Support Your Local Food and Drink Businesses II: El Triunfo (Northfield, MN)


People who pay attention to my restaurant reviews know that I am not very high on most of the food options in our small town in Southern Minnesota. This, however, is not a time for restaurant meal reviews of the kind I write in normal times. These are not normal times. I am rooting for all the restaurants out there even as I know that many/most of them will have a tough time making it through the business crash of the pandemic. And I am particularly rooting for the restaurants whose owners don’t have deep pockets or investors backing them or easy access to loans or the ability to leverage most of the strategies that more established and savvy restaurants are deploying to survive. The deck is stacked against them even in normal times and even more so now. Which brings me to El Triunfo, a small grocery and informal restaurant in our town that people who pay attention to my restaurant reviews know I am very high on. I am rooting for all the restaurants in our town to make it—even the ones I’ve said the rudest things about in normal times—but I hope they’ll forgive me if I admit that I’m rooting the hardest for El Triunfo.  Continue reading

Sakura (St. Paul, MN)


You’ll never believe it but I went and ate sushi again in the Twin Cities. What can I say, I didn’t make it to Los Angeles with the family in December and my last sushi meal was in New York last August (and that was no great shakes either). My raw fish longing therefore overcame the disappointment (and worse) that I’ve experienced in the past at lauded Twin Cities spots such as Origami, Sushi Fix, Kyatchi and even Kado no Mise (where I found more theater than substance). Where did I go in the desperate hope that I might find some decent fish? To Sakura in St. Paul. This is another place that I’ve been told for years is good; but thanks to my experience at the places listed above, my trust in recommendations of good sushi in the Twin Cities has dwindled. Did this experience bear out my old skepticism and suspicion? Read on. Continue reading

Bangkok Thai Deli V (St. Paul, MN)


In January I posted a review of lunch at Krungthep Thai in St. Paul, the second incarnation of the Bangkok Thai Deli spin-off. I noted in that review that I thought that meal compared well with those we’d eaten at the mothership. In saying so I realized that we had somehow not been to Bangkok Thai Deli in almost two years. That error needed to be righted and this past weekend we got around to doing so. We descended on them on Saturday with a few friends we eat out with often. I can report that we had a very good meal. I can also confirm my impression that Krungthep Thai is on par with the original. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Bharat Bazaar (Bloomington, MN)


My slow-motion survey of South Asian groceries in the greater Twin Cities metro area continues. And I mean slow-motion: the last entry was made more than a year ago when I reported on the then new’ish Mantra Bazaar in Apple Valley; the one before that was on Lekali Pasal, the Nepali store in Hmongtown Marketplace. Mantra Bazaar has expanded since my report—it took over the space of the adjacent business and now has a meat counter. I’m not sure if Lekali Pasal is still around at Hmongtown Marketplace—I should check but in the meantime, if you know, please write in. Today I have a report on another Indian store in the suburbs. The suburb this time is Bloomington (also home to TBS Mart) and the store is Bharat Bazaar, which has been around since the middle of 2017. Continue reading

Thai Street Market (St. Paul, MN)


Thai Street Market, which opened a couple of years ago is located in the northeast quadrant of St. Paul, just short of the northwestern snout of Maplewood (a very oddly shaped city; I cannot be the first to think that the top bit looks like the outline of a drawing of a dog’s head). I’ve been seeing very positive notices of it online for a while now but it’s been hard for us to go past the University Ave. stalwarts while on the hunt for Thai food. After a very satisfying exploration late last year of Krungthep Thai‘s menu, however, we were finally motivated to give Thai Street Market a go. In fact, it is also located on Rice St., just about a mile north of Krungthep Thai. We descended on them this weekend with four of our regular eating out crew. Here is what we found. Continue reading

Pho Valley II (Apple Valley, MN)


There are three dedicated Vietnamese restaurants in the Apple Valley-Lakeville area (that I know of): Pho Everest, Simplee Pho and Pho Valley. I’ve reviewed them all in the past and am now in the process of checking in on them all again. I re-reviewed Pho Everest last year and here I am now with a second look at Pho Valley. It is very conveniently situated for us for lunches on the way back from the Burnsville Costco—though the opening of Kumar’s Mess in the same mega-strip mall has cut a bit into the amount of custom we’ve been giving them of late. Still, in the Minnesota winter it’s hard to pass up a good bowl of noodle soup and Pho Valley’s pho broth has in the past  been superior in our estimation to that at their local competition. Is that still the case? Continue reading

Kabob’s: Beyond the Weekday Lunch Thali (Bloomington, MN)


Late last year I posted a couple of reviews of lunches I’d eaten at Kabob’s in Bloomington (here and here). Those were the best Indian meals I’d yet eaten in Minnesota, I said; indeed, I went so far as to say that I’d be happy to eat those meals in India as well. Having just got back from four weeks in India, I’ll admit that last is slightly hyperbolic—there are far better South Indian thali meals to be had even in Delhi, which is not exactly in South India. But only slightly hyperbolic. It would be far from the best South Indian restaurant in Delhi (and yes, I know “South Indian” is an overly general category) but it would do well enough. I say this with confidence because a couple of weeks before leaving for Delhi I finally ate a non-thali meal there with some friends, and I can tell you that the weekday thalis aren’t the only reason to eat there. Continue reading

Magic Noodle (St. Paul, MN)


