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Places to eat around University of Minnesota - and candy?


This month, I will be attending a conference at the University of Minnesota. I will not have a car, so would appreciate suggestions that are near campus (I'll be at the East Campus) or accessible by public transportation.

In addition, I like to buy candy for my kids as souvenirs. So, I would also appreciate suggestions on local sweets.

Thank you!

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  1. Welcome to St. Paul. You picked a good time of year to visit as the weather is nice so it's easier to get around. (If you are a bicyclist, there is a NiceRide station right on campus.) In brief, Mim's Café (Middleastern) is right on campus. St. Anthony Village is a charming neighborhood within walking/biking distance and has some decent restaurants - Colossal Café, Finnish Bistro, and Mufalettas. On Snelling and Como is Café 99 (Chinese,) which has been getting some good reviews. You also aren't far from some decent Korean restaurants on Snelling, a lot of great Vietnamese and other ethnic restaurants on University (many believe On's Kitchen has some of the best Thai food in town,) and some decent corporate/chain type restaurants near Rosedale. Also, I assume you are looking for places that serve dinner, right? (Some of the places I just mentioned might only serve lunch.)

    It would help to know what kind of food you are looking for. I see in a post of yours from eight years ago, a desire for Moroccan food. Hmm... Sorry, but I think you might be out of luck on that front. It also might help to know where you are staying as there might be better food closer to your hotel than near the Ag. campus.

    For candy, Sweet Chocolat is on the NW corner of Larpenteur and Lexington. They have middle-of-the-road home made candy - mostly chocolate. It's OK. http://mysweetchocolat.com/home.php

    6 Replies
    1. re: ChancesR

      ChancesR, I will be staying at The Commons, and love all cuisines. Lunch and dinner options are welcome, but would appreciate budget options as well as places (okay, maybe one - I'm on an academic budget!) to splurge. I look forward to exploring what the Twin Cities has to offer!

      1. re: SeriousPig

        As Brad says, The Commons is on the East Bank of the main campus. It is surrounded by three distinct commercial districts - Stadium Village, Dinkytown, and Cedar/Riverside (aka, the West Bank) all with interesting dining options. (You'll have to cross the Washington Ave. bridge to get to the West Bank.) The Commons is just a stone's throw from Stadium Village where there are many fine cheap eats up and down Washington Ave. (and extending to University Ave.) including, Abduls Afandy, Village Wok (some discussion about this place having recently gone downhill,) Little Szechuan, Punch Pizza, Hong Kong Noodle, and Tea House.

        I assume you'll be taking the U's shuttle bus between the two campuses. Once you're on the St Paul campus, you'll have fewer choices within walking distance, so refer to the comments in my previous post.

        1. re: ChancesR

          I'm not sure where St. Paul comes in. The Commons is on the East Bank of the UofMN campus in Minneapolis. The St. Paul campus is no where near. The Commons, however, is on the Light Rail Transit corridor so one could easily go to downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul and any place in between easily and cheaply.

          1. re: Davydd

            The confusion happened early on in this discussion as the OP stated they were going to be at the EAST campus. It soon got sorted out. That's all that was.

            1. re: ChillyDog

              Yes. Silly me for not understanding East Campus meant East Bank.

      2. re: ChancesR

        Sweet Chocolat is no longer in business.

      3. For candy, both downtowns have a "Candyland" store http://www.candylandstore.com/ They mostly carry popcorn and widely available gummies and such, but they do make their own chocolates and fudge in house. There are more upscale candy shops around, but they would be harder to get to via public transportation.

        1. You are staying on the East Bank of the Minneapolis campus, so ChancesR's comments about places near the St. Paul campus will have to be reserved for another trip.

          Your splurge option is Restaurant Alma (dinner only). Decent lunch can be had at the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown (although you are staying closer to Stadium Village, which I don't know very well).

