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Mar 6, 2011 09:33 AM

Moving to the Twin Cities - best neighborhood for big eaters?

I am hoping to move to the Twin Cities soon, for a job in St. Paul. In choosing a neighborhood (in St. Paul or Minneapolis - I'm willing to commute to work if the neighborhood is great for grazing...), I am hoping for a walkable, dense area, with a good farmer's market, a food co-op, and plenty of good, preferably cheap-ish restaurants. I am currently living in a place devoid of Vietnamese food, so a great banh mi near home would be a plus. I know downtown St. Paul is an option, but any other ideas? thanks!

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  1. I would focus on South Minneapolis in the Whitter/Wedge area - roughly around the Wedge co-op, from Nicollet Ave west to Hennepin Ave, from Franklin to around Lake Street. Loring Park area near the Walker Art Center might be nice, too. These are sort of younger and hipstery neighborhoods - that might be a plus or a minus to you. Either way, I think Wedge/Whittier would offer you the most food options.

    Downtown St. Paul is nice in many ways, but I would not call it walkable, and while there are some very good cheapish restaurants, there are not plenty of them unless you get in a car.

    2 Replies
    1. re: LiaM

      In St. Paul, a good place is up on the hill near the cathedral. You have the Mississippi Market (coop), and Selby Avenue, Grand Avenue, and University Avenue. University Avenue has several miles of Asian restaurants and grocery stores. You can take a long walk or a bus to the St. Paul Farmer's market.

      The options above also sound great.

      1. re: shoo bee doo

        I live in the Whittier/Wedge neighborhood and it is indeed close to all sorts of good food (and I love living a block from the Wedge coop). However, I also think Cathedral Hill area also has an excellent selection of food (especially bakeries - mmm...Bars Bakery) and is very close to a lot of fabulous Asian food of all sorts (including Vietnamese) on University. If I knew I would be working in St. Paul, I would choose Cathedral Hill over the Whittier. I think they are approximately tied for food proximity so I would then go with a shorter commute.

    2. Here's a recent piece from Heavy Table about 38th Street (S. Mpls)

      1. I also think Cathedral Hill in St Paul would be your best bet. Mississippi Market is an exceptionally nice co-op, the St Paul farmer's market is fantastic and just a short drive away, there are two wonderful bakeries (Bars, A Piece of Cake), several good restaurants (Bon Vie, Mango Thai, Cheeky Monkey), and many more to choose from in the neighborhoods directly north and south (Vietnamese, Thai and BBQ on University Ave in Frogtown and a whole array of choices on Grand Ave).

        The Kingfield neighborhood in Minneapolis might also be worth considering. The Kingfield farmer's market is small but charming and I think Patisserie 46 is the best bakery in the Twin Cities. A bunch of restaurants I consider destination dining are located there or very close by (Piccolo, Heidi's, Blackbird, Corner Table). It is a bit of a haul from St Paul, however.

        Corner Table
        4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409

        A Piece of Cake
        485 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN

        Mango Thai Restaurant
        610 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN

        1. I live in Kingfield and love it. There are a ton of good to great restaurants (although no Vietnamese, sorry); Grand Cafe, Victors, Blackbird, Corner Table. Lowbrow, Kings, Ena, just to name a few. We also have a few fantastic bakeries. And a pretty bustling farmers market in the summer. We don't have a co-op but the wedge isn't too terribly far.

          Corner Table
          4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409

          1. Downtown St. Paul has a decent Farmer's market from June to October. The offerings are a bit sparse the rest of the year. If/when global warming really kicks in, that might change for the better. There are a few good restaurants near the Farmer's market and it's a long walk or short bus or bike ride to University and a dozen Vietnamese restaurants and a few other places.

            University Ave. from Dale Street, east to the Capitol is the biggest concentration of Vietnamese restaurants in town. On the up side, rent in nearby apartments and house prices are low. On the down side, crime is relatively high for the twin cities.

            Also take a look at Grand Ave. east of Lexington for density. West of lexington for smaller and somewhat less expensive housing.

            I'd recommend you look at Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis between Franklin and 28th street.

            Other interesting food areas in the Twin Cities that are dense (for the Twin Cities) and walkable are Lake street near I-35W for Mexican and Central Ave. between 18th and Lowry for a variety of Middle Eastern,South Asian and Mexican.

            If you're thinking NYC or Europe levels of density, you will be disappointed in the Twin Cities. There are lots of pockets of good food in many places, but you're going to need to get a car to get around to enjoy them.

