The East St. Paul (ESP) scene is underrated. I don’t hear as much buzz as I would expect.
We live close to East St. Paul and drive back and forth nearly daily to our family who cares for our kids during the week.
Restaurants and markets line Payne and Arcade Avenues.
I’m always on the hunt for convenient places to buy fresh fruit and veggies for my toddler, plus takeout. If they serve eggrolls, all the better.
Here are a couple delis and boba tea shop that I like to visit at the intersection of Arcade and Maryland. Plus, another nearby market that serves the most delicious noodle salad. There is still lots to try from just these few places, but here’s what I’ve tasted so far:
The family that runs Hao Mei is so kind and welcoming that you are quite literally a monster if you visit but don’t buy anything.
There’s a small deli in the back of the store where you can buy sticky rice and roasted meats like sausage, chicken, duck, and pork ribs.
For about $6-9, you can buy a hearty lunch. They’ll stuff the takeaway box with sticky rice and sausage and/or pork ribs and a little cup of hot Hmong pepper sauce.
The hot pepper sauce perfectly cuts through the richness of the meats, making it the perfect dipping sauce for bites of sticky rice. It’s spicy, salty, and fish saucy. You’ll want to ask for extra.
Christian music plays while people shop.
I always buy a box of eggrolls – 4 for $5. They are big and noodle-forward. I saw someone in a local Facebook group complain about the black peppery flavor, but I like it. The eggrolls are crisp and not too oily. You can often find me munching on one in my dark kitchen between midnight and 2 am after my turn giving the baby a bottle.
You can also buy sticky rice, steam rolls, tri color, soup, roasted whole chickens, and pork belly.
On my last visit, I added a small order of sticky rice (a heaping amount for $3) plus two big slices of crispy pork belly for about $8. The outside shell of the pork belly skin was so crisp I couldn’t eat it, but I do not know if this is typical. The rest of the meat tasted really good, especially with the sauces. I like mixing the hot chili sauce and sweet sauces.
Boba & Tea
This boba tea shop is located in the little strip mall across Maryland from Golden Harvest and Hao Mei. There’s a small parking lot in the back.
It’s one of the most affordable boba tea shops I’ve encountered. My typical drink here costs closer to $5 than $6-7.
If you arrive after the nearby school ends, you may join a long line of students that it’s popular with.
I don’t have a photo because my favorite drink so ordinary – either iced milk tea or jasmine milk tea with boba, 1/4 to 1/2 sweet depending on my mood. Boba & Tea serves many colorful, layered drinks for those who are more adventurous.
Google seems to list this market and deli as Original Karen Market – The sign out front says Na Mu.
I dove right towards the hot case full of fried goodies featuring what looked like pakoras, eggrolls and samosas. I filled a container with a couple eggrolls and samosas.
The dipping sauces included a spicy chili sauce – which turns out to be less sweet than typical eggroll sauces, plus a clearer sauce that was spicy and fishy.
A hot bar also featured some other dishes, plus noodle salad and soup and desserts set out that I haven’t seen before.
I bought sticky rice, noodle salad, eggrolls and a samosa, a small feast which totaled only $13.
The eggrolls and samosa were tasty – the eggrolls being more petite than Golden Harvest’s with bigger grinds of meat interspersed with the noodles.
What tasted really really good was the noodle salad. The employee who checked me out wasn’t able to describe it more than a noodle salad, but it included crisp cabbage and cucumber, cilantro, fried garlic or shallots, seasoning that included hot pepper, plus a sweet and spicy (but not very sweet) sauce.
Mixed together it was the perfect balance of remarkable heat, a tiny bit of sweet, the perfect amount of salt, and freshness.
My daughter saw me eating it and screamed to try the noodles, but, alas, I knew it would be too spicy for her.
More Side Notes:
iPho’s outpost I Heart Pho is located across the parking lot from Hao Mei.
Hao Mei and Golden Harvest sell my new favorite drink Milkis, bubbly fruity yogurt drinks from South Korea. Yogurt soda might sound gross, but it’s really delicious. My favorite is the apple.