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The Best of Saint Paul

Since Chowhound has made a new sub-board of Mpls-St. Paul, I feel compelled to ask:
What are you favorite spots in Saint Paul? I'll get the list started.

For Thai/Vietnamese:

-Saigon. I have the bahn mi just waay too often. For $3.75 and four different types of meats, the Saigon Special is my fave!
-Bangkok Thai Deli. This is a jewel that I learned about thanks to chowhound. The owner is from Thailand, they are her recipes, the portions are generous, the food fresh, and the price cheap. She says all of the sauces she makes from scratch and that "there are no jars of sauce back there!" It is located on University in between Marion St and Western, next to Burger King. Look for the tall "chimney like" tile covered mosaic sticking up from the building!

For Mexican:

-El Comal on the west side, right next to Burrito Mercado. One evening, a friend of mine and me wanted to go to one of those restaurants and El Comal was chosen. They have AWESOME food. It is a small and family run restaurant but the dishes are hearty, a good size, and soo delicious. Get the agua de jamaica for a drink, it is very refreshing.
-La Fonda (used to be called Me Gusta, I believe) right on Roberts Street. I have spent a considerable amount of time in Mexico (Puebla) and have a lot of first generation Mexican friends. The food here is great and cheap and so very authentic. Whether you get tacos, chip and guacamole, or the 3 specialty entrees they make everyday, it is great food. The entree special is a great deal, too. They have three hot, and homemade entrees and you can get that with rice, soup, tortillas, beans, and a drink for $8.00. I got the pipian once, and it was the best pipian I'd ever had since I ate it in my Mayan sponsor child's house in Guatemala 3 years ago (her mother is an awesome cook).
-Taqueria Los Ocampos. Awesome food, great Pozole.

For Central American:
-La Manana. Rice, beans, patacones, good meats.

For Italian:
-Pazzaluna

For Sushi/Japanese:
-Fujiya for sushi, Sakura for Happy Hour. Choices aren't nearly as varied as Minneapolis for restaurants, but they satisfy my cravings.
-Tanpopo Noodle shop.

Other Places:
-Cafe Latte. Great soups, great spreads, unbelievable desserts.
-Little Szechuan on Western and University.
-Black Sea Turkish Restaurant on Snelling near Minnehaha. Awesome gyros and soooo cheap!

So, that's my list, what do you like/crave in St. Paul?

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  1. In terms of overall "best," Meritage and Heartland are head and shoulders above the rest.

    I like the Barbary Fig very much. The fish and rabbit specials are among the finest individual dishes in the cities.

    Bon Vie is awesome for breakfast.

    Ngon Bistro is excellent. The menu has both Vietnamese and European fare.

    Kopplins coffee shop is a must. Perfect espresso, plus Rustica treats.

    -----
    Barbary Fig
    720 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

    Meritage
    410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

    Bon Vie
    518 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

    23 Replies
    1. re: Michael Florey

      Great additions.

      I'm afraid Black Sea wouldn't make my list, not for "Turkish" anyway.

      I'd also add Big Daddy's BBQ, the Hmong Market, Brasa, Izzy's, the St. Paul Farmers Market, Trung Nam. I think Cheng Heng and Fasika belong in here.

      I like the very limited Tibetan menu at Highland Cafe and Bakery.

      I also like the Dari-ette and Conny's Creamy Cone. Also the Nook (yeah, sorry Nook haters) for the Molitor, the Lodge burger and the hand-cut fries (but, most of all for the St. Paulness of the crowd and atmosphere).

      Since we're limiting ourselves to St. Paul, I do like Cossetta's market, Golden Fig, St. Paul Cheese Shop, Coastal Seafoods, Mississippi Market, Dragon Star, and Kim's Oriental Foods.

      Babani's (the main one) has some pretty things on its menu.

      Not sure what to list for pizza. It just depends on my mood.

