As 2023 comes to a close, it’s time to look back on restaurants that have opened in St. Paul this year.
Looking through my list of standouts, it’s clear that many of them feature global eats, from potstickers to arepas to tacos and more. There are so many places we want to tell you about that we are splitting this story in two. The first are my favorite new places serving food from around the world.
The second, which will come out in a few weeks, will feature some new finer-dining restaurants, new American fare and a few more global options.
As always, it’s a good time to be a food lover in the Saintly City.
The Spicy Apollo flatbread wrap at Spicy Feta in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
When chef Angelo Giovanis went back to his native Greece, closing Naughty Greek, I was distraught. Those pork gyros were second to none in the Twin Cities. Still, I kept an open mind about its replacement Spicy Feta, operated by the owners of Ariana Kabob & Gyro Bistro in St. Louis Park.
Turns out that while what they’re doing is different (no pork or alcohol, since the restaurant is fully halal), it’s also very, very delicious.
We are enamored with the signature spicy feta dip, served with fluffy, fresh, warm pita bread. You can also get it on fries, but the battered fries here are not as good as the fresh-cut ones that Naughty Greek served, unfortunately. The spicy Apollo wrap, available with any protein, is stuffed with fries, spicy feta sauce, spicy tzatziki, candied jalapenos and plenty of vegetables, and it is definitely not for the typical Minnesota palate. I tried the rotisserie-carved chicken shawarma, which was super flavorful.
My son, who usually does not prefer intense spice, was a fan of the classic, which he ordered with rotisserie-carved steak shawarma, and my husband thoroughly enjoyed his falafel, which he ordered Naughty Greek style — that version comes with kalamata olives, tzatziki, fries, feta and vegetables. We ordered all the sandwiches on fresh, flavorful flatbread, but you can also get them as pita sandwiches.
Though I’ll never stop being sad about Naughty Greek closing, Spicy Feta is a worthy, craveable replacement.
Spicy Feta: 181 Snelling Ave., N., St. Paul or 2400 University Ave., St. Paul; 651-219-4438; eatspicyfeta.com
The potsticker tour for two at Potsticker in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
Neighbors were sad when Kim’s Kitchen on Randolph closed, but they seem to be welcoming newcomer Potsticker with open arms, if a busy recent weeknight is any indication.
The restaurant focuses on its namesake, but also has a few other appetizers and a decent selection of entrees.
We had to go for the potsticker tour, which gives you two of each of the eight available flavors and a variety of dipping sauces. The dumplings were all tasty, but certain flavors — the sweet/briny shrimp and squash and the dill and pork — stood out for us. As for dipping, we couldn’t get enough of the “old godmother” sauce, which includes dried chiles, peanuts and garlic. It is a spicy explosion of flavor. The pretty traditional Korean gochujang was our other favorite. The classic posticker sauce was perhaps a little on the vinegary side, and the others a little forgettable.
We also tried the pork belly fried rice (decent if a little bland) and the ribeye noodles (the steak was super tender, and we appreciated the vegetables), but perhaps our favorite things beyond the dumplings were the house cucumbers, marinated in that delicious old godmother sauce. Four of us jockeyed for the last bite, and I’m sad to say I came up the loser.
Potsticker: 1214 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 651-699-4590; mypotsticker.com
Cocotero, a coconut dessert, at Crasqui on St. Paul’s West Side. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
If there’s one new restaurant that opened this year that I want to implore you to visit, it’s this one. The location is a little out-of-the-way — just across the bridge from downtown St. Paul on the West Side — but there’s ample parking and you won’t have a problem getting a reservation.
Best of all, the upscale Venezuelan food that chef Soleil Ramirez and her team are serving at the pretty, tropical eatery is utterly fantastic. You can order from a regular, a la carte menu or indulge in a six-course tasting menu.
The tropical cocktails are great, and every entree we have tried is something I’d order again. Standouts: Memorias de Tabay, a juicy pork chop nestled atop a slurpable savory blackberry sauce and the black bean souffle, a genius, perfectly executed and tasty vegetarian main.
