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Woodbury MN--have car, will travel for good food!

I'll be in Woodbury for a week. Looking for lunch and dinner ideas. Open to most anything, although I usually try to stay away from national chains. Local chains okay if they are actually good eats. I don't mind patronizing someone who hit the right combo and has a couple of locations. :-)

What shouldn't I miss? What's unique to the Twin Cities? Will be hitting the Mall of America for a visit to the Lego Store and would like a recommendation for that area, too. I'd love some cheap eats for lunch! Will have adventurous kid with me so places that are more bar than restaurant are out. Love Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, just about all of it. The Kid fits in just fine at the local hole in the wall and the nicest five star so feel free to tell me where you like to eat, regardless if they are kid-friendly or not. He orders off the adult menu and likes his strip medium-rare.

I know this is the wrong forum but any shout outs for things to do, places to see are welcome. It's been decades since I was in the area and aside from touring the Cathedral, I'm at a loss!

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  1. On the east side of downtown, you've got Tea House 2, Los Ocampos #? and The Strip Club. Just west of the Capitol on University you've got a 1 mile stretch of Vietnamese, Szechuan, Thai and Cambodian from hole-in-the-wall (Bangkok Thai, Trung Nam, Pho Cadao, Cheng Heng, and the lumber yard converted to a Hmong mall with food stalls) to movin' on up (Saigon Bakery, Mai Village, Lil' Szechuan, Ngon).

    At MOA, Tucci Bennuch and Twin City Diner weren't bad restaurants last time I tried them (years ago). Both are Lettuce Entertain You chain spots. I didn't think much of the fancier eats and the food court stuff is execrable.

    A 2 mile drive from MOA into St. Paul gets you to Cecils deli. It's not a schmancy NY deli, but it's not horrible and I really like hot corned beef on rye. The potato salad isn't bad either.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JimGrinsfelder

      I've never eaten at a restaurant in Woodbury but it's not far from the east side of St Paul, where I live. And as JG mentions, there are a number of good spots on our side of town!

      I would second Tea House (Chinese - lots of good Szechuan dishes), Los Ocampos (Mexican, taqueria style, my favorite place for tacos al pastor), and The Strip Club (don't worry! it's a steak and fish place! features local grass-fed beef, yummy small plates to share, tiny place with a great view of downtown St Paul, definitely the most upscale of the places on the east side, most are more hole-in-the-wall type establishments).

      Also on the East Side, I would add Mañana, which is a pupuseria and has Salvadorean food- their pupusas are great. It's a board favorite and my husband and I go there a lot. We'd go even more often if my husband had anything to say about it! Also on the east side is Swede Hollow Cafe, which is only open until 3pm but has good daily quiches and soups, and truly divine caramel rolls, as well as sandwiches, etc. Since it's only open for lunch as far as your purposes go, I'm not sure I'd put it at the top of the list, unless you aren't coming until later in the spring or summer and you can sit outside in the garden.

      Our other go-to places that are in St Paul but NOT on the east side are Brasa ("creole-inspired cooking" - southern US/Carribbean/Latin American vibe with local meats and produce) and Ngon Bistro (Vietnamese kind of fusion-y with French, American posh-y, again a focus on local meats, wonderful local beers). Neither are particularly cheap but not fancy-schmancy expensive either.

      Note: we take our daughter - 17 months old - to all of the above. In fact, when we want her to eat really well (and she is in the picky toddler phase!) , Brasa is a no-fail method to get her to eat A LOT of spinach, plantains, beans & rice, grits.......Anyway, most places in the TC will be perfectly happy to see you and The Kid! I'm not sure how old your kiddo is, but if on the young side the Children's Museum is great and if on the older side but not a teenager, the Science Museum is fantastic. i dunno, maybe teenagers like it too. Both are downtown Saint Paul and near lots of places to eat.

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

      Tea House
      1676 Suburban Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

      Swede Hollow Cafe
      725 7th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55106

      The Strip Club
      378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

      Manana Restaurant
      828 7th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55106

      Los Ocampo #2 Seeger Square
      895 Arcade St, Saint Paul, MN 55106

    2. I think the hallmarks of the Twin Cities food scene are great Vietnamese food and great locally sourced food. Since it's the middle of winter (getting towards the end?), the local sourcing is less noticeable than in the glory days of summer, but there's still lots of local meat and such to be found.