          If you have plenty of time for lunch, I would catch a bus (or share a cab with others) and go to Kramarczuk's Deli. You will also find plenty of funky candy there.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Brad Ballinger

            Also, if you're in Stadium Village, there's a Tea House (Chinese Restaurant) that's pretty good. Also in Stadium Village (though it's been a good 5 years since I've been) is Caspian Bistro. Persian food and grocery store. Lots of Persian sweets in the grocery. Pakoda in Dinkytown is pretty good for pan Asian. It's convenient, though not the best we offer for Asian in the Twin Cities. But it would be walkable.

            Also, the Green Line (light rail) opens on June 14. It can take you from Stadium Village where you're staying to a lot of the places on University Ave in St. Paul. http://www.metrotransit.org/metro-gre... Mostly Asian: On's Thai Kitchen, Ngon Bistro, Little Szechuan (whoops--L.S. is closed for renovations right now. Don't go unless you've confirmed it has reopened), ipho by Saigon, Russian Tea House (open very limited hours mostly lunchtime during the week) and others. Lots of threads on University Ave in St. Paul. There are also Cub and Rainbow grocery stores if you wanted to buy the Pearson's candies mentioned below and are having a hard time finding them. You could probably also get to the Hmong market if you were determined, which is like a food court, farmers market and flea market all in one--you pretty much have to be there before during the day as everything is pretty much shut down by 5pm.

            Really, the sky's the limit if you can take the Green Line because you'll have access (walkable) to all of Stadium Village and Dinky town (which are the neighborhoods around the campus), University Ave in St. Paul which has tons of little, indie ethnic places, and both downtowns (Minneapolis and St. Paul).

            So, you might want to give us a price point or preferred cuisines so we can focus our recommendations. There's a world of difference between Alma, a restaurant by James Beard award-winning chef Alex Roberts and, say, Ai Hue Vietnamese Deli on University Avenue in St. Paul and Manny's Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis, all of which would be reasonably accessible to you once the green line starts running. (You don't need the green line for Alma, though, as Brad points out).

            If any of these places appeal to you, let us know and we can give you more specifics.


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              I'd plug this article with Lightrail lunch stops (although you'd be travelling the opposite direction as the writer in the piece): http://www.twincities.com/restaurants...

                1. re: jaycooke

                  Thanks for this link! They missed two of my favorites: Russian Tea House (between the Fairview and Snelling stops) and Tanpopo (past the Union Depot at the terminus for the Green Line). Otherwise, they hit a good number of the high spots along University Ave in St. Paul.

            2. When I went through Minnesota on a road trip, Pearson's Buns were the recommended sugary delight. Very well received when I returned to the East coast. They are available at grocery stores and the like. I like the maple ones.

              1 Reply
              1. re: waking1

                Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls and Pearson's Nut Goodie Bars! Made right there on West 7th in St. Paul. They are also often in candy machines and gas station convenience stores.


              2. Assuming that you are coming after June 14th and if I am reading the map correctly, you are within walking distance to the East Bank station for the light rail green line which will take you to either downtown. I will defer to the downtown experts to provide restaurant options.

                1. I work about a block from the Commons Hotel.

                  First, the Commons is really nice. They took an old, tired Radisson and remodeled it last year into something with a very local, quirky, academic flavor. There's a small hotel restaurant, the Beacon, which is nice.

                  Because you're smack-dab in universityville (Stadium Village), most of the local grub is cheap and college-focused. I recommend the Punch Pizza, half a block away, for a casual lunch or dinner of excellent Neapolitan pizza and/or high-quality salads. Other options include things like Chipotle, a decent burger place called MyBurger, and a passable banh mi place called Bun Mi.

                  If you head northwest from the hotel across campus, or follow University Ave northwest, you'll come to the campus business district on the north end of campus, called Dinkytown. There are more cheap eats there, as well as some quite good restaurants. I recommend Kafe 421 or the Loring Pasta Bar (partly for food, partly for cool decor -- be sure to check out the bathrooms).

                  On the more casual side, Al's Breakfast is a local institution and practically a national landmark. Annie's Parlour is a classic burger and malt joint. Wally's Falafel is a good lunch option, too. In the evenings, the Kitty Cat Klub is a good place for a drink and to check out the funky, laid-back atmosphere.

