2nd year in a row was soft serve at Connie's Creamy Cone - a cute little shack surrounded by kids with ice cream all over their faces. I had a twist w/peanut butter dip - the soft serve is so fresh and creamy it's divine. I never thought that I could get that excited over soft serve!

                      1. More reports!

                        After my blissed-out feast at Quang, I went back to Nicollet Avenue for more. I was with some U of M alumni who remembered the Black Forest with great affection. We went back for dinner. Octoberfest was on--as was David Hasselhoff night! (Possibly this is an authentic German experience--eek!) The place was kitschy and fun, and they handed out light-up St. Pauli Girl necklaces. I wouldn't say that the food was exceptional. Sausages were pretty solid. Cabbage and spaetzle were also good. The main focus seemed to be on beer and conviviality. I had a lot of fun.

                        For lunch the next day, I took a partner in crime and hunted down Big Daddy Barbecue in St. Paul. The line stretched down the block. We waited for an hour--by that time the beef ribs were out and there was a further wait for the chicken. We just took some pork ribs and tips. They were exquisite, with a pronounced smoke ring and a concentrated, smoky flavor. Nicely rendered fat, chewy edges. During the wait, it was fun to watch the grillmasters making adjustments and supervising the proceedings. The smell was intoxicating too. It was a really fun trip.

                        More to come.