      So, my recommendations:

      1. Ngon Bistro. University Ave. in St. Paul. Vietnamese with some fusiony elements, and locally sourced ingredients. Simply amazing. Also a great place to try some local beer, if you're into that. Great spot for either lunch or dinner.

      2. The Strip Club. St. Paul. It's in my neighborhood, so I'm admittedly biased. But I think it's an excellent restaurant with some old standards done in somewhat different ways. . And local sourcing. Dinner only

      3. Brasa Rotisserie. I'd go to the one on Grand Ave. in St. Paul for lunch. And save room for dessert-- the new dessert menu is killer. They have locally sourced slow-cooked meats (rotisserie chicken, slow cooked pork and beef), and Creole-style sides (grits, plantains, greens, you get the idea).

      4. Meritage, St. Paul. A French bistro in downtown St. Paul. A lovely place for dinner.

      5. Manana, St. Paul. A Salvadorean hole in the wall gem. If you haven't tried pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, you're in for a treat.

      1. Good recommendations so far. You're pretty close to Hudson, WI and Brick's, which is a very good neapolitan pizza place and offers some meandering opportunities.

        If you have to eat at the Mall of America, I would recommend the Crepe stand (1st floor west) or the Thai place on the end of the 3rd floor South Food Court (yes, I actually just recommended a Mall of America food court). Their bang bang shrimp is my latest go-to meal at the MOA which I unfortunately have to do far too often (I work nearby and often have 15 minutes total to get lunch). The shrimp are surprisingly good quality and the other dishes have above average flavor. They also offer some noodle dishes and the ingredients are fresh, even by non-mall standards. I also like the tofu and eggplant dish, but it isn't going to blow anyone away.

        For a full sit-down meal, I don't care what anyone says, Crave is the best option in the MOA. Avoid Twin City Grill at all costs.

        On your way into downtown St. Paul (north on 52), exit on Cesar Chavez and hang a left. In about 1/4 mile you'll be at El Burrito Mercado. The cafeteria line in there offers a ton of outstanding Mexican dishes. Great tortas, tamales, chicharron/carnitas (in the case by the bakery) and dozens of other delicious options. Very kid friendly.


        1. In Woodbury you will find mostly chains. I would avoid Sunsets IMHO. I have not been to Apertif, but it seems very busy. My wife and I will try to get there in the next couple of weeks.

          For Breakfast, we enjoy going to Keys. Its close and has a pretty good breakfast menu.

          For other meals, I second all the suggestions you've had, but would also add Phils Tara in Stillwater. I especially like the Gyros and the fish I've had there. If you are looking for upscale, you can't go wrong with Meritage or Heartland, both in St. Paul. Lastly, I jsut tried LaGrolla in St Paul which was also great for an Italian place.

          Good Hunting and have fun.

          1. For great Vietnamese within the Woodbury city limits, I can absolutely recommend the fantastic Duc's-corner of Radio & Tamarack. We're currently eating our way through the menu and haven't had a miss yet.
            Also Ray J's at 94 & Co 19 for great Buffalo wings!

            1 Reply
            1. re: patnjod

              I second Duc's. I wouldn't know good Pho if it bit me, but I really like the flavor of the Pho at Duc's. Thier dishes are good, but beware theier rice, it can be a little overcooked.

              I also second Ray J's also. It's typical sports bar fare, but I have not had a sub par meal there. The wings are great but they are HUGE.

            2. Great suggestions so far. It makes me realize how little I am familiar with the food scene east of downtown.

              Unfortunately, "good food" and MOA are two phrases you will probably never hear together again. I would agree with MSPD that Crave is the best option within the mall, but that really isn't saying much. There are some nice items on the sushi menu, and the rest of their food is edible, but they should be ashamed of themselves for the prices they're charging for that dreck.

