Estelle (St. Paul)


Estelle opened a couple of years ago in St. Paul in whatever that neighbourhood right by Macalester is called. It got rave reviews from the local press and despite my suspicion of the local press—whose excitement often seems to me to have as much to do with the idea of a place as with the food itself—we’d planned to eat there in early 2020. But you know what happened next. I don’t know if they had a takeout pivot through the pandemic but with the exception of one occasion with Tenant our pandemic takeout meals skipped the high end. But we finally made the return to dining-in last month (yes, at Tenant) and Estelle was the next place we made reservations at. We were joined by friends we eat out with regularly—and with whom we ate a number of takeout meals in the last year and a half. This is how it went. Continue reading

Tenant V (Minneapolis)


It took till mid-July but we finally ate a meal inside a restaurant for the first time since March 2020. Sakura was the last time I ate inside a restaurant. That was not planned. We could tell restrictions were looming but we didn’t know when they would come or how long it would be before in-person dining would again become viable. Of course, in-person indoor dining’s been back in Minnesota for a few months—but we didn’t start to get comfortable with the idea until the end of June. Once we were ready to take the plunge there was not much doubt where we would go first. Tenant has become our favourite fine dining restaurant in the Twin Cities—as their predecessor, Piccolo was before them—and it was only appropriate that our return to dining in happen there. (Grand Szechuan would have been even more appropriate for the whole family but it’s only on our recent outing to Kansas City that we’ve finally taken the boys indoors to eat.) I’m happy to report that our first fine dining meal since the pandemic began was a very good one. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 65: Matt’s Bar (Minneapolis)


I have a confession to make. Despite living in Minnesota—and in the greater Twin Cities metro area—for almost exactly 14 years now, I’ve never had a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar, or for that matter at any other restaurant in the area. Yes, I’ve made my own versions at home but I’ve never eaten it at Matt’s Bar or at any of the other places that claim to make the ur version. If you’re not from Minnesota and not up on your Twin Cities cliches you may not know what a Jucy Lucy is: it’s a cheeseburger where the cheese is in a hollow inside the beef patty, where it melts as the patty cooks and comes oozing out when you bite into it. Sounds a bit repulsive, yes, and it is but there are contexts in which it makes sense. And at any rate the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics states that one must not enter one’s 15th year in a region without having eaten all of its iconic, if occasionally dubious, culinary specialties. Having now eaten a Jucy Lucy from Matt’s, I believe I have all the local iconic specialties covered but long time Minnesotans and Twin Citizens should feel free to test me. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 64: Karen Thai (St. Paul)


It had been more than two months since our last Thai meal (at Basil Cafe on—where else?—University Ave. in St. Paul) and that seemed like a dangerous situation to be in. Accordingly, on Saturday I drove up to Exit 110A on Highway 35E to Karen Thai in St. Paul for our latest pandemic takeout meal, bringing food back to eat on our deck with friends just as we had been doing last summer. The restaurant has been open for three or four years and I first heard about them about two years ago. I’m not sure why it took us so long to get there but multiple nudges from people online finally saw us fixing that oversight. Here is how it went. Continue reading

Surya India Foods (Arden Hills, MN)


A week ago Saturday we drove up to Arden Hills to pick up takeout from Namaste India Grill & Brewhouse (the report on that meal is here). On the way up we stopped at Surya India Foods, an Indian grocery that is located just a few blocks south in another strip mall off Lexington. I don’t really have a handle on the South Asian population in the suburbs in that part of the Twin Cities metro—I am eagerly looking forward to reading the census data when it is available. I assume the opening of this store and Namaste India—both in the last 2-3 years, if I remember correctly what I was told by staff at both places—is an indication that the population is growing. Then again there may be more South Asian restaurants and stores in the general vicinity than I am aware of—I also don’t have a handle on the northern part of the metro more generally. Anyway, here is what you can expect to find if you visit Surya looking for Indian/South Asian groceries. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 63: Namaste India Grill (Arden Hills, MN)


The Zeroth Law of Ordering at Indian restaurants in North America says that if the person taking your order asks you if you want your dal makhani “mild, medium or spicy” you should give up hope and head for the exit. I have to confess that when the person taking my takeout order on the phone on Saturday mornign at 11 asked me this question I was tempted to hang up. But the boys had been promised tandoori chicken for weeks now, and I’d also committed to reviewing more North Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro this year—and so I said a little prayer to my many-armed gods and placed the rest of the order. This is how it went. Continue reading

