Category: East St. Paul

Thanksgiving Weekend Tastes From The Twin Cities: Los Ocampo, Ward 6, Verdant Tea

Jake and I are the only children from our immediate families who moved outside of the Twin Cities. This means that holidays at home are fun, though action-packed.

Our families do make a point to visit us, but, since we’ve the odd couple out, we do most of the driving. I hope to explore restaurants in the towns along I-35 just as I did when I drove to and from Fargo, ND.

When we return home for the holidays, we try to fit in as many visits to friends and relatives as possible. We feel like we have to rotate visits with people throughout the year since it’s impossible to see everyone during one trip. As we watch our family members and friends have children and our parents get older, we feel an urgency to return home someday.

This trip reminded me to be grateful for the friendships that have withstood the test of time and distance. When I reunite with these friends, we effortlessly pick up where we left off, no matter if a month or a year has passed. This is truly a special thing.

Here are a few tastes from our weekend in the cities:

Taqueria Los Ocampo, East Saint Paul:
After visiting friends on Thanksgiving Eve, we searched for a late dinner.  Most of the restaurants we passed were wrapping up for the night. Our options seemed limited to fast food or bars and we were in the mood for neither.

I convinced Jake to drive to Uptown, but when we hit the traffic on Lake Street, he exclaimed “What are we doing in Uptown? I’m too old for this!” I remembered the Los Ocampo location by his folks’ house in East Saint Paul which offers late night hours (open until midnight Mon.-Thurs. and 4 a.m. on Fri.-Sun.).

At 10 p.m., the restaurant was relatively busy and felt like a late-night oasis. Jake had never been here before and seemed overwhelmed by the large amount of choices. It took us at least 10-minutes to decide on our order.
Jake ordered their monstrosity of a torta filled with many proteins including fried egg, beef milenesa, chorizo, and a bologna-like meat. And if the meats weren’t enough, its toppings included cheese, mayo, and avocado. This was too much for me, so I stuck with my taco combination and found the spicy ground beef tacos were much more compelling than the shredded chicken. Tacos are served Mexican street-style meaning they are topped with cilantro and onion and garnished with a lime wedge and blistered jalapeno pepper. You can choose from their creamy green salsa or red, both of which make my nose run.

In addition to tacos and tortas, you can also order a quesadilla made with a freshly pressed corn tortilla, huaraches, gorditas and alambres to name a few. Then, you have to choose from their large list of fillings that range from huitlachoche to cecina. There’s also posole, menudo, elotes, flan, and horchata.

Can you name a better, more affordable late night join in East Saint Paul?

Ward 6, East Saint Paul
Several months ago, Jake and I dined at Ward 6, but this was the first time for his family. We love Ward 6 and I think East Saint Paul loves them back because it’s always busy. Ward 6 isn’t the cheapest option along Payne Ave, but their prices are fair for the quality of food. It’s homemade, not reheated food supplier crap. Also, Ward 6 is not so elite or hard to access that it excludes its own neighbors.

I like the fish and chips so much that I can’t branch out.

Often times, I won’t order fish and chips for fear of a bad fry job sitting in a pool of grease. These have been pretty near perfect two out of two times. I drizzle everything in malt vinegar and then dip each bite in the garlicky, malt vinegar because that’s how I roll.

I also order this dish with a side salad ($5) dressed with homemade lemon vinaigrette to cut the fat.

Verdant Tea, Seward Neighborhood, Minneapolis
Verdant Tea is as wonderful as Andrew Zimmern and Heavy Table says it is. I stopped by for tea to-go when I had a free moment, though I wish I could have stayed for a meal.

The space is soothing with lots of sunlight and pots of poinsettias on each table. There’s a little stand offering tea samples and little glass cups. There are tea snacks like local, roasted peanuts, meals like curry noodles or congee, house made kombucha and kombucha floats, and sweets like ice cream and homemade chocolates. Verdant made me want to linger and next time I will.

I ordered micro-brewed chai with almond milk (their default milk) and honey and toasty Laoshan Black Chocolate Genmaicha to-go ($8 plus tax and tip). Each was poured into a generous 16 oz. glass. My husband especially liked his first taste homemade chai, commenting on its spicy note.

For the rest of the day, I kept thinking that someday when I die, I hope I go to Verdant Tea heaven.

A Few Tastes: Los Paisanos Taqueria, Sun Street Breads & A Sysco Food Show

This past weekend, Jake and I headed to the Twin Cities for the wedding reception we never had. We had said our vows in October at a small ceremony and were finally able to extend the celebration to family and friends.

