The plan for this past weekend had originally been a walk around a park in Maplewood followed by takeout from Indian Masala, an Indian restaurant in Maplewood that’s been recommended highly to me by Mike McGuinness (who runs the excellent East Metro Foodies Facebook group). But the plan never quite came together and we ended walking around Como Lake instead and picking up more Vietnamese food to take back to the yard of the friends in St. Paul we often do these walk+meals with. On the last occasion we’d picked up lunch from iPho by Saigon; this time we hit up Pho Pasteur, which is very close to their house. Here’s how it went. Continue reading
After four weeks of eating food from restaurants in the South and West Metro (from House of Curry, Grand Szechuan, Pho Valley and Godavari), we finally made it back to St. Paul this weekend. Not surprisingly, we ended up on University Ave.—the Twin Cities’ true “Eat Street”—not too far from Homi, our last port of call in St. Paul. It was another Vietnamese meal, this time from iPho by Saigon. As it happens my very first meal in Minnesota was here when I visited friends in the November of 2006—it was then called just Saigon. We ate there after we moved here the following year as well but somehow not since I started reviewing restaurants on the blog. I’m not sure at what point they tacked on the “iPho by” to their name but it’s been several years. We’ve been tempted over the years but somehow when looking for Vietnamese food in that neck of the woods we usually end up at Trieu Chau. This weekend, however, was iPho by Saigon. How did it go? Continue reading
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
We have a long history of making poor decisions when it comes to bad weather and driving long distances for food; and so the morning snow on Saturday did not keep us from sticking to our plan to drive to St. Paul for lunch at iPho followed by a trip to the Science Museum. There wasn’t much snow falling from the sky and the friends we were planning to caravan with said roads were clear in town and we figured the highway would be fine too. It didn’t take too long to discover, however, that the highway was not fine. Slick conditions meant a bunch of cars spun out and in the ditch and a mile or so from the exit for Lakeville traffic was slowed to a crawl. We called our friends in their car and we all decided it was a good idea to not drive to St. Paul even if traffic opened up by the time we got to the exit. Well, it didn’t and so we got off and decided to go to Pho Everest in Lakeville instead. Continue reading
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
Apple Valley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, is not a place you’d probably look for Japanese food in and my experiences at Masu Sushi & Noodles suggest that it’s probably best if you don’t. It’s not bad per se but the best I could say of the best of what I ate was that it was inoffensive. This is generally true of the larger Japanese food scene in the area. Whether it’s the original Origami or newer places like Sushi Fix or Kyatchi, restaurants that would be marginal in most major cities in the US are talked about breathlessly here by the professionals as though they could hold their own anywhere. This makes it hard to know what to make of highly-praised newer places, whether at the high end (see, for example, the new sushi and kaiseki place by an ex-Origami chef) or at the more affordable end (see the newer noodle/ramen shops that have opened in Minneapolis). Well, I can tell you that Masu Sushi & Noodles in Apple Valley is not a place you should go to expecting good sushi or noodles. Believe me, I would be very happy if I could tell you otherwise. Unfortunately, they’ve put far more effort into their vaguely Orientalist decor than into their recipes and execution. Continue reading
In the last year I’ve posted a number of reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in the Twin Cities and environs. There are two major thoroughfares in the area where the best of these can be found. One is University Avenue in St. Paul (home to Trieu Chau); the other is Nicollet “Eat Street” Avenue in Minneapolis. I’m yet to cover University Avenue in any detail but have already posted write-ups of two Vietnamese restaurants at the north end of Eat Street (Pho Hoa and Pho 79). Close to the middle of the street is the one that’s the most popular one of them all, Quang. This is not a review of Quang but of the restaurant that is at the very south end, the very end of Eat Street: Pho Tau Bay. It’s not exactly unknown but it’s also not talked about as much as it should be when it comes to Vietnamese food in the Twin Cities. Here’s a brief write-up. Continue reading
Though you wouldn’t know it from my unending stream of reviews of restaurants in London and Scotland—interrupted only by a writeup of the Little Africa festival in St. Paul last month—we’ve been back in Minnesota for almost three months now. And though you wouldn’t also know this from the blog, we’ve been eating a lot of one of the cuisines that Minnesota has far better exemplars of than London: Vietnamese (the other is Mexican). Accordingly, I am taking the opportunity to resume the slow-motion survey of noodle soup purveyors in the Twin Cities metro area that I’d commenced last winter with reviews of Pho Hoa, Pho 79 and Cam Ranh Bay. And what better place to start than Trieu Chau, which has been around for almost 30 years on University Avenue in St. Paul and remains one of the local gold standards for pho and more. No one in the broader Twin Cities area who likes Vietnamese food needs to be told about Trieu Chau but it’s always good to confirm that the old reliables are still reliable. Continue reading
Living an hour south of the Twin Cities is no fun if you enjoy eating out. We live in a town with two colleges that somehow does not have a single Thai or Vietnamese restaurant—though given the state of our Chinese restaurants and the lone Indian restaurant that’s probably not a bad thing. The only decent food in town, really, is very casual Mexican at El Triunfo and there’s only so many times we can eat there in a month. Things don’t improve very much as you go further north. Not, in fact, until you cross the river into Bloomington: there Grand Szechuan heaves into view. But if you were looking for Thai food it used to be that you’d have to go much further to get anything that even went past passable status.
