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Show me the Best of MNP

Hello MNP chowhounds! Taking my son for a college visit to Macalester in early November and it will be my husband's 50th birthday while we are there. I am looking for two types of suggestions 1) Low to moderate priced good food/funky places that will give my son a feel for MNP as a student, and 2) More interesting and nicer atmosphere to take my husband to dinner for his 50th birthday one night while my son stays over at Macalester - however, we are not necessarily looking for high priced or white tablecloths. We are ubanites from Boston with a penchant for ethnic and moderately priced intersting food. I hear that MNP has great southeat asian food, but any and all suggestions are welcome.

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  1. Welcome! And congrats!

    There are tons of neat little places along Grand Avenue in St. Paul to show your son, which would be very convenient for him when he's a student. Some of my favs are Coffee News Cafe (for very casual breakfast), St. Paul Cheese Shop (fantastic sandwiches, I think they have a student special, too), Khyber Pass (Afghan--good lunch buffet, struggling financially right now), Italian Pie Shoppe (nice family owned pizzeria; nothing exceptional or high brow). There's also Shish, which can be hit or miss, but very good when it's good.

    Oh, there's a couple of burger places, the Groveland Tap (on St. Clair) or Blue Door Pub (on Selby), the former is very family friendly, the latter, very hipster, wildly popular, and crowded. (The food there isn't my fav as I think the burgers are way too greasy, but I do recommend the tater tots!) Also, on Selby is Izzy's ice cream.

    Close by but not walkable from Macalester, is University Avenue with lots of ethnic places. Just shoot North on Snelling. On's Thai Kitchen (on University West of Snelling), Fasika (on Snelling north of University) are easy. There's a Korean place on Snelling a few blocks North of Fasika I can never think of the name of. Farther east on University are some real gems Ngon Bistro (might be fun to take your husband here), Little Szechuan, Big Daddy's BBQ, tons of Vietnamese places, and even a Hmong Market off University near Rice.

    For your husband's birthday, I'd see if you can get into Heartland or Meritage in downtown St. Paul. Neither of these are especially ethnic, but they are very St. Paul. They are higher priced for St. Paul, but pretty affordable by Coastal standards. Or the aforementioned Ngon Vietnamese Bistro. Another interesting place might be Babanis Kurdish restaurant in downtown St. Paul.

    ~TDQ

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

    Coffee News Cafe
    1662 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

    Khyber Pass Cafe
    1571 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

    Meritage
    410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

    Italian Pie Shoppe
    7107 42nd Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55427

    On's Thai Kitchen
    1613 University Ave W,, St Paul, MN 55104

    St. Paul Cheese Shop
    1573 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN 55105

    5 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Izzy'z is on Marshall Ave. On's Thai Kitchen is just 1 mile from Grand / Snelling, so that and Fasika could be walked. Farther north on Snelling is Black Sea, a Turkish restaurant. Awesome falafel. I'm also a fan of Shish on Grand.

      Right next to Macalester is also Grand Pad Thai, which isn't the best / most authentic, but certainly good enough to dine at. On's Thai and Bangkok Thai Deli are more authentic (boat soup).

      Scusi is an Italian place that does family style / small plates (a bit of an odd combo, but good food) near Groveland Tap. Not too far off campus is a Pizza Luce which has some wacky topping combinations.

      Also right along Snelling just 6 blocks south of Macalester is a great cookie (and a few bars) bakery Two Smart Cookies. The cookies are great and the two women running it make it even better.

      For the parents night out, I'd also suggest W. A. Frost. It's a little closer to campus and slightly less expensive than Meritage or Heartland.

      The Macalester area is really nice, lots to do, places to eat / shop (5 grocery stores within a mile or so including a Super Target and a Whole Foods, plus Grand Avenue and it's shops), and right on mass transit lines. Really great location for a young person.

      1. re: semanticantics

        Ack, you're right! Izzy's is on Marshall! Thank for that.

        I'm popping in to reply to the OP that as far as "the best" in M-SP, I'd put Izzy's, Meritage, Heartland, On's Thai Kitchen, St. Paul Cheese Shop in that category, for their respective cuisines, at least for St. Paul. (Some might put Minneapolis' Alma over Heartland, though, I wouldn't).

        I've always had good luck at WA Frost, but it gets a lot of inconsistent reports, and I don't think it's any less expensive than Meritage or Heartland. It just depends on how you order, I suppose. But, if you'd asked me off the top of my head which of these three restaurants is more expensive, I actually would have guessed Frosts. Though WA Frost, technically closer to campus, it's not walkable. Still, it's a nice place. Romantic.

