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Hole-in-the-wall eats recommendations

I have done Piccolo, The Bachelor Farmer...and have to say I love Broder's Pasta Bar. I have been to a few places that I consider hole-in-the-wall....minimal atmosphere, but great food for the price. I'm thinking of Matt's ande The 5 8 Club. Are there hole-in-the-wall pizza,Chinese, Mexican, Thai spots you can recommend?

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  1. For Mexican I highly recommend Pineda Tacos. There is one on Lake St, just west of the light rail station and also in Plymouth across the parking lot from the Willow Creek movie theater.

    1. For Thai, I would suggest Bangkok Thai Deli in St. Paul or the sister restaurant Krungthep Thai on Eat Street/Nicollet in Minneapolis (although Bangkok Thai Deli counts much more as a hole in the wall sort of place - it is in the middle of a random mall-like building on University, while Krungthep has more of a "real" restaurant feel).

      I like Quang on Eat Street for Vietnamese.

      1 Reply
      1. re: LauraB

        Cheng Heng on University Ave in frog town has fantastic Cambodian food. Its a dive with a wonderful family running it. The food is great. I would also recommend On's Thai food on University west of snelling Ave. This place served terrific Thai food.

      2. Pizza

        John's Pizza
        Crescent Moon


        Pancho Villa
        Los Ocampo
        La Loma


        Bangkok Thai Deli
        Asian Deli


        Evergreen Chinese

        Sole Cafe - Korean
        Cheng Heng - Cambodian
        Emily's - Lebanese
        Black Sea - Turkish
        Quang - Vietnamese
        Los Andes - Ecuadorian
        The Nook - Burgers
        Big Daddy's - Ribs

        1. Homi on University in St. Paul has to qualify as a quintessential "hole-in-the-wall". Gorditas el Gordo on Lake at 35W in Minneapolis as well. There are any number of small, plain Mexican places on Lake with little atmosphere.

          I would think Keefer Court on Cedar (at Riverside) would qualify for Chinese.

          There are a number of others I can think of but they would be outside the "pizza, Chinese, Mexican and Thai" request.

          1 Reply
          1. re: MSPD

            Go for it! Who knows exactly what mood we'll be in......and quite frankly, I couldn't find any recent chat on the topic! Bring on the 'hole-in-the-walls"!

          2. A couple of Saint Paul, East Side recommendations:

            Red Savoy

            Taqueria Los Paisanos

            1. If your a wing fan, the Country Bar and Grill in Uptown is about as divey, hole-in-the-wall as you can get. (30th and Lyndale)

              1. mama's in saint paul at the corner of rice and front

                4 Replies
                1. re: zfwp

                  Mama's is pizza, fyi.

                  Taqueria El Ranchito in Richfield.

                  1. re: semanticantics

                    Pretty sure they know Mama's is a Pizza joint as the thread starter asked for Pizza joints as well.

                    1. re: semanticantics

                      yes Mama's does pizza but i think of it as a "red sauce joint" the mostaccioli with house made sausage is great

                      1. re: zfwp

                        I was just guessing the original poster wouldn't know what Mama's was by name.

                  2. I would also add Midtown Global Market to your list - both Sonora Grill and Left Handed Cook - both food stalls with chefs that have a real good sense of taste and won't kill the pocketbook. Gyros/shawirma/falafel sandwich deal at Holy Land deli is a steal (M-F 11 til 2 or 3pm) for $5.99 including fries and drink.

                    18 Replies
                    1. re: bkmnus

                      I was at MGM last year about this time for dinner.....it was totally dead! We had a great time shopping at one of the larger Mideastern markets, but felt like its time had passed??? I had read about it and wanted to try it for years, but just couldn't get it done. I have to say - just the sound of Left Handed Cook is appealing!

                      1. re: mhcpita

                        MGM is usually pretty dead around dinner time... It's pretty lively during the day though.


