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MSP-updates on lunch options near SP downtown?

Hello MSP Hounds,

I host a 4-day professional training 3-4 times/year at the Wellstone Center in the West Side and would very much appreciate some updated info. on casual lunch options in the area.

My group (anywhere from 3 to 6 people at a time; 2/3 are from out of town) likes: El Burrito Mercado, Tanpopo, Swede Hollow Cafe, Saigon, Que Nha, Cafe Latte, Jerabek's Bakery Cafe, Louisiana Cafe, and Ngon Bistro.

My group has tried and is not interested in returning to: Bread Coffee and Cake (a little too cramped; food choice limited), Cafe Juliahna (good food but service way too slow), Black Dog Cafe (food unremarkable), and Cheeky Monkey (I loved my salad but some who had sandwiches described them as "anemic" and one person thought hers was "under-seasoned").

My group wouldn't go to: Babani's and Beirut (someone in the group is not fond of Middle Eastern food) or Little Sichuan (some are fearful of spicy food).

I would like to try: Cossetta (too hard to get through the lines?), Pop!, Senor Wong, Punch Pizza on Grand Ave, and Bangkok Thai Deli.

Your thoughts and suggestions? Any notable Skyway options? Thank you.

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  1. Your tried and tasty list is a good one. I'd add Meritage to that list (good food and atmosphere). Ruam Mit Thai is back open and has a not bad lunch buffet (as well as menu service). Bulldog Lowertown is tasty.

    I'm sorry you had a bad experience w/Cheeky Monkey. I've enjoyed my sandwiches and love the space.

    I'd avoid Cossetta's at lunch. Sometimes I've lucked out and had no problem getting a seat, but most often it's very crowded (for good reason, but I'm thinking it won't work for your group.)

    1. Is Bon Xai (University at Snelling) too far away? The food is great, and there are many familiar options (pork chops!) for those who are wary of Asian food. In fact, I don't think there are enough Asian dishes on the lunch menu...

      And how about heading up the bluffs for Central American food? Manana Restaurant has great food in a small, very casual setting. (It's close to Swede Hollow Cafe.)

      There's a new Indian restaurant across the street from Punch - India House. I went there last week for dinner, and thought it was pretty good. (Not as great as Gandhi Mahal, but very nice.) They have a lunch buffet.

      Punch is pretty quick for lunch, according to my husband. It would probably be better with a small group, as you order at the counter, and they can make only so many pizzas at the same time. There might be a timing issue with 6 or more people. Just a guess, though.

      Bankok Thai Deli might be a challenge for those who are fearful of spicy food or "challenging" menus. (This place is geared for Thai people and those very familiar with Thai food.) You'd need to order carefully with the server's help. And it's much more casual than the other places on your list - it's formica booths and tables in a grocery store. But the food is fabulous.


      11 Replies
      1. re: AnneInMpls

        Thank you, Uisge and Anne, for your thorough input. Work-related lunch outings do require consideration for non-food factors such as efficiency of service and noise. So, the info. you provided is greatly appreciated.

        Based on your feedback, I am ruling out Cosetta's and Bankok Thai Deli. I will go to Punch only if the group consists of 4 or fewer people. Yes, Bon Xai is a little too far, even though I like their food and funky atmosphere.

        Isn't Meritage kind of upscale? Thank you for the reminder about Manana and the info. about the new Indian place on Grand.

        1. re: Ms. Fennelbulb

          Just a quick FYI - I have been to Punch with groups of 8 and 10 with no timing problems. . . in fact, we've been in and out in around 30 minutes on a few occasions. They're pretty darned quick and efficient at this new location.

          1. re: diesel

            Backing up diesel's comment. I was there tonight right at peak dinner/takeout time. Walked in at 5:35. Counted 13 people in front of me in line. Walked out again at 5:57, with my two takeout pizzas and salads in hand.

            I got a kick out of watching and marveling at the speed and efficiency of the people behind the counter and in front of the stove during the relatively few minutes it took for my order to come up.

            1. re: clepro

              clepro, had you ordered your pizzas ahead of time? Or make those to order for you in that 22 minutes?


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                The pizzas only take about 5 mins to cook - since the oven is so hot perhaps?

