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