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[MSP] 3/50 Project: Grassroots Economic Stimulus--which three local restaurants will you chose?

There's a new project launched out of the Twin Cities called the 3/50 project, a grass-roots economic stimulus of sorts, where you pick 3 small, local, independent, businesses that you don't want to go under and vow to spend $50 there every month: http://www.twincities.com/ci_12059867...

If you choose 3 local restaurants (or food-related businesses) in the Twin Cities to spend $50 at every month (for how long, I don't know, I guess let's say a year), what would they be? Places you'd be heart-broken over, kicking yourself if they went under...

Hard to choose, as there are so many worthy restaurants, but, here goes:

0. My neighborhood co-op: I already spend $50 a month here, so, I won't list it as one of my three because I'm already doing that.

1. Ngon Bistro, St. Paul

2. Heartland, St. Paul

3. Los Ocampo, Lake Street, Minneapolis (I guess that means I'll have to eat there once or twice a week. How do you even spend $50 a month at a place like this?).

What are your three?

EDIT--I was just thinking over my choices while getting ready for work and I realize, if you choose to spend your $50 a month at a business that sources locally (like Ngon Bistro, Heartland, or your neighborhood co-op), your spending will have a "multiplier" effect because those businesses will spend your $50 on local labor, of course, but also with the local vendors they patronize; and, hopefully they would spend any profits locally. I wish that Los Ocampo would source locally (maybe they do, I really don't know) so that my $50 would support not only the local workforce, but maybe even other local vendors.Still, I'm keeping it on my list because I really would be devastated if they went out of business.

Here's a link to a good thread, that may need updating, about restaurants that source locally in the Twin Cities: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4051...

And a similar thread re: outstate MN http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4924...


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  1. Places links.

    I notice there's a location of Los Ocampo at 417 East Lake Street. I know the 809 Lake Street is the stand alone location across from Mid Glo Mo and the 920 is in MidGloMo, but what is the 417? Is that real?


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

    Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
    799 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

    Taqueria Los Ocampo
    417 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

    Taqueria Los Ocampo 4
    920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN

    Taqueria Los Ocompo 11
    895 Arcade St, Saint Paul, MN 55106

    Taqueria Los Ocampo
    809 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

    5 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      TDQ, I think that 417 East Lake Street is the address of Lake Plaza, which is very similar to Mercado Central and includes a food court with several places. It is likely that this was the original Los Ocampo.

      Two years ago on the Lake Street taqueria crawl chowdown and we went into another Mexican marketplace right down the street, but this was smaller and had only one snack stand-- one of us purchased an interesting beverage of some sort and we walked on to the next place. I had confused this other marketplace with Lake Plaza, which is much larger and has a food court as large as Mercado Central's (or perhaps larger).

      We should do another taqueria crawl!

      Still thinking about my 3/50.

      PS: Lake Plaza seems like a hidden gem, because it dosn't look like much from the outside--I just happened to go in one day and was surprised to find a big marketplace and food court. It doesn't get the attention that Mercado Central gets.

      1. re: EarlOfSandwich

        Interesting. I must check that Lake Plaza out--I can't visualize it. You're saying it's NOT the place where someone (I think that was either KTFoley or usige) bought that beverage, right? That place wasn't very lively, chow-wise, at least, not on a Saturday.

        That taqueria crawl was a lot of fun. But we only got about two blocks because there were so many places to try. Maybe we can do a crawl where we pick up where we left off!


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Okay, here's the link to the taqueria crawl/chowdown report. The address of the "International Bazaar" is 301 Lake Street, so, you're right, that's not it.

          And funny, no wonder I couldn't remember whether it was KTFoley or Uisge who got the beverage, it seems that they both did.

          Maybe we never got to Lake Plaza?


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Uisge was searching out tamarind sodas. I ended up with the ketchup over ice.

            1. re: KTFoley

              I hate to say, even now, a couple of years later, it still doesn't sound that crazy delicious! Wasn't it spicy ketchup over ice?