        Another place that comes to mind for your husband's birthday, casual, is Brasa on Grand Avenue. This wouldn't feel super "special occasion"-like, but it's good food, carefully sourced.

        ~TDQ

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

        On's Thai Kitchen
        1613 University Ave W,, St Paul, MN 55104

        St. Paul Cheese Shop
        1573 Grand Ave, St Paul, MN 55105

        1. re: semanticantics

          Grand Pad Thai is definitely the closest to Macalester (in fact it is under a Macalester-owned apartment building), but it is definitely nothing special at all. On's would be easily within the "Macalester bubble" - we used to go to the Snelling/University area all the time (and buy our groceries at the kind of sketchy Rainbow on the corner...back before there was a SuperTarget).

        2. re: The Dairy Queen

          The Korean place is Sole Cafe. I highly recommend...their food is consistently good, but it always seems to be dead when we go.

        3. Everest on Grand, Punch Neopolitan for pizza, Moscow on the hill for Russian, Salut, Meritage for 50th birthday gets my vote.

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

          1. Where are you staying, and do you want to have the 50th dinner celebration near there? There are probably namy places that will work for you whether you are staying in St. Paul, Minneapolis, or nearer the airport. But the recommendations would be different depending upon where you are staying and how much you want to drive.

            I'd stay away from University Avenue between 280 and Hamline. It is all torn up for light rail constructoin. Okay for a local to navigate the closed roads, but I wouldn't send an out-of-towner there. Sadly, that means I'd save On's Thai Kitchen for another time, if your son selects Macalaster.

            On Grand Avenue, about 2 miles or so east of campus, you will find Brasa and Punch Pizza right next to each other. Neither SE Asian, but both local gems. Both high quality food. And both in the thick of the Grand Avenue scene. On the other side of the street, and a bit further east, you'd find Grand Ole Creamery. I prefer Izzy's, but GOC is right there if you go to Brasa or Punch.

            15 Replies
            1. re: Brad Ballinger

              That's a good point about a non-local trying to navigate the roads. Personally, I'd still send them up Snelling to Fasika or Sole, but be forewarned that it requires some patience.

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I concur with many of these recommendations. Especially Pizza Luce and Brasa with your son. And Ngon Bistro for your birthday dinner. Ngon is on University but not right in the midst of the construction.

                How would you all recommend getting there now? Take Grand Ave. to Dale St., left onto Dale St. to University, then left onto University a couple blocks to Ngon Bistro at 799 University Avenue, St. Paul, MN. That should avoid construction.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Dealing with the construction is worth getting to On's. DO IT. It is very easy to get there......

                  1. re: ibew292

                    Ibew, would you like to spell out (so to speak) visitor-friendly directions to On's?

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      94 to Snelling North to University left (west) 1 block . Or go past University to alley and turn left by the CVS Drug Store. Or from the South come up Snelling to University. then to alley or University. Almost everyone has a GPS now days, it's not that hard to get to. We need to support the businesses on University while this construction is happening. Actually the signage is quite good. Other wise I would take a cab. On's is worth the visit., a full Thai meal for under $15/ person. Add the cab and it's still cheap.The other ethnic places mentioned are OK but On's is great...........I have not had food this good since I was in Thailand. My daughter is Thai and she like it also. Just saying. Please everyone don't let the construction stop you from visiting the restaurants on University or when the construction is done they won't be there. I'm there at least once a week supporting them, please help keep them around.

                      1. re: ibew292

                        Of anywhere in the construction zone, On's would be easy as it's at the major intersection. They even have off-street parking. And the congestion really isn't that bad, you might have to wait a couple cycles of the light between 94 and Uni, but it's not like the Fair is going on. I live on Snelling and go through there often. I'd imagine a Bostonian could manage it.

                        1. re: semanticantics

                          We should compare and contrast On's and Ngon since the OP is interested in south east asian and may not have time to get to both.

                          1. re: karykat

                            I have not yet been to On's - it is on my "to try list", but I have not made it yet so take the rest of the comment taking that it consideration (although I have been several times to Bangkok Thai). I have been to Ngon Bistro.

                            Based on my experience living in both cities, I would say that Boston (where the OP lives) in general has stronger Thai food than the Twin Cities, while the Twin Cities has better (and more prevalent) Vietnamese food. So I would say they should try Ngon because it is more specific to the Twin Cities (and I really like both their food and beer selection).

                            1. re: LauraB

                              Piling on LauraB's comments about about Ngon: they focus on sourcing locally (including the beer! as mentioned above), so you get the "local" plus "Vietnamese" experience. Also, it's not super traditional Vietnamese food, it's been adapted quite a bit, so it is a uniquely Minnesotan experience.