                        1. re: mhcpita

                          If you skip MGM because it feels "totally dead", you're missing some of the most awesome hole-in-the-wall food around. Sonora Grill is truly world class, and the other stands represent some of the best the Twin Cities have to offer: Holy Land Deli for Middle Eastern (good gyros, GREAT hummos), La Loma for tamales, Los Ocampo for carnitas tacos, Safari for camel burgers and amazing Chicken Fantastik over rice, that Scandinavian place for lefse, Manny's Tortas for ... (you guessed it: tortas), Salty Tart for coconut macaroons, and so much more.

                          Go! You'll love it!!!

                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                            Appreciate the clarification and an update on what is best there; I think the lack of people made me rush to judgment.

                            1. re: mhcpita

                              How is MGM a "hole in the wall?" It's one of the most modern designed food markets in the entire country?

                              1. re: Db Cooper

                                Well, the facility itself isn't a hole in the wall, but the vendors there are small, independently-owned mom and pop places.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Well if the facility isn't a hole in the wall, I don't think it really fits the criteria of the OP's inquiry. There is no way the MGM is "minimal facilities"

                                  I thought I'd also post a few others outside of the desired cuisine that fit the mode:

                                  The Gopher Bar: Coney Island Dogs
                                  Yarusso Brothers: Red-sauce Italian
                                  The Brass Rail (Grandy, MN) - Best Chicken in MN
                                  Tin Cup - Best Chicken in metro area
                                  Mickey's Diner: Late-night breakfast
                                  Flameburger: Late-night drunk breakfast
                                  Dean's Tavern: Coney Island Dogs
                                  Best SteakHouse (Larpenteur/Rice location) - Cheap steaks

                                  1. re: Db Cooper

                                    I think the request was "minimal atmosphere" (not "minimal facilities") and while MGM itself has atmosphere, no individual MGM vendor (other than the sit-down place Ala Salsa and maybe Well Seasoned ) has much to offer in the way of atmosphere. Nevertheless, the OP has already been to MGM and is aware of the "totally dead" weeknight atmosphere. It's like negative atmosphere.

                                    What kind of chicken do they have at Tin Cup?


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      The East Side of Saint Paul has many relatively unknown hole-in-the-wall places with great food.
                                      2 favorites:
                                      - Fried Chicken at Magnolia's on Payne Avenue
                                      - Pho at Saigon Express on Arcade Street near Jessamine

                                      1. re: eastsidegirl

                                        If I win the lottery, I'm opening a KC style (think Arthur Bryant's/Gates) BBQ joint in the old Schweitz's building. That would CRUSH in that neighborhood.

                                        1. re: eastsidegirl

                                          Ohh, ohh, ohh yeah. That chicken at Magnolia's!

                                          1. re: KTFoley

                                            I'd just like to say: I love how many Eastsiders (and people familiar with the Eastside) are on Chowhound!!

                                            1. re: KTFoley

                                              How would you characterize the Magnolias chicken? Crispy? Tender? Type of breading?

                                              1. re: karykat

                                                Thin, crispy coating in lieu of breading. Tender, juicy meat.

                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Tin Cups is known for their fried chicken. I know most people would suggest Skinner's in Saint Paul, but I think Tin Cups is better. They actually have decent burgers too, but nothing matching The Nook

                                            Another suggestion I forgot:

                                            Obs: Friday-Night Fish Fry

                                            1. re: Db Cooper

                                              Obbs is a great suggestion. Plus, I love their Texas toast!

                                              I'm so over Skinners. I will have to check out Tin Cup.


                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                LOL... again with the toast recommendation. You crack me up, TDQ!

                            2. How about Manana on East Seventh in St. Paul for El Salvadoran.

                              1. Leo's Chow Mein in Dayton's Bluff is an incredible experience for a weekday lunch (all you can eat, with ladies circulating with big bowls of food to scoop onto your plate).

                                East Side Thai on Payne Avenue is really quite good Thai, and certainly a hole in the wall.

                                +1 for Mañana for pupusas. Best in the metro, friendly, and definitely minimal atmosphere.

                                Bymore Taqueria (also on Payne Ave.) is very tasty, served on styrofoam plates....