Don’t skip the arepitas, three little versions of the dish that Ramirez makes at Arepa Bar in Midtown Global Market, to start and the cocotero, a flan/rum-cake mashup served in a half coconut shell, for dessert.
Crasqui: 84 S. Wabasha St. No. 3, St. Paul; 952-600-5578; crasquirestaurant.com
The vegetarian platter at Erta Ale, the new Ethiopian restaurant in Lowertown St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
In my opinion, there can never be enough Ethiopian restaurants in St. Paul. This newcomer, in the former Kyatchi space in Lowertown, has a nice atmosphere, and most importantly, a great vegetarian platter.
Served atop spongy, tangy injera, the typical platter includes lentils three ways, greens, green beans, roasted beets, cabbage and potatoes. Each preparation is delicious, and for my husband and me, it’s a perfect dinner and a steal at $17.99. If you must have meat, the chicken tibs are tender and full of flavor. You can get them with rice, but we prefer more injera.
Erta Ale: 308 E. Prince St., St. Paul; 651-728-8081; ertaaleethiopian.com
Mole enchiladas from Habanero Tacos on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
Mexican is another cuisine I can’t get enough of, and this Snelling Avenue newcomer is serving up delicious versions of all of my favorites.
Tostadas are crisp and hold a scoop of creamy beans, juicy shredded chicken, crisp lettuce and salty cheese. The mole, which we ordered upon enchiladas, is sweet, but deeply flavorful, and a three-meat platter (chicken, steak and shrimp) — a sort of make-your-own-taco deal, was good, if a little pricey at $24. Next time, I think I’d go for some street tacos.
I also saw some good-looking fajitas coming out of the kitchen, and after referring a fajita-loving friend, he confirmed that they are, indeed, delicious.
The restaurant does have a full bar, but beware that the habanero margarita we tried tasted suspiciously like a bottled mix and had very little spice to it. They do have Pacifico, my favorite Mexican beer, on tap, though.
Habanero Tacos: 80 N. Snelling Ave., St. Paul; 651-666-3961; habanerotacosstp.com
Centro/Everywhen Burger Bar
Centro Crunch from Centro in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
More tacos! And a way-better version of a tortilla-wrapped tostada than the one served at a certain national chain.
There’s a reason this new spot in Highland Park is packed every night with neighbors — the atmosphere is fun and upbeat, it’s family-friendly (order from a QR code at your table, and be shocked at how fast the food arrives) and it’s inexpensive for the quality of the tacos, enchiladas, burgers and more.
For real, though, I can’t get enough of the Centro Crunch, which consists of quality, flavorful ground beef, an actually crisp tostada, crunchy green lettuce, creamy cheese and fresh tomatoes wrapped in a giant tortilla, which is seared together on a flat-top. And the not-too-sweet (and not from a mix) margaritas are available in pitcher format for your friend-group hangs.
Dwaegi Bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) at Juche in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)
Last but far from least, I can’t get enough of the Korean food being served at the former Cook St. Paul space on Payne Avenue.
Owners Eddie and Eve Wu and chef Chris Her have created a space that is dark, modern and cozy and is brimming with hospitality and delicious bites.
Grab a few friends, nab a booth and order as much as your bellies can hold — everything from the burgers to the bi bim bap to the kimchi fried rice is soulful and bursting with flavor. At this very moment, I am craving the dwaegi bindaetteok, or mung bean pancakes, which are helpfully cut into bite-sized pieces for easy sharing.
Juche has fun, soju-based cocktails, but also serves Makku, a canned version of the very Korean lightly effervescent fermented rice drink makgeolli.
I am so happy for this team for taking a post-pandemic leap and opening a restaurant that really speaks to their hearts. It’s working.
Juche: 1124 Payne Ave., St. Paul; 612-490-3380; juchestpaul.com
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