    2. Ronin Sushi Cafe in Lakeville, Tanpopo and Golden Fig.

      I wish I had a few more to put...Premier Cheese Shop and Legacy Chocolates are hard to not list.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MSPD

        I suppose you're only limited by your own budget. I suppose if you wanted to spend $50 a month at five little business, that would be even better for the local economy. You could call that project 5/50. I don't know Ronin Sushi Cafe at all, but it sounds like a place I should look up next time I'm in Lakeville.

        Now that I see Tanpopo on your list, I wish I could have it on mine, too, because, yes, I'd be devastated if it went under. :).


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          I'm probably on the 50/5 project.

          If I really paid that much attention to my spending, I'm probably already at 3/50 for the places I love. My response was actually narrowing it down to three if I absolutely had to. Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville is another, but after their recent expansion, I don't think they are in any danger of going under.

          As for Ronin, it's one of maybe 2 or 3 places south of the river that are actually worth a trek from closer to downtown (along with I Nonni/Buon Giorno, Brianno's and Satay 2 Go). It's easily one of the best options if you're already in the area and need a meal.

      2. Afghan Restaurant, Crystal

        Reuan Thai, Osseo

        Gangchen, Minneapolis

        13 Replies
        1. re: Bobannon

          Ooh, Afghan Restaurant, another great little spot. I've never even really heard of the second two. Can you tell me a little more about those, please?


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Unfortunately I picked 3 places that don't have websites or menus online.

            Reuan Thai is my local neighborhood Thai place in Osseo. Every single thing I've tried there is fabulous. I've brought many friends and family and they all love it. No one can believe we have such a great Thai restaurant in Osseo! The ambiance leaves a bit to be desired but the food is so good. My favorite dish is the #64 with chicken. It's their version of Rama Thai, a peanut curry over steamed spinach and broccoli. Their spring rolls are also very good. The Spicy Cashew is excellent. REally, every there is great.

            Reuan Thai
            311 Central Ave
            Osseo, MN 55369

            Gangchen is a great little Asian place on Nicollet just south of Downtown. They bill themselves as Fine Tibetan Cuisine but really it's a little of everything. The Red Curry is wonderful as is the traditional Tibetan Momo dish. They also have a great happy from 4 - 7 and 10 - 2 with 2 for 1 bottle beer and $2 wontons.

            1833 Nicollet Ave S
            Mpls, MN 55403

            1. re: Bobannon

              Very cool! Thanks for the info on these. I'm not out in Osseo much (correction: if I'm out in Osseo much, I'm unaware of it because I don't really know where it is. By Minnetonka, right?) but another one I should put on the list for when I'm out that way.

              Anyway, but I can definitely hit up Gangchen. I can't believe I haven't heard of it! My chow-dar must be broken. :).


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Osseo is north, almost completely surrounded by Brooklyn Park and a little bit of Maple Grove. Where 169 and County 81 come together.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Gangchen has a tasty cranberry curry that's fairly addictive. Dara Moskowitz wrote about it sometime last year in City Pages. Restaurant ambience is more of a 70s nightclub lounge which makes for an not-your-usual experience. Love the other Tibetan meat dishes too, can't remember specifics though.

                  Dairy King

                2. re: Bobannon

                  Thanks for the information on Gangchen. It is right near where I live, but I have not been there yet. It sounds like it would definitely be worth trying. :-)

                  1. re: LauraB

                    I'm so glad. I'm always afraid these little places will go away if we don't frequent them. Another great thing about Gangchen...it's really reasonably priced. Boyfriend and I had dinner there last week, Shrimp appetizer, 2 entrees, 1 beef and 1 chicken, a couple of beers, tax and tip and it only came to $30!

                    1. re: Bobannon

                      I'm appreciating the encouragement to check out Gangchen. I have seen
                      the place, and it doesn't look like much from the street, as in 'Are they open
                      or not?' and 'What kind of food is in there?'. It's on the lower end of Eat
                      Street closer to downtown.

                      1. re: faith

                        Gangchen is excellent. It's owned by Tom Pham, who also owns Thanh Do and Azia. The cranberry curry signature is on the menu, the egg drop soup is wonderful, and the martinis are sufficient to wipe out any bad memories.

