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Lunch recommendation for this Saturday

I'll be in town for a dreaded wedding this weekend. I think I'll be on my own for lunch this Saturday. I grew up in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but haven't lived in the Twin Cities for 9 years. Yes, I've been back for a visit here and there, but times have changed.

Looking for a solid recommendation for Lunch on Saturday. Would like to keep the price to around $10-15 or less.

I'm staying in Rosemount, but have car and WILL travel. I'll be trekking to Bloomington and could easily swing into St. Paul or Minneapolis. Don't really have any set plans, so I can pretty much get anywhere in the metro area, within reason.

Places I've considered:

LeeAnn Chin - I know it's a chain...but there's nothing like it anywhere else. I miss Peking Chicken, cream cheese wonton, fried rice & egg rolls. Can someone chime in on the quality now adays?

Tanpopo - We used to live in the general neighborhood of the original location. Loved the bowls of Japanese noodle soup. I see they have moved to Lowertown. Are the ingredient quality and care of preparation still intact? I loved the Vegetable Tempura Udon.

Taste of Thailand - Love the masaman curry. I live in Chicago now, so Thai restaurants are prevalent here.

Right now, I need to avoid sushi & deli meats.

Any suggestions or opinions about the above will only help. Thanks!

ETA: Even though my 3 considerations are Asian...I'm not looking for specifically Asian recs.

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  1. Since you put it up there, I'm going to recommend you go with LeeAnn Chin. Everyone will disagree with me, but you included it for a reason. There is a tug on your childhood heart strings. My boss's kids do the same thing when they all come back to town. The family goes to LeeAnn Chin. Who cares if it's uncool. Do what you really want and you'll be happy!

    1. Yes, Tanpopo is still great, but I don't think that they're open for lunch these days. They've had to cut their hours back because of the construction in the area. Major bummer.

      You're right - Chicago has much better Thai places than we do. I like True Thai, and I've heard they do a good masaman curry (haven't tried it), but it's nowhere as good as Spoon Thai in Chicago. However, there are two new (and good) Thai places that you might not have tried: Sen Yai Sen Lek on Central Ave in Mpls and On's Thai Kitchen in St. Paul.

      If you want something non-Asian, one of my favorite fabulous-but-inexpensive places is Chimborazo in NE Mpls. They do awesome Equadorian food. I love the pork-and-plantain sandwich and/or bowl of peanut soup, but everything I've had here has been great. Check 'em out here:
      http://www.chimborazorestaurant.com/

      If you want to make your foodie friends jealous, head to Travail in Robbinsdale (but expect a line) or Victory 44 in North Minneapolis. Travail has been getting all the press, but V44 is similar and very good in its own right.

      Good luck surviving the dreaded wedding! Maybe you can smuggle in some cream cheese wontons from LeeAnn Chin's to revive your spirits. (Me, I'd avoid this place otherwise - I don't think it has maintained the quality over the years, so you might be gravely disappointed.)

      -----
      True Thai Restaurant
      2627 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55406

      Sen Yai Sen Lek
      2422 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

      Victory 44
      2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

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

      7 Replies
      1. re: AnneInMpls

        Travail isn't open for lunch.

        Massaman Curry is my favorite food. Hard stop. I live 3 blocks from Taste of Thailand. After a debacle some 7 or 8 years ago, I have never been back. On's Thai Kitchen had a good Massaman, but I had it the first week (second night?) they were open.

        Also in North East is Crescent Moon Bakery, they have an Afghani take on pizza.

        I'll toss out a curveball: Marla's Carribean Cuisine in South Minneapolis, as long as you like spicy food.

        1. re: semanticantics

          Oops - thanks for the correction. I've eaten lunch at Travail - it's the only time I've been there - but that was on a weekday last May. I didn't realize they'd dropped the lunchtime hours. No wonder they're so hard to get into!

        2. re: AnneInMpls

          Tanpopo's definitely not open for lunch, so that's not an option.

          I'd recommend Punch, as cliched as that is, since I'm not sure it would have been here when you were. I don't know when it opened, but it's a great lunch option, and there are several locations.

          1. re: gildeddawn

            Wow...how the heck did I miss THAT change?? I feel like I used to go there for lunch all the time. Lately it has only been between work and meetings.

            1. re: MSPD

              I believe it's due to the Light Rail, y'know the one that is killing all business along it?

              1. re: semanticantics

                Yup, Tanpopo has indefinitely curbed their lunch service due to construction. Last time I was in they mentioned that they hope to resume it once LRT construction in that area has settled. They're pretty much done with the rail work in that area, but they'll be working on the maintenance facility across the street for awhile yet...

                As for their quality, it's still effing great.

                I'd second some of the other recs; Ngon for good modern Vietnamese, Victory 44 is great and very near that area you'll be in and you can never go wrong with Brasa.

