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Dining up and down University Avenue

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  • Rowdy Apr 2, 2011 09:42 PM
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With the street all torn up for light rail construction all the way from the capitol in St. Paul into Minneapolis, DH and I resolved to support the local businesses by dining at a University Avenue establishment at least once a week, and taking friends along with us for a bigger impact.

What are your favorite places along University Avenue, and are there any tricks to getting through the construction to get to them?

I'll start by mentioning Caffe Biaggio, whose front door is closed off by chain link fencing, as apparently most businesses will be eventually (or at least access will be severely limited). Best way to get to Biaggio is to get on Raymond Avenue north of University, head south on Raymond until you cross University, turn left at the first opportunity after you're across University, go the end of the building, then turn left again and you're in Biaggio's parking lot with their side door at the far end of the building.

Anyone else want to take the pledge?

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Caffe Biaggio
2356 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55114

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  1. Count me in. Cheng Heng and Saigon will be my lunch stops every week. This construction is going to kill many business. Cheng Heng Chicken Soup works on my wife's colds, and it is very good, so lets keep it open.

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

    6 Replies
    1. re: ibew292

      Love Cheng Heng, though DH doesn't. Is Saigon the same restaurant that was in Bandana Square for many years?

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

      1. re: Rowdy

        I don't think it is the same.

        1. re: Rowdy

          You're very close! The restaurant that was in Bandana Square for years was "Saigon City". I haven't been inside Bandana for years so I'm not sure whether they're still there--somehow I doubt it.

        2. re: ibew292

          We used to be huge Cheng Heng fans, but the last time we went the food was completely different. We ordered the same things we always do and they barely resembled what we used to get and we didn't like it as much. We haven't been back.

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

          1. re: sarahcooks

            The owners go back to Cambodia every so often and while they are gone the food is different. Last week it was as good as ever. Support the Avenue where ever it is you go. Times are going to get tougher for business on University.

            1. re: ibew292

              Oh wow, good to know! We were so sad that one of our favorite restaurants had changed so much! We'll definitely give it another try, I've really missed it!

        3. on a related topic.. porky's made the right decision. rather than let the construction kill them they just shut down.

          1. I generally do so anyway, as I work near there. Insofar as the whole purpose of LTR, in the grand scheme of things, is to yield yet another Crave location in a mixed-condo type deal, it seems futile to resist progress.

            On the other hand, I will be eating at Hoa Bien, Ngon, Bangkok Thai Deli, Big Daddy's, Black Sea. Sole Cafe and Asian Deli with some frequency, and will do my best to report on the remainder.

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

            Asian Deli
            388 Western Ave N, St Paul, MN 55103

            1. Just had dinner at Mai Village (I know, but it's a family favorite). I would be more than happy to rotate among any of the following (alphabetical): Cheng Heng, Hickory Hut (not the best 'que in St. Paul but great Art Song's wings and a pretty decent deal), Hoa Bien, and Ngon.

              I would add On's to the list, but I haven't been there yet.

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

              Mai Village
              394 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

              The Hickory Hut
              647 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

              1. I usually alternate weekly between Little Szechuan, Trieu Chau and Saigon. Great idea btw.

                -----
                Little Szechuan - West End
                5377 16th Street, St. Louis Park, MN 55416

                Trieu Chau Restaurant
                500 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

                2 Replies
                1. re: Fudist

                  Please tell us more about Trieu Chau. I see it's been mentioned in a couple of threads, but I haven't been there and don't know much about it.

                  Thanks for liking the idea.

                  -----
                  Trieu Chau Restaurant
                  500 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

                  1. re: Rowdy

                    I stopped in a couple of weeks ago and had a good bowl of pho that I thought was comparable to Quang and Saigon. Super-nice people there.

                2. Tried to make it to Ai Hues yesterday, but it is closed on Tuesdays, which someone probably mentioned, but I had forgotten. We settled for Krua Thai.

                  Thought the papaya pad thai looked like an interesting idea. Oh dear. Bland curry over frozen vegetables didn't do anything for me either. Service was indifferent to the point of being rude. Will not be back.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: kevin47

                    Sorry you went there kevin47. It used to be the cream of local Thai, but was sold a few years back and it's just a miserable little cesspool now. I honestly don't know how they survive.

                    Give On's another chance if you haven't recently. New menu with photos and a lot of new dishes. They are (slowly, ponderingly) getting their service act together, but the food is really first rate.

