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Local globetrotting: Vo's Vietnamese, Dongpo Festival's Sichuan Cuisine, Jambo Africa, and MamaTi's Kitchen
Vo's Vietnamese Cuisine had its grand opening on Sunday at 35th and Lyndale Ave. S. If the name sounds familiar, that's because Vo's was for many years a Northeast Minneapolis landmark, until Francois Vo closed the restaurant a decade ago and moved to San Diego.
The decor at the former El Meson has been transformed from tropical Latin to tropical southeast Asian with a few well-placed palm trees and lots of bamboo thatch. As for the cuisine, it's a familiar combination of Vietnamese and Chinese-American dishes, ranging from egg rolls and spring rolls to sweet and sour chicken, pork or shrimp; chicken almond ding and a lot of stir-fries—your choice of beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp with broccoli, peapods, mixed vegetables, black bean sauce, or curry sauce. Also some barbecued beef and chicken entrees, and a few meal-sized soups, including pho and mi hoanh thanh (egg noodles, won tons and barbecued pork). There are also plenty of vegetarian choices, made with tofu or mock duck and any of the above sauces and veggies.
My favorite of the dishes I have sampled so far was the special bun cha hanoi, a rice noodle salad with pork patties and sliced green papaya ($11), and I also enjoyed the curry tofu in coconut milk sauce ($9.95). The rice noodle salad with vegetarian egg rolls ($7.95) is not recommended.
You can find more variety and more adventuresome offerings on Eat Street, but if you are in the neighborhood, Vo's offers friendly service, familar fare, and very reasonable prices. They plan to apply for a wine and beer license.
If you aren't planning a trip to China any time soon, your best hope for a really authentic Chinese dining experience is the Second American Dongpo Cuisine Festival, which runs through next Thursday, September 12 at the Tea House, 2450 University Ave., Minneapolis in Dinkytown. The event is presented in partnership with the Meizhou Dongpo restaurant group from China, which has brought over four chefs from its culinary team to prepare a special such as Dongpo Lion's head (steamed fish dumplings, $6) and beef with Coprinus (shaggy mane) mushrooms ($10), both recommended. Details at the Tea House website. If past experience is any guide, a few of the dishes from this festival are likely to make it onto the Tea House's regular menu after the festival ends.
If you aren't going to China anytime soon, you probably aren't going to Kenya or Liberia, either, so you might consider a trip to Brooklyn Center instead, where you can enjoy the cuisine of both countries at Jambo Africa, 6000 Shingle Creek Parkway. One side of the menu is specialties from Kenya in East Africa, while the other features dishes from Liberia in West Africa. I couldn't decide, so I chose one of each—a dish of grilled beef accompanied by a tomato and onion relish and the tastiest collard greens I have ever eaten, served with ugali (corn meal mush), and a slimy but very tasty Liberian okra stew with chicken and turkey. Wine and beer are available.
Not too far away, I paid a visit to MamaTi's Kitchen, 7800 Zane Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, a little strip mall storefront that also features Liberian dishes. MamaTi's has a few tables, but the business seems to be mostly carryout. I got an order of the cassava stew to go—a very savory dark thick green sauce, full of boneless chicken and smoked turkey, with an order of steamed rice on the side. Friendly service, and lots of interesting dishes to explore...I'll be back.
©2013 Jeremy Iggers