                  The brand new light rail line has a stop practically at the front door of your hotel. The line starts running this weekend. You can take it to either downtown (as mentioned) or to some stops along University Ave. in St. Paul where you can access good ethnic grub, particularly southeast Asian.

                  My recommendation for a great meal along the green line is Ngon Bistro. Take the line toward St. Paul and get off at the Victoria Street stop and walk one block east. This restaurant is a Vietnamese-French fusion place that uses some terrific local ingredients, including some of the best pork around.

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: Jordan

                    Face palm. Al's Breakfast! How could this thread get this far along without a mention of Al's! Al's is open for breakfast only and is a tiny, 14 seat diner (sometimes 13 depending on whether the swinging door on the counter is open or closed). Winner of a James Beard classics award. Best bets are the pancakes and anything with hollandaise.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      To clarify, Al's serves only breakfast-type foods but they are open until 1 pm.

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        And you will be squawked at to move down the counter line to make room for more people, but that's part of the charm. :)

                      2. re: Jordan

                        Jordan, do you recommend Bun Mi over Jasmine Deli (is the latter even still there)? It's been about 5 years since I've been to either one.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Well, yes, because Jasmine Orchid closed last year. It's been replaced by an outpost of Little Szechuan which has "CNN's 50 Best Chinese Restaurants in the US!" displayed all over its windows.

                          1. re: Jordan

                            HA! Yeah, thank you, I couldn't remember if Jasmine had closed or not, which is why I asked. Haven't been to that part of the neighborhood in a couple of years. Stadium Village, yes, but we've tended to stay closer to the actual stadium. Even a few blocks can seem extra long when you're walking them with a toddler who alternately wants to be carried and "do it myself."

                            On a slightly different topic, Bun Mi doesn't really serve traditional banh mi sandwiches. More of a modern take. If you want more traditional sandwiches on the crusty bread and with the French mayo, that's when you'd want to hop the light rail to University Ave in St. Paul.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Just to clarify, they do offer (more or less) traditional banh mi as well as some Americanized variants, but they are certainly not the best I've had. Most of the Stadium Village restaurants that I've recommended are fine for a decent lunch but not standout places for a memorable meal.

                              1. re: Jordan

                                Sorry, unless they've changed in the past couple of years and started using crusty bread and traditional mayo, I still wouldn't consider anything they serve at Bun Mi a classic banh mi, even the ones that are more traditional. This distinction is for the banh mi purists out there. And if you are a purist, that kind of banh mi is available in the Twin Cities, too, but you'll have to hop the green line to St. Paul for it. Plenty of good sandwiches to be had: it just depends on what you want and how far you're willing to go for it. I'm unclear on where the OP is traveling from and what his or her previous experience with banh mi sandwiches is (lots of great banh mi sandwiches in places like LA, San Francisco and Houston, for instance) so I want expectations to be set appropriately.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Well, they use baguettes ("crusty bread") and mayo, although I don't know what you mean by "traditional mayo." As I said, it's not the best I've ever had, but it's recognizably banh mi.

                                  I'm pretty sure there's no Vietnamese equivalent of VPN Neapolitan pizza certification for banh mi, so this is just hair-splitting between opinionated people.

                                  1. re: Jordan

                                    When I refer to crusty baguettes, i'm talking about the kind with the crisp, shattering exterior that comes from baking with steam and the soft, airy crumb. And the "mayo" (or butter as some Vietnamese refer to it) made this way, often also with a dash of Maggi (the liquid kind) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9710...

                                    And while I merely may be an opinionated person just as you, I've actually spent a fair amount of time in recent (though pre-toddler) years sitting down with a few dozen folks who came to this country as refugees from Vietnam and talked to them about their family recipes. Gone through translations of their mother's or sister's recipes from Vietnamese to English. And eaten dozens of banh mi sandwiches as part of this effort. (I keep being amazed by the restaurants at which I find them! I wish I could remember the unexpected place I recently came across one.)

                                    But you're right, it's just my opinion.

