Non-pretentious couple from KC in town for two nights
My wife and I are coming up for a quick 2-night stay in Bloomington. We plan on hitting the MOA and maybe getting out on some bike trails over the weekend. We're not food snobs on any level.
We enjoy food of all kinds, but generally don't spend a lot of time at restuarants with white table cloths if you know what I mean. They are nice, but we tend to go more for local joints that are tucked away off the beaten path.
We love BBQ, street tacos, burgers, fish & chips, and steaks -- basically unhealthy food you can enjoy on vacation! We will be having an authentic Juicy Lucy at some point so just accept that into the mix. I realize we're not going to see the best that Minneapolis has to offer as far as Zagat's goes, but we want fun places with great atmosphere and delicious food. Anything we just can't find around KC and the lower Midwest.
Thanks everyone ... I appreciate the suggestions!
First and foremost...whatever else you do in the Twin Cities, DO NOT EAT THE BBQ. Nothing here compares to the better BBQ available in KC.
Go Sea Salt and rent bikes if the weather is nice. Ride along Minnehaha Parkway. I might be wrong, but I don't know if the food trucks operate on the weekend.
For delicious food on the cheap, you could try Wally's in Bloomington or Maverick's in St. Paul for really nice roast beef sandwiches.
Go to Midtown Global Market (Lake & Chicago) for street food on weekends. Or Mercado Central just down the way at Bloomington & Lake.
You can get some good Korean here too. I'm not sure, but that may not be available in KC. And Little Szechuan is pretty good stuff. Also the Vietnamese grilled pork Banh Mi (sandwiches) at iPho by Saigon on University are pretty tasty and cheap.
Relatives of ours from the KC area enjoyed spendng 2-3 hours at the Hmong International Market Place in St. Paul (there's another one further east in St. Paul, too). The Twin Cities has one of the largest population of Hmong people in the U.S. Visiting the marketplace is almost like visiting another country -- it's an unpretentious mall/flea market set up with lots of vendors and a couple of "food courts". Good food, not expensive, and a lot to look at!
It would not be a bad idea to visit the Midtown Global Market, in south Minneapolis. It's not quite the immersive experience the Hmong marketplaces are, but there are lots of ethnic food options and a couple of very good food vendors there (Sonora Grille and Salty Tart Bakery come to mind). Food is served at the booths and you sit in a common area in the middle of the market.
You also might want to try Ethiopian food -- largely stewed meat and vegetables served on a pancake-like bread called injera. There is a sizable population of eastern Africans in the Twin Cities; Ethiopian food is not like Indian or Middle Eastern food that you may have had elsewhere. And you get to eat with your hands. :-) I like Fasika in St. Paul, but if you're interested, I'm sure other 'hounds can nominate good restaurants closer to the MoA.
Kind of depends what I'm in the mood for. Papaya salads are good; the ribs are tasty (but kind of fatty, IMHO); the sausages are good if I have something more astringent to cut through the grease. I've had stuff I, frankly, did not recognize (and which was not explained well by the vendor), but which I enjoyed very much (I'll pick it out next time by sight). If you can talk others into going with you, you'll have a chance to try more things.
Hi Soccermom: I have not ben to Flamingo, but have been to Fasika and was very impressed. I do not live in the midwest, but eat Ethiopian food fairly regularly. Looking at the menus for both restaurants, and also taking into account that Flamingo is not purely Ethiopian, I have to say that the menu at Fasica just looks better. I plan on going again when I visit next week and cannot wait!
We tend to go to Flamingo instead of Fasika. It's actually been a year or two since we've gone to Fasika. I really really really love the red lentils at Flamingo, perfectly spiced! In general all the lentils at Flamingo are more on the toothy side than the stewed into oblivion, and I appreciate this toothy-ness. I also really like their mushroom dish, which I've never had anywhere else, it's perfect because my husband does not like mushrooms so I get to eat all of it. I also adore their guava lemonade (I have a serious weakness for guava drinks- the guava leche fresca at Cocina Latina and the guava-lime soda at Brasa are other standouts). The lentil sambusas at Flamingo are also very good-- made to order! We only ever get vegetarian combo so I cannot comment on meat. The last reason we go to Flamingo is that we like the owners/operators- two very special ladies who do great work, always recognize us even though we only go every few months. All their food is made from scratch with fresh ingredients bought as much as possibly directly from farmers. Oh- and their injera has more teff in it. Sometimes it takes a bit longer, but that's a fair trade-off in my opinion.
Fasika is good, I have nothing bad to say about them whatsoever. (I mean, none of the ethiopian around here matches up to Washington, DC ethiopian, for example, but for here, it's just grand) We just end up at Flamingo by choice.