                                +1 for Mickey's Diner (the original one, in downtown St. Paul, which has been open 365 days a year since, I believe, the 30s).

                                16 Replies
                                1. re: mtullius

                                  Leo's *is* an experience. But I'm not sure it would qualify as a high point of cuisine by any measure except quantity. I can't think of anything I've eaten there which was not better elsewhere. For me, it's the unusual reverse-buffet aspect of it and the company of the people with whom I'm eating. Kind of like Mancini's, come to think of it [ducks and exits stage left].

                                  1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                    Can you describe the experience a little, "reverse-buffet"?

                                    1. re: stymie

                                      I think what's being conveyed is the idea, that while it is all-you-can-eat for lunch. You don't go to a station and select, but rather servers come around to tables with a selection and you say 'yes' or 'no' to it. If yes, a ladleful of food, if no, on she goes to the next person/table.
                                      I enjoyed going for the experience knowing the food wasn't the highlight.
                                      It is a hole in the wall for sure (was it an old gas station/mechanic's shop before it was leo's?).

                                      1. re: eastlakovore

                                        Thanks, Eastlak, there is (or used to be) a Chinese spot in Coon Rapid that did that kind of lunch. Food was always right out of the wok, steaming. To me it was very tastey.

                                        1. re: eastlakovore

                                          That's it, eastlakovore, thanks. Kind of like dim sum table service except that the food is not already plated and the bill is not calculated by the number of plates you take (well, it sort of is, because you pay up front for your dish and tableware but ... oh, nevermind :-) )

                                          And, yes, I think the place probably would qualify for a James Lileks examination of regrettable restaurant decor. But at least one is not paying for the decor...

                                      2. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                        I don't disagree. Some of the food is quite tasty (I love the "potato chips"), but generally it's the atmosphere and the company that makes it worthwhile. It is a seriously Old School Chinese-American greasy spoon kind of place. With a classic old school Eastside clientele.

                                        1. re: mtullius

                                          I totally want to try this place. THat "reverse buffet" concept kind of reminds me of the all you can eat pasta at the Little Oven where, after serving you a MOUNTAIN of pasta, your server comes back and asks if you'd like another serving. I took an out of town guest there once and I think she about fell out of her chair when they asked her if she wanted MORE when it seemed she already was attempting to work through several meals worth of pasta on the plate in front of her.


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            This is kind of off-topic, but TDQ, do you like Little Oven? We've considered going for a classic red sauce and pasta kind of meal, but haven't been. What's it like - food, atmosphere, service?

                                            1. re: gildeddawn

                                              i am chiming in on the Little Oven "classic red sauce and pasta kind of meal" i like little oven but greatly prefer Mama's...

                                              1. re: gildeddawn

                                                It's been a few years since I've been , but yes, I like it in the way that it just feels very homey and comforting. Large portions and, yes, as you say, it's pretty much just pasta, red sauce, and lots of cheese. With garlic bread!

                                                The place is well-loved and well-worn, but it's super friendly. It gets pretty busy on weeknights and it's filled with neighborhood regulars. They also doing a booming take-out pizza business so it's sometimes hard to tell how busy it is because a lot of the people standing around in the entry might be waiting for their take-out pizza, not to be seated in the dining room.

                                                Sorry if I can't be more specific than that, but it has been awhile. It feels very authentically St. Paul Eastside to me, as if the place hasn't changed in decades.


                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  If you want authentic red-sauce on the East Side, go no further than Yarusso Brothers. The place has "The GodFather" on endless loop so not much more needs to be said.

                                                  1. re: Db Cooper

                                                    Except during winter carnival, when No Time for Cold Feet is playing on endless loop. I like Yarussos a lot, too. :) They really understand hospitality there.


                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      It should be noted the best liquor store in MN is also across the street from Yarusso Brothers. Nobody and I mean Nobody beats Morelli's on price. And the butcher shop in back is a hidden gem too. Bring your checkbook or cash, they don't take credit cards.