Neither Jake or I enjoy planning party details such as color schemes and table decorations, so our family turned the reception into a beautiful, food-filled surprise at the Embassy Suites near the airport where Jake’s uncle manages the food services. Bites from the evening included Rustica’s bittersweet chocolate cookies, absinthe cocktails, crab salad served in tiny, edible spoons, and rosy roast beef with my favorite creamy horseradish sauce. I’ll share more as we collect photos from friends. We are continually humbled by the kindness and generosity of our family and friends and extend our gratitude to everyone who planned and participated in the reception.

We stayed with both of our families, who spoiled with home cooked foods. We also managed to grab a few meals out. Here are a few tastes from the past week:

Los Paisanos Taqueria, East St. Paul, MN
Tortas are essentially impossible to purchase in Fargo-Moorhead, so I always find one whenever we stay with my husbands folks in East St. Paul. A while back, I wrote about a torta I ordered from By More Taqueria. Afterwards, a reader recommended Los Paisanos Taqueria, noting that it’s his favorite place to grab a torta in East St. Paul. This was my second visit since he left the comment.

The restaurant is located down the road from the Rainbow Foods on Arcade. It’s painted in bright colors and looks a little worn. Those who are concerned about sanitation might notice the current ServSafe Food Handler certification prominently displayed near the register. My typical order of a small horchata and beef milenesa torta costs about $10.

The sandwich is the size of my face. The bottom bun is spread with re-fried beans while the top covers layers of avocado, cheese, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, and pickled jalapenos. My favorite part is the thin beef cutlet and its crisp breading that’s heated on the griddle. Don’t hesitate to ask for a small cup of the spicy red salsa to dip the sandwich in if it’s not included in your take-out bag. There are tables for customers who want to dine-in, but I find the restaurant smells strongly of fruity air freshener. Service has always been friendly. 
Sun Street Breads, South Minneapolis, MN
My husband’s found a friend in Sun Street Bread’s breakfast biscuit sandwiches. He remembered enjoying one earlier this winter and wanted to return for our first post-reception meal. You know it’s good when Andrew Zimmern continues to mention Sun Street as one of his favorite bakeries. He even specifically mentioned the egg biscuit sandwich on his list of “personal bests.” 
On this visit, Jake ordered the Southern Fried Biscuit ($7.50) to soak up the beverages from the previous evening. 
A tender, toasted biscuit, runny fried egg, bacon, fried chicken and gravy laden with chunks of sausage. I feel my arteries constrict just looking at this photo. My goodness, it was really good. Especially that peppery country gravy.
I’m not sure this side of fruit ($3.50) offset all of the Southern fried, but it was generously portioned and of high quality. I ordered from Sun Street’s lunch menu and tried the Steak & Swiss ($9.75), their version of a cheese steak. Ironically, I wasn’t crazy about the bread because its texture reminded me of Olive Garden breadsticks (thought it was certainly acceptable), but liked the other components. Especially the flavorful beef, spicy pickled banana peppers, and swiss cheese sauce. 
Each lunch sandwich comes with one’s choice of fries, salad, fruit or soup ($1 upcharge). I was pleasantly surprised by the large size of my accompanying salad and its freshness. A scoop of beans was a welcome gift of randomness. They tasted of smoked paprika. 
Sun Street is very busy during weekend brunches, but during the past few times I’ve dined, there I’ve never had trouble finding a table. 
Sysco Food Show

As culinary students, we’re invited to attend Fargo-Moorhead’s food service shows for free. Last semester, we visited US Food’s sprawling show held in the Fargo Dome and this week, we attended Sysco’s show at Scheel’s Arena. I have a mixed feelings about Sysco. Obviously, they make purchasing convenient for restaurants, but also seem to be making efforts in purchasing meats from distributors who raise their animals humanely, supporting sustainable seafood practices, and increasing partnerships with local distributors. On the other hand, I wish more restaurants would more intentionally seek food from local suppliers and farms and make their own foods from scratch instead of relying on pre-made convenience products. But what kind of fool turns down free food? Albeit, most of the food is frozen, canned, jarred, of a mix, or pre-baked, but it’s fun, nevertheless. 
Most of the food vendors at these shows are gracious to the roaming pack of hungry students and provide engaging interactions. Some are a little less thrilled. On this visit, I tried to restrain myself to a walleye finger, lemonade, iced tea, a few nachos with self-serve cheese sauce, and a dinner mint. One can certainly go overboard sampling from the platters of most any fried food imaginable, cheeses, and desserts.

As the token Korean, I took it upon myself to try a Korean empanada, a new product from one of Sysco’s internationally-themed lines. I found that it tasted surprisingly. . . Korean. Nicely done. My classmates seemed content to end their tours with ice cream cones dispensed by the Blue Bunny cart. 