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

          2. re: AnneInMpls

            Anne-

            My husband is Ecuadorian! If I go to Cimborazo, I might come back to divorce papers...just kidding. I'm going to check it out online and place it on my short list of possibilities.

            FWIW, we lived in NE Minneapolis before moving south.

          3. Back in the day (mid-90s) there was a more "upscale" LeeAnn Chin in the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul as well as the chain locations. They were, in essence, two different places. The upscale LeeAnn Chins are a thing of the past. The chain locations are no better or worse than Panda Express, etc. If you are craving the chain locations, they probably haven't changed much. If you are referring to the more upscale locations, you will be disappointed.

            If you decide you want to stay close to Rosemount, look up Satay 2 Go in Apple Valley. It is very close to the Rosemount border (just head west on County Road 42 a couple of miles). If you like Asian/Thai, etc. this is a great option. It's one of very few (if any) south metro MSP food places that would compete favorably with the "big city" place. (FWIW, I'm a south metro resident and most of my dining is done up in the cities). It's a tiny place with a couple of tables to eat there, or it's a great take-out option. The owners cook your food and I am positive would accommodate special requests/spice levels, etc. They also have nice Asian bakery items (sweet and savory) for a snack for later.

            Tanpopo, as mentioned is still very good. You can also walk across the Farmers' Market grounds to the deli at Heartland for some delicacies if you want to do your own little "progressive lunch". I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you are pregnant -- I would guess Heartland's deli meats are free of the nitrates and other junk that you are choosing to avoid. They make everything there from local ingredients and would (literally) know each product inside and out.

            For non-Asian, Brasa on Grand Avenue might appeal to you. It might be interesting (or disappointing) to see how your old stomping grounds have changed in the last few years.

            -----
            Satay 2 Go
            6670 150th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55124

            5 Replies
            1. re: MSPD

              MSPD -

              Totally intrigued by Brasa. Who knew!?! What do you recommend? Cafeteria-style? Or sit-down and order?

              Not really a Chow-worthy place, but I used to work in the kitchen at Sidney's on Grand, before they went cheap with their ingredients and no longer a "scratch" kitchen. I kind of miss it.

              BTW, good guess. I need to avoid deli meats for nitrates and possible listeria. I'd like to enjoy a salamai sandwich...or a platter of sushi...or both.

              1. re: iphonechica

                Brasa gets some pretty thorough discussion on this board. A search will bring up plenty of info on both the St. Paul and Mpls locations.

                Sidney's is long gone, replaced by Salut of the Parasole group and it looks like the only business still open in that Milton/Grand complex. I wish Salut were chow-worthy, I really do.

                1. re: KTFoley

                  We actually like Salut. They have a pretty decent brunch on Sundays. Certainly not everything is a winner there, but it's better than plenty of other places. That said, if I only got to have lunch at one place, I'd probably pick Brasa or Ngon over Salut. I'd say head to Meritage too, but that might get a little out of the price range. Or goodness sakes, get in touch with those MSP roots and go to the Nook for a burger. You'd have to pay me to go to LeeAnn Chin. I think the quality is complete crap, aside from possibly the bourbon chicken. I wouldn't eat anything breaded there, that's for sure. But that's me.

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

                2. re: iphonechica

                  At Brasa, I usually go for the pork and several sides. The yuca, roasted yams & andouille, and the grits are my standards. I also like the cornbread and masa corn cakes.

                  Interesting comments re: Brasa below. No, it's not magical food by any means. But, it's a great value for the quality, they offer foods you can't easily find anywhere else in MSP (or in most cities around the US), and it's in a fun area. Part of my recommendation was based on your history in St. Paul, not solely because of food. Unfortunately, the nuance of recommending places to out-of-towners has really declined on this board over the years. People just seem to throw out their personal favorite restaurants instead of thinking about the totality of the experience. Anyway...just an old-school Chowhounder's 2 cents. I'll accept the inevitable flaming to come.

                  To correct one misnomer regarding Brasa, it isn't "all family style". They have sandwiches offer individual portions of all of the meats. www.brasa.us You can view the menus there for yourself.

                  Anyway...have fun wherever you go.

                  p.s. -- I have a couple good memories of splitting Sidney's apple-caramel-pastry-ice cream dessert back in the dating days.

                  1. re: MSPD

                    Excellent point about being able to order sandwiches (of the three meats they offer: rotisserie chicken, smoked beef, and roasted pork) at Brasa, in addition to being able to order family style. However, as I mentioned, I think the sides are the best part of Brasa's menu and that ordering a bunch of sides and sharing them with a few people so you can sample several is the optimal experience there. In fact, the small print across the top of Brasa's menu says: "Our menu is designed for sharing and sampling...." Plus, there are many other places in the Twin Cities I recommend for sandwiches before Brasa. Sadly, your personal strategy to go for the pork (even the smallest portion) and several of the sides (even the least expensive ones) --which I agree is the best way to go at Brasa-- would put the OP right at $15, and that's before beverage, tax and tip.