                        I'd be upset if they went down, but my three would be:

                        Bahn Thai Cuisine in New Hope
                        Barley Johns in New Brighton
                        Cafe Heidi in SW Minneapolis

                        1. re: kevin47

                          Barley Johns, huh?? That's right by my house. What's a good thing to order??

                          1. re: jenniegirl

                            The Pizza N is lovely, as is the garlic bread. Both are very unique. Their soups and salads are consistently good as well, and have enough flavor to stand up to their beers. Their barleywine style porters are a perfect dessert.

                          2. re: kevin47

                            Just FYI: Gangchen is run by Tibetan owners. Not a Pham restaurant. But still fun and yummy.

                    2. re: Bobannon

                      Wow - I stopped in at Reuan Thai a few times several years ago... was just thinking about that place last week, wondering if they were still open.

                3. I'm with you on the co-op - Linden Hills, yay!

                  The rest of my list will have to be 3/20 if I'm honest. I can't afford 150 a month on restaurants and even 60 is pushing it.

                  French Meadow

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MplsM ary

                    Ooh and I have to add Turtle Bread, too.

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

                    1600 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                    Turtle Bread Co.
                    3421 W 44th St, Minneapolis, MN 55416

                    French Meadow Bakery & Cafe
                    2610 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                    1. re: MplsM ary

                      I'm so loving to hear about everyone's choices. Such great little indy places, we have. I think it's completely appropriate to adjust the spending limit to your own situation. I think every little bit counts with these places.

                      I love the tempeh reuben at French Meadow and everything in their bakery case!


                    2. Yes, I need to add a bakery to mine too....so many to chose from! Gonna have to go with A Baker's Wife for variety and general goodness.

                      1. Just got a puppy so spending is even more limited now. I too spend over $50 easy at a co-op(Wedge).

                        I would say...Bangkok Thai, Ocampo(yes, Lake Plaza was the first btw) and probably Clancey's, not a restaurant but everything is local and everything is awesome.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: getgot211

                          Argh! I have no room on my list for Bangkok Thai Deli... I might have to be on the 5/50 project...or, the 10/25 project. HA!

                          Thanks for that info about Lake Plaza/Los Ocampo. I must go there. Clancy's definitely counts.


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Fun topic.

                            Bangkok Thai Deli

                            I don't think any of these are at any risk of losing customers even in this economy, but they all are places I'd sorely miss if they closed.

                            My 5 would include Brasa and Phil's Tara Hideaway.

                            1. re: HuaGung

                              Phil's Tara Hideaway? I haven't even heard of that place! Tell us more, please.


                        2. gotta be pak zam zam, strip club, & lucia's, meanwhile spreading the loose folding money at the co-ops and farmers' markets :-)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Pak zam zam! No kidding! (Hi soupkitten!) I haven't even been there!


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              hi TDQ! *hugs*

                              pak zam zam has become a recession balm for me and dh. i don't think they sell anything for more than $9 or $10, and this little gem (& its chana dal, parathas, & goat biriyani, gloriously reheated in the oven) has eased my grief over the loss of hyderabad house. a lovely little spot-- used to be a halal butcher & still has the extension cords for the bone saws hanging from the ceiling, LOL, but the food's great!

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                HA! Sounds like an awesome place, and I'm glad you found a recession balm. I shall check it out and pretend not to see the dangling cords.


                          2. What a great thread!

                            We budget $200 a month for going out to eat and doing other fun stuff, so it's tough to imagine spending 75% of that at the same three restaurants every month. But if forced to choose, it would be:

                            1. Little Szechuan. We have absolutely never been disappointed here. The Kung Pao Tofu is the best tofu ever, and the green beans are indescribably delicious.

                            2. Tanpopo Noodle Shop. I've liked almost everything I've tried here, and their Kistune Soba is my favorite soup ever.

                            Those are the two clear front-runners, and I'm having a difficult time picking #3. I'd say French Meadow, but I don't know that I'd want to drive out there once a month. And I'd say Meritage, but we spend well over $50 there. (By the way, I just had the half-chicken at Meritage last night, and it was sublime. Super-crispy skin; tender and juicy white meat; rich dark meat; powerfully flavorful, crispy herb potatoes. Best dish I've had in a while.)

                            3. Jay's Cafe. It's not always perfect, but their Caramel Apple French Toast is amazing, and their proximity to my work means I would sorely miss it as a lunch option.

                            1. yum. So many options.

                              0. Izzys. Would go there either way! Love it.

                              1. Midori's - already spent money there this week.
                              Did take out - the new location is bigger - not too many more tables - but more sushi bar seats and better overall spacing.

                              2. Ngon - been meaning to return.

                              3. Bulldog lowertown. Great addition to St Paul.

                              I could really go on.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: St Paul Susie

                                OK-here's mine...
                                1. Lucia's to go
                                2. Birchwood Cafe (I had my wedding breakfast here! They even set a table for all ten of us with fresh fruit, scones, blueberry cobbler, quiches, chocolate caramel cake-all with three days notice!!)
                                It doesn't have the greatest food, but I'd be sad if Anodyne went away

                                1. re: jenniegirl

                                  I must disagree that Ngon doesn't have good food, the food is amazing and the seasoning is spot on, and the produce and meats are local and organic whenever possible. I haven't had food that good in Minnesota before Ngon.

                                  1. re: lynnette

                                    Jenniegirl wrote "It doesn't have the greatest food, but I'd be sad if Anodyne went away"

                                    That sentence is not about Nogon. It's about Anodyne Cafe, on Nicollet Ave S.

                                2. re: St Paul Susie

                                  Love your one and two choice and yes Bulldog has been a great addition to lowertown! glad to have them..being so busy is nice to see too, same with barrio..

                                3. Took the family to Midtown Global Market last night and was sad to see the empty spaces where before there had been Bymore Meats, United Noodle (at least they still have their main location, right?), and the Italian ice place.

                                  If we could count all MGMkt merchants as a single business for purposes of 3/50 I think we could swing that. Heck, between Los Ocampo, Pham's, and the meat market we spent $50 in one trip. Perhaps all our $150/month could be spread around the MgMkt businesses.

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

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: EarlOfSandwich

                                    I'm feeling it for Midtown Global Market too. But being a bread addict, it would be remiss of me not to mention Rustica Bakery (Baguettes!).

                                  2. Oh, it's so hard to choose only three! There are so many great places in the Twin Cities. Me, I'm still pining about the loss of Rotisseria. I was late in discovering them, but I definitely spent $50/month once I knew about this great place. I only wish that had been enough to save them.

                                    So I've redoubled my efforts to help keep the great places that are left. Here are my three:

                                    1. Midtown Global Market (yes, all of it!)

                                    I agree with Earl of S that the MidGloMar is a treasure to be cherished. The food stands are great - I especially love Los Ocampo, Safari, West Indies Soul, and La Sirena Gorda. Even better is the food shopping - I love the meat and cheese counter that has replaced Farm in the Market (last week, I bought some amazing Northern Lights Blue Cheese, and noticed double-yolked jumbo eggs just in time for Easter!). The Produce Exchange is great - they carry organic produce and my favorite salsa (Curt's, though it's not organic). For a quick no-cook dinner, I can pick up a rotisserie chicken and tabbouli salad from Holy Land. I have no problem spending $50/month here.

                                    2. U Garden Chinese Restaurant

                                    Sure, it's not the top Chinese food in town, but it's my local joint and the food is very good - the buffet is above average. Best bets: steamed sole fillets with ginger and onion, five-spice whole shrimp, mandarin chicken, and hot-and-sour soup. From the menu, I love the whole walleye with black beans, Chinese broccoli with tofu, and pea tips with garlic (new on latest menu). What with the friendly service (despite sparse evening patronage), their great community involvement, and a new full-liquor license (I can have scotch with my stir-fry!), this is a great neighborhood place worth saving. If you go, be sure to ask the owner about their off-menu Cambodian-Chinese specialties.

