Scenes from India Fest, 2018 (St. Paul, MN)


Last year, at just about this time we spent a good part of the day at the Little Africa festival in St. Paul. We were planning to do the same again this year but in the weeks prior I learned that India Fest was scheduled on the same day. I’ve been vaguely aware of India Fest—organized by the India Association of Minnesota—for some time now but had never previously been moved to attend. But now that our boys are getting older we’re trying to expose them to as much of their parents’ Korean and Indian heritage as we can and so we decided to go. And a very interesting event it turned out to be.  Continue reading

Ngon Bistro (St. Paul)


Ngon Bistro is a St. Paul institution at this point and I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to get around to reviewing it for the blog. It’s a bit of an anomaly in the Twin Cities in that it is a high-end Asian restaurant. The much newer Hai Hai is more casual, and the same was true of the recently shuttered Rabbit Hole too. I am not suggesting that Ngon Bistro is stuffy or formal; but in terms of menu format and prices, they are much closer to places like Spoon and Stable and Meritage. In other ways, Ngon Bistro is similar to the erstwhile Rabbit Hole in that they too seek to translate an Asian cuisine—in this case Vietnamese—into the menu formats and culinary idioms of mainstream American dining. Comparing our meals at the two places it’s easy to say that Ngon Bistro does it much better.  Continue reading

Saigon Palace (Burnsville, MN)


After my review of Pho Valley a couple of weeks ago I thought I was done for the foreseeable future with reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in the South Metro. The only other one I was aware of is a place in Eagan that is of interest only because Yelp reviews suggest you are more likely to be sworn at than to eat well if you go there. (I am actually tempted to go there for that reason.) Saigon Palace is not that restaurant. It is located in Burnsville, right off 35W (if going north on the highway, get off on Burnsville Parkway and go right and it’ll be in the first strip mall on the right). I discovered its existence while casting about for places to eat relatively close to the Works Museum (which the brats enjoy very much) and it seemed worth a try. As luck would have it, I had a number of reasons to be in that neighbourhood over the next couple of weeks and so went back a number of times, twice with the missus. Herewith, my report.  Continue reading

Hana Market (Bloomington, MN)


Korean food does not have a very high profile in Minnesota. This is not because there are very few Koreans in Minnesota. As of the 2010 census, the numbers were not so far below the Vietnamese and the Twin Cities are dotted with Vietnamese restaurants. On the other hand, in the metro area there are very few Korean restaurants worth comment. This is probably down to the fact that despite decades of immigration, Korean food remains on the fringes of mainstream American consciousness—well behind Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and even Vietnamese. Unless you’re in Los Angeles or New York or the Bay Area, you’re not going to come across a concentrated Korean population with an ecosystem of restaurants catering to in-culture diners; and for whatever reason, awareness of Korean food remains low elsewhere in the US among those who don’t habitually eat outside their own cultural comfort zone. So it is in Minnesota, even though the number of families here with Korean connections via adoption is quite high relative to most of the USContinue reading

Pho Valley (Apple Valley, MN)


Following my reviews of Pho Everest in Lakeville, Cam Ranh Bay in Burnsville and Simplee Pho in Apple Valley, here is another report on a no-frills but solid Vietnamese place in the Twin Cities South Metro: Pho Valley in Apple Valley. They mostly sling pho and they’re in Apple Valley and hence the name, I assume. They’ve been open somewhere between one and two years and are located in the mega strip mall at the intersection of Cedar Avenue and 150th/County Road 42. It’s a larger restaurant than Simplee Pho but has a more limited menu. On the plus side, most of what I’ve had of what they put out has been mostly pretty solid.  Continue reading

TBS Mart International Foods (Richfield, MN)


Continuing with my series on markets that serve Minnesota’s more recent immigrant communities, here is a quick look at a store with a name both innocuous and misleading: TBS Mart International Foods, which is in fact an Indian grocery, and my go-to Indian grocery in the south metro at that. It is located right off the 494: going west from the 35 you get off at Portland, turn right, and it anchors the smaller strip mall on the right hand side of the road. Indeed, it is one of three Indian food-related businesses there: there are also two Indian restaurants—Kabob’s Indian Grill and India Cafe (as yet unexamined by me). But first, a bit of context.  Continue reading

Top 5 Twin Cities Dishes, April-June 2018


Here are the five best dishes I ate in the Twin Cities metro area for the period from April to June. Of course, since I was gone for almost all of June, it’s really my list of five best dishes eaten in April and May, but that’s just a detail. (See here for my list for the first quarter of the year.). It covers the spectrum from chaotic food court in a market to fine dining in a tony Minneapolis neighbourhood. And it covers a wide range of cuisines and geographies. Represented here are Mexican, Thai, Lao and Sichuan dishes, and even the fine dining dish incorporates Chinese flavours. I’m breaking the guideline in my first post against including dishes from restaurants whose menus change often. But the dish from my dinner at Tilia that’s included here was both very, very good and is still available as per their website. So at least as of now, you can still go eat all these dishes.  Continue reading

Shuang Hur (St. Paul, MN)


I’ve posted a number of write-ups of outdoor and covered markets in Minnesota (Hmongtown Marketplace and Hmong Village), Montreal (Jean-Talon) and London (Borough Market). I’ll have more of these as the opportunity arises (there’ll be another from London soon enough). However, in 2018 I’ll have a far more regular series of write-ups of formal markets/grocery stores that cater to various immigrant communities in the Twin Cities metro area. I’ve already posted one of these—a quick look at Andale Mercado in Richfield. Here now is a look at the Shuang Hur mothership on University Avenue in St. Paul, one of the mainstays of the Southeast Asian scene. I’d call it a quick look—it’s light on text—but there are rather a lot of images. The main goal of this series of posts is to give people who’ve not shopped in these markets a decent sense of what’s available there and hopefully give them a reason or two to go. Hence the maximalist approach to images.  Continue reading