                    Still, it's a terrific place, just not one I'd personally prefer, or recommend to others, to dine at alone.

                    Of course this is simply my own opinion. It's okay if others don't share it. That's the cool thing I've learned to appreciate during my decade of posting on chowhound --the diversity of opinion available. Take what works for you and leave the rest, as with much in life. I remember Sidney's too.

                    Also, I wanted to mention re: the Nook in St. Paul (which has been recommended a couple of times in this thread, including by me because I like the neighborhood atmosphere there, but also because it's a longstanding local institution that I thought the OP might remember fondly): it has been remodeled because they experienced a devastating fire earlier this year. So, just be forewarned that they've remodeled (in case you go there hoping to experience it exactly the way you remember it). Sadly, we've had a couple of restaurant fires in recent years, including one at Yarusso's in St. Paul that also resulted in some remodeling.

                    ~TDQ

              2. Was coming here to recommend Brasa as well. I like the beef and the pork best of the 4 meats, and don't miss the fried yuca. I'd miss it most if I moved away.

                1. I agree with GutGrease that you should do the 'Chin. It's not my cup of tea, personally, but I get the strong pull that food memories have (which explains my love for all things See's Candy, but I digress...)

                  You mentioned noodles, so I want to put in my vote for Ngon Bistro, where you can groove on a giant bowl of fabulous pho, or anything else, for that matter.

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

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: latte4me

                    I agree with the Leann sentiment.

                    Look - Brasa is perfectly good well-sourced food. It's the kind of food I'd feel good about bringing home if I didn't feel like cooking. But would I recommend that a Chicago 'hound make a special trip from Rosemount just to eat there? No. You're just setting someone up for a disappointment. It's a hundred times better, but think of an upscale Boston Market and you get the idea of the menu.

                    Instead go for the nostalgia of Leeann Chin - even if it's not the most chowish food in the world. Or pho or something else not easily obtained in Chicago.

                    1. re: bob s

                      Welcome home!

                      I agree with Bob. Brasa has great sourcing, but it's has a limited "mains" menu (and the chicken's usually dry) and it's all served family style. Not a place I'd love to go alone because I wouldn't be able to try numerous sides, which are the best part of Brasa. And they are really good.

                      Since you like Asian cuisine, Ngon Bistro (on University Ave in St. Paul--consider yourself warned about the construction on University Ave starting at Hamline and extending West) also sources carefully --though probably not as carefully as Brasa--and locally. Contemporary Vietnamese.

                      You might get a kick out Midtown Global Market in the old Sears Building on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Lots of vendors, cafeteria style, under one roof. Free parking (with validation) in the ramp to the East. Sonora Grill (Mexican), La Sirena Gorda (Mexican, seafood), and Salty Tart Bakery (since Michelle Geyer left Trotters for Minneapolis, avoid the dusty, dry cupcakes though), and Cafe Finspang (for Scandinavian sweets and gifts if you ever feel nostalgic for them, this place is operated by the Ingebretsen's folks) are all worthy stops in the complex. There's a Holy Land Deli in there if you miss it. (Don't be tempted by Pham's Deli in Midtown Global Market. Food's only so-so).

                      Other affordable lunch spots I might be nostalgic for if I came home after 9 years: Maverick's in Roseville for a roast beef sandwich and chocolate shake; the Nook in St. Paul for a burger and fries; the Dari-ette Drive In (St. Paul) for a hot italian sandwich and, of course, spaghetti on the side, (I'd look up the phone number on their facebook page and call first to make sure they hadn't closed for the season; so far, they are open). If you're a breakfast for lunch person, Hell's Kitchen (they've moved) in Minneapolis (the lunch menu isn't good: just the breakfast menu) for the wild rice porridge and lemon ricotta hotcakes. Also for breakfast-for-lunch if you can get there early (they close at 1pm) Al's in Dinkytown. Maybe McGovern's in St. Paul for a turkey sandwich. Kramarczuk's for a brat and cream cheese kolache (oh, you probably would be able to get this in Chicago. Never mind).

                      If you wanted to stroll through the new Guthrie, you might be able to make it work price-wise--barely--at Spoonriver Cafe in Minneapolis. Bring quarters to feed the parking meters. I'd have recommended the nearby Mill City Farmers Market but I think it closed for the season last weekend. http://spoonriver.com/restaurant/our-...

                      If you wanted to get a quick peek at the new Walker Arts Center, Gather (run by D'Amico) is open for lunch. I haven't been there yet. You might find street parking or have to allow a couple of bucks for parking. And I cannot find a menu online to save my life but Rick Nelson makes it sound wonderul http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/...

                      Have fun!

                      ~TDQ