                                    There's nothing wrong with Bun Mi's sandwiches, it's just that I wouldn't consider them traditional because of the baguettes and the mayo (unless Bun Mi has changed their baguettes and mayo in the last couple of years) and neither might someone else who is traveling from somewhere where a lot of Vietnamese have settled. I'm not sure where the OP is traveling from.


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      All righty, then. Let's move on from the derail of this thread.

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        TDQ, where do you get your favorite banh mi sandwich? Usually I love Saigon (now iPho), but they seemed to have made some changes the last time I was there.

                                        1. re: shoo bee doo

                                          Don't have time to respond in detail right now but I haven't been sampling banh mi sandwiches in earnest now for since my child (now a toddler) was born, so my info is no longer as current as it was. But, even when I was really plugged in and was eating a couple a week and trying to hunt down all of the "new" versions, I had no perfect banh mi. I wanted the bread from one place and fillings from another and so on. Also, you kinda have to break it down between traditional and non-traditional I think. I like both kinds, but they are different animals in my mind.

                                          If I had to choose from the ones I've had recently enough to recommend, I'd say maybe Ngon Bistro for a contemporary banh mi (though the field has really expanded for non-traditional banh mi since I was eating a lot of them). Traditional, Trung Nam is the only place I've been going a lot lately, but that's convenience mostly. I like their bread a lot. They buy most of their fillings (as many places do.) I wish I could swap out the fillings but I guess that's called, "Buy a baguette, make your own fillings and assemble your own sandwich." Too busy to do that these days!

                                          Anyway, there are a lot of great places in both cities to get both kinds of banh mi. Tons of options on University Ave in St. Paul.

                                          Some places I'm not allowed to mention due to the chowhound rules, unfortunately. I would say my former favorites (from a couple of years ago), both modern and traditional, are gone. :( Although I've always like the bread at Trung Nam and Ngon's in general.

                                          To the OP, both of these places --Trung Nam and Ngon Bistro-- are on University Ave in St. Paul--accessible by the green line. Hope you don't consider this a "derail" of your thread (and if you do, my humble apologies), but rather, that you find it helpful. Haha, derail. That's kind of funny, now that I think about it since I'm also talking about the light rail.) Ngon Bistro's banh mi is only available for weekday lunch, btw.

                                          Agree with you on ipho by Saigon, shoo bee doo.


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Bun Mi isn't traditional in the sense of a true bahn mi but its core is. Comprised of all the elements but its just different.

                                            I don't care either way though they are effing delicious...and their fries...can we talk about their fries?

                                            I get baffled from time to time when I hear people say how they hate bun mi's bahn mi's...

                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          Oh, and I've remembered the "unexpected" place I found a banh mi sandwich recently and that is Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth. I didn't try it but I'll bet their take on a banh mi would be delish. Contemporary version, of course. http://www.northernwaterssmokehaus.co... But I thought it was funny that the Twin Cities banh mi craze had reached Duluth. New Scenic up there also sometimes has a pretty good one. Not in my top three for contemporary, but still good.


                            2. re: Jordan

                              I'd also like to put in a good word for Korea Restaurant, which is in Stadium Village a few blocks from The Commons, 221 Oak Street across from the Alumni Center. It's not a fancy place - often on the slightly grungy side - but it serves very solid Korean food for both lunch and dinner.

                              I've also heard very good things about Tofu House - also Korean food - just down the street at 307 Oak St. I haven't eaten there yet, but would like to make it over there sometime soon.

                              1. re: bob s

                                Next to Tofu House is YogurtLab -- a pretty good rendition of the frozen yogurt-with-lots-of-toppings craze, if you like that sort of thing.

                                1. re: bob s

                                  Tofu house is good, but pretty limited menu. Korea house is really good, but talk about no "ambiance." Grungy is a good descriptor.

                                  An odd little place is next to Punch on Washington...Kitty Korner Cafe. They have waffles and once in awhile they really hit the spot. My favorite has nutella, bananas, chocolate...dessert, not really lunch.

                                  And to weigh in on Bun Mi, I am addicted to their beef spring roll. Traditional? not really, delicious? absolutely.