Jeni Finally Gets Her Sloppy Torta: Quick Trip Home & By More Taqueria

Two months away from home without a food adventure left me in a crazed state.

The other weekend, I wanted to eat a torta, a food that isn’t exactly commonplace around here.

The Fargo torta buck stopped at my Internet search.  I was only willing to go as far as Googling the sh#$ out of Fargo + Moorhead + torta.  I’d love for you to prove me wrong.

My torta craving grew to the point where I considered driving to Minneapolis for a sandwich.  Nothing more.  Just a sandwich.

Last weekend, we returned to the Twin Cities for a quick visit to surprise Jake’s mom for her birthday.  We left for the cities earlier than normal and greeted her when she returned home from work.  Both surprisers and surprisee seemed equally happy about the reunion.

We also visited the family for which I babysat and apprenticed last year.  I know it’s a tale as old as time, but the experience of watching a baby transform into a child that talks in complete sentences and zips around the sidewalks of Minneapolis on a Strider is fantastic and humbling.  We barely have the skeleton of a wedding in place, but we now have a ring bearer.

Speaking of wedding plans, we’re finally getting started.  Or at least, we’re thinking about it.  I’m more concerned about the food.  Can you recommend a vendor who could make a non-traditional wedding dessert?  Neither one of us is a big fan of cake, but we’re very fond of pie.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to go to the St. Paul Farmers Market.  I managed to get funneled into the world’s most treacherous detour, finally landing in a back parking lot, unscathed.  This summer, our CSA has supplied us with all of our vegetables.  The quality has been high, but the selection mundane.  Walking through the farmers market nearly brought tears to my eyes as I admired stands of melons, okra, eggplants, habanero peppers, and foraged mushrooms (I just learned about Probstfield Farm’s Old Trail Market in Moorhead, MN and plan to stop by this weekend).

I bought some treats to supplement our weekly CSA box and stopped at A Toast To Bread for the empanadas I used to enjoy each weekend.

Fortunately, I got there early enough to purchase one of each variety to share with the boys.

They were as delicious as I remember.  The first was filled with ground beef and veggies, the second with ground beef, olives and raisins, and the third with tuna.

For lunch, we took home spicy BBQ, baked beans, and collard greens from Ted Cook’s, per Jake’s request.

My rib tips were more dried out than normal and I had to toss about half.  Otherwise, everything else tasted the same.

Dinner was cloudy with a chance of these. . .

I like to occasionally indulge with meals accompanied by these.  For those who may take issue, my reply is the same as the one I gave to the man in the elevator this afternoon.  He sternly informed me that the cream cheese on my bagel was unhealthy, to which I replied, “I don’t care.

He may have been a client.  Oops.

On our final morning, I snuck out for a morning torta.  I knew that stacking a torta onto the weekend’s meals could result in trouble, but pressed on towards my goal.  After all, my life has led me down a path of uncertainly regarding when I will run into my next torta.  If I see a torta, I will indulge.  Plus, one can always transport food on ice.  We took home quite the haul.

Jake’s an East Saint Paul boy, through and through.  His parents live in the Payne-Phalen area and it took me until now to discover the restaurants that line Payne Ave. and Arcade St.  On Sunday, I stopped at By More Taqueria, located near the intersection of Payne Ave. and Phalen Blvd.  Someone on Chowhound had mentioned torta.

My one track mind zeroed in to the torta options that could be filled with one’s choice of meat.  I did not notice breaded beef milanesa, my usual favorite, but had plenty of other options to pick from.  Some, I could not translate, though I remember seeing fish, lengua, and possibly cabeza.  I don’t remember much of the illustrated menu posted by the counter, but recall seeing seafood soup and a daily meal special that included nopal (cactus), which I adore.

I asked the man at the register for suggestions, and he earnestly steered me towards chorizo.   So, chorizo it was.

As I waited for torta, I sipped a glass of horchata.  Both cost about $9.  The two employees were very friendly and made everything fresh as families trickled in for their Sunday lunches.

My massive torta was filled with a griddled layer of crusty chorizo and toasty cheese.  It’s toppings included a healthy slick of mayo, smushed avocado, refried beans, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, and tomato.  Also, the bun was nicely toasted.

My torta tasted exactly how I had hoped and I dug into my sloppy sandwich.  I paused to share half with Jake.

He agreed that it was delicious, though we both bit into small bits of something hard.  My experience wasn’t unpleasant enough to ruin the sandwich, though Jake’s bite left him a little jolted.  I wonder if it came from the chorizo.

In summary, I felt the flavors were really beautiful.
As I drove along Payne Ave, I made mental notes of places I’d like to try during future visits home.  The area’s restaurants rarely seem to be mentioned and I look forward to exploring its food possibilities.

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