      ~TDQ

      -----
      Highland Cafe and Bakery
      2012 Ford Pkwy, Saint Paul, MN 55116

      Coastal Seafoods
      74 Snelling Ave S, St Paul, MN 55105

      Black Sea Restaurant
      737 Snelling Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55104

      Conny's Creamy Cone
      1197 Dale St, N St Paul, MN

      Babani's
      St. Paul, MN, St Paul, MN

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        Drove by Regina's candies this morning, which reminded me to add it to this list.

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Where is Regina's? I've never heard of it. What do they sell?

          1. re: Michael Florey

            Old school chocolate/candy shop at the corner of St. Clair and Cleveland Avenues (the location I am familiar with). It's a treasure if you're into that kind of stuff.

            www.reginascandies.com

            1. re: Michael Florey

              Regina's sells old fashioned candies. They are on St. Clair. I picked up the most adorable miniature candy-coated peanut butter bunnies there for Easter. Pretty tasty, too.

              I like Candyland in downtown St. Paul for their Chicago Mix popcorn, but otherwise, I like the hominess of Regina's.

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Wow -- I go down St. Clair almost every day. Don't know how I missed it. We got our Easter candy at Golden Fig. Always good to have another fine option. TX

                1. re: Michael Florey

                  It's kind of in a weird spot, next to a dry cleaner. It's near where Cleveland intersects St. Clair. I think Snuffy's Malt Shoppe is there.

                  But, Golden Fig sounds like a smart choice!

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Yes, it's to the west of the cleaners on the NW corner of the intersection. (I used to live across the street and a couple houses down...boy was that convenient!) Snuffy's is on the SE corner, behind the drug store.

          2. re: The Dairy Queen

            TDQ, could you tell me a liitle about Cheng Heng? General picture, favs, thanx.

            Ps, your fav(s) for Turkish?

            1. re: stymie

              Here's a good thread on Cheng Heng (Cambodian). http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6137...

              Black Sea doesn't have anything particularly Turkish on its menu that it does well. It's pretty generically Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, and there are many places in MN that do that better. As far as I know, the only other Turkish place in MN is Istanbul Bistro, but I haven't been there, I'm afraid, so I can't say whether it's any better. But, Black Sea is a total pass, not just for Turkish food, but just for food, period. The last time I went there (for take-out), I literally threw my meal out and cooked something at home instead because what they served me was impossibly salty--I just couldn't eat it. Sorry. I wish I felt differently because it's the kind of place I want to love. Super duper nice people. Great atmosphere for a hole in the wall place. Very affordable. I wish they had manti or lahmacun. It's been a couple of years, so, perhaps I should give them another chance, but I just can't erase that taste of salt lick from my memory, and for just for hummus or kebabs, meh, I can't get the motivation to go back.

              ~TDQ

              -----
              Cheng Heng Restaurant
              448 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

              Istanbul Bistro
              15718 Wayzata Blvd, Wayzata, MN 55391

              Black Sea Restaurant
              737 Snelling Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55104

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I actually was talking to a Turk the other day, who goes to the U of MN and is here studying abroad for the summer. He did say that it wasn't really authentic Turkish as much as it was middleastern, but he gave it two thumbs up.

                I personally love it. I get the Black Sea Mix with their rice. I haven't noticed the salt, that is to say, it has not bothered me, and I do not like things salty.

                In any case, dinner or lunch there is less than $5 if you get a gyro. I crave the place on occasion.

                -----
                Black Sea Restaurant
                737 Snelling Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                1. re: linfr21

                  Yes, Black Sea is generically Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, as I said above. Cheap and within walking is great for the Hamline students that frequent the place, but if you can spend a bit more and drive a little farther, Shish on Grand Avenue also serves up generic Middle Eastern and it's not oversalted. It's not perfect by any means, and not as cute decor-wise as Black Sea (I do love all of the evil eyes at Black Sea--that is truly a Turkish touch), but its still affordable, and the quality of the food is a notch better.