Favourite Dishes Eaten in the Twin Cities Metro: Apr 1-Jun 30, 2021


Here is my second quarterly report of some of the best dishes we’ve eaten in 2021. The first report, which covered meals from January 1 to March 31, is here. This one covers meals between April 1 and June 30. As with those represented on the January list, these were almost all takeout meals (with one meal eaten at outdoor seating). With our first dine-in meal scheduled in less than two weeks it seems likely that the next version of this list will not be quite as takeout-heavy. As with the first list I am including here every restaurant we got food from in this period. Depending on the restaurant 1-3 dishes are featured in the slideshow. The list features some of our old favourites—Grand Szechuan, On’s Kitchen and Homi; it also includes some places we went to for the first time but which will likely join our regular rotation going forward—El Cubano, Firebox, Basil’s Cafe. Some of the others we’re less likely to go back to but there were things we liked at pretty much every meal and so they are all represented here. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 62: Coco’s Place (Northfield, MN)


The food plan for this weekend was a takeout run to Namaste India Grill all the way up in Arden Hills. But the crappy weather on Saturday (though my vegetable garden plot appreciated it greatly) put paid to that. So instead of picking up Indian food from the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities to take to our pod friends’ home for dinner we picked up Mexican food right here in our own town. And for a change we did not pick it up from El Triunfo. No, we got it instead from Coco’s Place, a new restaurant located on the town’s main drag, Division Street. This is the spot previously occupied by another Mexican restauant, Kahlo, which I never got around to reviewing before they moved to a less settled situation down the street. Kahlo, by the way, is the venture of the chef/owner who had operated Maria’s at the same location that now houses El Triunfo. Coco’s Place meanwhile is the first official retail location of a food business that has been in operation for a few years now but not previously from a storefront. Well, despite my ongoing loyalty to El Triunfo (for food and extra-food reasons) I am very glad to also have Coco’s Place in town now. Their menu is not identical to that at El Triunfo but the food we got from them was very tasty as well. Herewith the details. Continue reading

El Cubano (West St. Paul, MN)


This Saturday was a momentous day for our family. We actually ate a meal at a restaurant. Yes, this week I have for you not another pandemic takeout writeup but an account of a meal eaten in person at a restaurant. We didn’t eat it inside the restaurant, however, but in their excellent outdoor dining area. The restaurant in question is El Cubano in West St. Paul, which serves Cuban and Dominican food. It opened in 2019 after a prior incarnation as, I believe, a food truck. I had not heard of it until it was recommended highly in the comments on my report on Black Market StP by both Kathy Jenkins and Constance Lepro. Looking idly at their website I noticed what looked like a proper outdoor seating area and we decided to give it a go with a couple of friends we’ve eaten takeout meals with on a number of occasions during the pandemic. Herewith my report for the benefit of others who have not yet been. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 61: Rack Shack (Eagan, MN)


In the last year we may have eaten more barbecue in the Twin Cities metro than in our previous 13 years here. We’ve certainly eaten barbecue from more restaurants than ever before: Ted Cook’s 19th Hole, Smoke in the Pit, Firebox, Black Market StP. Hell, we even got barbecue at opposite ends of the spectrum from Tenant during their pandemic takeout pivot and the far humbler Quarterback Club here in our town. Some of these have been among the best restaurant meals we’ve eaten since the pandemic began; all have been at least solid. Which brings me to our latest round of takeout barbecue, which we picked up from Rack Shack in Eagan on Saturday. Located right off Cedar Avenue (on Cliff Road in the strip mall that also houses Atomic Liquors), they’ve caught my eye in the past as well and so I was interested to finally try their fare. I’m sorry to say that while there were a few things we like fine, on the whole, this was the most uneven of our barbecue outings. Herewith the details. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 60: Grand Szechuan, Again


It has been almost three months since we last got food from Grand Szechuan, a situation that suggests dangerous negligence. But don’t alert the authorities: I went back this past Saturday and picked up a large order to eat with some of the friends we’ve been eating with throughout the pandemic. We have not yet eaten in anywhere and we haven’t yet had anyone but our pod friends inside the house. Both these things will change soon. Well, we might aim for outdoor eating at a restaurant before we take the plunge to go indoors. And it is quite likely that Grand Szechuan won’t be our first dine-in experience. This because they too are being cautious and are not yet open for dine-in. On Saturday I was told that they’ll almost certainly be opened back up for normal service in July and possibly as early as the end of June. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading

Chan Oriental Market (Bloomington, MN)


