9 St. Paul hot spots to eat at right now

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Banh Xeo savory crepe , with a salad.
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It might seem like restaurant openings have slowed down a bit since the pandemic, but I’m here to tell you that there are so many new and exciting restaurants in St. Paul that I’m having a hard time keeping up.

A west metro, food-loving friend of mine told me recently that St. Paul is where it’s at, and after compiling this list, it’s hard to argue with him.

Here, in alphabetical order, are eight relatively recently opened places (and one with a notable new chef) in St. Paul that are absolutely worth your time and money. It’s a good time to live in the Capital City!

EM QUE VIET

Banh Xeo savory crepe at Em Que Viet on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

One of the newest on this list, Em Que Viet is the younger, hipper “little sister” of Minneapolis’ Que Viet. If you recognize the name, it might be because these are also the folks responsible for the delicious giant eggroll on a stick a the Minnesota State Fair.

The exterior of the Grand Avenue restaurant is hard to miss — a canopy of pretty pink flowers marks the spot — and the interior is bright and modern. There’s an adorable little patio in the back, too, to savor the last drops of fall sunshine.

There’s plenty of traditional Vietnamese food — including those ridiculously delicious giant egg rolls — on the menu here, but also some harder-to-find items like a silky beef carpaccio and Banh Xeo, or a crispy, bean-sprout-filled Vietnamese crepe. There are tons of vegan and vegetarian options here, and they have a full liquor license. The cocktail list includes craft drinks using Asian ingredients and flavors (like an espresso martini with Vietnamese drip espresso or a whiskey sour with Japenese whiskey).

Great for a date night or a business lunch, Em Que Viet is a welcome addition to St. Paul’s dining scene.

1332 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-330-4363; emqueviet.com

EMERALD LOUNGE

  • Mussels On A Plate

    Mussels at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Chips And Dip

    Chips and dip at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Shrimp And Grits

    Shrimp and grits at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Four Cocktails -- Three In Martini Glasses And The Fourth In A Short Glass.

    Cocktails, including The Huntress, foreground, at Emerald Lounge in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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This pretty little cocktail lounge has been an instant hit in the Capital City. But if it’s full when you arrive, don’t worry — tables generally turn quickly, and a friendly staff never makes you feel out of place while you wait.

The snack-heavy food menu here is short but tasty — try some tender mussels in a Thai-inspired coconut broth or chips and two kinds of housemade dip (French onion or harissa aioli). The menu changes frequently, but most everything we have tried has been tasty.

Cocktails here are thoughtfully crafted and well-balanced. The martini of the moment is always a great selection — it’s usually a variation on the classic gin drink. The Huntress, an aquavit version of the martini that includes white balsamic vinegar and an anchovy and a pickled onion as garnish, is a savory revelation. It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I love aquavit and a salty drink, so I really, really loved it. The wine list focuses on some underrepresented varietals. If you haven’t heard of it, order it anyway.

Overall, it’s an awesome spot to meet up with friends and have a nosh and a drink — whatever your preference.

455 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-410-1650; emeraldstpaul.com

GABE’S NEIGHBORHOOD BAR & KITCHEN

  • Birria Quesadilla On A Plate, With A Bowl Of Sauce.

    Birria quesadilla at Gabe’s Neighborhood Bar & Kitchen on Lexington Parkway and Energy Park Drive in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Loaded Brussels Sprouts On A Plate.

    Loaded Brussels sprouts at Gabe’s Neighborhood Bar & Kitchen in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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This Como Park neighborhood staple underwent a branding change and brought on chef Scott Brink, who was the chef at The Happy Gnome for many years, and his wife, Emily Brink, who is running the front of the house.

The changes haven’t been huge — a few new menu items, fun daily specials, a bathroom remodel, a new logo and sign — but the food, especially the new items, are great for bar food.

My dining partners and I especially liked the birria quesadillas, which include tender beef, lots of cheese and a rich, spice-infused consomme, and the loaded Brussels sprouts, which include bacon, queso fresco and sriracha aioli. Bang bang shrimp tacos, with crispy shrimp, crunchy cabbage and a mildly spicy bang bang sauce, are also worth an order.

991 N. Lexington Parkway, St. Paul; 651-646-3066; gabesmn.com

GUS GUS

  • Sea Bass

    Sea bass at Gus Gus in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Chips With Speck And Creme Fraiche

    Chips with speck and creme fraiche at Gus Gus in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Red Jell-O Shots On A White Plate.

    Jell-o shots at Gus Gus in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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This beloved Mac-Groveland neighborhood restaurant space (it was 128 Cafe for many years, and after that, Stewart’s) is happily still one of my favorite eateries in town.

Hospitality vets Anna Morgan (front of house) and Kevin Manley (chef) opened Gus Gus this spring, and it’s as comfortable, and approachable, as ever. The killer Stewart’s burger is still there, but also fun bar snacks like house-made potato chips topped with bits of speck ham and creme fraiche and simple, well-executed entrees like sea bass on a white bean ragu and a tender, beefy ribeye.