                  I don't they they have gyros, though, so for that, I suppose you might as well stick with Black Sea if you want to stay in St. Paul. Or, head over to Abu Nader Deli.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    i think shish does have gyros! i know for a fact i've gotten a chicken gyro there before, & i'd assume there is also a lamb gyro, though i'm blanking on the current menu. . . also love the lamb burger at shish, though now we're getting fusion-y (comes on an american bun w fries, but also garlic sauce & hummus & stuff)

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Whoops. Thanks for that. I don't know why I thought they didn't, I guess I don't remember ever having one there. Thanks for correcting my mistatement of that fact! Here's a link to their menu which lists, plain as day, gyros! http://shishcafe.net/index.php?conten...

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        you're welcome, TDQ! while we're on the subject, my only bone to pick with the chx gyro at shish is that it was. . . a little salty, but otherwise tasty! haven't tried the lamb gyro so don't know how it compares. fwiw the staff at shish reported that the chicken they use is local/and/or/organic.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          Oh, that's hilarious (about the salt) in a weird way.

                          ~TDQ

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Tsk tsk. You had them there with me.

                          1. re: clepro

                            HA! I guess I did, now that you mention it, though that was awhile ago now. And now that I recall, I think they were good, not great--perhaps too salty, I think, as soupkitten says. Maybe that's why I blocked them from memory in favor of the rest of the menu.

                            ~TDQ

            2. re: Michael Florey

              I went to opening of new Heartland lst night. It needs work. No standouts for the four of us. The decor, space is stunning. The cocktails are very tasty. The food, service needs a lot of work.

              1. re: rp1760

                Oh poo. I was hoping you say it knocked your socks off. Any specifics about the food you feel like sharing?

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Also very interested to hear specifics. I had planned on going to the opening with my mom, we went to the closing in the old space, but when the menu popped up, it was a bit similar to what we had and thought better of the logistics and expense of just "popping in" versus going when the menu really beckoned us.

                  This is probably tied into why the Market and Brunch are farther off, he wants to keep his standards for his dining room before starting the new ventures.

                  1. re: semanticantics

                    I am hesitant to provide many details. Perhaps my expectations were too high - opening night, recent visit to Alma.

                    I'll pass along a few comments, and hope that in a month or so things come around. It could just be my tastes, too. I don't feel a pork chop with a dollop of grainy mustard on top and and braised cabbage is a meal for 85 degree, humid weather. Thought the menu, overall, was quite heavy. We were a group of four, two foodies, two not as much. So please take this with a grain of salt, because I loved the food at the old place, and really hope Lenny succeeds with this new spot.

                    The Flora menu was nice. Soup was strong, minerally in a good way. Mushroom gnocci very good. Dessert was basically butterscotch pudding. Creamed Onion soup was outstanding - best of all the dishes. White fish had little flavor, nor did the broth. Pork chops were nice and thick, but cooked unevenly in a strange way - one half (not side) was medium rare, one half medium to medium well. Chocolate dessert was not much more than a moist chocolate cake. Service was uneven. Nice job with water, napkins, rolls, bringing out food when hot. Somewhat disconcerting to wait for drink when seeing two large groups of waiters standing around, talking, laughing. (We had 5:15 reservation - barbaric, I know, but someone in group had another event - we were second table seated - place was full when we left.) Plate clearing was also slow.

                    So, I wasn't wowed. Or impressed. Neither were my companions. I will note that the bar area is beautiful, and would not hesitate to recommend going for a cocktail and try a small plate or two from the bar menu.

                    1. re: rp1760

                      Hmmm...interesting. Sauerkraut doesn't really seem like Lenny's taking advantage of what the season has to offer. Sounds like he's not really ready, but felt it was necessary to stick to a schedule.

                      It will be interesting to check back in, say, a month and see if the staff are better-trained and if their menu is on season again.

                      Thanks for taking one for the team!

