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1 meal in MSP

Looking for that one "must eat" place. The one hole in the wall, inexpensive, fantastic place unique to MSP for one dinner to take a kid looking at colleges.

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    1. Are you open to Asian-inspired food? If so, I'd go with Ngon Bistro.

      3 Replies
      1. re: mtullius

        We live in NY. Looking for something unique to MSP or what we can't otherwise get here.

        1. re: mmarla

          I'd say Ngon fits the bill, though you (and others) might disagree. We have a thriving southeast Asian restaurant scene-- lots of great pho spots etc. But Ngon is unique-- it's Vietnamese fusion but with a local/organic twist. All the meat is local, many of the ingredients are too, and so is all the beer and much of the wine.

          But you can't go wrong with Juicy Lucys too..

          1. re: mmarla

            This comes up rather often. Unfortunately there isn't much quintessentially Minnesotan, other than Jucy Lucy's (which I think are a step backward from a regular cheeseburger, I hate them...but I'm not from here), MN pizza (again, not a fan) or perhaps wild rice.

            mtullius makes a very good point with Ngon, which, while there are certainly Vietnamese fusion restaurants in NY, this one uses and is inspired by it's locality. Good local food, good local beer, good local hospitality.

            The things my wife and I generally take visiting friends and relatives from out of state to enjoy here are the above mentioned Vietnamese restaurants (according to Bourdain; we have some of the best...I'll have to take his word for it), places like Al's Breakfast/The Nook and places committed to sourcing locally (Alma, Heartland, Lucia's, many others). The latter are not holes in the wall nor typically catering to high-schoolers, but are good restaurants.

        2. Eat a Jucy Lucy at Matt's Bar. It's the quintessential Minneapolis hole in the wall restaurant. You will hear many arguments for other Jucy Lucy joints (5-8 Club, the Nook, Blue Door Pub, etc.) But in my opinion, Matt's is the place to go.

          1. You didnt say what collge, but if you are in St P, and near Macalester or Hamline, id recommend Fasika for some really good ethiopian. True there isnt a massive ethiopian population in MN, but there is a large east african populationand the menu and atmosphere (and food) are probably a little more approachable at Fasika.

            As a former minneapolitan now living in NY, i miss Fasika and dont think there is comparable ethiopian in ny. Also the pho here (NY) is middling at best, id HIGHLY recommend either a stop at Pho Ca Dao on university avenue (you did say you wanted divey-right? its low/no atmosphere pho-only place, you get your choice of about 13 different types depending on meaty-inclusions, but thats about all they sell. I also like Quang over on the mineapolis side quite a bit (their veggie noodle soup is highly crave-worthy).

            My take is that NY is saturated with (some very good) burgers - there is nothing more than novelty to draw someone to a Jucy Lucy, and if your kid finds a school they like youll end up with more opportunities.

            While its not exactly unique to Minn, or unavailable to you in NY, id recommend looking at Brasa, also. there are two locations (one in mpls and on in st p) and its relatively affordable, sustainably/ethicly sources, rotisserie/sides place with excellent roast chicken beef and pork and a wide array of amazing sides (i dream of those cheese grits, greens with turkey wing, yams and andouille).

            As someone who was pretty well versed with the food scene in MSP and now also lives in NY the things i miss the most ( which i think are not as well represented here) are east african and se asian - those would be some of my first stops on a weekend return visit.

            1. Coming from NY for college in Minnesota -- I'm thinking Macalester. Or maybe you're on a side trip from Carleton or St. Olaf.

              The Hmong marketplace is really something that is unique, and would offer the combination of foods, flavors and atmosphere that you likely cannot easily experience in NYC (a challenge I don't take lightly).


              No offense, but few things disgust me more on here than directing a New Yorker to a bar for a Jucy Lucy as something "fantastic and unique to MSP". The Jucy Lucy is a cheeseburger and often a crummy one. "Ooo, but the cheese is inside!" Oh, hooray for us.

              tex.s.toast and Foureyes, in my opinion (for what it's worth), gave a very logical and useful advice. I've been in your shoes -- moved from D.C. to go to college. I hope you guys have a good visit and discover some of the charm of Minnesota!

