Pandemic Takeout 12: Kumar’s (Apple Valley, MN)


Last year I wrote up a couple of meals at Kumar’s in Apple Valley—a local outpost of Kumar’s Mess, a popular Texas-based franchise that specializes in Chettinad food (though their menu has more than just Chettinad food). That write-up from December—which included my thoughts on developments in Indian food in the Twin Cities metro that seem to have eluded the professional critics—focused on what is normally Kumar’s specialty: thali-based meals. They’ve been doing takeout through the pandemic but I doubt thalis have been involved. They are now open for socially distanced dining-in but we only stopped in on Sunday to get some takeout for another socially-distanced meal on a deck with friends. The dining room is restricted to 24 guests only, and it’s a large space, but it’s going to take me a long while to get comfortable with eating in at a restaurant—and frankly, the sight of customers going in and out without masks, as we were waiting in our car outside for curbside pickup, did not help. The food, however, was pretty good. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 9: Simplee Pho (Apple Valley)


As I’ve noted before, we live in probably the only college town in the US—one with two colleges, in fact—that has no Thai or Vietnamese food on offer. There is serviceable Thai food available within 20-30 minutes drive (Taste of Thaiyai in Apple Valley, for example, or Thai Curry House in Burnsville or Joy’s Thai in Lakeville—where we recently got some pandemic takeout from); but in normal times we prefer to drive further to the Twin Cities’s real “Eat Street” for food that is substantially better. For Vietnamese food, and pho in particular, the gulf is less wide and we’re happy to eat at Pho Valley and Simplee Pho in Apple Valley when taken by a sudden urge for a good bowl of noodle soup. And so it was that after doing curbside pickup of Indian groceries at Mantra Bazaar on Saturday, I stopped at Simplee Pho to pick up a few things. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 7: Back to El Triunfo


El Triunfo, as I noted last week, is the place we’ve been ordering the most takeout from during the quarantine. Both because we like the food and because we want to support this immigrant family business that is such an important part of our town as far as we are concerned. I’m glad to say that, at least as far as I can tell, they are doing decent business during the pandemic. We get food from them about once a week and each week it’s seemed like there have been more people waiting outside to pick up orders. I do hope they will make it through. Here now is a brief report on what we’ve been getting from them over the last month. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 5: Quarterback Club (Northfield, MN)


It took a pandemic and a “stay at home” order but I finally have a review of the food of Quarterback Club, possibly the most iconic restaurant in our small town of Northfield, Minnesota. This is not because we’ve never eaten their food before. We’ve stopped in a few times over the years for their signature fried chicken; and that same fried chicken features every year on the table at our neighbourhood’s annual fall potluck, paid for by some communal pool of money that the neighbourhood was bequeathed at the time it was incorporated by the city. This fried chicken is quite good but it never seemed like enough of a reason to write them up. And with El Triunfo at the other end of the large parking lot they anchor, we never quite seemed to make it to Quarterback Club very often. But now that our options for food made outside our house have shrunk—long round-trip drives to the Cities don’t appeal for take-out—the variety offered to us by Quarterback Club seems more appealing. Here therefore is a quick write-up of a recent meal of fried chicken and more. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 4: Joy’s Thai (Lakeville, MN)


An unexpected aspect of the pandemic is that it has led me to realize that I miss some flavours so much that I am willing to eat replacement-level food in order to be able to taste them. The flavours of Thai food are the major ones in this category. We’re covered at home for most Indian and Korean food; Grand Szechuan and El Triunfo scratch our Sichuan and Mexican itches very satisfactorily. However, there is no Thai food in our town, we don’t have a pantry or fridge stocked with Thai ingredients, and our favourite Thai restaurants in St. Paul are a two-hour roundtrip, which—at least for now—seems like a bit much for takeout (check in with me again after a few more weeks of isolation though). As a result, I went to Lakeville last weekend to pick up a large order from Joy’s Thai. We’ve eaten in there before and it’s not normally a place that we’d choose over a longer drive to the University Ave. stalwarts. But these are not normal times and any acceptable Thai food is more than acceptable. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 3: Grand Szechuan (Bloomington)


We’re almost into the second month of the quarantine with no clear end in sight. Our governor, the excellent Tim Walz, has extended Minnesota’s “stay at home” order through May 4. Will it end there? I doubt it even though it appears that the state has done a fairly good job so far with social distancing and flattening the curve (two terms I never want to hear again once this is over). Even if the stay at home order does end, however, I don’t think there’s much chance of restaurants reopening to dining in for a good while yet. I’m certainly not going to be comfortable going out to eat in May. As supportive as I am of the industry as a whole, and especially of the places closest to our hearts/stomachs, I think it’s going to take a while for us to feel comfortable again with the notion of dining in close proximity with a bunch of strangers. I do miss that buzz and energy of eating out that takeout can never even begin to approximate but we’re going to be cautious going back, as I think we all have to be. In the meantime, however, takeout has meant we can continue to enjoy the food of some of our favourite places and help support them. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 2: House of Curry (Rosemount, MN)