Tokyo Grill (Northfield, MN)


There isn’t much worth reviewing, food-wise, in Northfield, the small Minnesota town in which we live, and so I haven’t reviewed much: only El Triunfo, a small, unpretentious Mexican restaurant and store. For a town with two colleges, we certainly don’t have the usual college town staples: there’s no Thai or Vietnamese; the two Chinese places are execrable and the one surviving Indian place is not much better, despite a welcome change in ownership. Beyond that is mostly sandwiches and the Ole Store, whose food falls quite a bit short of its pretensions and its local reputation and popularity. Which brings us to Tokyo Grill, a Japanese restaurant on Highway 3 that opened about five years ago (I want to say), and of which the best that can probably be said is that it is mostly inoffensive. I hadn’t planned to review it either—I’d only eaten there twice in the years since its opening—but a friend mock-criticized me for not reviewing more local places just a couple of days before I was scheduled to take a visiting guest there, and so here we are.  Continue reading

Lao Sze Chuan (Minneapolis)


Sometime in the last year, Lao Sze Chuan, a Chicago-based mini-empire of Szechuan restaurants, opened a branch in Minneapolis. As I don’t really follow the Twin Cities food media very closely, I missed this. A chance reference to it on Facebook alerted me to its existence recently, and shortly thereafter we descended upon them with a group of friends to see if this was a worthy addition to the Twin Cities’ unexpectedly strong Sichuan scene. Short answer: it is. More annoying answer: it’s nothing very special, however. And while the original bills itself as “the best Chinese restaurant in America”, this one is not the best Sichuan restaurant in the Twin Cities; nor is it, for that matter, the best Sichuan restaurant within a 1/4 mile radius. That award would go to Tea House, which is walking distance from Lao Sze Chuan. The best Sichuan restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area, of course, continues to be Grand SzechuanContinue reading

Simplee Pho (Apple Valley, MN)


As I’ve noted before, of all (relatively) recently arrived immigrant cuisines, Vietnamese may be the most friendly to the stereotypical Midwestern palate. This is particularly true of pho-centered restaurants—which is pretty much what all Vietnamese restaurants in Minnesota are. Mild broth, rice noodles, lots of meat: it’s no surprise that Minnesotans have taken to pho in a big way—especially given our bastard winters. And in recent years, as new housing developments have popped up along Hwy 77/Cedar Avenue between where we live in the hamlets of Rice County and south Minneapolis, Vietnamese restaurants have also popped up to help feed them. I have already reviewed Pho Everest in Lakeville. Here now is a report on several meals eaten over the last few months at Apple Valley’s Simplee Pho.  Continue reading

Spicy Chicken Fry


South Indian food continues to be identified in the US—and to be fair, in North India as well—with vegetarian food of the idli-dosa-sambhar variety. The notion that South India is largely vegetarian is a hard one to shake—it showed up last year in a New York Times feature on Kerala as well (it’s hard to understand how anyone could spend a lot of time in Kerala and believe that it is a “a land where vegetarianism is the predominant eating style”). In fact, the southern states are far more non-vegetarian than most of the rest of India—if you want to meet a lot of vegetarians, it’s actually to the north that you have to go. Whether it’s in Kerala or Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, fish and meat are everywhere. And these dishes are often pretty spicy indeed. In fact, the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is up there with some of the hottest cuisines in the world. One of the Andhra dishes that I particularly like to seek out when I am in India is the chicken fry or kodi vepudu. In its flavours and textures it is very unlike most North Indian chicken dishes. The recipe I have today is an attempt to approximate the flavours of some of the versions I’ve eaten, in restaurants and friends’ homes in India. It is not canonical, but the results are quite tasty. Give it a go.  Continue reading

Tilia, Again (Minneapolis)


Our last meal at Tilia was enjoyable in some ways, not so enjoyable in others. And while I ended that review by saying I could see us returning at some point, it took four and a half years for that to actually happen—and that on account of a mistake. I had planned to take a friend who was visiting from India to dinner at Tenant—the successor restaurant to the late, lamented Piccolo—but when we arrived there, we discovered, to my chagrin, that I had somehow in fact made a reservation for the middle of June! And they had no room for us. Casting about for a place in the relative vicinity, I called Tilia and they said they had enough space. And so off we went. Alas, being able to get a table at short notice was one of the few highlights of the meal. Continue reading

Hmongtown Marketplace: Shopping


On Tuesday I posted a brief writeup of our recent lunch at Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul. Lunch was only part of our visit. We spent as much time after the meal walking around the market and buying vegetables etc. If you’ve never been to Hmongtown Marketplace, you should know that the market sections are by far the largest part of the space. The larger part of the market is indoors, in two large warehouses/sheds that sit on either side of a central outdoor space. This outdoor space has stalls selling clothes and cds/dvds and also a large green market. During the height of the growing season, this green market is filled with produce sellers (there’s also live poultry available); currently, it is filled with vendors selling vegetable and plant starters—and if you’re a home gardener, you should go check them out this weekend. There’s also a green market indoors all year around, and this part of the market is already on the go. In other words, you don’t need to wait another month to go vegetable/fruit shopping here. Go now.  Continue reading