                    Cheers,

                    Huagung

                    1. re: HuaGung

                      Yes, Krua Thai back in the original days was a true wonder. After new owners took over, the food became inedible. A great loss to the local dining community.

                      1. re: HuaGung

                        What do you recommend? The crab and egg dish looks intriguing.

                        1. re: kevin47

                          I am just now sitting down to a bowl of kaeng pa (#102) with pork-a very spicy non-cocunut curry. It's awesome. The crab dish is great but very messy to eat. Forewarned is...

                          Her doo dee noodle soup is a great lunch too. Something akin to a sour pho with more kinds of meat. And peanuts.

                          Cheers,

                          Huagung

                          1. re: HuaGung

                            Both of those sound great. At school in CA, the local Thai place didn't even do coconut curries. Perfect drunk food, and you haven't lived until you've vomited spicy soup through your nostrils, I tell ya'.

                            I'll give it a whirl. A visit to a truly terrible restaurant puts those that are at least endeavoring to greatness in perspective.

                            1. re: kevin47

                              "You haven't lived until you've vomited spicy soup through your nostrils"

                              I think this will be my new favorite quote of all time! Nicely stated Kevin47!

                    2. Little Szechuan, On's Thai Kitchen, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro.will all get special attention from me during the construction.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Brad Ballinger

                        I just had lunch today at On Thai...excellent! They have a good attention to detail...far batter than average to be sure. They have a free public parking lot across the University, which was helpful.

                      2. I'm in.

                        Speaking of access - Anybody know how to get to Russian Tea House now? Seems impassable.

                        -----
                        Russian Tea House
                        1758 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Uisge

                          You *can* get to the Russian Tea House, but you have to sneak up on it by going down Fairview, then over to Wheeler and back up to almost-University. See my post below:

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7761...

                          -----
                          Russian Tea House
                          1758 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                            Thank you, thank you. Will plan to head there tomorrow.

                          2. re: Uisge

                            Went to Russian Tea House on Friday. As stated, they are feeling good still and loving their customers. Ordered a bit of everything. My 16 year old declared the piroshki "a Masterpiece" (this after refusing to touch it at first).

                            Had the vereneki (potato stuffed dumplings) with sauteed onions and with stroganoff sauce. The onions were perfect, sweet and buttery. The stroganoff was fine but not as rich as I remember.

                            -----
                            Russian Tea House
                            1758 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                            1. re: Uisge

                              Just a heads-up - maybe as a reaction to traffic adjustments impacting business - they are OPEN on Saturday's now. Have gone last two weekend's as I love their pelmeni - sour cream and their mustard are the best and jut a dab of their balsamic vinegar. Also had to get piroshki, because they are darn tasty as described above.
                              Saturday menu includes blinis, one savory (mushroom, cheese, onion) and one sweet

                              1. re: eastlakovore

                                YAY! THIS IS AWESOME NEWS!

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  I believe they're only open Friday and Saturday now, though. I'm going Friday and will report back.

                                  1. re: jeanmt

                                    Please do!

                                    ~TDQ

                                2. re: eastlakovore

                                  I love pelmeni! Is this restaurant good for take-out?

                                  1. re: stepawayfromthetable

                                    Yes, it is. And they have convenient parking too.

                            2. We were able to get into On's Thai Kitchen for takeout last night. We ate there once before and liked it. Last night, it was okay.

                              We had hor mok, which I've never had before, and which we liked. Pretty spicy and good. The pad thai I found kind of odd: very sugary with a thickened, very tomatoey sauce, unlike I've ever had before; it didn't stand up well by comparison to others I've had. The green curry was quite salty and the broccoli with oyster sauce was good but unremarkable. Still, I'll give them another try.

                              I'm not yet on the bandwagon that's developed for On's and am taking a wait and see attitude.

                              1. I'm planning on dining at Restaurant Alma in late June and then taking the #6 bus from there to Target Field. Will the construction prevent me from the dinner or the bus ride?

                                -----
                                Restaurant Alma
                                528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  The construction won't affect Restaurant Alma at all - the light rail line won't go as far north as this. (The construction is a big hit in St. Paul, but affects Minneapolis only between the city line and Washington Ave, which is about 2 miles SE of Alma). So you'll be fine in June.

                                  But for affected restaurants in St. Paul (and a bit of Minneapolis), University Ave will have one lane open in each direction, so buses will be fine, and traffic will be OK most of the time - just a bit slower during rush hours.