I continue my slow-motion survey of the immigrant markets of the Twin Cities metro. My most recent stops in this survey were at Asian Mart in Burnsville and Rong Market in Richfield. Asian Mart, despite its generic name, is really a Filipino store, whereas Rong Market is centrally a Chinese store—though it also carries things used/eaten in various other East Asian cultures as well. The also generically named Chan Oriental Market in Bloomington is in fact at core a Cambodian market, though they carry a lot of Vietnamese and more broadly Southeast Asian products and ingredients as well. It was recommended to me by “R” in the comments on my Rong Market report a month ago and I’ve only just gotten around to checking them out. The boys and I stopped in just last evening. Herewith my report. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 59: Black Market StP (St. Paul, MN)


The first pandemic takeout meal for May saw me driving up to St. Paul to pick up barbecue and bring it home to eat with friends on our deck. The last pandemic takeout meal for May saw me driving up tp St. Paul to pick up barbecue and bring it home to eat with friends on our deck. Three weeks ago it was Firebox’s St. Paul location on Marshall at Snelling that was my port of call. This past weekend it was Black Market StP just off the High Bridge. I wish I could tell you the name of the neighbourhood but I am terrible with my Twin Cities geography. I can tell you that it’s right where Smith meets Cherokee as you get off the High Bridge going south and that you’d have to really not be paying attention to miss it. We were paying attention and turned and parked on Cherokee and in a matter of minutes had picked up our order and were headed back home. Here’s what we thought of the food once we actually ate it. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 58: The Deli at Asian Mart (Burnsville, MN)


Some 10 days ago I had a report on Asian Mart, a Filipino grocery in Burnsville, MN. I noted in that report that they have a deli in the rear that is currently offering takeout-only on the weekends (though I suppose this may soon change with the mask mandates changing). Today I have a review for you of some food picked up from that deli this past weekend and eaten on our deck with some of the usual crew we’ve been eating with through the pandemic. They have a limited selection of dishes on offer, and it’s not the place to go to if you’re looking for vegetarian fare, but everything we got was very tasty indeed. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 57: Peninsula (Minneapolis)


After several weeks (months?) of saying we would soon be going back to Peninsula in Minneapolis to pick up some Malaysian food we finally did it this past weekend. Peninsula remains the major Malaysian restaurant in the Twin Cities metro. Indeed, I’m not aware of any other contender—which is not to say one might not exist. There is, of course Satay 2 Go in Apple Valley but it’s much smaller, in terms of both size and scope; and in any case we’ve always enjoyed Peninsula more. As I’ve noted before of Peninsula, they have an expansive menu but not everything on it is entirely to our taste. Over the years we have come to focus our meals there on a small subset of their Malay specialties. And on this occasion as well we stuck largely to our favourites. Some of them survived the 50 minute drive from the restaurant to our house a little worse than others but we had an enjoyable dinner anyway. Continue reading

Asian Mart (Burnsville, MN)


A couple of weeks ago I posted a detailed pictorial report on Rong Market in Richfield, whose focus is on Chinese items (and secondarily on Japanese and Korean as well). Today I have for you a report on a much smaller market in Burnsville which focuses on Filipino groceries, belying its generic name: Asian Mart. It occupies the exact location of the Thai market it replaced, Rearn Thai (which I never got around to reporting on). I believe the changeover happened two years or so ago. It may not seem very different at first when you go in but it is an entirely different market now. Unlike Rearn Thai they do not carry any produce; they make up for this by carrying a much larger selection of frozen meats and fish of interest to more than just the Filipino kitchen. They also carry a number of refrigerated Filipino prepared snacks etc.; and on weekends their deli offers a broader selection of hot dishes (currently takeout-only). I hope to stop in next weekend to pick up some of this food but for now here is a look at the market itself. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 56: Firebox Barbecue (St. Paul, MN)


I’ve been promising (threatening?) a pandemic takeout report from the St. Paul outpost of Firebox for a while now. This past weekend the stars finally aligned and I was able to go up to pick up a large order. I’m not sure what their hours were in the Before Times but at least during the pandemic they are only open in the evenings (see the posted hours in the slideshow below). Like most barbecue restaurants they have a compact menu—even more compact, in fact, than at either Ted Cook’s 19th Hole or Smoke in the Pit. We got almost everything on it. It was our first time eating their food and it seemed like it would be a mistake to not be comprehensive (also: we were being joined on our deck by two sets of vaccinated friends and so there were a lot of mouths to fee). Well, we had no regrets. Details follow. Continue reading