            15 Replies
            1. re: JimGrinsfelder

              In my opinion and based on my experience, I'd say the St. Paul Farmer's Market is FAR better than "decent." I'd say it's one of the best in the country, based on the size of the city it's in. Just wanted to offer that different opinion on one point.... Otherwise I agree with most everything in this thread. For St. Paul, proximity to University Ave. and the Grand Ave. area would give you a pretty good dining situation. For Mpls, I definitely second Kingfield, a real up and comer in terms of food.

              1. re: mtullius

                I was also surprised to see "decent" used to describe the St. Paul market. It's great, and it's actually local (which is why you can't buy bananas in December there).

                1. re: mtullius

                  The St. Paul Farmer's market is very good to excellent for vegetables, and from June to October. If you're in search of fruits, it's virtually bare. For it's location at the 45th parallel, sure, it's great. But on an even playing field, compared to the rest of nation? Not so much. Reading Terminal Market in Philly and the Santa Monica Farmer's Market both blow SPFM away. The area is blessed to have Heartland - though one needs a hefty salary to eat there on a regular basis. Faces is better than average. Other than that (yeah, Barrio and Bulldog), the immediate area is sparse.

                  In MPLS: For the best concentration of great restaurants, South MPLS is a great bet - especially the Kingfield area. There's also great food to be found on Central Ave, and the NE Farmer's Market is very good (and you don't have the annoying crowds that you get at the SPFM [sorry]), but that too can be a tough location to live. There's some other neighborhoods in the NE that can be great options - safe and with some good eats, but I don't know the NE too well.

                  In STP: University Ave is great for Vietnamese (and excellent BBQ at Big Daddy's), but it's a tough locale to live at. Cathedral Hill is fun, and some good eats. Some good everyday kind of places too, and Mississippi Market to boot. Personally, I think Grand Ave is over-rated - not a lot of good food there, with the exception of Brasa (which I don't get, but that's fine, lots of folks rave about it) - and the crowds there can be really obnoxious.

                  1. re: foreverhungry

                    whoa. glaring omission of tanpopo in your first para-- excellent japanese restaurant less than a block from st paul farmer's mkt. which is a *great* farmer's market. the strip club is also quite handy, though it's up the bluff from there-- better than bulldog, faces and barrio, which you mention. having lived in lowertown, i liked it well enough, best part was walking to the market on sunday mornings, but glad i moved back to mpls.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Whoa is right. Not sure how I forgot about Tanpopo. Very large apologies for that - Tanpopo is a gem in STP. Can I claim tiredness? Mea culpa...

                      On the STP Farmer's Market...I truly feel conflicted about it. On the one hand, it hosts an abundance of in-season vegetables at great prices. There's also a good (but not great) smattering of meat, cheese, and bread products available. But on the other, it's mostly limited to vegetables (with the exception of a few meat, cheese, bread, and flower sellers). And, to be honest, the crowd there can drive me nuts, unless you get there at the crack of dawn. It can be very difficult to park, and it can be a challenge to do one loop to check out options, then run the gauntlet again to buy what you wanted. To some extent, it's a victim of it's own success, at least for me. There are many other farmer's markets around the TC that have easier access, fewer crowds, nearly the same products available, the same quality, and the same prices. IMO, the SPFM has become a local tourist attraction. And while I totally understand that our northern location limits fruit growing, the lack of fruit availability at the SPFM is a big strike against for me. After being spoiled with the Santa Monica Farmer's Market and Reading Terminal in Philly, I have to say that while the SPFM may be the tops in its class for Minnesota, it's simply not in the same league nationally.

                      Strip Club...yes...and in that area as well is Swede Hollow Bakery, though that's starting to fan out a bit. I really like Faces - much different than Bulldog and Barrio. While I really like lowertown in theory, and while there are great food options there - anchored by Tanpopo and Heartland - that area just perpetually feels like a dead zone.

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

                      1. re: foreverhungry

                        It's not really fair (and I get that you understand this) to compare the SPFM to anything in California..... but yes, my point was that, given what can be grown here and when, it's a great market. As for fruit, one can get, in season: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, currants, cherries, tons of apples.... And all the food offered at the market is grown very close by-- not the case in many farmer's markets across the nation (I don't know about the ones you mentioned). And you can find veggies most Americans are not familiar with. And despite the climate challenges, it operates year round (meat and such available in the winter).

                        1. re: mtullius

                          Thanks for saying so succinctly what I was struggling to compose.