                                  Here's a link to the construction plans and maps for University Avenue.
                                  http://www.metrocouncil.org/transport...

                                  P.S. Alma is a great choice for your visit. I hope you like it - I think you will!

                                  -----
                                  Restaurant Alma
                                  528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

                                2. There is an official campaign of support for businesses affected by the construction for the new light rail line, with ways for those businesses (including restaurants) to participate. See www.discovercentralcorridor.com

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    Thanks for this link, nsxtasy. I see that, while it appears businesses can get themselves listed through this web site pretty easily, many business are not listed, e.g. Mai Village, Cheng Heng, Little Szechuan, Flamingo and many others. Too bad. Maybe small businesses can be encouraged by their customers to get listed.

                                    -----
                                    Little Szechuan - West End
                                    5377 16th Street, St. Louis Park, MN 55416

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

                                    Mai Village
                                    394 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103

                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                      The same site, but a slightly different link, gives you a place where you can sign up to receive discounts for businesses along university: http://www.centralcorridorperks.com/

                                    2. Don't forget about the restaurants just off of University Ave! They're affected, too.

                                      We went to Caribe Caribbean Bistro this evening, and had a lovely dinner. But it wasn't very busy - I hope it wasn't because of construction fears. Traffic was almost non-existent at 7:30pm on a Friday. (Plus, there's free on-street parking after 4:30 pm!)

                                      Oh, and about our dinner: we shared an appetizer of Bacalaitos (cod fritters), which were awesome - especially with the spicy sauce. Then Mr. Tastebud had grilled skirt steak with onions, rice, and red beans (super delicious), and I had mahi mahi with plantains and roasted vegetables (nom, aka would definitely order again). My only gripe is that the by-the-glass wine is outlandlishly expensive (I mean, Cristalino Cava at $8 a glass?!?!?! the stuff is only $6.50 a bottle retail!) but the small wine list matches the food well so I had two glasses of wine anyway. And that's not enough to keep me away from the lovely food. Besides, they have a good selection of beer - and a beer dinner coming up on 4/18.

                                      http://caribemn.com/Caribe_Caribbean_...

                                      -----
                                      Caribe Caribbean Bistro
                                      791 Raymond Ave, St. Paul, MN 55114

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                                        http://www.caribemn.com/Caribe_Caribb...

                                        From their website:
                                        CLOSING SOON. <Already Closed>
                                        April 15th will be our last day. Hours subject to change. Please make a reservation to verify that we will be open for your party. 651-641-1446

                                        Edit: Whoopsie - I see there is already a thread dedicated to Caribe's closing. Still, reinforcing that these restos do need business!

                                      2. We get sandwiches from Saigon and croissants from Trung Nam every other week. If anyone hasn't tried their croissants yet, you must, they're absolute heaven!

                                        1. Today was my day to boost Univ. Ave. businesses. (I made a vow to visit at least one a week until the construction is done.) I made up for lost time by visiting three in the same afternoon.

                                          - Had lunch at Russian Tea House. The piroshok (single noun for piroshkhi) was great, as always, especially with a side order of garlicy tomato sauce for dipping. (The sauce comes with the "unrolled cabbage rolls", but is awesome with the piroshkhi.) They said they're doing OK, not great, with the construction, but have been pleased that several new customers have come in especially to support them now. Hooray, and keep it up!

                                          Important: To get to RTH from University Ave, go south on Fairview for 1 block, then east on Shields Ave for two blocks, then north on Wheeler to the RTH/Wendy's parking lot (just before the blocked-off intersection with Univ. Ave). It's easy-peasy once you know how. Then RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO GET BACK TO UNIVERSITY AVE, because there's no other way to get back (this is the voice of experience, here).

                                          - Shopped for vitamins at Schneider drug store. (Chow food connection: they carry B.T. McElrath truffles!)

                                          - Bought local beer at Sharrett's liquor store, where they thanked me for coming in and gave me a Central Corridor Perks Card and a 10% discount. Thus is virtue rewarded (and not much virtue on my part - I zipped into one of three free parking spots on the street at 4:31pm).

                                          The Central Corridor Perks web site has some great restaurant discounts, including U Garden, Peking Garden, Homi Mexican Restaurant, Suga Rush, Tay Ho, Golden's Deli, Black Dog Coffee House, and the new University Buffet.