                      ~TDQ

            3. This thread does a really good job of showing how little I've had in St. Paul. :(

              Of the many places listed, I've been to:

              -Heartland
              -Bon Vie
              -Fuji Ya
              -Big Daddy's
              -The Nook
              -Izzy's
              -Coastal
              -Cossetta's
              -Mississippi Market

              This tells me that I've done zero exploration into the Asian and Latin American cuisine of St. Paul (sadly, my reputation is the same on the other side of the river).

              I'd give a nod to the Happy Gnome as well. The food can be hit and miss, but for beer and whiskey selection, the bar is the best in town.

              -----
              Happy Gnome
              498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

              3 Replies
              1. re: BigE

                While the Happy Gnome has a lovely beer list with lots of choices, my award for best beer list in St Paul (and in fact, in the TCs) is Ngon Bistro. The whole beer list is from Minnesota, there's a rotating seasonal beer, and there's always a cask beer. It's wonderful. You really need to go, if only for the beer, though the food is amazing as well.

                -----
                Happy Gnome
                498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                1. re: mtullius

                  I hang my head in shame when I admit that I've not been to Ngon.

                  I must remedy that soon.

                  1. re: mtullius

                    As far as selection goes. Muddy Pig > * when it comes to Saint Paul.

                    -----
                    Muddy Pig
                    162 Dale St N, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                2. A few other things I'll add:

                  Best Italian: Cafe Biaggio and it isn't even close for 2nd.

                  Best Late Nate Eats/Happy Hour: Senor Wongs. Imagine if the Red Dragon wasn't a total dump AND served good food. That is Senor Wongs. You can get your Donkey/Wonderous Punch here too.

                  Best People Watching: Mancini's. If you are anyone in this town, you spend time in the lounge and talking with Johnny and Pat, eating Garlic Toast, and smelling like absolute h e double hockey sticks when you get home.

                  Best Breakfast: Mickey's Hash Browns can't be beat and the All-Day is the perfect end to a night of excess drinking..

                  Best Restaurant: It's Heartland right now, but let's see if Lenny Russo can keep up the quality in the larger location. My money is betting he will, but if he falters at all, Meritage will be there to take the cake.

                  Best Liquor Store/Wine Shop: Morelli's on Payne Avenue. Just don't expect to pay with credit, but you won't find a better deal in town. And they have a meat shop too with excellent steaks.

                  Best Vietnamese: Ngon is playing in a totally different league right now and continues to work itself into Best Overall conversations.

                  Best Patio: W.A. Frost ..... Duh

                  -----
                  Meritage
                  410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                  Senor Wong
                  111 East Kellogg Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55101

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Db Cooper

                    OH! I forgot about the Frost! And Happy Gnome. They have a great beer list, and a decent (albeit crowded) patio.

                    -----
                    Happy Gnome
                    498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                  2. I'm surprised that Strip Club and Frost gets no nods. It has been over a year since we were to either, but JD has always been one of my fav chefs.

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

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: 67.p.car

                      Best Burger: The Nook....get the Paul Molitor

                      Best Breakfast: St. Clair Broiler

                      I discovered a little gem of an Italian restaurant not so long ago call Luci, which is right on Cleveland. Tiny little authentic place. Love it.

                      1. re: 67.p.car

                        AW! The Frost! I love that place! I forgot to mention that in my original list. Whoops.

                      2. Most of my favorites are already mentioned.

                        In addition, we like abu nader on Como. Middle eastern place that makes all its own things, including pita, cucumber sauce, pastries including baklava and everything else. The amount of meat on the schwarma is very generous. We usually get an extra pita or two and divide the meat between two or three sandwiches.