                          1. re: mtullius

                            I do get that the comparison isn't fair, but what if we were talking about ski resorts instead? What is someone said Lutsen Mountain is a great ski resort, one of the best in the nation, because given the topography of MN, Lutsen is really the best you can get? That argument wouldn't hold water.

                            So if someone says that the SPFM is great given what can be grown here (as you said), then yes, I agree (though, once again, I think the crowd at the SPFM on Wall can be a bit pretentious, and I prefer some of the other area Farmer's Markets that have the same ethos of locally grown). But someone in a comment above said the SPFM was one of the best in the nation, which would be like saying Lutsen is one of the best in the nation.

                            If I lived in walking distance to it, I'd probably go there more. But I don't eat enough bok choy or radishes in a week to put up with the parking and the crowds on a regular basis.

                            As for the MPLS FM, I go there as well - and to some extent I prefer it. I get the locally grown green stuff, as well as the shipped in stuff like fruits that don't have a 2 week growing season in MN. The bonus is that I can do all my produce shopping in one trip, rather than having to stop off somewhere else to buy the fruits and other off season produce that I'm going to buy anyway.

                            That's one of the things I don't get about the SPFM - folks go there saying it's great that it's all local produce, but then stop off at a market on the way home to buy their other stuff. What's the difference?

                            1. re: foreverhungry

                              That's apples and oranges. Because the point is that, at the height of the season here (which is obviously a shorter period of time than in more temperate places), our farmer's market stands up pretty well to the competition. I'd also like to mention that we go to the SPFM nearly every week in season (and frequently out of season), and have never had the slightest problem with parking. There is abundant free parking in the big lot at Kellogg and Broadway.

                              1. re: mtullius

                                St Paul farmer's market was listed as one of the best in the nation last year:

                                Also, Black Sheep Pizza just opened in downtown StP

                                1. re: japanabanana

                                  Actually, the SPFM was named one of the best local farmer's markets in the nation - not overall. Notice the Santa Monica Farmer's Market - not local, yet easily one of the best in the nation - isn't on the list. The local part is an important distinction. If that was the original statement, that the SPFM is one of the best local FM in the nation, sure, I'd easily agree. But remove the local part, and I'm not sure how well it would compete nationally. And, not to be argumentative, but the list of goods at many other local FM was much broader than what's at the SPFM - and I realize that it's part because of our northern clime.

                                  Very excited about Black Sheep. It's right down the street from work, so I'll be hitting it as regularly as the debit card allows. It's about time something decent opened in that immediate area.

                      2. re: foreverhungry

                        First, I shop at St. Paul Farmer's Market. I like it. I like the local restriction. I wish there was more organic produce and that the organic produce they do have wasn't so precious. I also wish a good BBQ vendor and a good Bahn Mi vendor would sell at the market.

                        That said, I think ForeverHungry nails it when he says there are markets in other cities that blow it away. I've been to Reading Terminal Market in Philly, St. Lawrence in Toronto and Pike Street in Seattle. Philly and Toronto are bigger (2-3x) and Seattle has a much better climate for veggies and fruits. But if you're from out of town, our market probably will not blow you away if you've been to the really fantastic markets.

                        1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                          It's hard to wish for perfect weather and local food at the same time.

                          I think I was noticing more kinds of more "natural" food (for want of a better term) last year at the market. I can't remember what terns vendors were using. Unsprayed? No pesticides? Can't remember. They weren't using the magic "organic" word but were conveying that there were less chemicals used.

                          Maybe someone else remembers.

                      3. re: mtullius

                        I love love love the St. Paul farmers market. Everything there has to be grown within a certain radius of the market so it's all local. Not like the Minneapolis farmers market which I understand has stuff shipped in from out of state. You can get that stuff anywhere.

                        Many of the growers at the St. Paul farmers market are Hmong, so the market has a bit of an asian feel. Lots of asian herbs and vegetables mixed in with everything else.

                        For good produce that is not in season here and everything else, the Mississippi Market is great. There is great asian food on University Ave. as others have pointed out and Mexican across the river on the West side close by.

                        St. Paul has lots of little restaurants sprinkled throughout.

                        1. re: karykat

                          For a real Asian feel, and for produce that you really can't get anywhere else, try the Hmong marketplace, just north of University near Rice St. I don't get the Asian feel of the SPFM, primarily because the 20 Hmong dealers are dwarfed by the 1000 caucasians shoppers. At the Hmong Marketplace though, it's primarily Hmong shoppers. Last time I was there, there were maybe 20 caucasians in the whole place, and the stands were full of things I had never seen at the SPFM - though some (much?) of it isn't locally grown.