                              To the OP, if you are going to On's from Macalester, you'll want to follow ibew's "from the South" directions. Get yourself on Snelling, headed North. On's is on University, to your left.

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: LauraB

                                Ngon isn't in my opinion Vietnamese food. It is some sort of fusion food that lacks depth. Seems to me to be all frosting and no cake.

                          2. re: ibew292

                            ibew, I haven't been to On's lately, since the more major part of the construction. Do you pass University then turn into the alley at basically your first opportunity to turn left? And you just park in their lot in the back? Is that parking adequate these days?

                            I agree with supporting your fav University Avenue business right now. We have a goal of trying to visit one of them at least once a week. I hear this segment of the construction is supposed to be done by November 30, then on hiatus for the winter. When they resume in spring, they are supposed to be working farther East on University...

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Thinking about it if you are coming from the south you may not be able to turn into the alley. You might have to go tho the next street and around the block to get into the alley. The alley connects to their parking lot. Even at noon I've found spots to park.

                              1. re: ibew292

                                So, just make the first left you can after crossing University? And either that's going to be a left into the alley from which you can turn into the lot OR a left onto the next street (from which you can go around the block, then come up the alley from the other direction to access the lot)? Works for me. That lot used to be so so so bad when it was Cafe BonXai, and especially in winter, so I was wondering if parking was still an issue. (Thankfully there shouldn't be any snow when the OP is here.) Good to know.

                                ibew, if you wouldn't mind sharing, what are your favorites (and your wife's favorites!) at On's?

                                ~TDQ

                                -----
                                Cafe BonXai
                                1613 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                            2. re: ibew292

                              I've been to On's plenty since the construction. So have many others. It's been very full every visit. I was simply putting myself in the shoes of the OP. New town, dealing with torn up roads, closed intersections, etc. If her son ends up attending Macalaster, there will be many more times to visit On's.

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          I believe Fasika is opening another location at University and Dale according to Heavy Table, but I'm not sure when. I only know that it's supposed to open "soon." In any event, it's a larger space and easier to get to.

                          As for other options, I think folks here have hit most of my faves, except I'd also recommend Bon Vie for a great breakfast (on Selby) and Cheeky Monkey for yummy lunch/dinner (also on Selby). The Strip Club is also awesome, but that's a bit more of a drive out of St. Paul.

                          My only other suggestion is to refer to MNP as MSP - especially since you'll primarily be in the SP. We St. Paulites can be a little sensitive... or at least this one is. ;)

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

                          Bon Vie
                          518 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                      2. welcome! it's MSP, not MNP, but it's NBD. . . it would help us to make 50th b-day recs if you let us know if you are staying in minneapolis, or st. paul, or other-- we just don't want to send you driving all over heck if we can help it, and the st. paul go-tos are different from the minneapolis go-tos. that said i think a 50th b-day would be fun at strip club, tanpopo, or meritage, if staying in st. paul, or at piccolo, alma, saffron, 112 eatery, or bar la grassa, if in minneapolis-- again these are going to make more sense if you are near the locations to begin with.

                        i'm going to come right out and say that italian and italian-american, and authentic thai in msp, will be weak points compared to your home turf on the east coast. i would pretty much rec skipping italian and pizza while you are here-- let your kid wade through on his own, unless of course you're dying to try midwestern/chicago-style thin crust while in town, which is more the local style. anyway the subject of thin-crust pizza is verboten. on's and bangkok thai deli are good but informal. ngon is a good rec (note to correctly set your expectations: chef is second gen vietnamese chef from a restaurant family, who isn't interested in just running a pho-house, so there is some interesting fusion going on at the restaurant and use of local foods). there are also many other vietnamese places on university, which is partially torn up due to light rail, and traditional pho houses on the minneapolis side as well.

                        khyber pass and shish would be my faves right near mac. campus. the wiki marker for italian pie shoppe is wrong on the map, it's actually right next door to shish. but again, i think you might be actively bummed out if you ate at ips. . .

                        msp has a more local-foods focus than other areas of the country, so you may want to experience that aspect of the dining scene while you are here, and be prepared to see local food products talked up on menus

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

                        Shish Mediterranean Grill
                        1668 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

                        Tanpopo Noodle Shop
                        308 Prince St, Saint Paul, MN 55101

                        112 Eatery
                        112 N 3rd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401

                        Saffron Restaurant & Lounge
                        123 N 3rd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401

                        Bar La Grassa
                        800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401

                        Piccolo Restaurant
                        4300 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409

                        1. ....or thinking about a 17 year old, go to the Blue Door Pub. Forget that it says pub and think of really good juicy lucy burgers (two thin patties with cheese melted in a pocket between the two patties). Jucy Lucy burgers are a Twin Cities / MSP staple and certainly fit your criteria for interesting food. Blue Door is a small joint and can be a wait depending on if you go at peak times, but it might be the perfect moderately priced meal that a 17 year old would appreciate. I'm always a big fan of showing about-to-be college students that you can go to a bar/pub responsibly and drink a beer without drinking 10 beers and steeling a sign on the way out!