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  As far as I am aware, they do not take orders ahead of time at this location. So I would guess that clepro ordered those pizzas and walked out 22 minutes later. This is not unusual - we order two pizzas and an order of focaccia and a salad and they are very quick.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    No, I didn't order them ahead of time. Turtlebella's right; you can't do that at the Grand Ave location. But you don't need to.

                    I walked in, got in line, placed my order, sat on the bench, marveled at what everyone was doing, and was out the door in minutes with my food. It's been much quicker other times, when I didn't have 13 people ahead of me.

                    If you go up to the Punch Grand Ave website, you'll see a little flash demo of just how quickly a Punch pizza cooks. It's 90 seconds, at 800 degrees F.


            2. re: AnneInMpls

              I love love love Manana, but like the name says...that's when you get your food. I've been there several times and had to wait a long time. It's really inconsistent if you need to get back. Has anyone ever tried "church lunch" on Wednesdays (I think) in downtown St. Paul. Is that still happening? I think it's a church that serves a nice lunch once a week.

              1. re: jenniegirl

                Have not been but yes it certainly does still happen. I just learned about this "Church lunch" from some friend who work in downtown st p (i dont so unless i get a wednesday off and decide to spend it in a place of worshop - well, the odds are pretty slim). They said there is usually a salad and pasta and some sort of main, always with a veggie option, and that attendance is usually quite substantial.

                short of that i havent got any details to add, except that from their descriptions its not the most chowish of options, but could be a true cultural experience. would that fall into "local" food if the chow wasnt great but the people were all locals?

                1. re: tex.s.toast

                  I saw an article on it once, and I've heard it was fun....maybe sometime this summer (I teach, so I cram a years worth of work into nine months, then sleep a lot...)

            3. if swede hollow cafe isn't too far away, then neither is strip club. i'd also second meritage. both places are pricey for dinner and have more moderately priced lunch menus, imo a bargain.

              i'd love to like senor wong more, but i think the menu has more flair for presentation than quality of ingredients or solid good taste.

              the new bulldog location in st paul might be a good option-- i haven't been there myself though.

              2 Replies
              1. re: soupkitten

                Oh, I'm sorry to hear that (about Senor Wong's). I was there once for appetizers and several of them were quite good. Went back again for a meal, and it was a disappointment.
                I was hoping my 2nd experience was an aberration.

                Thirding the Meritage recommendation. Excellent lunches, very comfortable surrounding, and bargain prices at noon.

                1. re: clepro

                  yeah, just kind of uneven experience at senor wong's the few times we tried it, with a few "wtf were they thinking!?!"s . . . i haven't totally given up on senor wong, though, and the key to appreciating the menu might be the big fruity punchbowl drinks, hmm. :-)

              2. You didn't mention sushi in your no-go list, so I would also toss in Sakura. M Street Cafe (basement of St. Paul Hotel) has a great hot/cold sideboard with a changing selection of great food, or you can order from the menu. And a good standard, although not particularly cool, is the River Room in Macy's. All have been good work lunch standards for me.

                1 Reply
                1. re: latte4me

                  Even if some in the group don't go for sushi, Sukura has other options that could work. Tempuras, teriyaki, konkatsu. I had a very good bento box lunch there recently that even my notoriously non-gustorily-adventuresome Mom would have liked.

                2. There are non-spicy options at Little Szechuan. The tea smoked duck is delightful. I'd give Senor Wong a chance. Definitely go to Pop! If you'd finish before 2:00 and if you're okay with salads, quiche, light sandwiches, etc, add Bon Vie to your list.

                  1. Not too much of note in the skyway...

                    Pop!! is decent, but the service the last time I ate lunch was not very impressive.

                    M Street Cafe is a nice option for a group...safe choices for all.

                    Day by Day Cafe is a nice spot for breakfast or lunch and is pretty close.

                    The Bulldog has good bar type food as well.

                    Next to Little Szechaun is also Mai Village (Vietnamese) nice decor and plenty of seating and easy parking.

                    Have you tried Christos (Greek) in the Depot on 4th? Decent lunch buffet.

                    There is also Tratorria Da Vinci that has decent Italian along with a pasta bar.

                    I would avoid LoTo at all costs - I have tried over and over with awful results on all fronts!

                    Up on Selby you have La Grolla and Bon Vie. Have had good experiences at both for lunch.

                    Hope these other thought help....And if you want a burger, you can't miss with a Jucy Lucy from The Nook or their sister location Shamrocks!

                    Day By Day Cafe
                    477 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                    La Grolla
                    452 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                    Shamrock Grill
                    995 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                    Mai Village
                    394 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

                    Christos Two
                    214 4th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                    Bon Vie
                    518 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                    Trattoria Da Vinci
                    400 Sibley St Ste 190, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: mngal

                      Soupkitten, clepro, latte4me, Brad, and mngal,

                      Thank you for your suggestions! I never thought I would end up with this many options! I have a couple of questions:

                      1. I have never been to Meritage and their photos look pretty fancy. Is it OK to go there in jeans for lunch?

                      2. Isn't Sakura a bit pricey even at lunch time compared to Tanpopo?

                      3. Can you explain the "sideboard" dining at M Street Cafe? I don't know what that is.


                      1. re: Ms. Fennelbulb

                        1. No problem re: jeans at Meritage for lunch. There will be people in business attire, but usually others in a range of dress. There's really nothing at all stuffy about the restaurant. No one will give someone in jeans the fisheye. And if someone does, consider it the fisheye of jealousy.

                        2. Yes, Sakura is pricier than Tanpopo. I love Tanpopo regardless, and it's bargain prices just increase the love.

                        I just checked out Sakura's online menu and was surprised--I don't remember it costing that much for my bento the last time I was there. Maybe they have separate dinner/lunch menus, and it's the pricier dinner menu that's posted? Will hope someone else who knows more than I do chimes in.

                        3. Sideboard dining is just buffet dining, on better furniture. And usually with better food.

                        1. re: Ms. Fennelbulb

                          yup, meritage has all the great welcome of a nice french place with no 'tude. they were very nice to me and dh when we went for brunch recently-- & we were all decked out in motorcycle armor, so nobody will bat an eye at some nice ladies in jeans! :)

                          i think sakura would definitely get pricy for lunch compared to tanpopo. even when we say we'll just get a seaweed salad and a couple of rolls, we end up spending $50 anyway. but, uh. . . i'm not a model of self restraint when it comes to sushi. bad soupkitten.

                          i haven't tried "sideboard dining" myself, but clepro's description makes me want to sometime.

                          1. re: Ms. Fennelbulb

                            Sakura does have a lunch menu. If I remember correctly, it's around $15/person, unless you order lots of sushi ala carte - then the price will be higher. They have a few chef's choice sushi assortments that run $15-$18 if you're willing to let them choose (and my male colleagues leave full).

                            And yes, the sideboard is a buffet - not a large one, and very good. They have a cold side (small salad bar) and a hot side (meat, potato, veg, fish, pasta, which changes each day). If I remember correctly, it's about $13 for both but you can choose one or the other. Also, lunch menu is available, which is similar in price.

                            1. re: latte4me

                              Hi clepro, soupkitten and latte4me,

                              Thanks for coming through again with great info. I will definitely take the group to Meritage one of the days.

                        2. Give Golden's Deli a try. It's on the corner of 4th and Wall down the block from the Black Dog. They are huge and have a different special everyday in addition to sandwiches and small pizzas. For example, today was a burrito plate, Monday's is usually lasagna with a ceasar salad. The have a huge kitchen and everything is made there. Plus, most of it is organic and they are the site of the current indoor farmer's market. So a lot of the vendors from the market that sell meat, honey, milk, baby food etc are available in big coolers throughout the deli.

                          Personally, I've been disappointed with Bulldog here. The food is just bar food and I guess I was expecting more from what they were originally doing in the NE location.

                          ManaƱa at 821 or something *East* 7th Street is Salvadoran. Oh wait, it's right below me in a post. In any case, they have wonderful pupusas and a great cabbage side dish. Get a pupusa with chese and loroco which is an interesting lily bud vegetable.

                          Los Ocampo's St. Paul location is also near there over on Arcade across the street from the big rainbow. Really great food.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: misterpatrick

                            I've been meaning to get there, and keep forgetting. Aren't the Golden Deli folks the same people who sell bagels at the SP Farmers' Market? Would you say their meals are tasty, in addition to being fresh/local/organic?

                            Just checked...yes, they are the same folks who sell bagels at the market. And here's a link to their site, with a pic of their dining room for Ms. Fennelbulb: http://www.goldensdeli.us/dining.html