Mai Village worth navigating Central Corridor construction


Call this chapter 2 of the Central Corridor Light Rail Tour. I’m taking the opportunity to hit many spots along University Avenue in St Paul where the CCLR project has the street all torn up. Sort of “support your local small business during the chaos”. It isn’t totally altruistic, of course. I fully expect to have some very nice meals out of all this. But the focus is to try out the businesses at a time when they can use visits.

So today I went to Mai Village. It is located at the corner of Western Ave and University Ave in St. Paul. I forgot to map it out before going, so I had to do a bit of hunting. I knew generally where it was. And then once I was driving down University Avenue and saw the sign, the adventure wasn’t over. Because Western Avenue is blocked off. In fact, I ended up driving all the way down to Marion before I could come back. When I did get to Marion, I went to Aurora, which is the street immediately south of University. I drove back to Western, and I saw a sign that told me Mai Village was near. After a bit of clumsy navigating, I found a large parking lot on the south side of the buildings on University, parked, and hunted the restaurant up.

When I stepped in, I was really rocked on my heels. The place is huge, there is a pond near the entrance with large live fish swimming around. And, well, I don’t know what to call the interior design. Maybe Renaissance Castle Revisited? I have no idea what the designer had in mind. And any image of a typical Vietnamese restaurant was belied by what Mai Village looks like inside.

But back to the relevant side of things. I was fairly quickly seated. A waiter got me their menu, which is rather generous in variety. I ordered fried wontons, chicken almond ding, and hot tea. And I checked my watch (just curious how much time might elapse). Well, I’d say both the tea and the appetizer came inside five minutes. And the interval from finishing the wontons to the arrival of the main course was nearly as short.

I don’t have a habit of ordering anything but Imperial egg rolls in Vietnamese restaurants. Just a rut I fell into decades ago. This time, maybe out of whimsy, I ordered fried wontons that had meatballs wrapped in them. The meat was tasty enough, but it was the crispiness of the wonton that really was a hit with me. This is why I like the egg rolls so much, the wonton is just so much crispier than anywhere else.

I liked the almond ding about as much. It is not “my usual”. I’m more likely to get a lo mein or a vegetable stir fry. But my wife likes almond ding a lot, so I departed from habit there, too.

In fact, I ordered a whole order of almond ding to take home to her, in hopes it would be a treat.

My conclusion is that this restaurant rates return trips. I might even go and order about five entrees, just to be able to sample the scope of their menu. And make a weeks dinners out of it.

It’s a little complicated to find, but once you do, it is worth it. Either drive Aurora to Western. Or get on Sherburne north of University, drive to Western, and park on the north side. From that side, you can’t miss it.