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

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: GutGrease

                            And I would tell you to completely skip Blue Door Pub and go to the Nook to get your Jucy Lucy fix. Regardless, you should have a burger when you're here. :)

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

                              1. re: GutGrease

                                Hi all, Thanks so much. sounds like we will try Ngon for the 50th and bookmarked all of the many other suggestions to try. Since the spouse was responsible for overnight accomodations and just got to it, we are staying out a ways (near intersection fo 694 and 35W). Wehave a car, so if three is anythign else you woule recommend anywhere in either city we're game....

                                1. re: msemse

                                  And one more request - Midtown Global Market sounds interesting. we are arrinving late Saturday morning (tomorrow) - is it worth it and any specific suggestions for lunch?Thanks!

                                  -----
                                  Midtown Global Market
                                  920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                  1. re: msemse

                                    Sonora Grill is the new kid in MGM and seems to be the defacto recommendation right now.

                                    1. re: BigE

                                      Agree on Sonora Grill, especially now that La Sirena Gorda has closed. :(.

                                      ~TDQ

                                      -----
                                      La Sirena Gorda
                                      920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                    2. re: msemse

                                      If in that area, I would skip the midglomo (epic failure) altogether and grab some gorditas with chales at gorditas el gordo, or head a few blocks south, grab a coffee at bull run, and continue on for patisserie excellence at Patisserie 46, or if they have pastry at bull run, it comes from Patisserie. MIdglomo. Having lived in other major cities that understand how important central markets can be, that place just sucks....Sucks!

                                      -----
                                      Gorditas El Gordo
                                      211 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN

                                      Bull Run Coffee Shop
                                      3346 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                      1. re: mitch cumstein

                                        +1 on Patisserie 46. Yum, yum, yum! And did I mention yum? Love that place!

                                        1. re: Seige

                                          I know I have to get to Patisserie 46 soon because they have canele. I've toyed with the idea of making them and it's really involved -- so a trip across the river is on my agenda.

                                        2. re: mitch cumstein

                                          Mitch, have you been to Sonora Grill? It really is worth a stop. Really.

                                          Nevertheless, I have to grudgingly agree with you. MidGloMa has been a disappointment overall. They've lost so much diversity (West Indies Soul, Everest Cafe, etc.) since the beginning, which bums me out. Also, there's a lot of mediocre places there.

                                          Nevertheless, I still think there are some standouts there. Sonora Grill is really good. I think Cafe Finspang is a nice place to send visitors who want to try some Scandinavian sweets. It's boasts one of the most accessible (especially for women) Somali restaurants in Minnesota. Salty Tart can be very good at times. I think it can be a worthwhile stop for those reasons, depending on what your interests are.

                                          But in a town of great Vietnamese places, I don't understand why they can't get decent Vietnamese food. Also, I wish an outpost of Tea House would go in there. I don't understand what the problem is.

                                          ~TDQ

                                          -----
                                          Cafe Finspang
                                          920 E Lake St Ste 148, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Agree that Midtown Global Market has highs and lows, but it's worth the trip. In addition to the places recommended above, it's a great place to buy cheese. Grassroots Gourmet has a fabulous selection, including my favorite Carr Valley Cheese from Wisconsin ( (Casa Bolo Mellage, a three-milk wonder). They also have great preserved meat, jams, and other treats.

                                            1. re: AnneInMpls

                                              I've gotten some good cheese at Grassroots Gourmet, thank you for the reminder. Also, I like to get the hand-pulled mozzarella at Jakeenos during tomato season.

                                              Oh and Manny's Tortas makes a good stop sometimes.

                                              ~TDQ

                                              -----
                                              Manny's Tortas
                                              920 E Lake St Ste 125, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                      2. re: msemse

                                        694 & 35W is up north and a short trip to Travail and Victory 44. Both are small plate concepts with fancy plating and play with molecular gastronomy, yet quite affordable. Both use the chefs to serve and do away with the traditional waitron. Travail was recently named #4 Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit, but is quite hard to get into without waiting for them to open at 5pm. Victory 44 is a bit more accessible. Check either out via Facebook for current menus and more information.

                                        -----
                                        Victory 44
                                        2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN