Readers seek Chinese, Hmong, African and more

Oct. 12—It’s time once again to answer all readers’ burning questions about restaurants.

This go-round, as venues re-open, we have queries about where to eat before events — I never thought I’d miss that question so much! But also readers looking for good Chinese restaurants, Hmong food and more.

As always, send your questions to [email protected] I’ll do my best to answer.

Q. We used to eat out in St. Paul all the time and knew all the hot spots. Nowadays, Not so much. We have tickets for the upcoming SPCO season and all the performances are at the Ordway. Since we like to go out for dinner beforehand, we like a few suggestions on what’s good within walking distance of the theatre and if possible keep it to, say 2 $s.

A. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of restaurants that fit that bill — and pandemic closures have made things worse — but I have a few suggestions:

How about the newish Loon Cafe for delicious chili, sandwiches and walleye fingers?

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

Or the Pillbox Tavern for excellent bar food?

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

Parlour Bar is a little farther, but still technically walking distance, and has some of the best burgers in town and great cocktails.

Parlour Bar: 267 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; parlourbar.com/locations-st-paul

Q. My niece, a native Texan, will be visiting in November and I’d like to show her how Minnesotans enjoy cold weather. I’m looking for a bar/restaurant with fire pits, hoping we can be outside (avoiding inside dining as much as possible these days) yet have some warmth.

We’d prefer St. Paul locations, but would consider the other town.

She’s not a beer drinker, so breweries are out.

A. I would imagine that lots of restaurants will have fire pits up and running come fall, because people are still worried about the virus.

That being said, two places I know that have great fire pits and/or outdoor seating systems happen to be in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood, and they’re just a few blocks from each other.

Smack Shack has an entire outdoor heating system, and it’s pretty impressive.

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

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

Freehouse: 701 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; freehousempls.com

In St. Paul, Red Rabbit has an outdoor fireplace and other heating elements, but I’d call to make sure they’re using it that weekend.

Red Rabbit: 788 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-444-5995; redrabbitmn.com

But keep an eye on the Eat section as we are planning a roundup of patios that will go the distance as the weather cools.

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

A. Try Szechuan in Roseville, or Peking Garden or Master Noodle (both on University).

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

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

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

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

A. I found just one place with halibut — it was shockingly difficult! Kincaid’s has it on their menu, and the Bloomington location has a patio.

Kincaid’s: 8400 Normandale Lake Blvd., Bloomington; kincaids.com

Q. My two friends and I like to meet for a leisurely lunch (we are all retired now) once a month when possible. One lives in Osceola, Wis., one lives in Crystal, Minn., and I live in Woodbury. We have picked restaurants in White Bear Lake, Stillwater, Roseville and would like some different places to explore. Finding a place that’s equal distance for all is tough. Would love to hear your suggestions.

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

LoLo American Kitchen in Stillwater is a favorite — and they have a location in Hudson, too, if you want to give that a try. LoLo has everything from burgers to tacos to some really tasty rice bowls.

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

The owners also have a Latin-themed restaurant, Lolito, which I have 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 swanky, check out Feller for lunch:

Feller: 402 S. Main St., Stillwater; 651-571-3501; fellerrestaurant.com

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

Another fun thought I had that would be a little more of a trek for your Osceola friend than you and the Crystal 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 lunch! There are a few sandwiches as well as their famous steak.

Lindey’s Prime Steak House: 3600 N. Snelling Ave., Arden Hills; 651-633-9813; theplaceforsteak.com

And if you go back to Roseville and want something a little more high-end, I recommend Baldamar: 1642 W. County Road B2, 651-796-0040 Roseville; baldamar.com

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started!

Q. I have been searching for a real Monte Cristo sandwich for years. Bennigan’s had one of the best, but they don’t exist any longer. Claddagh’s in Maple Grove had a great one, but sadly closed in 2020. I’ve sampled a few, but most are made like french toast and grilled, not deep fried with batter like the original. Do you know of any St. Paul way?

A. It looks like Lucky’s 13 batters and deep-fries their Monte Cristos.

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

luckys13pub.com

Q. Many of my relatives are coming from all over the United States for a family reunion, and I want to show them some local flavor. Please recommend a good Hmong restaurant in the St. Paul area.

A. It’s a shame that we don’t have more standalone Hmong restaurants. The best and most authentic Hmong food in town is to be found at Hmong Village, a hodgepodge marketplace with lots of vendors serving Hmong sausage, sticky purple rice and other specialties. Be aware, they close at 6, so it’s more of a lunch destination.

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

Chef Yia Vang will be opening Vinai, a full-service Hmong restaurant, soon in Northeast Minneapolis. Meanwhile, they are offering feasts to go at unionkitchenmn.com.

Q. Each month the St. Paul chapter members of the national organization Together Women Rise meet to learn about and support an organization working 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 that offers food from Sierra Leone which we could either eat in-house or sample as carry out items?

A. St. Paul is mostly Ethiopian and Somali as far as African goes, and those are East African nations. As far as Western Africa goes, it looks like most of the restaurants serving foo foo and other local specialties are in Minneapolis or the northwest suburbs.

I kept coming across this place, which looks super interesting:

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

This place, in Brooklyn Center, has a ton of options, too:

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