                                                      1. re: Db Cooper

                                                        And the liquor store rec is perfect to accompany all the eats - I can bring things back home...remembering where I picked them up and be reminded of the experiences!

                                                        1. re: mhcpita

                                                          Morelli's is a riot. Cash only, though.


                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                            A little off topic, but Morelli's makes one of the best frozen pizzas I've ever had.

                                      3. In Minneapolis: Las Teresitas (34th Ave S and Hwy 62) and Pinedas (Lake and Hiawatha) for Mexican. Crystal Garden in the strip mall at Hiawatha and 47th for Chinese. DiNoko's (also on 34th Ave) for pizza - take out or delivery only. And even though this isn't on your list of cuisines, I recommend Himalayan Restaurant for Nepalese (E. Franklin).

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: drew13000

                                          Yes - Himalayan. Wonderful momos and chicken dishes.

                                          1. re: karykat

                                            Really solid lunch buffet, too, if you like that sort of thing. Not a huge selection, but maybe that's why it's so solid because they can stay on top of it.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Hmmm. We are going to have to try that.

                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                Agree! The lunch buffet was, for me, a great way to try a few items that have now become regular take-out staples!

                                          2. Thai
                                            Thai Cafe - 371 University St Paul
                                            true hole in the wall (but clean!) atmosphere/Culinary School trained chef

                                            La Alborada Market - 1855 E Lake Street Minneapolis
                                            tiny restaurant inside a large Hispanic grocery store. They always have something unusual and special beyond the usual taqueria fare. Ability to speak Spanish helps, but they can usually find someone to help if you don't (which includes me!)

                                            I second the rec for Keefer Court. We ate there recently with friends who had been to China and they thought the food was quite authentic and high quality. Definitely qualifies as hole-in-the-wall - there are maybe six tables?

                                            Blue Nile 2027 E Franklin Ave Minneapolis
                                            While Fasika usually ranks higher among Chowhounders, the Blue Nile has very good, authentic Ethiopian food and has the added bonuses of a great tap beer selection (Belgian, West Coast IPA etc,) great music, both live and recorded, and a very charming staff.

                                            Pho 79/Caravelle 2529 Nicollet Ave. S. Minneapolis
                                            I do not understand the fascination with Quang. I find their food to be ladened with MSG and the Pho tasting of powdered spices. The Pho at Pho 79/Caravelle however has a wonderfully deep, rich broth, and they offer many traditional Vietnamese dishes such as CÁ KHO TỘ - Catfish cooked in clay pot. The staff is very friendly to non-Vietnamese guests and they are thrilled to have you try their traditional dishes.

                                            Gorkha Palace 23 4th St NE Minneapolis
                                            Always fresh, and always something unique, such as Yak meat or Jackfruit curry. Plus the walls are decorated with fabulous so-bad-they-are-great oil paintings depicting subcontinent themes.

                                            My Ecuadorian produce guy recommended Guayaquil 1526 East Lake Street Minneapolis, although I have not tried it myself.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: lizpeck

                                              Leo's has long been a spot where you can run into the eastsiders; 3m employees, east side cops etc. i bet any east-side politician eats there several times a week during campaign season

                                            2. i just thought of one that i am surprised has yet to be mentioned... Chimborazo!


                                              1. I now have to add Filfilah to my list of great holes-in-the-wall places.

                                                Thanks to this thread


                                                my husband and I had lunch there on Sunday and it was fantastic. We shared a combo plate which consisted of a lamb kebab, a chicken kebab, lamb/beef shawarma and chicken shawarma, and I would agree with KCMPLS's ratings. I usually avoid kebabs because I find them to be too dry more often then not. These were moist and succulent, with just the right amount of char on the outside. The shawarma was also very moist, which again often tends to be dry, and very flavorful. We also had a bowl of the red lentil soup, which was comfort food at its best - I would guess that lamb stock was used as the base since it had a lovely richness without being at all greasy. The combo plate came with a very nice Mediterranean-style salad and some house made Turkish bread. Highly recommended.