                                          Oh, and CANDYLAND!!!! I can't wait for my 10% discount for that cheese popcorn! Check it out:

                                          http://www.centralcorridorperks.com/

                                          Anne

                                          -----
                                          Black Dog Restaurant
                                          308 Prince St Ste 100, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                                          Russian Tea House
                                          1758 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                                          Candyland
                                          435 Wabasha St, N St Paul, MN

                                          U Garden Restaurant
                                          2725 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

                                          Golden's Deli
                                          275 4th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                                          Peking Garden
                                          1488 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                                          Tay Ho Restaurant
                                          302 University Ave W Ste 104, Saint Paul, MN 55103

                                          University Buffet
                                          225 University Avenue W, St Paul, MN 55103

                                          Homi Restaurante Mexicano
                                          864 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                                            Thanks for the link to the perks program, Anne. I didn't even know there was a Mexican place along University, and it looks real interesting!

                                            Anyone been to Homi?

                                            1. re: Rowdy

                                              I vaguely remember a chowhound discussion of Homi Mexican on University Ave, but can't find the thread. Renee and Steve have been there:
                                              http://reneeandsteve.com/homi.htm

                                              1. re: Rowdy

                                                I went to Homi a few times. The first meal was wholly mediocre, if I recall correctly. The second time I had the green chilaquiles which were good. There was a formidable language barrier that resulted in MAJOR over-ordering for our kids, and major spending more than we wanted to. In sum, I'd say it's worth a try - to gather more intelligence! Report back if you go, please.

                                                1. re: diesel

                                                  We had a late lunch at Homi on Friday. The food took a while to get there even though they weren't busy. I had the vegetarian burrito grande, which came with a tomato based pasta soup, while DH had the cheese enchiladas and cheese tostadas.

                                                  The soup was tasty. The beans were, we were told, made only with water and oil. They were light and fresh tasting. The servings were ample. The ingredients seemed fresh and well prepared, and the atmosphere is pleasant if unadorned.

                                                  It's very plain food, with little spicing or complexity in the cooking. There were two sauces, a tomatillo and a tomato, both of which had quite a kick. But the underlying food is simple. Some of the non-veggie items might be more intriguing.

                                                  I spent a month in Mexico years ago, and ate what everyday people did. I was frantic to get some vegetables, fruit, and complexity in my meals halfway through my visit. Homi's food is really close to what everyday people eat in Mexico. There's a reason why Mexican food in this country usually winds up being "inauthentic"--we're not tolerant of a daily diet of such plain food.

                                                  I hope they can make it. They are friendly and eager to make their customers happy.

                                                  1. re: Rowdy

                                                    I think your summation of all the food that all the (100+ millon) people in the 15th largest country in the world eat as "plain" and lacking fruits and vegetables.... well, it lacks complexity.

                                                    1. re: Rowdy

                                                      Went to Homi for lunch today. I'd describe it as an authentic Mexican greasy spoon.

                                                      Chips were warm and especially light. The salsa had a nice kick to it.

                                                      The empanadas were solid, though I prefer the versions at Chimborazo and Los Andes. I can kind of see the point about lack of complexity.

                                                      The taco shells had been fried, which was interesting. I thought the tongue version was a little dry. I found myself adding a lot of lime juice.

                                                      The service (from who I think was the owner) was friendly. The room is sparsely adorned, but nice.

                                                      Not sure this would compete with Lake Street, but it is a welcome addition to an area dominated by Asian fare.

                                                      -----
                                                      Los Andes Restaurant
                                                      317 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                              2. There's so much good chow on University, kudos to everyone for supporting the local businesses. For Vietnamese I have to hand my plug to Que Nah, on the northeast corner of Victoria and University. Not only does this place serve up an incredible Pho Tai, but they have a complete menu of Vietnamese dishes in a spotless restaurant. They recently opened a sister store called Indochin on Grand Ave, across from Ramsey Jr. High School.

                                                I didn't really go for Ngon at all. I thought they were trying to hard to impress me in their menu description of their pho being made with "angus beef" (which to me is TMI). My soup was served with a plate of wilted basil and dry lime wedges (these fixings were prepped and stored uncovered in a fridge long in advance of serving, they were served cold and subsequently cooled the soup too quickly after adding). Not impressed at all.

                                                Other good pho shops that I like are Saigon (cash only) and Pho Ca Dao (cash only). Both these places serve small bowls, which is a size that satisfies me perfectly.

                                                Also Trung Nam, besides being an incredible croissant bakery, also serves pho until midnight!

                                                -----
                                                Pho Ca Dao Restaurant
                                                439 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103

                                                1. NEWS FLASH: The light rail construction is shutting down for the winter this week, so it'll be much easier to get to all these wonderful places.

