Dragon Star Oriental Foods (St. Paul, MN)


Ever since I started posting my looks at immigrant groceries in the Twin Cities metro (the most recent reports came from Chan Oriental Market in Bloomington and Asian Mart in Burnsville) people have been asking me when I was going to get around to a number of local stalwarts. These include United Noodles in Minneapolis, Dong Yang and Pooja Groceries up in Columbia Heights and Dragon Star in St. Paul. My answer has always been “eventually” and for Dragon Star eventually is now. The store is located at Minnehaha and Dale in St. Paul—is that the Frogtown neighbourhood?—and is one of the largest of the major East Asian groceries in the metro, if not the very largest. We stopped in yesterday after many years for a bit of shopping and I took an excessive amount of photographs. You’re welcome.

I’m not sure when Dragon Star first opened in St. Paul. They first flashed on our consciousness  after they had a major makeover in 2008 or 2009. They’ve had a number of makeovers/renovation and expansions since and are now a rather massive store, on par with the Costco we shop at in Burnsville. At some point in the last decade they opened a second shop in Brooklyn Park. If you read Yelp reviews of the St. Paul store you’ll see a number of reviews that mention less than optimal cleanliness and strong aromas from the seafood department. Well, I can tell you we found no such issues yesterday. They do seem to be going through yet another renovation and so there’s some minor disarray associated with that but the produce section was laid out in an orderly manner and nor were there any kind of aromas emanating from the seafood section—now in the expanded section in the rear of the store. For that matter there were no unpleasant aromas of any kind anywhere. I only mention all this because you might get the contrary impression elsewhere.

You might also get the impression—not least of all from the name of the store—that this is essentially an East Asian store. Certainly, East Asian ingredients and products—particularly Southeast Asian—are the focus of the store but this is really a more broad immigrant market. They carry a large number of Hispanic products and have a creditable inventory of South Asian, Middle Eastern and African ingredients as well. (Don’t tell the BJP but the Indian stuff is in an aisle marked Middle Eastern.) Among East Asian products those looking for esoteric Japanese ingredients may be a little disappointed but on the other hand, as the missus noted, they have a pretty robust selection of Korean products.

The size of the store means you can find a dizzying array of brands of a number of products. This is great if you have a pet brand for they’re likely to carry it. The more general shopper may feel a bit paralyzed by the range but there are worse problems. Neither the produce nor the seafood sections are going to impress anyone who has been to a H-Mart elsewhere in the country but they’re pretty good. The seafood section has a larger collection of frozen fish than fresh/thawed. Live seafood yesterday included lobster, crawfish and blue crab. Unusually, the frozen seafood selections mark the country of origin and included in the list are China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Mexico and the US; most packages also state whether the fish was farmed or wild-caught. Like with the seafood, the meat selection includes a number of things you will not find at mainstream groceries: from goat meat to a range of body parts of various animals, feathered or ungulate.

Prices are good and the store and parking lot were not very crowded yesterday (though this may change once the pandemic is truly behind us). Masks are required inside the store and I only saw one customer who seemed to believe that did not apply to him. Anyway, if you haven’t been or haven’t been in a while, take a look at the excessive slideshow that follows. And if you’re a regular do share tips and favourites.

If we lived in St. Paul we’d probably shop here often. However, with Rong Market, Chan Oriental, TBS Mart, Hana Market, Saigon Market and Mantra Bazaar ringing the South Metro we don’t really feel the need for a one-stop shop. But this visit reminded us that we should stop in more often when in St. Paul on other business.

Up next on the food-related front: a pandemic takeout report of not-very inspiring barbecue from Eagan. That’ll be on Tuesday.

6 thoughts on “Dragon Star Oriental Foods (St. Paul, MN)

  1. Thanks for the review.

    Dragon Star is my usual Asian supermarket because I do live in St. Paul, everything is decent, and the breadth of choice is borderline overwhelming. They started resetting the store early last year. I stopped shopping there during lockdown on the theory that, if the seafood counter odor was that noticeable when you walked in, it seemed unlikely the air changed often in that building, and, at the time, stagnant air was Not A Good Thing. I found other stores, which have issues of their own, so I’m happy to return to Dragon Star.

    I don’t have much in the way of tips and favo(u)rites; there used to be a few shelves with last-minute produce on it (its last minutes, not yours) at a steep discount. I could not often avail myself of that selection. The display units just north of the checkstands closest to the doors have deli foods like bahn mi and larb-ish salads and often are pretty picked over by late in the day. And don’t put too much stock in the overhead signs in the grocery department; I’m guessing they’re leaving updates to the last of the remodel.

    It looks like their deli is still out of action (the billowing plastic sheets between the produce section and the entrance to the back of the store). It also seems brighter and maybe a bit less chaotic than I remember. I’m keen to see what they’ve done with the place.

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  2. You’re right, stagnant air was never a positive, but it took on a special meaning in the early days of COVID-19.

    Based on the pictures, many of the fixtures in the seafood department look new. It seems they’ve likely gotten rid of whatever smelled so unpleasant. It’s also possible they updated the HVAC system in the store, which would help. I shopped there anyway pre-COVID, but it was always the demerit of shopping in that particular building.

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