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May 8, 2008 07:30 AM

MSP - Hmong

Hi all,

I am a journalist from Toronto, coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul at the end of the month to visit a friend, and I've managed to sell a story on how the Hmong influx has affected your culinary scene. So of course there's none better than Chowhounds to ask for food tips...

You've all raved about the Intl Market in St. Paul, so I'm definitely going there. My local friend has suggested these places:
Hoa Bien
Trieu Chau
Red Pepper Café

Are there any I'm missing? What dishes do you recommend at each (authentic Hmong, vs. Vietnamese or other SE Asian, is preferred)? Also, are there any higher end restaurants that use Hmong ingredients/techniques? And if I were to interview one or two people, who would you suggest? This could be farmers, chefs, vendors, etc.

Thanks so much in advance for your help.

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  1. Our Mpls Farmers Market is dominated by Hmong farmers. Many of the second generation (ie-the kids or grandkids) speak english and accompany the farmers on Sat and Sun to the market to work.

    I would think you would get a lot of good information that way. If you wont be here on a Sat/Sun, there is a downtown Mpls market on Nicollet Mall. Most of these farmers also attend, but not always with the kids.

    I hope the other MN Chowhounds have good suggestions, they are the best at helping out visitors. (my snarky poke at other boards lack of help)


    1. The cafeteria/dining room at the FoodSmart supermarket (SE corner of University & Dale in St. Paul) serves some more typical Hmong/Laotian fare. I've found it to be a reliable source of good food for not a lot of money; the folks behind the counter are as helpful as can be; and the store is an interesting wander after the fact. The Asian groceries on or near University in St. Paul seem to have specialties (Korean, Filipino, etc.); another one with what looks like a good selection of Hmong goods (including fabrics and some housewares) can be found along Western, south of University and north of Interstate 94.

      1. You might check out the food court at the Hmong Market.

        I prefer it to the cafeteria at Foodsmart, actually, although it's been awhile since I've been there.

        Also, there's a "new" Hmong Market, Golden Globe, which I haven't been to yet.

        P.S. The places your friend mentioned are some of my favorites, though, some are Vietnamese, not Hmong. I tried to go to Red Pepper last weekend but couldn't find it, so, ended up at Saigon instead. Please report back if you go. Also, Cafe BonXai on University Avenue in St. Paul is fun and a little different than the others. Not "traditional" cuisine, but a nice spin on it.


        6 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          TDQ - The Red Pepper Cafe is actually not too hard to find - it is on your left hand side if you are driving down University from Dale toward Snelling (same side as Mai Village and LS) I drive past it a lot. I believe it is just past Victoria, next to a Best Steak House which is on the corner. The part of the building that the Red Pepper is in is painted yellow, the rest of the building it is attached to is white. There is a plastic banner over the door, not a permanent sign. I am curious to hear how it stacks up to other places in the area. I never seem to be in the area at an appropriate time to be dining, which is a shame, because there are so many good places to eat in that area.

          1. re: autmommy

            Thank you. I actually found it on my way home, after having eaten at Saigon. (You can never go wrong with Saigon!) There was a bus in front of it when I passed it the first time, blocking it from my view. :), but, yes, it's right next to the Best Steakhouse.

            When is it an inappropriate time to be dining? ;-). Morning--Trung Nam for croissants or to pick up a bahn mi sandwich to go, Saigon for lunch, dinner, well, multitudes of places. All times of day get covered!


            1. re: autmommy

              autmommy, I just re-read Kathie Jenkins' blurb about Red Pepper in the PiPress and had to laugh at her opening sentences juxtaposed with my initial inability to see the restaurant hiding behind the bus: "No problem finding the new Red Pepper Cafe on University Avenue in St. Paul. Just look for the yellowest building near Victoria Street."


              1. re: autmommy

                TDQ, did you ever make it to Kenkayba's Place for Ghanian food? (I did not, I admit with my head hanging in shame.) Red Pepper took over Kenkayba's old space. Dunno whether that helps or not.

                1. re: mcgeary

                  Oh no! I never did make it to Kenkayba's (also hanging head in shame.) What a bummer.


            2. Many of our Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai restaurants are run by Hmong and Laotion families. The Hmong were found in Vietnam and Laos and picked up the local cuisine well enough to cook it once here. Many also spent a great deal of time in Thai Refugee Camps, so they learned to cook Thai. The Hmong were found, at one time, in China, but that was a LONG time ago. I think they took to Chinese cooking because it is so popular and fairly easy for them to adjust to.

              In other words, there are not a lot of Hmong restaurants, mostly because Hmong is an ethnic group, not a place.

              But yes, check out our Farmers' Markets and the couple other places listed.

              1. The St. Paul Farmers Market also has many many Hmong growers. Unlike the Minneapolis Market, food sold at the St. Paul market has to be grown within a certain radius of the market. So it is definitely local. I would contact the manager of the St. Paul market and ask him for names of Hmong growers. Of course, not much is in season now so you may not see lots of local produce being sold by Hmongs now. You should be here in late summer when the market is jammed with local growers and produce! Including lots of the Asian vegetables. Here's the web site for the St. Paul market with contact info: