Born in Vietnam and raised in the United States by Chinese parents, chef Nina Wong has always infused her dishes with a variety of Asian tastes. After marrying Thomas Gnanapragasam—a third-generation Malaysian of Indian descent—Wong discovered more unique flavors to integrate into her signature sauces and syrups. Originally opened in 2005, Chin Dian Café channels the pair's unique backgrounds through Asian soups, salads, and noodle and rice dishes, even offering some gluten-free options. Popular dishes, such as chow mai fun and chicken-and-chive dumplings, keep patrons rolling in and have earned the restaurant media acclaim from the Star Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, and the dictionary.
Inside a restaurant whose vibrant purple awnings help diners spot it from afar, cooks concoct 75 different dishes derived from the "roof of the world." Artwork-laden walls surround the tables and cushioned chairs in the dining area, where patrons enjoy home-cooked items ranging from Tibetan-style dumplings made with lean chopped beef to batter-fried sesame chicken. The restaurant's separate bar area provides patrons with a place where they can grab a drink, watch TV, and practice thumb-wrestling moves with others.
The clatter of chopsticks and the clinking of silverware sounds throughout the dining room at D. Fong's, where diners can dig into finely crafted dishes cooked Cantonese and Szechuan-style. Owner David Fong, Jr. draws on family recipes and techniques learned while working in the kitchens of his father's Bloomington eatery, David Fong's Restaurant, which has been a local institution since 1958. D. Fong's also provides catering for corporate events, graduation parties, or the city-wide celebrations held whenever someone beats the final boss of Tekken 3.
Trained in Hong Kong, Grand Shanghai Restaurant?s chef brings all the flavors of the East to St. Paul through a menu of authentic Chinese recipes. Pairs of shanghai spring rolls or a half dozen pan-fried dumplings lead the way for individual or shareable servings of noodle, rice, and meat entrees. Sweet 'n' sour sauce covers enough chicken, pork, or shrimp for two, and bowls of mushroom chow mein can feed up to six hungry mouths.
Thom Pham, the founder of Thanh Do, Azia, and the Caterpillar Lounge, first learned to cook as a child in the Vietnamese village of Qui Nhon. As a youth, he helped his grandmother, Bo, run her catering business. After a Minneapolis family adopted 14-year-old Thom, his culinary sensibilities began to shift, creating the mix of local Minnesota flavor and Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai influences found on Thanh Do's menu. When not digging into cranberry curry, diners can chew through spare ribs that chefs have marinated overnight, then cooked over a gentle flame for six hours while reading Goodnight Moon aloud. Pham's team can also cater to vegetarian diets with tofu or mock duck. Sunny-yellow walls and fiery orange lanterns infuse each meal with a sense of warmth, preventing diners from kindling campfires with chopstick friction.
Along with the end of Prohibition, 1933 brought sweeping changes across the country. It definitely changed the building at 1928 University Avenue NE in Minneapolis, which had been functioning as a hardware and furniture store for nearly a quarter-century. Proprietor Stanley Kozlak immediately went out and obtained a liquor license, transforming his retail shop into a bar and restaurant.
It would prove to be a smart decision?more than 80 years and two generations of Kozlaks later, Jax Cafe stands as a Minneapolis institution whose reputation has spread throughout the Midwest. This is thanks in part to singular touches such as reserved tables set with personalized matchbooks for expected guests and a stream on the lush covered patio from which diners can net their own rainbow trout for dinner. It?s no wonder Travel Channel foodie Andrew Zimmern has gushed that this restaurant is ?dripping with character.?
Part of that character comes from a certain adherence to traditions. Jax is furnished with patterned carpet, white linens, a grand piano, and a phone booth?yes, a phone booth?and the menu has the classic supper-club meals to match. Fresh Maine lobsters are kept in a saltwater tank said to be the first of its kind in the state, and the selection of award-winning Angus beef includes an 8-ounce filet the restaurant calls ?the steak that made Jax famous.? That?s not to say Jax is stuffy or old-fashioned?the menu also includes beer-can chicken, kids' meals, and craft beers served fresh from the tap, bottle, or keg-sized water balloon.