                                  1. re: bob s

                                    I was on my way to Tofu House a couple of weeks ago and decided on the spur of the moment to try Korea House. I have absolutely no regrets, though I wouldn't mind a little less entrée and a little more ban cha provided with the lunch specials. Yes, the ambience could use some work. But I don't eat ambience. :-)

                                2. I'm chiming in to second the great advice that you've already gotten.

                                  Stadium Village (centered around Washington Ave and Oak Street) has good lunch selections - I love Punch Pizza, Bona Vietnamese Restaurant, the Korean places, and the Persian kabobs & deli treats from Caspian Bistro (at University Ave),

                                  In Dinkytown (centered around 14th Ave & 4th Street), Al's Breakfast is a MUST! I also like Kafe 421 - good food for much less $$ than you'd think.

                                  Restaurant Alma (past Dinkytown) is a wonderful splurge for dinner - it's my favorite special occasion place - but it's a rather long walk from your hotel. You could catch a bus part way, but it's probably quicker to walk (the bus service is seriously mediocre in that part of town).

                                  As others have said, the new Green Line light rail will get you to many other wonderful places. I suggest a hop over to West Bank - Cedar & Riverside - to Keefer Court for wonderful Chinese bakery treats or a cheap and delicious Hong Kong-style meal.

                                  For local candy: If you had a car, I'd send you to Regina's candy store in St. Paul - it's a classic old-time store with 4th-generation employees. But it's in the middle of a neighborhood and difficult to reach by public transportation. Candy Land (in either downtown) is much easier to get to, and is almost as old-timey and charming.

                                  Pearson's candy is local and great - they make Salted Nut Bars (my favorite), Nut Goodies (ya gotta like maple-flavored candy; I don't) and Mint Patties (much better than York's version). Bit-O-Honey (a more recent acquisition) is pretty good, too. Walgreen's drugstores usually carry Salted Nut Bars - not so sure about the rest.


                                  Dang! Now I'm craving those mint patties. I'm gonna have to hunt them down.

                                  1. I've been watching this thread as I'll be in Minneapolis 9/11-9/14 and I'll also be staying at the Commons Hotel. I'll be arriving very late on the 11th (perhaps around midnight). Would you have any suggestions for nearby food at that late hour, or even a great pizza place that delivers? (I've been informed that the hotel restaurant/bar may be closed by the time I arrive). Thank you!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: goldfishgrrl

                                      I work a block from the Commons, here is my take on your options.

                                      Best bet: Pizza Luce, delivers until 2:30 am

                                      If you just want to walk a bit or get outside:

                                      Stub and Herbs is open late. I think it has pretty mediocre bar food, but you could get fed and it is about two blocks from the Commons.

                                      Big 10 is open til 12:45--again no culinary greatness, but pretty much across the street from the hotel.

                                      Enjoy your time in Minneapolis.

                                      1. re: rockyd

                                        Thank you rockyd! I'll be in your fair city to see The Replacements, but it'll be nice to enjoy some good eats.

                                        1. re: rockyd

                                          Thank you again rockyd for your suggestions, it was perfect. I brought the Pizza Luce menu with me but ended up walking to Stub & Herbs, which was a comfortable bar for a woman on her own at midnight, and they had a great beer selection.

                                          I only had 1 opportunity for a great dinner, which was the lovely Restaurant Alma. I love the 'casual fine dining' concept and it was a nice mix of people from all age groups, dressed in jeans and Birkenstocks and a few people in collared shirts and dresses. I started with the suggested Spanish cava, then had the 3 course wine pairing dinner (Sardinian rose to start, followed by an Italian red, then a second red which I have completely forgotten). I was looking for a lighter dinner and with the help of the knowledgeable waitress I enjoyed Lightly Pickled Shrimp with fennel, orange, watermelon & fresno chiles, then the Grilled Bread braised pork rib, pepperoncini & burrata and finally Halibut en Papillote summer vegetable fricasse & black truffle butter. All the dishes were perfectly seasoned, starting with the delicate shrimp, the rich pork 'ragu' and the less rich halibut. This is the perfect neighborhood restaurant and I would highly recommended it to anyone visiting MPS.