Andrew Zimmern Says You Should Eat at These Twin Cities Hidden Gems
It’s hard to keep track of all the great things to eat in the Twin Cities when new, tasty places are continuously added to the roster. There’s also something to be said for the cities’ great hidden gems, and I recently got the scoop from native and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. The Bizarre Foods and Bizarre World host dished about his favorite under-the-radar spots -- which are a lot less bizarre, and a lot more delicious.
“I think the biggest problem with Chinese restaurants all across the country is that they have like 400-item menus, and they’re really only good at 20 or 30 dishes,” said Zimmern. He suggests checking out the whole Dungeness crab or whole lobster, the whole steamed walleye, or the roast duck chow fun.
This southside staple consistently does a great job, but it’s a place that, all too often, gets overlooked. According to Zimmern, “My very typical lunch is a double order of her wings, and I always save room for [the] sweet potato pie.”
“I think they have the best true ma po tofu in town,” Zimmern said of this Chinese spot on the edge of Uptown. He also gave a nod to the kung pao chicken as a must-try.
When people hit Eat Street, it’s typically for one of its many well-known pho restaurants. But this little Cantonese spot is one worth checking out, and it's also got the goods when it comes to vegetarian and vegan dining. According to Zimmern, “I think they still have the best pan-fried potstickers in town, and their sautéed eggplant dish is out of control!”
On’s has long been a great spot for Thai food for those in the know, and it’s definitely the kind of place where you're missing out on something special if you haven’t been. Any and all of the noodle soups are excellent, and the deep-fried tilapia is also outstanding.
A longtime staple in the world of Twin Cities Chinese dining, Rainbow Chinese, owned by chef Tammy Wong, never fails to dole out consistently delicious food. As Zimmern tells it, “For a restaurant that’s been open for, like, 400 years, their Szechuan wantons with black beans are still one of the best dishes in the Twin Cities.”
Note that we’re talking about the St. Paul location and not the one located on Minneapolis’ Eat Street (which is also quite good) -- but according to Chef Zimmern, “I think their spring rolls are better and their soups are better. It’s a smaller restaurant that isn’t as heavily trafficked and it just has a very personal level of service there, and I really like it.”
The newest place from chef Erick Harcey is churning out birds and sides better than anybody else. Even though it’s new, Zimmern said it’s absolutely worth your time. “This may not be underrated because it’s new, so who’s to say. It’s only a couple of months old, but I really liked my bird.”
This little Thai restaurant made our best pho list, and with good reason. Zimmern also said it is one of his favorite Thai spots in the Twin Cities. He suggested any of Bangkok’s curries, or the larb, which is a sort of Thai-style meat salad.
This is easily one of our favorite places to hit in town, and we do so with frequency. But some of the dishes that Zimmern recommends are things we have yet to try. “They have a steamed bun with pork and quail egg with little bits of Vietnamese fermented sausage,” Zimmern said. “They do it like twice a week -- like Mondays and Fridays. It was so labor-intensive that they had to take it off the menu because it was so popular, but now it’s back.”
Another one of our favorite pho spots, Pho Tau Bay can be easily forgotten because of its location on the absolute end of Eat Street (which also happens to be a dead end). In addition to the pho, Zimmern recommends checking out one of its awesome stir-fry dishes.
A good sandwich is a thing of beauty -- and its sister sandwich shop, France 44, made our best sandwiches in the city list -- so you know this place has got to be good. According to Zimmern, “If this place were in another city, there’d be a line out the door for sandwiches” -- and he’s probably very right.
OK, so this isn’t a restaurant, but this market and food court has some of the best and most interesting eating opportunities in the Twin Cities. Zimmern said he always makes a beeline for the first booth by the entrance. “I’m there like twice a month and I never look to see what the name is, but there’s a lady that does all of the green papaya salads to order in her big mortar and pestle. I love that food court.”
This is another one of our favorite spots, and quite possibly the best Korean food in the Twin Cities -- and Zimmern agrees. There’s nothing on the menu that isn’t delicious. The tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes) are just as crazy-good as the pancake-like pajeon, the bibimbap, and the grilled short ribs. If you haven’t been yet, it’s located inside a Korean grocery store, and is 1,000% worth the trip.
Eastern European food is something that is sorely underrepresented on this list, but this Northeast mainstay has been doing it up good and proper since the middle of last century. “There are the devotees, but I can’t tell you how many people I bump into that don’t know that you can actually go in there and get a big kielbasa or a griddled sausage with peppers and onions actually in their cafeteria, which is one of the best price values in the Twin Cities.”
The cabbage rolls are also arguably are one of the best things you can get in the Twin Cities.
When it comes to Cambodian cuisine in the Twin Cities, Zimmern is assured that this is the spot. It’s all about the noodle soups, which “are much different from the soup bowls and hot pots at other Asian restaurants.” You’ll have to taste ‘em for yourself to find out why.
Trieu Chau is another great Vietnamese restaurant with a crazy-delicious bowl of pho that made our best-of list (and its egg rolls are pretty solid, too). Once you’ve had those, be sure to check out some of the other soups, stir-fry dishes, and buns, all of which have been nothing shy of stellar.
West St. Paul
We just recently added this to our best new restaurants in the city list, and according to Zimmern, it is indeed a spot that you should consider hitting. Check out the Machete, a fried taco that’s over a foot long and filled with all kinds of delicious. Of course, the other more classic tacos are pretty great, too.
More tacos! It’s always great finding a new place to grab a set of one of our favorite foods, and if you haven’t hit up Pineda yet, maybe now’s the time. According to Zimmern, the chicken and chipotle tacos are where it’s at.
If you’re looking for delicious dim sum, Zimmern suggests hitting up this little strip mall out in Bloomington that, on the weekends, features a variety of delectable dumplings and small bites. During the rest of the week, the menu features a ton of classic entrees.
We’ve been singing the praises of Heyday since it opened its doors and, in our opinion, it’s easily one of the best places in the country. The food is of the highest caliber, and the prices are extremely reasonable, given that you’re being served food that recently blew away major chefs Ferran Adrià and José Andrés. “For a restaurant to have such a famous chef that Jim [Christiansen] is over at Heyday, I’m always surprised how... most Minnesotans in the mainstream only talk about a handful of restaurants in town and don’t include Heyday,” he said. “I think that Heyday is the most underrated restaurant of any kind in the Twin Cities, and you can quote me on that.”
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