Magic Noodle, which opened on University Ave. in St. Paul (the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street) last summer, represents a small step in the evolution of the broader Chinese food scene in the Twin Cities. The local Sichuan scene is already pretty strong, with a few restaurants that would be viable propositions in much larger metros with larger Chinese populations. But beyond that there’s been little: our dim sum seem hovers around the edge of dismal, there’s no real Cantonese food of quality or any other regional Chinese restaurants for that matter (that I’m aware of at any rate). And so to have a decent hand-pulled noodle shop open up feels like a big thing. Yes, similar noodle soups are available at restaurants like Grand Szechuan as well but it’s good to have a specialist. Based on our meal at the start of the month I wouldn’t say that they’re very much more than a decent hand-pulled noodle shop at the moment but I’m not complaining too much. Continue reading

Demi (Minneapolis)


Demi is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s third fine dining restaurant (I think) in the Twin Cities metro. He made waves a few years ago when he returned from a long and successful stint cooking in New York to open Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. That restaurant was an immediate sensation, receiving rave reviews and becoming almost immediately one of the hottest tickets in town. We’ve eaten there twice and enjoyed both meals (here and here). Indeed, we’d say that it is the best more or less traditional fine dining restaurant we’ve eaten at in the Twin Cities (this includes the long-gone La Belle Vie, which we found rather overrated on our one visit there). Kaysen’s second restaurant, Bellecour opened in Wayzata a few years later. It presents a menu in a more straight-ahead French bistro tradition (we have not eaten there yet). Demi, which opened in early 2019, offers a third expression yet of Kaysen’s cuisine. Continue reading

Krungthep Thai (St. Paul, MN)


I have reviewed a Twin Cities restaurant named Krungthep Thai before. This both isn’t and is that restaurant. Confusing, I know. That Krungthep Thai was located on Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis—the so-called “Eat Street”; the real Eat Street, of course, is University Ave. in St. Paul. It closed some years ago and Khun Nai Thai (which I have also reviewed) opened in its space. This Krung Thep Thai then popped up on Rice Street. in St. Paul a couple of years later. Both were/are satellite locations of Bangkok Thai Deli, which sits, along with On’s Kitchen, atop the Twin Cities Thai food scene. Now, while we liked our meal at Krungthep Thai mostly fine, we found it to be an inferior facsimile of Bangkok Thai Deli. For this reason, I was reluctant to go try this new incarnation. But curiosity and greed finally overcame my hesitation. Accordingly we descended on them last month with friends we eat out with often. Here is what we found. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2019 (Bloomington, MN)


Here is my annual report from meals eaten at Grand Szechuan, the restaurant we eat at more often than any other in the Twin Cities metro. It is probably our family’s favourite restaurant in the area, one we eat at over and over again without repeating too many dishes from their voluminous menu. Twin Cities restaurant reviewers often make inflated claims for the quality of our restaurants relative to those in major cities. Oddly, Grand Szechuan never seems to be brought up in these conversations—odd, because in our opinion it is the one restaurant in the area serving any kind of Asian cuisine that would hold its own in Los Angeles. I’m not saying it would be in the top tier of Sichuan restaurants in Los Angeles but it would be a successful restaurant (and in fact their menu includes things we have not seen at our favourite restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley). Of course, I am referring here only to their Sichuan menu (which is the bulk of their menu). I have no idea what their American Chinese offerings are like; they’re probably good but they’re not the reason to go here. Continue reading

Top 5 Twin Cities Dishes, Oct-Dec 2019 + The Year in Food


After spending a lot of the summer out of the Twin Cities, I was here for the rest of the year. We ate out on our regular schedule—roughly once a week—and I posted my accounts of most those meals in due course (a few will be reported on this month). Here now is my list of the top five dishes eaten in the Twin Cities in that period. My rules, as always for these lists, are: no more than one dish listed per restaurant; and, as far as possible, only those dishes listed that are reliably on the menu of the restaurant in question. This means that I will not be listing anything from the excellent lunch thalis I’ve eaten at Kabob’s in Bloomington, as the dishes on the thalis vary from day to day. I would, however, recommend that you go eat one of those thalis soon, perhaps even today. As a bonus, in this recap of the last quarter of the year, I throw in for free a list of my best meals of the year in the Twin Cities and also my best meals of the year, period. Continue reading

Lat14 (Golden Valley, MN)


As I recently noted, the last few years have seen a dramatic upswing in high-end Twin Cities restaurants featuring the cuisines of minority communities. If—as I observed—in the case of Mexican cuisine(s) this phenomenon seems to involve mostly non-Mexican chefs and restaurateurs, in the case of Southeast Asian cuisines the situation is different. Young Joni, whose chef Ann Kim won the Beard award for “Best Chef: Midwest” this year, is probably the most celebrated of these restaurants. Hai Hai, whose chef Christina Nguyen, was nominated for the same award, is not too far behind. (For what it’s worth, we enjoyed our meal at Hai Hai a lot more than our meal at Young Joni.) Lat14, which opened last year in Golden Valley, is the most recent entry in the broad genre. We were there with friends a few weeks ago, and ate a goodly portion of the menu. Here is my review of that meal. Continue reading

Kumar’s Mess and the Changing Face of Indian Food in the Twin Cities Metro (Apple Valley, MN)


We are well into the Golden Age of Indian food in the Twin Cities metro. You might not have a sense of this from the local food media’s restaurant coverage but over the course of the last half-decade or so the Indian population of the Twin Cities metro has been growing steadily and newer restaurants have been opening to cater to this market. As I’ve noted in a number of write-ups on the blog, the new(er) population is likely highly skewed towards South Indians. This can be seen both in what’s on offer in Indian groceries around the metro (see my look at TBS Mart in Bloomington, for example) and in the fact that more and more restaurants have opened in the last few years that have menus focused on South Indian dishes. (I’ve reviewed a few of these—Persis, Bay Leaf, Hyderabad Indian Grill.) Continue reading