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!
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.
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
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
828 7th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55106
Los Ocampo #2 Seeger Square
895 Arcade St, Saint Paul, MN 55106
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.
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.
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.
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.