              3 Replies
              1. re: MSPD

                As far as I'm concerned, we've adopted Vietnamese and East African food as our native cuisine. MSP is surprisingly diverse (we have the largest Somali population in America, for example), and I agree that the recommendations above would drive that point home.

                1. re: kevin47

                  for a visitor from new york, you could also add mexican. friends who divide their time between nyc and mpls eat mexican and se asian in msp because it is better here than nyc, and a taqueria dinner would seemingly fit the op's parameters nicely. though imo what the msp dining scene does really well is local foods, the establishments known for this aren't necessarily of the hole-in-the-wall variety.

                  is the op looking for a place that is handy to a specific campus? is there a price point that no longer constitutes a "hole?" my pix for west bank "holes" would be different than my pix for mac area "holes"-- and they would have a markedly different character.

                  we've got "holes". . . in different area codes. . . ;-P

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I considered adding mexican to my list of recommendations - but i dont think that any of my favorite mexican spots are particularly close to a campus the OP would be visiting (not that we know which one).

                    I'll also say, in its defense, that NY has some damn fine mexican grub, its just not found anywhere near where most people spend their trips to ny. Queens and Brooklyn both have substantial mexican and central american population centers, but finding a decent taco in manhattan under 110th street is probably a fools errand.

                    if i were back for long enough - return trips to Taqueria Los Ocampo for a huarache, or to Manana for some pupusas and the worlds best black beans and maduros would certainly be called for.

              2. Hole in the wall, inexpensive, fantastic place for a college kid describes the Nook in St. Paul rich in athletic history. Knock it, but the jucy lucy is a Twin Cities signature that invites comparison and controversy. It's a unique hamburger promoted and claimed by the Twin Citiies is all but kids don't need much. I doubt they are into ethnic food as the already educated nearing middle age crowd is but you would have to be the judge of that. However, it is a bar and maybe not all that appropriate for an underage kid. Same with Matt's. The third major jucy lucy place, the 5-8 Club is a little bit more family oriented.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Davydd

                  We're coming in to see Macalester and Carleton. Burgers are not our style...way too greasy. Mexican is not original as I work in Queens and Mexican is alive and well here. Now the Hmong marketplace sounds intriguing as does the Somail angle. I promise to report back. Now, what do do after dinner. NO! Not the mall, PLEASE!!! Only about an hour or to to kill. Leaving very early for Carleton.

                  1. re: mmarla

                    Depending on your hours, you might visit the St. Paul cheese shop and ask for something local to try. Or you could go to Izzy's ice cream, if you like your ice cream rich and powerful.

                    Alternately, there are a few very popular coffee shops in the area. Kopplins is very close to Macalester, and serves some of the best coffee in town.

                    1. re: mmarla

                      Mac grad (and -newish - brooklyn resident) here. Looking at your other posts i gather you are also headed further into the heart of the less-upper midwest to look at grinell as well. Based on this (and the fact that im assuming your soon-to-be high school graduate isnt 21) id say maybe skip heartland's wine bar just because you'll be pretty limited to meager ethnic options. The is not to say the lenny russo (heatland's) interpretation of modern midwestern wouldnt be waaaay better than most other things you'd find outside the cities, but its also not a place your potential macalester student would be going very often (though i did look forward to parental visits that included heartland dinners, and went their fairly often when i'd graduated and had a job).

                      In the same vein id say Brasa isn't a must do - its great, and i love it, and its an easy bus ride down grand should your kid decide to go to mac, but id still really push you towards african/asian.

                      Fasika, as i said before, would be a great choice. I've never had ethiopian in DC but its the best ive had anywhere else, including some lauded places in LA and a few of the rather slim choices here in ny.

                      Id also really recommend ngon bistro. if burgers are too greasy i think you'll really appreciate their refined take on vietnamese food - the hole in the wall pho place i mentioned in my last post is great also, but the atmosphere (and ingredient sourcing) made ngon an easy choice when i was entertaining guests.

                      As for what to do after dinner, with only an hour, thats a bit tougher. As an underage, carless macalester student i (and most of my friends) stayed closer to home and socialized locally, which isnt to say that there arent loads of things going on in minneapolis and st paul, but i would hesitate to send you running down I-94 if you only have an hour to kill and an early morning the next day.

                      Seeing as this is chowhound, and were supposed to keep it food-centric, id say your best after dinner bet would be to get ice cream. i wont wade into the great twin cities ice cream debate here, but i will say that frozen dairy treats are something minnesotans are passionate about, and they exist in abundance. the two closest to you will be grand ole creamery (on grand, down towards downtown st paul - more or less directly south of ngon bistro, which is on university, parallel to grand) and izzy's, which is on selby in the other direction (towards minneapolis). GOCreamery is less artisanal and more about the butterfat. Its hugely popular and a solid choice for less challenging ice creams (love the black hills gold, a cookies and cream + caramel swirl number). Izzy's was featured on (and won) a throwdown episode with bobby flay and has a really amazing range of flavors, some of which are incredibly delicious (salted caramel) and some are more intereting than delicious hot brown sugar (cayenne included).

                      If you do go to fasika, there is a bowling alley in the basement of the mall across the street called Midway bowl where i spent some time while at mac, though it smelled like cigarettes back then (no longer) and i'll warn you that: a. the bar there is pretty bad b. the scene does sometimes bring to mind the word seedy, but in a fun way, not so much a dangerous way.

                      1. re: tex.s.toast

                        *gasp* don't diss the izzy's hot brown sugar, TT, lots of people think it's both delicious *and* interesting!

                        1. re: tex.s.toast

                          And Izzy's is actually on Marshall in the other direction, not Selby. That said, you can't go wrong with Izzy's. I'd suggest going a few doors further down to Sweets Bakeshop for a gourmet cupcake to go with your ice cream, but I'm fairly certain they aren't open that late.

                    2. What great colleges you are visiting! I hope it's a great trip. Has your scholar decided if s/he wants urban or rural? Mac is, of course, smack in the middle of the city (albeit a small city) while Carleton is rural. Both are terrific schools.

                      Humm, I might choose to drive along Grand---from Mac all the way east to Dale Street, just to have a look see. It's a fun street. I might eat at Brassa on Grand --great roasted meats, Southern style, and great sides. IIRC, you can order the meats in very small amounts---1/2 lb for sure and maybe 1/4 lb. The greens are fabulous. Or, I might eat at Cafe Latte---they have a wonderful selection of sandwiches, salads, soups, breads, and desserts. You walk down the cafeteria line and choose what you want and you always see something you want to eat. (Humm, I fear I'm not doing this place justice with this lame description---it's really good.) If you don't want a dessert from Cafe Latte (unlikely), you could get ice cream at the Grand Old Creamery.

                      Good luck. Pls. report back and tell us where you ate and if your scholar liked Mac and Carleton.

                      1. From the author of the Roadfood books, Michael Stern, in a Wall Street Journal interview about his new book, "500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late".

                        "WSJ: If you had only $20 in your wallet, and you were absolutely starved, where would you go and why?

                        Mr. Stern: I'd go to Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. They serve three meals a day, and they are all spectacular."


                        That is a pretty good national endorsement for that one "must eat" place.

                        1. The Heartland wine bar definitely has high quality local food. Close to Macalester. Definitely not a hole in the wall, but the wine bar side is much less formal, allows you to pick and choose from the offerings. Relaxing but also faster than a big formal meal.

                          1. -Best Cheap Twin Cities Eats-

                            Uptown Happy Hours- cheap yummy eats at Chino Latino, Il Gatto, Cowboy Slims, etc.
                            Quang Vietnamese
                            Midtown Global Market-it's like an upscale food court
                            Bewitched- Tuna Confit Sandwhich
                            Izzy's Ice Cream
                            Fugi-ya Sushi- Uptown see Tony at the sushi bar
                            Mirror of Korea- korean
                            Blue Nile- African
                            Azia happy hour- really good asian fusion
                            Solera happy hour- Spanish tapas
                            Cosettas- Italian