Delicious Deli and Great Grocery


I learned about Ha Tien Market (353 University) from an article last month about University Avenue businesses that have successfully renovated over the last couple years. Honestly I hadn’t heard of it, but I knew that cool building. It looks like an old, single-screen theater. For whatever reason, I thought it was more grocery than deli so I hadn’t bothered to go inside. 

ImageThis was my loss. The deli is actually quite extensive and has a rich mix of meats, a buffet, and a variety of pre-made food such as spring rolls. Since I was on my bike heading to a meeting downtown, I went with their bahn mi due to its portability (as all bicyclists know: panniers, laptop, and a styrofoam container filled with curry don’t mix). 

It ended up being a sublime choice. The french bread was fresh, the bbq meat was tender, and whatever spice was in there was strong and true. The grocery store was well stocked with not only Vietnamese offerings, but a good mix of Chinese and Indian ingredients as well. And surprisingly for a smaller grocery store, they had a good selection of fresh produce.

There are a series of large, well-stocked ethnic groceries on University, and my wife and I have often thought that someone should do tours of the grocery stores. There are a lot people, likeImage me, who will go into any restaurant and order anything, but grocery stores are a little more intimidating if you don’t know the language. If there were someone to show me the ropes, I’d probably come back often.

Next time I come, I’m catering dinner.  




Summer Cuts at the Grooming House


I usually get my haircut with Bill at New Style, but he wasn’t in yesterday and with the crazy heat, I needed a trim. I’d seen Grooming House Barber Shop at Frogtown Square at Dale and University and thought I’d give them a try. 

They have eight full-time barbers so it was easy to get a spot right away. The place was packed, which is to the store’s credit especially when you consider that it was 10:30 AM on a weekday.  My barber was Mark who was skilled, efficient, and friendly which is all I need in a barber. Their rates are very reasonable, and even though regular haircuts are $15, there was some deal going on that day and mine was $10. I haven’t found a $10 haircut for many years!


The Succor of Suqaar


The West Bank can be a difficult place to love. Urban renewal did quite a number to its street network and, I presume, several historic buildings. But it actually has some of my favorite retail shops (Midwest Mountaineering, Freewheel Bikes), music locales (The Cedar), and theaters (Mixed Blood). Oh, and I suppose my son was born at Fairview which was a pretty important thing. 

Let’s add Afro Deli & Coffee to that list of goodness. It’s located at 1939 South 5th Street, which Imageis a 5 minute walk from the future West Bank Green Line stop. It’s actually a social venture begun by the much-respected African Development Center, which has a successful record of helping African immigrant entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities — and increasingly around the state as they have offices in Rochester and Willmar. 

I went there a few months ago and got the Somali steak sandwich which was great. This time I Imagewent for the Afro-Asian Chicken Suqaar. I make no claims to being a culinary anthropologist, so I will simply describe chicken suqaar as spiced chicken cubes mixed with rice and vegetables. You’re thinking, “I make that every week.” Believe me, you don’t. It’s a wonderful dish that I probably never had before I moved to Minnesota (that would be a great coffee table book “Dishes I Never Had Before I Moved to Minnesota: From Jello Salad to Chicken Suqaar”). 

But I digress, Afro Deli does a bang up job. The Asian part is from a Korean sauce that they use. The East African and Korean combo is a hit. While I’m actually not a sucker for restaurant design — I was born without an aesthetic — I have to give them credit for a lovely color scheme. It’s a small, slightly crowded place, but the colors make it comfortable. 

And I covet these floor tiles. 



Mexican + Chinese = Yum

ImageI admit that I was skeptical when Senor Wong’s (111 Kellogg Blvd) opened up. I worked in downtown St. Paul at the building across the street when it opened a few years ago, and the name threw me. It seemed a little too kitschy, and honestly there is a lot of bad chinese and mexican food out there. Would this be far less than the sum of its parts?

But then I decided to try it, and it was great. I’m pretty sure I had some pork, kimchi tacos which at that time was the new, new thing. I was a convert, but then I switched jobs and was rarely in downtown St. Paul around for lunch.

Today I went back for the first time, and I had another stellar lunch. Lucky for me, my lovely wife was my lunchtime companion so we were able to sample two different dishes. I Imagehad the pescado especial (aka: fish tacos) that included walleye, cabbage, orange-habenero, topped with some kind of amazing ailoi. She had the banh mi, and it tasted like a gourmet banh mi. It was one of the best we’ve had, and St. Paul is the Mecca of banh mis. Image

From the look of things, they do quite a nighttime bar business and probably a fair amount of folks for happy hour as well. From a quick perusal, their beer selection looks to notch. They’re also kitty-corner from the Central Station stop of the Green Line, and I’m curious how that parcel will end up. It’s the block where they took that ugly building down between Minnesota and Wabasha and 4th and 5th.

Don’t fear the name, check out Senor Wong’s while you can.

A Visitor to the Neighborhood


Is there a more sparking green line gem than an actual train chugging along the tracks? It was a treat to see one of the spanking new trains make its way through Midway Wednesday morning, as part of Metro Transit’s initial testing efforts. OK, it wasn’t really “chugging,” it was being towed, but we can always dream.

I admit to being dorky about this stuff, but I actually think with a little bit of a promotion some folks would have come out as a “welcoming party” for the train at a couple of the stops. Perhaps not during the Wednesday trip due to it being a workday and poor weather, but on it’s maiden voyage from Minneapolis-St. Paul over last weekend – with a wee bit of promotion from Metro Transit – you’d have gotten some folks. You gotta give people a little something to keep the momentum going.

For another good post on the train’s inaugural ride, please read

It Takes a Stadium Village

I’ll confess: commercial districts near universities tend to not to be my first choice for a night out. That’s why I was pleased to learn about the Taste of Stadium Village event last Thursday night. It was a good excuse to get me out of my comfort zone. (And the $1 food and beverage choices at participating restaurants was a successful incentive.)


We began the evening at the Big Ten Restaurant and Bar. There is an attached deli to Big Ten that sells subs and sandwiches that my brother-in-law swears by and he always Imagesneaks in a trip whenever he comes to visit. We went with the restaurant to better accommodate our kids…and to accommodate my interest in $2 Summit beers. The subs really are good, I’d even say better than most. The place was pleasant and clean, not at all what you would expect for a bar next to a large university.

Then it was time for the obligatory springtime Dairy Queen Blizzard. It was not an original idea as evidenced by the picture of the line. It was a fine nightcap.Image

There are a lot of other gems in the neighborhood. I’ll look forward to writing about them soon.



Daily Diner Could Not Be Finer

I just had a great meal at the brand new Daily Diner in Frogtown. But before I go much further, a couple of acknowledgements are needed.

First off, there is Frogtown Square, which is where the Daily Diner occupies the corner ground-floor space on University and Dale. It took over a decade to come to fruition, and like many of these things, it took a partnership between several community-based ddoutsideorganizations. It’s four stories with the ground-floor commercial space owned and managed by the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), and the above ground residential is all permanent affordable senior housing. For those that don’t know NDC, they are based on University Avenue and do extraordinary work helping small business owners and entrepreneurs in low-income neighborhoods in both St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Second, the Daily Diner is more than just tasty food. It’s an outreach of the Union Gospel Mission with the goal of providing real-world vocational training for their clients many of whom have been homeless and/or have struggled with addiction. This is similar to other like-minded and successful social ventures around the country such as Delancey Street in San Francisco and DC Central Kitchen in Washington, DC.

Now to the good stuff.

I love diners, but if we’re all being honest, many of them suck and it’s just nostalgia that keeps us coming back. The Daily Diner has hit a great middle ground with a comfortable, non-pretentious space, affordable prices, and a commitment to a thoughtful, healthy, menu with a bias towards scratch cooking.

daily diner counterI grabbed a seat at the counter. The place has great natural light, and it seemed quite sunny inside even as the April winter maliciously dragged on outside. Having a seat at the counter is a good way to see some of the options. The pancakes looked especially perfect. Biscuits and gravy and corned beef hash seemed to be the most popular item on the menu, and I may have to get those next time though I fear they would put me into a long, dark slumber. I didn’t see it, but the steel-cut granola sounds awesome.

I went with the huevos rancheros, which is dangerous because – no offense to the Midwest – but this is not a region of the country that excels at the Mexican breakfast (think soggy tortillas chips smothered in a soup of sour cream and cheese). These folks did it right. It was a well-balanced mix of nicely, seasoned beans and eggs on a crispy tortilla shell. It was filling, but not in a greasy, gut-bomb kind of way.

I also want to note the delicious coffee. As I’ve gotten older and bougier, I do like a good, strong cup of coffee and this is not the strong suit of diners generally. This was a perfect mix of great coffee, but continued the lovely diner tradition of free (and constant) refills.

Finally, it was the morning of the opening day and there was not a hint of craziness and hecticness. It was filling up but the service was prompt and pleasant, and from my vantage point, there were no rookie mistakes.

I look forward to coming back many times for their lunch and dinners!








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