                                    3. Midori's Floating World Cafe

                                    I adore Midori's because I can get a healthy and delicious bento dinner of grilled fish, salad, veggies, and rice - any night except Tuesday. Plus chawan-mushi or onigiri if I want, though I rarely have room. Plus, when I do take-out, and I like that they'll honestly tell me if the kitchen is too busy to squeeze in a take-out order - even though that makes me sad, I'm glad they're not stinting the in-house patrons.

                                    If I could choose one more, it would be the Himalayan Restaurant. The fabulous food is bit too rich, not to mention too cheap, for me to spend $50/month EACH month. But I love the place, and I desperately want it to survive, so I've resolved to eat there as much as I can.

                                    And, of course, Izzy's - though if I spent $50 a month there, I'd have a heart attack within 6 months!


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

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

                                    Midori's Floating World Cafe
                                    2629 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55406

                                    U Garden Restaurant
                                    2725 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

                                    Himalayan Restaurant
                                    2401 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55406

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: AnneInMpls

                                      My husband and I tried U Garden tonight for dinner on Anne's recommendation, and I have to give a hearty thumbs down to the buffet.

                                      I went against my instinct and didn't order off the menu (my judgment was impaired by hunger), and I found the offerings at the buffet to be very typical of Chinese buffets: tepid, super-greasy, and boring. Their vegetarian options were surprisingly limited for being so close to the U of M, and the one tofu dish on the buffet had no flavor whatsoever.

                                      My husband did try the ginger sole you mentioned and said it was one of the better dishes. My favorite part of the meal was those little cream puff thingies with the chocolate drizzle on top that you just know have like 50 grams of trans fat. Sad.

                                      Anyway, just wanted to give a little caveat. It's highly probable that we hit the buffet at a bad time - 6:30 PM on a Tuesday - but I don't think we'll be back any time soon to try again.

                                      1. re: ShinyCake

                                        I'm so sorry the buffet wasn't good! I feel especially bad because I meant to edit my post to say something on the order of "the buffet is above average if the dishes are fresh", but my revision didn't make it in time. Sorry, sorry, sorry...

                                        Or it could be that I've been going there so long that I know which dishes are good and which to avoid. For example, I love their Chinese brocolli with tofu (menu only), but haven't tried the other tofu dishes (I'm supposed to avoid tofu for medical reasons, alas!).

                                        So, yeah - only do the buffet at a peak time. If not, definitely order off the menu.


                                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                                          No worries, Anne. I should have exercised my own judgment when I saw that only 5% of the dishes were visibly hot. I still very much trust your seasoned opinion of restaurants in the area. :)

                                          1. re: ShinyCake

                                            Just one comment on Curt's Salsa at the MGM- for some inexplicable reason
                                            the ingredients include Yellow Dye #5 or6....I have never seen that in salsa- it
                                            is a dye that is known for giving some major allergic reactions- I think it's in there because of the banana peppers which are often dyed fluorescent yellow. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who cares about their health.

                                            1. re: faith

                                              Ewwww. Thanks for the heads-up! I looked Yellow Dye #5 and #6 on wikipedia - very educational. I'm definitely not going to give this salsa to any kids!

                                              I gotta start reading labels. And now I gotta find an organic salsa that I like...


                                      2. re: AnneInMpls

                                        Did you hear that the guys behind Rotisseria will be selling chicken out in Minnetonka soon? http://blogs.mspmag.com/foodiefile/20...

                                        1. re: sporkgirl

                                          Sporkgirl, I love you!!!! No, I hadn't heard yet.

                                          I can't wait for more of those Rotisseria chickens. I'm glad for him that he'll be working closer to his home, and very jealous of the Minnetonka residents who will be so close to these roasted marvels. Luckily, my car gets very good gas mileage - I will be driving out often. Thanks!


                                      3. I would have added Manana but last time I was there they gave me cold food. So sad. I haven't ruled it out yet though.

                                        1. I also pick Ngon as my first choice, Tanpopo Noodle Shop, and Heartland. Love these places!

                                          Tanpopo Noodle Shop
                                          367 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102