Chowhound confession time: I love going to the Hmong market for what it represents, but I don't like the food very much. The things I've enjoyed most there are the thai soups in the aluminum pots that look like souped-up bundt-cake pans.
The papaya salads were so strong on fish sauce I couldn't eat much of it. The deep-fried flintstone-like beef ribs tasted ... off. The purple glutinous rice didn't work for me either. Even the stuffed chicken wings had nothing I found particularly appealing.
I'm not a squeamish or picky eater. Bring on the raw oysters or Uni. I ate lung at Tea House Plymouth and it was fine. Good tripe or tendon are fine by me. But something just doesn't work for me at Hmong market. And it makes me sad.
The papaya salad at the Hmong market is Lao style, and it's an acquired taste for sure.
I think the Hmong market is one of those places where it just really depends on the day and time of day for what's freshest and looks best. Papaya salad aside (which I do enjoy), I've had the best luck with soups. Of course, I'm not feeling very soupy these days with temps in the 90s. I also like the bubble tea/bean thread drinks.
Three places come to mind all very good and all at different levels, Saffron, Gorkha, and Cheng Heng. You can not go wrong with these places, As for the Hmong Market that is what most street food in Asia taste like. Strong fish sauce is the norm. The food here is almost all fusion.Instead of Quang , although it is good, I would venture further south to Pho Tau Bay. I wouldn't bother with Aferican it to is not what 's served where I have been. Sadly disappointing......
I second the rec for Pho Tau Bay. But, Ngon Bistro in St. Paul is a total original (chef driven, local sourcing, patio).
I think the Ethiopian food here is about the same as I've had elsewhere in the US but I haven't had Somali food anywhere else. Only Columbus Ohio has anywhere close to the concentration of Somalis we have here in Minneapolis.
I'd be surprised of Qoraxlow or Hamdi or the Somali Mall were anything other than 100% authentic. They certainly aren't catering to non-Somalis. I think it's worth it for the cultural experience alone if you're up for it. Get the goat at Hamdi or the Sports platter (to share) at Qoraxlow. Not sure if this is what the OP's up for, though.
To the OP, go to the Nook in St. Paul for your JL. Their hand cut fries are terrific and their buns come from the bakery up the street. I also recommend Conny's creamy cone in St. Paul for a zillion flavors of soft serve and deep fried cheese curds. If you've got a car, go to Dari-ette Drive in St. Paul and get an Italiano sandwich with a side of Spaghetti.
Has anyone mentioned Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown yet? Or Hell's Kitchen (just about everything scratch made--also try a bowl of the very rich manooman porridge) for breakfast?
If you're going to be near Como Park in St. Paul, try Maverick's for the roast beef or brisket sandwich and chocolate shake. (Everything else there is kind of blah, including the fries) Not such great atmosphere alas. And for weekday lunch only, Russian Tea House on University Ave in St. Paul is a spot with a lot of personality.
If you're going to be here on a weekend, I really like the Mill CIty Farmers Market, lots of great chow including Chef Shack food truck and Black Cat's pork sandwich. And you can't beat the access to the Guthrie (take a look around inside!) and the historical Stone Arch Bridge.
Kramarczuk's has great sausages and kolaches although you might be able to get that elsewhere. The sausages are available at Twins Games and worth seeking out over other offerings if the game isn't great...
Not everything at Midtown Global Market is great or unique.I think Sonora Grill (for chef driven Latin, all from scratch) is a stand out. Cafe Finspang has Scandinavian treats. Salty Tart is a James Beard award nominee and everything is fantastic except the cupcakes. Los Ocampo and Manny's Tortas are good, but not that unique. Left Handed Cook is getting great press for Asian fusion, but I haven't been there yet.
Finally, don't miss Izzy's ice cream in St. Paul.
Mostly all great suggestions you've gotten so far. One more suggestion: Meritage, in downtown St. Paul, if you'll be here on a Friday. I know you're after casual eats, but hear me out.
Meritage has happy hours going from 3-6, Tues through Fri, and it's pretty damn casual sitting in the oyster bar or outside on the sidewalk. Best of all, it's an incredible bargain. You can get their burger--to my taste, one of the best in the Cities--for 8 bucks. That's a good-sized, juicy beefy perfect burger cooked to order with garlic aioli, shallot confit & emmanthaler served with a big mound of fantastic fries, usually going for $13.50, all yours for $8. Last time I was there I had a margarita, the 2 for $3 oysters, marinated olives, the burger, and a double espresso and still didn't break $30. Left lots of the fries unfinished for sheer lack of room and took half the burger home for lunch the next day.
And, it's a nice ride from Bloomington to downtown St. Paul, with bike trails a good portion of the way.