Readers seek Chinese, Hmong, African and more – the Twin Cities

It’s time once again to answer all of our readers’ burning questions about restaurants.

This tour, with venues reopening, we have inquiries about where to eat before events – I never thought I’d miss this question so much! But also readers are looking for good Chinese restaurants, Hmong food and more.

As usual, send your questions to eat@pioneerpress.com. I will do my best to answer.

Q: We used to eat out in St. Paul all the time and knew all the hot spots. At present, not much. We have tickets for the upcoming SPCO season and all shows in Ordway. Since we like to go out to dinner beforehand, we’d love a few suggestions of what’s good within walking distance of the stage and if possible to keep, say $2.

The Pecos River red chili at The Lawn in St. Paul, October 2019 (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

a. Unfortunately, there aren’t a large number of restaurants that fit this law – and the pandemic shutdown has made matters worse – but I have a few suggestions:

How about the new Loon Café serving chili, sandwiches, and pastel eye colors?

Lun Cafe: 426 St. Peter St., St. 651-330-4777; looncafestpaul.com

Or the Pillbox for excellent bar food?

Pillbox Pub: 400 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul; pillboxtav.com

A bit further away, but still technically within walking distance, Parlor Bar has some of the best burgers in town and great cocktails.

Parlor: 267 W Seventh Street, St. Paul; parlorbar.com/locations-st-paul

Q: My niece, who is of Texan descent, is visiting in November and I would like to show her how Minnesota people enjoy the cold weather. I’m looking for a bar/restaurant with fire pits, hoping to be outside (we avoid eating inside as much as possible these days) with some warmth.

We would have preferred the St Paul locations, but will be looking at the other city.

It’s not a beer drinker, so the breweries are outside.

Smack Shack in North Loop Minneapolis. Filmed May 17, 2018 (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

a. I imagine a lot of restaurants will see fires and falls, because people are still worried about the virus.

However, there are two places that I know of that have large fire pits and/or outdoor seating systems located in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis, which are a few blocks from each other.

The Smack Shack has a full external heating system, which is impressive.

Smack Shack: 603 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; 603 Washington Ave.N., Minneapolis; 612-259-7288; smack-shack.com

And Freehouse (which brews its own beer but also has a full bar) has fire pits:

free house: 701 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; freehousempls.com

In St. Paul the Red Rabbit has an outdoor fireplace and other heating elements, but I’m calling to make sure they use it this weekend.

red rabbit: 788 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-444-5995; redrabbitmn.com

But keep an eye on the eating section because we’re planning a roundup of patios going the distance as the weather gets colder.

Q: I’m looking for a good Chinese restaurant that serves authentic non-American dishes, preferably in St. Paul or the East Side.

Sichuan Wanton with chili oil at the Master Noodle in St. Paul, July 9, 2019 (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

a. Try Szechuan in Roseville, Peking Garden or Master Noodle (both at university).

Sichuan: 2193 N. Snelling Ave. , Roseville; 3113-633 651; szechuanmn.com

Master Noodle (formerly Magic Noodle): 1337 W. University Ave., St. Paul; 651-369-6688; magicnoodleusa.com

Beijing garden: 394 W. University Ave., St. Paul; 651-644-0888; pekinggardenmn.com

Q: I’m looking for a great place to have a halibut dinner somewhere (better on the east side than west side of the metro) to celebrate a special occasion. Prefer an outdoor patio too.

a. I found one place with halibut – it was really hard! Kincaid’s has their menu, and the Bloomington location has a patio.

Kincaid: 8400 Normandale Lake Boulevard, Bloomington; kincaids.com

Q: My friends and I like to get together for a leisurely lunch (we are all retired now) once a month when possible. One lives in Osceola, Wisconsin, the other lives in Crystal, Minnesota, and I live in Woodbury. We chose restaurants in White Bear Lake, Stillwater, and Roseville and would love to explore a few different places. It is difficult to find a place with equal distance for everyone. I would love to hear your suggestions

Banh Mi Crostini at LoLo American Craft Kitchen and Bar in Stillwater, photographed April 11, 2017 (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

a. I think when looking at a map that Stillwater or White Bear Lake are probably your best bets, there are some really great places to eat in both towns.