              Not just that, but there is an odd culinary vacuum surrounding the mall for miles in every direction. If you head west on 494 between Nicollet and Lyndale I would recommend Jun Bo north of the highway. Best dim sun I've had in the TC's and very child friendly. If you head north on 77 until it becomes Cedar Ave. I would recommend Fat Lorenzo's for great pizza and FANTASTIC(!) stromboli. Also the best gelato you'll find anywhere around. The 5-8 Club is right there too if you want a Juicy Lucy, but I'm more of a Matt's guy.

              16 Replies
              1. re: keithinmpls

                Thanks to everyone for all of the suggestions! This is great. I may wind up splitting our MOA visit into two mornings so that we don't actually have to eat there. Then again, I'm not a big mall person and my son is really only interested in the Lego Store so one morning might do it! :-) I may see if he'll go for dim sum at Jun Bo but that's one meal he has balked at in the past. He'll go for sushi in a heart beat and I think he will want to visit the Hmong Mall vendors. Mexican is a must and I'm goign to try for El Burrito Mercado and Los Ocampos. I've never had pupusa so if I can, I'll visit Mañana! We'll fill the edges in with Vietnamese and pizza. I've heard of the Juicy Lucy but I was concerned about taking a kid with me. Would either the 5-8 Club or Matt's be considered a family venue or more like a bar with food?

                Thanks again for the recommendations!

                1. re: Socialkim

                  I forgot about Giapponese for Sushi in Woodbury. It's very good as well.


                  1. re: qajohn

                    Adding it to the list, particularly since it's actually in Woodbury, which will be home base.

                    Is it worth it to try to visit Midtown Global Market, if we aren't visiting something else in that area??

                    1. re: Socialkim

                      Unfortunately, I would say no. There is good food there, but it's not the kind of place you walk in and say "wow" or travel from way out in Woodbury to see.

                      The Hmong marketplace is far more interesting and unique (albeit only SE Asian), especially if you go in both buildings. Combined with El Burrito Mercado, Manana and the other things that have been recommended, you'll get a much more interesting experience.

                      1. re: Socialkim

                        I haven't been to the 5-8 club, but I think Matt's would be fine for kids as long as it's not too late in the evening. When I've been there at meal times, people have been much more interested in eating than in drinking.

                        If you were coming from the MOA, Midtown Global Market would not be right on your way back, but it isn't much farther out of the way than Matt's, and Los Ocampos is right across the street. So if you have time after the MOA, it might be worthwhile to stop in.

                        1. re: LiaM

                          The 5-8 Club is more restaurant like than Matt's and has a much more extensive menu to choose from. Matt's is really strictly just a bar. The 5-8 Club would be much more kid appropriate, closer to the MOA and access to major highways.

                        2. re: Socialkim

                          You don't say where you're visiting from (or I missed it if you did). Depending on where you're from and what cuisines you have access to where you live and what cuisines you take for granted, Midtown Global Market could be a good place to visit even if you aren't in the neighborhood otherwise.

                          Midtown Global Market, and the immediate neighborhood of Midtown Global Market, is a good place for:

                          Scandinavian sweets and gifts: Cafe Finspang in MidGloMo OR at Ingebretsen's (owned by the same people as Finspang) store several blocks away on Lake Street). Lefse and cookies and such.

                          Somali cuisine: Safari in Midtown Global Market for very accessible Somali cuisine (Minnesota has the largest Somali population in North America), or for a more authentic experience, Hamdi Somali restaurant next to the Midtown Global Market.

                          Caribbean Food: West Indies Soul in Midtown Global Market. (They can be hit or miss, but I like their jerk chicken and sometimes their catfish, though, if I'm going to get fish at MidGloMo, I almost always get something from La Sirena Gorda below...)

                          For James Beard nominee "Outstanding Pastry Chef" Michelle Gayer's Salty Tart Bakery in Midtown Global Market. Everything is good except the cupcakes.

                          Fantastic fish tacos from La Sirena Gorda in Midtown Global Market. Or, for great huaraches Los Ocampo in MidGloMo OR better yet, at Los Ocampo's standalone location across the street from MidGloMo. If you want MORE Mexican food or crafts shopping, you could also head to Mercado Central on Lake Street several blocks away from MidGloMo. Pretty decent tortas from Manny's at MidGloMo or in Mercado Central.

                          MidGloMo can also just be a lively place in general. On weekends they often have demos and such. On certain weekday mornings they have yoga. On certain weeknights someone teaches Irish dance. Etc. Except for A La Salsa, the food stalls at MidGloMo are all "cafeteria style."

                          So, I think it could be well worth a visit if you are interested in some of these things that you can't get in Woodbury or in St. Paul, like the Scandinavian or Somali.

                          Both the Hmong "International" Market in St. Paul and the Midtown Global Market get a little sleepy in the evening. The Hmong Market gets really sleepy after about 5:30 or 6pm--after that, it's almost not worth it (unless that's really the only time you can go). Go in the middle of the day if you can.

                          I wish the MidGloMo had better Southeast Asian cuisine. There is a Vietnamese Deli there, but it's very so so. I like their bubble tea.


                      2. re: Socialkim

                        I would not break up a MOA visit just to avoid eating there. There are a lot of restaurants that would appeal to kids especially for lunch. Crave should more than satisfy you. Here is the Mall of America sit down restaurant listings.


                        By nature of malls and high rents, they are mostly of the corporate created variety and not the one shot independents. None of them are bad. They are just not great. But this is lunch not your evening dinner. For Mexican, Cantina#1 is a nice atmosphere and decent more upscale menu.

                        As for Matt's or 5-8 Club, I answered in another message but 5-8 Club is the more appropriate choice if taking kids by far. There is nothing great about the Jucy Lucy's other than the uniqueness of the idea of them. These two places are inexpensive bar/grill food.

                        1. re: Davydd

                          Obviously there is plenty of food at MOA, especially plenty that will appeal to kids. And I don't consider myself above the occasional bite to eat at Crave or Twin Cities Grill if I need some sustenance during a trip there. But I think the original poster was looking for tips from a local foodie perspective - not just a "MOA restaurants" Google search.

                          It's unfortunate that mall restaurants fall into the "corporate" category you mentioned, although I will give MOA credit for its restaurants being less so than many other malls doomed to California PIzza Kitchen, Applebee's, etc. On the other hand, after all the discussion of great Mexican spots like Burrito Mercado, when I heard reference to Cantina #1, I threw up in my mouth a little.

                          I would agree that 5-8 Club is less "bar-like" than Matt's. I would also argue that it offers far less character and less uniqueness. If you have kids, as long as you get there before 9'ish, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. There are children there all the time and that is exactly why Matt's is awesome at lunchtime - it's full of families, executives, students, and any other kind of hungry person you could think of.

                          I know that there are plenty of Jucy/Juicy Lucy haters out there, and at times I am one of them. Yes, there are better burgers in the Twin Cities. But, If you're looking for a cheap lunch AND a totally unique MSP culinary experience, is there anything better?

                          1. re: keithinmpls

                            So why would someone haul all the way from Woodbury to eat at Matt's or the 5-8?

                            Here's my take on that: Save the burger experience for the Nook where you can bite into a Juicy Nookie, realize that there's nothing really special about a Jucy Lucy, and re-order a good burger. Or, if you don't re-order, you'll at least have top-notch fries and a burger on a great bun (made that morning around the corner at PJ Murphy's) unlike the frozen/grocery-store grade stuff at Matt's and 5-8. Plus, you'll get to wax poetic about how Joe Mauer supposedly plunked home runs off of windows/cars/people walking dogs outside the Nook, and talk about other local Cretin/St. Paul legends (Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Matt Birk, etc.).

                            And for a huge bonus, take the kids next door to Ran-Ham Lanes for a seriously throwback bowling experience. I would argue that there are far fewer old-time bowling alleys like Ran-Ham left in America than places like 5-8 and Matt's, which are a dime a dozen. For the out-of-state visitor, the most unique thing about Matt's, to me, is that you can sit in a neighborhood bar without walking out smelling like an ash tray.

                            Or at least send this poor family to Blue Door where they try and make a Jucy Lucy interesting and offer some great sides that ARE unique to this area (CHEESE CURDS PEOPLE! Blue Door's are the MSP gold standard outside of the Fair in my opinion)

                            Besides, Colossal Cafe, Hot Plate, Stabby's and a handful of other much more outstanding places to eat are just a few blocks past 5-8, and a few blocks short of Matt's.

