Ngon Bistro (St. Paul)


Ngon Bistro is a St. Paul institution at this point and I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to get around to reviewing it for the blog. It’s a bit of an anomaly in the Twin Cities in that it is a high-end Asian restaurant. The much newer Hai Hai is more casual, and the same was true of the recently shuttered Rabbit Hole too. I am not suggesting that Ngon Bistro is stuffy or formal; but in terms of menu format and prices, they are much closer to places like Spoon and Stable and Meritage. In other ways, Ngon Bistro is similar to the erstwhile Rabbit Hole in that they too seek to translate an Asian cuisine—in this case Vietnamese—into the menu formats and culinary idioms of mainstream American dining. Comparing our meals at the two places it’s easy to say that Ngon Bistro does it much better.  Continue reading

Saigon Palace (Burnsville, MN)


After my review of Pho Valley a couple of weeks ago I thought I was done for the foreseeable future with reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in the South Metro. The only other one I was aware of is a place in Eagan that is of interest only because Yelp reviews suggest you are more likely to be sworn at than to eat well if you go there. (I am actually tempted to go there for that reason.) Saigon Palace is not that restaurant. It is located in Burnsville, right off 35W (if going north on the highway, get off on Burnsville Parkway and go right and it’ll be in the first strip mall on the right). I discovered its existence while casting about for places to eat relatively close to the Works Museum (which the brats enjoy very much) and it seemed worth a try. As luck would have it, I had a number of reasons to be in that neighbourhood over the next couple of weeks and so went back a number of times, twice with the missus. Herewith, my report.  Continue reading

Pho Valley (Apple Valley, MN)


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

Simplee Pho (Apple Valley, MN)


As I’ve noted before, of all (relatively) recently arrived immigrant cuisines, Vietnamese may be the most friendly to the stereotypical Midwestern palate. This is particularly true of pho-centered restaurants—which is pretty much what all Vietnamese restaurants in Minnesota are. Mild broth, rice noodles, lots of meat: it’s no surprise that Minnesotans have taken to pho in a big way—especially given our bastard winters. And in recent years, as new housing developments have popped up along Hwy 77/Cedar Avenue between where we live in the hamlets of Rice County and south Minneapolis, Vietnamese restaurants have also popped up to help feed them. I have already reviewed Pho Everest in Lakeville. Here now is a report on several meals eaten over the last few months at Apple Valley’s Simplee Pho.  Continue reading

Pho Tau Bay (Minneapolis)


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

Trieu Chau (St. Paul)


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

Pho Hoa (Minneapolis)

Pho Hoa: Pho
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

Pho 79 (Minneapolis)

Bun Bo Hue
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

Cam Ranh Bay (Burnsville, MN)

Bun Bo Hue, Cam Ranh Bay
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 (Lakeville, MN)

Pho Everest
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