The LoLo American Kitchen in Stillwater is a favorite—and they have a location in Hudson too, if you’d like to give it a try. LoLo has everything from burgers to tacos to some really delicious rice dishes.

Lulu American Kitchen: 233 S. Main Street, Stillwater; 651-342-2461 or 175 S. Second St., Hudson, Wis.; 715-808-8025; loloamericankitchen.com

The owners also own a Latin-themed restaurant, Lolito, which I’ve heard really good things about:

Lolito Cantina: 112 N. Main St., Stillwater; 651-342-0972; lolitostillwater.com

If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, check out Feller for lunch:

Filler: 402 S. Main Street, Stillwater; 651-571-3501; fellerrestaurant.com

In the White Bear Lake, try brick house: 4746 Washington Square, White Bear Lake; 6958-528-651; brickhousemn.com

Another fun thought that would be a trip for your friend Osceola a little more than you and Crystal’s friend is Lindey’s in Arden Hills. It’s an old school steakhouse, and I think a lot of people don’t realize they serve brunch! There are a few sandwiches as well as the famous steak.

Lindy’s Prime Steakhouse: 3600 N. Snelling Ave. , Arden Hills; 9813-633-651; theplaceforsteak.com

And if you go back to Roseville and want something more quality, I recommend it By destruction: 1642 W. County Road B2, 651-796-0040 Roseville; Baldamar.com

We hope this is enough to get you started!

Q: I’ve been looking for a real Monte Cristo sandwich for years. Bennigan’s had one of the best, but it’s not there anymore. Claddagh Restaurant in Maple Grove was great, but unfortunately closed in 2020. I sampled a few, but most of them are made like French toast and grilled, not battered like the original. Do you know any Saint Paul’s way?

a. Looks like Lucky’s 13th hitter and fry Monte Cristos.

There are locations in Roseville, Mendota, Bloomington, and more!

luckys13pub.com

s. Many of my relatives come from all over the US for family reunions, and I want to show them some local flavor. Please recommend a good Hmong restaurant in the St. Paul.

Yia Vang’s top picks for food at Hmong Village Shopping Center in St. Paul. Filmed on February 27, 2020 (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)

a. It’s a shame we don’t have more independent Hmong restaurants. The city’s best and most authentic Hmong food can be found at Hmong Village, a hodgepodge market with plenty of vendors serving Hmong sausage, sticky purple rice, and other specialties. Be aware, they close at 6, so it’s more of a brunch destination.

Hmong Village: 1001 Johnson Parkway, St. Paul; hmongvillagemn.com

Chef Yia Vang will open Vinai, a full-service Hmong restaurant, soon in Northeast Minneapolis. In the meantime, they offer holidays to go to unionkitchenmn.com.

s. Each month, members of the Saint Paul chapter of the national organization Together Women Rise come together to learn about and support an organization that works to empower women and girls in low-income countries. In September, the featured organization is OneVillage Partners located in Sierra Leone. Can you suggest a local restaurant serving Sierra Leonean food that we can either eat at home or sample as takeaway items?

a. St. Paul is mostly Ethiopian and Somali as far as Africa goes, and those are East African countries. As far as West Africa goes, it appears that most restaurants serving foo foo and other local specialties are in Minneapolis or the Northwest Suburbs.

I kept passing by this place, which looks very interesting:

Aquaba Restaurant: 1823 Nicollet Ave. , Minneapolis; 651-796-0040; facebook.com/akwaabarestaurant/

This place, in the center of Brooklyn, has plenty of options, too:

Taste of Africa: 7405 Regent Ave. N., Brooklyn Center; 763-432-6646; Tasteofafricabp.wixsite.com/toabp

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