The year is almost done. It’s hard to say when the pandemic will be done though. I’m guessing we’re going to be in the mode we’ve been in for the last nine months till at least the start of the summer before vaccination gets more widespread and infection rates drop meaningfully. There will therefore be more accounts of pandemic takeout meals before it’s all over and we can go back to eating in restaurants with friends. Hopefully, the restaurants will all still be there too. There have been a number of closures in the Twin Cities over the course of the year but as far as I can make out the toll has been heaviest at the high end where there are higher overheads and tight margins. The smaller, immigrant-owned restaurants that we eat at most of the time seem to have mostly weathered the storm—so far (though it’s hard to tell with the minimal coverage of these places in the local media outlets which, by and large continue to identify the local food scene with high-end and white restaurants). And some new places have even opened at the height of the pandemic.
In hindsight perhaps it should not have been a surprise that smaller immigrant places might have been more resilient even if they don’t have investors and high-profile coverage. These are places whose models were already optimized for takeout and delivery. Of course, there’s been a high toll there too as servers and kitchen staff have been let go (presumably) as places run as lean as possible. We’ve heard a lot about how restaurants are faring in the last year but not very much, if at all, about the people who actually kept restaurants running before the pandemic—I mean not owners, managers and chefs but everyone else. Will a slow return to normalcy once the pandemic eases mean a return to the old normal of restaurant management and coverage or will there actually be a meaningful reset? We’ll see, I guess.
In the meantime here’s a quick look back at and tribute to the places that have fed us weekly since mid-March. We’ve tried to support restaurants as best we could but the truth is they’ve supported us: forming the basis of outings, giving us delicious breaks from cooking, giving us reasons to get together with friends on decks and in yards (at least until the ground froze here in Southern Minnnesota). We got food from a lot of old favourites, went back to some places we hadn’t been to in years and even made some excellent new acquaintances. (I do still have one full pandemic takeout report to come on Tuesday, from Cheng Heng in St. Paul.) And I found myself in the midst of an unplanned survey of the local Indian restaurants, culminating in my rankings last week.
Here are the restaurants we ate food from during the pandemic in 2020 along with one dish from each report that I would highly recommend you get from them the next time you get takeout from them:
- Cheng Heng (coming soon): Roast Pork Larb
- El Triunfo (on multiple occasions): Tinga de Pollo, Carnitas, Tamales
- Bawarchi: Egg Chettinad
- Saigon Deli: Bun Bo Hue
- Hyderabad House: Ulvacharu Chicken Biryani
- Grand Szechuan (on multiple occasions): Mapo Tofu; Diced Fish with Chopped Dry Pepper; Pork Belly with Mashed Garlic; Beef Tongue in Chilli Sauce; Fish Flavour Eggplant
- Kumar’s (on two occasions): Ambur Chicken Biryani; Kaara Mutton Perattal
- On’s Kitchen: Papaya Salad—Thai Style
- Indian Masala: Goat Sukka
- Kabob’s Indian Grill (on two occasions): Poondu Kulambu; Fried Eggplant Curry
- Pho Pasteur: Banh Mi
- Szechuan Spice: Szechuan Spice Cold Chicken
- India Spice House: Karaikudi Pepper Chicken
- iPho by Saigon: Banh Mi
- Godavari: Mamsam Roast
- Pho Valley: Special Pho
- House of Curry (on two occasions): Chicken Kottu; Batu Moju
- Homi: Nopales con Carne de Puerco
- Thai Cafe: Fish Cake
- Bull’s Horn (on two occasions): Tonkotsu Ramen; Shoyu Ramen
- Beirut: Lamb Kabob
- Smoke in the Pit: Smoked Wings
- Bangkok Thai Deli: Clams Pad Cha
- Tenant: Barbecue Chicken
- Ted Cook’s 19th Hole: Pulled Pork
- Simplee Pho: Bun Bo Hue
- Quarterback Club: Broasted Chicken
- Joy’s Thai: Yum Woon Sen
That’s 38 meals all in all. In a sense we actually “ate out” more this year than we normally would have as our orders were always large enough to generate leftovers for another couple of meals. To make up for some of the overeating we did go on a lot more family walks this year.
You can take a look at the dishes in the list above in the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what’s coming next.
If you have any questions about any of these dishes or any others from the fuller reviews, just ask.
Coming next: a full writeup of our takeout this weekend from Cheng Heng. Early in Jan I’ll have more reports from El Triunfo and Grand Szechuan (two of our mainstays) and then I hope to continue with my Indian restaurant survey, this time focusing a bit more on places that specialize in North Indian food. I also need to get back to some of our Somali and Ethiopian favourites. I also want to explore what seems to be a larger Vietnamese corridor in Burnsville and Eagan than I was previously aware of. If you have any recommendations or tips for any other places within an hour’s drive of Northfield, MN please write in below.
Until then, eat well and stay safe and distanced and masked!