                            That's my 2-cents. Flame away.

                            1. re: keithinmpls

                              "But, If you're looking for a cheap lunch AND a totally unique MSP culinary experience, is there anything better?"

                              Yes, Casper's and Runyon's The Nook. :)

                              1. re: Davydd

                                White flag. I realized I lost this argument when I started trying to think of ways that Matt's is better than the Nook. Or Buster's. Or any of a number of great places to get a burger.

                                I guess the only thing to say about Matt's is that's where it all began (or was it the 5-8?). They started the craze that led to an obligatory Juicy Lucy on the menu at nearly every pub in the TC's, all variations on a theme.

                                So if you want the best burger ever, don't go to Matt's. But how about this for a MSP tourist excursion? Get a JL at the 5-8, then drive up the road to Matt's and have one there. Now you have a voice in the debate, even if you're not a local. If nothing else, it will make the Minneapolis "Food Wars" episode on the Travel Channel more fun to watch when it airs.

                                1. re: keithinmpls

                                  I've been to all three and have seen, I think, about all the TV shows that have featured them. I suppose we all have preferences. Don't forget the history of the 5-8 Club goes back to the 20s as a speakeasy. The Nook has a strong sports tie in and catchy names for a variety of burgers. Matt's is the reputed creator of the Jucy Lucy, no question, though "stuffed" burgers under different names can be found throughout the country. The rivalry of these places just reinforces each's reputation. But to me, Matt's is a non-discrept neighborhood bar that is bested in Wisconsin and my home state of Indiana many times over. It might be unique to a native Minnesotan but pales with what I grew up with. Neighborhood bar/grills are not a strong suit in the Twin Cities. Other than the rivalry, the burgers are not all that great. If you want a unique Juicy Lucy in the Twin Cities, I had the McGarry's Juicy Lucy last week in Maple Plain. It was ground lamb stuffed with goat cheese Now that was different, and it was good.

                                  Off hand, if I was going out for a burger just for a burger and a little bit of uniqueness, I would head to Ike's in downtown Minneapolis, Lion's Tap in Eden Prairie or Burger Jones on West Lake Street. Burger Jones may have the distinction of being the only burger joint where people have flown in in their airplanes to stop for lunch. :)

                                  1. re: Davydd

                                    The last burger I had at The Blue Door Pub blew away the last Jucy Nookie I ate at The Nook... just saying. I spose the fact I washed it down with a few Farm Girls helped a bit.

                                    1. re: Fudist

                                      Wow, I didn't realize there was so much controversy over who had the better Jucy Lucy (or that spelling differs depending on where you go). Spent the whole day at MOA and ate at Crave. Good basic sushi, although I'd have rather had a different roll than the Cali roll but it was the sushi lunch special and they wouldn't substitute. Best part was the temporary oasis of calm!

                                      Not sure about lunch tomorrow as my son is begging to go back to Bloomington to spend a chunk of the day at the water park. Got my list of possible dinner places and will have the fam help me make a decision.

                                      I'm from the Greater St. Louis Area and love our Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. We've had an increase in Mexican lately, particularly Interior, although I long for decent Tex Mex. I can't find good, homemade flour tortillas to save my life but I make them myself so it would be a bit of a cheat, anyhow. I just love Mexican markets. :-)

                                      We love sushi and have one special place at home plus several other good options. Giapponese is one of the places we're considering for dinner tomorrow night. Also hoping to take a little trip to Hudson, just so the kid can say he's been to WI, and if we do, we'll go to Brick's.

                                      Thanks to everyone for the lively discussion and the suggestions/recommendations! I'll try to post again to let you know my favorites.

                                      1. re: Socialkim

                                        If you love Mexican markets and fresh tortillas, another place you might want to have handy on your list is the Mercado Central at Lake Street and Bloomington in south Minneapolis (if you're going anywhere near south Minneapolis). La Perla tortilleria (sp?) in there supplies most of the Mexican markets city-wide with their fresh tortillas. There is also a handful of food stalls, all of which have something good.

                                        Hoping you have continued good luck and thanks for reporting back.