Stinky tofu, Nigerian fufu, and an update on the Twin Cities’ best veggie burgers


My quest for the Twin Cities’ best veggie burgers is turning out to be a bigger project than I had expected. My requests on Facebook have drawn over 50 suggestions so far, and some of the Twin Cities’ top foodies have chimed in. Dara Moskowitz recommended Icehouse, as did Lee Zukor, who also recommended Bewiched, Birchwood, and French Meadow. Niki Stavrou recommended the black bean burger at Victor’s 1959 Cafe—but she might be biased, since she owns the joint. Same goes for Luke Shimp, who recommended the veggie burger at his Red Cow—as did a couple of other readers. I’ll give you a full report in a week or two, but in the meantime, keep those recommendations coming in.

Best veggie burger I have sampled so far is probably a three-way toss-up between the Thai tempeh burger at the Modern Times Cafe, the Bryant Burger at The Lynn on Bryant (50th and Bryant), and the veggie burger at Icehouse. Actually, there’s nothing Thai about the Thai tempeh burger that I could detect, but it had a delightfully crisp and crunchy exterior, and a smooth and creamy center. You could probably debate whether the Lynn on Bryant’s Bryant Burger really qualifies as a burger, since it is served open-faced, atop a sort of biscuit, and the patty itself—basically bulgur wheat with little bits of diced carrot in it—was kind of dull, but it came topped with a lively cabbage slaw and a dollop of creamy goat cheese, and a side of crispy chick pea fries. The Icehouse vegetable burger might have been the classiest: made with porcini mushrooms, taleggio cheese and spinach, and accompanied by fries or salad ($8).

Pagoda stinky tofu

From the moment I saw stinky tofu ($6.95) advertised as a special at the Pagoda in Dinkytown (one of my favorite Chinese restaurants), I knew I couldn’t resist, even though both the waiter and the owner tried to talk me out of it. Carol was skeptical as well. When the fried cubes of aged bean curd arrived, they were, as advertised, stinky. I couldn’t quite pin down the smell, but Carol, having grown up on a farm, recognized it immediately. “It smells like pig manure,” she exclaimed, and immediately insisted that I move the plate as far away from her side of the table as possible. 

She was exactly right. On a hot summer day down on the farm in Iowa, when the wind is blowing over from the neighbors hog farm—that’s exactly what it smells like. Carol watched in horrified fascination as I ate one piece, and then the next. (I figured, I ordered it, I paid for it, I am not going to let it go to waste.) At any rate, once I got past the smell, it really was kind of tasty, in a stinky durian-y kind of way. There are regional variants on this delicacy, but the version served at the Pagoda is from Hunan. 

Yankee Canteen Lounge pepper fish

West African restaurants come and go in the northwestern suburbs so quickly that sometimes they are gone before I have a chance to visit—for example, African Forest. For anybody out there who consider yourselves gastronomic adventurers, the Yankee Lounge Canteen in Crystal is a must-visit. The flavors of West Africa have a richness and complexity of flavor and texture that you won’t find anywhere else—though a well-made New Orleans seafood file gumbo might give you a hint. My server offered me small tastes of several different dishes,  each very different in flavor, before I settled on a dish of pepper fish with a sauce of cooked spinach and melon seed ($12): intense, smoky and delicious. It’s served with your choice of rice or fufu—the traditional West African staple starch made from pounded yams or cassava. You tear off a liitle ball of fufu with your fingers and dip it in the savory gravy with your fingers. 

There are at least two other West African restaurants in the area that I want to check out: Jambo Africa at 6000 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center, and MamaTi’s African Kitchen, 7800 Zane Ave. N., Brooklyn Park. If you get there before I do, please drop me a line (jeremyiggers (at) and tell me all about it.

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