A few weeks ago I started what I described as a slow-motion survey of noodle soup-centered meals in the Twin Cities metro area. My first report was of lunch at Pho 79 on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. I’m not going very far from it for the second. Pho Hoa is almost across the street from it. Unlike Pho 79, Pho Hoa is part of a larger chain—it’s the local franchise of an operation that extends not just to California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington and Utah, but beyond the U.S. to Canada, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Also unlike Pho 79, it is in a large strip mall’ish complex and as such has ample parking in front—which makes it far less of a pain to get to than Pho 79. That in itself would not be a reason to eat there if the food was not good but I’m happy to report that our one lunch there was quite good. Continue reading
November in southern Minnesota this year has been relatively warm and mild. Until a couple of days ago, that is. It got cold last Friday and then today winter more or less arrived with freezing rain and snow. Ah, the first day of driving on slick roads! A more positive way of thinking about winter is to think of it as noodle soup season, and I have always believed in accentuating the positive. And so throughout the winter I am going to post brief reports of noodle soup-centered meals around the Twin Cities.
This will also mean a sharp uptick in my Vietnamese coverage. In case you’re wondering, Minnesota has a decent-sized Vietnamese population (26,000 at the last census) and most of them live in the Twin Cities. My guess, based on Vietnamese store-fronts, is that St. Paul is really the Vietnamese hub of the Twin Cities, but my “tour” will begin in Minneapolis, on the stretch of Nicollet Ave. known as Eat Street. First up: Pho 79. Continue reading
Here is another entry in my fitful series of reviews of restaurants south of the Twin Cities. Cam Ranh Bay is in Burnsville and whether there’s a good reason to go there depends on a number of factors. If you live in St. Paul or within reach of “Eat Street” in Minneapolis, the answer is “no”. There’s far better Vietnamese food to be found there. But if you live south of Burnsville there aren’t very many options. Pho Everest in Lakeville has serviceable pho and decent banh mi and not very much else (caveat: I have not been in more than a year). I’m not aware of any other Vietnamese places of note. And frankly, there aren’t very many restaurants of any genre of note in that general area. Which means that if you are a Costco member and the Burnsville Costco is your store of convenience—or if the closest movie theater to you is the Mueller multiplex in Lakeville or the Odyssey in the Burnsville Center—or if you just happen to be on the 35 and not able to wait till you get a little further north…and if a burger is not what you are in the mood for, then Cam Ranh Bay may be for you. Just keep your expectations in check. Continue reading
Pho Everest is a small Vietnamese restaurant located in the Crossing shopping center at Dodd Blvd. and Cedar Avenue in Lakeville (a small southern suburb of the Twin Cities). And no, I don’t know why a Vietnamese restaurant has Everest in its name. I can tell you confidently that it’s not at the peak of the Vietnamese food scene in the Twin Cities and environs; but for where it is and what it is it’s quite good. And for those of us who live further south still it’s a welcome recent addition to our dining options when not wanting to drive all the way to the Cities, or when needing to pick up a quick bánh mi on the way to the airport, or wanting to eat something other than a burger after a movie in Lakeville or Apple Valley and so forth. In fact, I may be talking myself into another visit after my planned Star Wars matinee outing tomorrow. Continue reading