                                                  Even better, the Russian Tea House just announced that, as of today, they're back to their regular hours (Tuesday-Friday 11-3). Hooray - I'm having a pirozhok for lunch!

                                                  https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/p...

                                                  1. I love this idea, and have been doing it for the past few months. I try to get dinner at a small restaurant there once per week.
                                                    I just got back from Big Daddys, who continue to provide my absolute favorite pork ribs.

                                                    I've been meaning to go to On Thai, that will be next on my list. I've wondered for awhile about the Vietnamese bbq place on the south side of the road between dale and lexington, has anyone been there?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: bustaone

                                                      We had takeout from On's tonight, and there was only one table occupied at about 6:45. On a SATurday.

                                                      Better get visiting, people!

                                                      1. re: bustaone

                                                        Tai Hoa? Was there a few times a few years ago, and by the time I showed up (5-ish, maybe closer to 6), about all that was left in the pans were "variety meats" which (I will admit) I was not brave enough to try. I was told that I would need to show up around 4 pm to get the popular stuff, which is not do-able for me. The couple of times I did find something to try, it was tasty, but I can't say the food was strikingly better than other BBQ places in town (or even near their restaurant). So I haven't been back yet.

                                                        Time has marched on, though, and TH may have juggled the mix to better meet popular demand.

                                                        1. re: bustaone

                                                          Been to Tai Hoa many times...not an eat in restaurant. Mostly they specialize in bbq meats - whole ducks, bbq pork, roast pork, etc. They also have some hot items and cold items, that frankly, I have never been able to identify! I go in for meat by the pound.
                                                          There are a few tables but I have never seen anyone sit at them.
                                                          I will be honest, if the meat wasn't so good, I probably would not go there - just a little to rough around the edges for me. My OCD makes me want to wash my hands.

                                                        2. Construction started again and what a mess. Had take out from Cheng Heng, not to much of a hassle to get there. Spring Rolls, Chicken Soup and Ginger Chicken. Oh so good. The construction is hurting all the great Restaurants on University. Lets keep them in business

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: ibew292

                                                            I visited Russian Tea House, Que Nha, Pho Ca Dao, Trung Nam twice stupid delicious croissants, Big Daddy's and Bangkok Thai Deli in the past week just trying to support those university Avenue businesses.

                                                            1. re: Andyg74

                                                              I had lunch this afternoon at Trieu Chau (500 Uni). I don't know how I ever NOT had the utterly delicious BBQ pork sandwich with pickled vegetables, served on a crusty baguette. I will be supporting these businesses fiercely during the construction!

                                                              1. re: Special Dish

                                                                Good pho too!

                                                                Will be hitting Saigon this week, already went to the incomparable Ha Tien Deli. Wow. If you have not hit this place, go now. It is great.

                                                                1. re: shanemio

                                                                  +1 on Ha Tien. Everything I've had there has been fresh and tasty. Lots of groceries and some decent produce, too. Well worth navigating down University....

                                                                  1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                                                    I gotta agree. I cannot get over how good their deli is...the pork riblets and the head on shrimp are to die for. And all of their bbq is great.

                                                          2. Going to Cheng Heng for dinner tonight. A friend who had lunch there yesterday says they've been hit hard!!!

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: Haricotsv2

                                                              Yes and it is great. support them....

                                                              1. re: ibew292

                                                                Btw, they have a parking lot and there was access to it last night from either direction on University. Good food and very appreciative owners.

                                                                1. re: ibew292

                                                                  We had a wonderful dinner there tonight. We ate wonderful chive pancakes, just like in Phnom Penh. My partner had lok lak, and I had a buon xiang. The food was delicious and when we talked to the owner she said they were 30% down last year from the year before and having a 50% loss this season. Get yourselves over there and support this wonderful family who create delicious food. This is the only Cambodian fix in town, and we must do our best to help them and the other businesses in Frogtown who are suffering.

                                                                  1. re: docfood

                                                                    Thanks for the reminder, we used to go there all the time, but last time we went our usual menu items tasted completely different. I heard later it was just a fluke, but we haven't been back yet.

                                                                    1. re: sarahcooks

                                                                      I go there 1-2 times a week. Some things are inconsistent but all still are great. With the volume reduction it seems to make it harder to stay the same. Maybe they should have a more limited menu during these trying times.Support all the business on University.
                                                                      Flash Mob eat out????