This is day 14, 21? 28? 245? of the quarantine and there is no end in sight. Technically, Minnesota may end its “shelter in place” order this Friday but I’ll be surprised if Governor Walz—who is doing an amazing job—does not extend it. Even if he doesn’t, we will continue to shelter in place at our home until that curve has well and truly flattened. Restaurants will not, in any case, be re-opening for normal business for a good while yet. Well, when I say that we will continue to shelter in place at our home, I should note that we are leaving the house for certain things. We go out for full family walks with the dogs every evening, and I leave the house once or twice a week to pick up takeout from some of the places within a 30 minute drive radius that we would be the most shattered to see become victims of the pandemic. El Triunfo, our local house of Mexican goodness, continues to be the place we get food from every week (we got some more good stuff yesterday); and this past weekend I also picked up a large order from House of Curry, the excellent Sri Lankan place in Rosemount. 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

The Lunch Buffet at Tandoor (Bloomington, MN)


I was sworn in as a citizen of the US yesterday/today, along with another 999 people—all of us together representing 96 nationalities before the start of the ceremony. Many of my fellow new citizens doubtless come from countries that allow dual citizenship but India does not. India offers a status called “Overseas Citizen of India” but it is not full citizenship and does not come with a passport. Yesterday/today, therefore, was my last day with a valid Indian passport. Despite being someone who is not very persuaded by the claims of nationalism—culture is a different thing and is not tied to citizenship—I found myself somewhat melancholy about this prospect in the days leading up and after my naturalization interview. I’m never going to stop being Indian; despite having lived here for 26 years I’m not able to flip a switch and think of myself as American; but Indian-American I am now for sure. It’ll take a while to sort all this out in my head but to start with I decided to mark this stage in my translation with a lunch buffet at an Indian restaurant and to eat some of the dishes that Americans so love to eat in Indian restaurants. The only question was which one. Continue reading

El Triunfo, 2019 (Northfield, MN)


I may not have much of a readership on my blog but I also am under no pressure to chase novelty. I am free to return to restaurants, either to check in to see if they’re still as good as they were or to continue to shine a (small) light on deserving places that don’t get much if any attention from the professionals. The latter description fits El Triunfo, the best restaurant in Northfield, MN very well. I’ve reported on them twice before in the last five years but that’s not to say we’ve only eaten there twice in the last five years. They are our go to for all our “oh shit, we haven’t cooked” dinners or weekend lunches and I often stop in for lunch from campus as well. I am glad to report that they’re still going strong—though their menu has shrunk quite a bit since my first report—and that their food is still very tasty. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Mandarin Kitchen (Bloomington, MN)


Oh boy, this post is going to win me even more friends and well-wishers in the Twin Cities food world.

My views on dim sum in the Twin Cities have never been popular. Many people here say that the dim sum scene in the Twin Cities is very good. In this they are supported by members of the local food media. Exhibit A for this position is Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, a restaurant whose dim sum selection has recently been described by one critic who dislikes me intensely as “dizzying, dazzling”. Alas, our opinion—the missus and mine—has always been that Mandarin Kitchen is in fact the worst of a ho-hum lot. We liked Jun Bo in Richfield better (before it closed) and still prefer Yangtze in St. Louis Park and the far less written about A&L Chinese in Inver Grove Heights. However, our last meal at Mandarin Kitchen was some years ago. That meal was so bad we’d sworn to never go back; but my parents are in town again and they always want to go to dim sum and Mandarin Kitchen is the most conveniently located of all dim sum houses for us. And so we decided to go back and see if things have improved. Here are our findings. Continue reading

The Lunch Buffet at Hyderabad Indian Grill (Bloomington, MN)


Another week, another Indian lunch buffet in Bloomington. I’ve been meaning to check out Hyderabad Indian Grill* in Bloomington since trying some of their food at India Fest, 2018 at the St. Paul Capitol last August (the next edition is on August 10). And on a trip up to Minneapolis this week I managed to stop in. They’re located further north than Surabhi and on the other side of the freeway (at the intersection of American and Penn, in the big strip that includes a Fresh Thyme market). They opened a year and a half or so ago—fitting well with my hypothesis that a new wave of South Indian-leaning restaurants have been opening in the Twin Ciites metro in recent years following an increase in the South Indian population in the area. Apart from the name of the restaurant there aren’t so very many nods to the South Indian connection in the lunch buffet (and even the a la carte menu seems less South Indian-leaning than at Persis) but they don’t put out the standard North Indian curry house spread. And on the strength of my meal today I’d recommend it for those looking for a good Indian lunch buffet in the area. Continue reading

The Lunch Buffet at Surabhi (Bloomington, MN)


My renewed survey of the Twin Cities Metro’s Indian restaurant scene took an unexpected turn last week. I had an appointment in Minneapolis that ran a little longer than I’d expected and I found myself on the highway, approaching Bloomington and feeling too hungry to wait to get home to eat lunch. I remembered just in time that I’d been told that there was an Indian restaurant named Surabhi right off the exit at 98th street that was supposedly quite good. And so I did something I rarely choose to do: I stopped at an Indian restaurant for their lunch buffet. Did I regret this as soon as I started eating? Read on. Continue reading

Bay Leaf (Eagan, MN)


My renewed slow-motion survey of Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro continues. The last stop was at Persis Biryani Indian Grill in Eagan back in February (see that post to see why I started this survey back up after the disaster that was my previous attempt to explore the local Indian restaurant scene). At the time that I reviewed Persis a number of people online waxed rhapsodic as well about the branch of Bay Leaf in Eagan, about a mile or so from Persis (the original location is in Eden Prairie). It took us a while to get there but last night we finally got there. How was the meal? Read on. Continue reading