                        It's a very modest and small space but with very good food.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: karykat

                          Patio and more upscale food - W.A. Frost. I really do love this place.
                          Breakfast/brunch- Bon Vie. If you like eggs benedict, this is the place to go. My second choice for quick and inexpensive is the St Paul Bagelry (tech Roseville).
                          Asian-Ngon Bistro.
                          Pizza - Like TDQ, depends on my mood-it's usually Savoy's or John's Pizza Cafe
                          Burger (or for me, chicken sandwich) Nook
                          For spam bites - Blue Door Pub (I judged too-don't knock them til you try 'em)
                          Sweet treat -Conny/Connie's Creamy Cone (I don't remember how she spells it)
                          Overportioned loaded nachos-Gabe's (and this is the only recommendation I make on behalf of Gabes-sometimes I just need that unhealthy appetizer)
                          Indian - India House
                          Sushi-Fuyi-Ya or Sakura
                          Mexican - Most anything down on Cesar Chavez - El Amaceur, El Burrito Mercado
                          Steak sandwich - Mancini's in the lounge

                          -----
                          El Burrito Mercado
                          175 Cesar Chavez St, St Paul, MN 55107

                          St Paul Bagelry
                          1702 Lexington Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55113

                          Bon Vie
                          518 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                          The Blue Door Pub
                          1811 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                          India House
                          758 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

                          1. re: snoboardbabe77

                            I have to put in another plug for La Fonda on Roberts or El Comal on Cesar Chavez. I have had consistently great meals at both of these places, and I think they are less known.

                            La Fonda offers tacos, quesadillas, burritos and other fare that you'd see in Mexican Restaurants, but what is special about La Fonda is that it offers food that you would only find in a family's home. Having studied in Puebla, MX for several months, they make food that my sponsor mother made. The real casseroles mexicanos, meats, and stews that you find in families' homes in Mexico.

                            El Comal has food traditional of Morelos, MX (I am pretty sure it is Morelos), as well as burritos and stuff. It is just, good. I have always left with that "aw, that hit the spot perfectly!" sort of feeling. It is not, however, a great spot to go for "heathy food." But sooo good! Love the agua de jamaica!

                            -----
                            La Fonda
                            433 Robert St N, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                            1. re: linfr21

                              La Fonda is awesome. I can't remember if I've been to the other place.

                              ~TDQ

                              -----
                              La Fonda
                              433 Robert St N, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                              1. re: linfr21

                                I was at El Comal this week. Delicious shrimp tostadas. We were the only table there--the recession seems to have hit here--those of us who like it should show up.
                                Margi

                          2. Some of my fav's:

                            Barrio.
                            Yarusso Brothers. Dari-ette. DeGideos.
                            Josephs (great salsa, fajitas).
                            Tavern on Grand (walleye).
                            Meritage.
                            Nook.
                            Senior Wongs (fish taco)
                            Savoy.
                            Christos (great happy hour)

                            -----
                            Meritage
                            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: rp1760

                              Love your list, but what is Josephs???? Am I the only person who hasn't heard of this place?

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Bar and Grill across the river from St. Paul, on Plato between Wabasha and Robert. Lebonese owner that does a nice job with American food. It's too extensive of a menu to get everything right, but what I like are the burgers, walleye sandwich, fajitas, and flatbread pizza. This is a really good happy hour spot - can get flatbread pizza that can serve four for $6.

                                http://www.josephsgrill.com/

                                http://www.josephsgrill.com/

                                1. re: rp1760

                                  oh, oh, oh, was that the place that used to be George's or Awada's?

                                  Edit: no, I can see plainly according to the link that it's not that.Funny, it looks familiar, but I've never stopped in. Cool tip, thanks.

                                  Do they have any Lebanese food on the menu that you recommend?

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Haven't tried any, sorry. I also haven't been there for breakfast, but I know they do a good business every day, not just weekends (I drive by on one of my alternate routes to work). Check out the menu - lamb and eggs......

                                    http://www.josephsgrill.com/pdfs/brea...

                                    1. re: rp1760

                                      Interesting! I see Lebanese plate as the dinner special on Saturdays, too. I shall add this to my ever-growing "list" of places I need to try one of these days.

                                      Thanks!

                                      ~TDQ