The bar program is better than ever, especially for cocktail lovers — the list of inventive craft drinks is long, and everything we sampled has been great. You can also get fancy Jell-o shots, made with Aperol, blood orange and bubbly, which are delicious and are a fun way to kick off your experience.

I also love that you can get a reservation, but they keep bar seats open for spontaneous drop-ins.

128 N. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-645-4128; gusgusmn.com

KALSADA

  • A Row Of Lumpia On A Plate.

    Lumpia with banana ketchup at Kalsada on St. Paul’s Selby Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Chicken Adobo With Eggs.

    Chicken adobo at Kalsada on St. Paul’s Selby Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Three Plates Of Carrots Ginataan, Lumpia And A Tomato Cucumber Salad

    Carrots Ginataan, lumpia and a tomato cucumber salad at Kalsada in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • The Outside Of Kalsada, A Restaurant.

    The outside of Kalsada in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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Filipino food has been hard to find in these parts, and I’m thrilled that this restaurant in the former Augustine’s space on Selby Avenue has filled that void.

Chefs Leah Raymundo and John Occhiato, who also own Cafe Astoria and Stella Belle in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood, did very little to the pretty space here, which already had a tropical vibe.

Raymundo is channeling her home country with modern, soulful versions of dishes like lumpia, chicken adobo and kinilaw, the Filipino version of ceviche. The flavors are bright, deep and tropical and the vibe very comfortable and neighborhoody. There’s a full liquor license in the evenings — and a long list of tropical cocktails — and a full espresso program for weekend brunch.

1668 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-340-0496; kalsada-stpaul.com

MARIO’S

Pepperoni Pizza
Pepperoni pizza from Mario’s on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

Pizza, for some reason, really evokes strong feelings in people. It’s why I’ll never do a “best pizza” story — I’d never see the end of the emails.

But if you are a lover of a thick crust, this new spot from the owners of Estelle is for you. I personally love all pizzas if they are done well, and these springy-crisp-crusted pies, which are topped with just the right amount of sauce and cheese — are definitely done well.

There’s a lot of complaining among food writers I know that it’s tough to get a really good sandwich in the Twin Cities. That’s still true, but I’d definitely put the hoagies here — with their sesame-crusted, house-made bread — in the really good category.

The restaurant, in the former Tillie’s Farmhouse space on Cleveland Avenue, has plenty of space for eating in, but the team is also doing a brisk takeout business.

232 N. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-207-5252; mariosstp.com

MOMENTO

  • Pepperoni Pizza

    Pepperoni pizza at Momento in downtown St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Salmon In Sauce On A Plate, With Vegetables.

    Salmon at Momento in downtown St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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It was definitely a sad thing for many St. Paulites when Pazzaluna never reopened after pandemic closures.

Happily, the restaurant’s wood-fired oven has been fired up again with this (much smaller) restaurant. The bar here is front and center, and for many people, that’s where they preferred to be at Pazzaluna anyway. Momento is the latest restaurant from Morrissey Hospitality, which ran Pazzaluna and also runs St. Paul Grill across the street.

It’s clear they’re going for quick service for people headed to events downtown in the evenings (they are also open for lunch), and they have accomplished that. I’ve been there before several concerts, and the service is brisk and the food comes out fast.

The food — burgers, tacos, pasta and the like — is decent, and the cocktails are solid. The best thing we had in three visits was definitely the thin-crusted, properly topped pizza.

360 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-223-7000; momento-stp.com

MYRIEL

  • A Plate Of Duck.

    A duck dish from Myriel in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • Black Lentils In A Bowl, With Garnish.

    Black lentils at Myriel in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • A Bowl Of Soup.

    Celery root soup at Myriel in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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I have long admired chef Karyn Tomlinson’s sparse, Nordic-inspired cuisine, and Myriel, in the former Bar Brigade space on Cleveland Avenue, is the perfect place for the first restaurant of her own.

Tomlinson, who was at the helm of Minneapolis’ beloved Corner Table when it closed, also won the national Cochon 555 competition. She’s a big believer in whole-animal butchery — which also means using every part of the pig, cow, lamb or whatever is on the menu. That also means that the menu changes frequently. I usually recommend a la carte dining here, unless you want to make an entire evening of dinner, as that experience has run three-plus hours for me several times.

That being said, everything I have eaten here, including the best duck I’ve ever tasted and black lentils that I’m still craving six months later, has been delicious. It’s where you want to take your food-loving friends when they visit, or where you want to linger over pretty plates of food on a romantic night.

470 S. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-340-3568; myrielmn.com

NOYES & CUTLER

  • Salmon On A Plate.

    Salmon at Noyes & Cutler in St. Paul’s Lowertown. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • A Porterhouse Steak With Butter On It.

    A porterhouse at Noyes & Cutler in Lowertown. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

  • A Restaurant Dining Room.

    The dining room at the new Noyes & Cutler in Lowertown. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

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Another space that has been rebooted since the pandemic, Noyes & Cutler has opened in the former Public Kitchen + Bar space on Mears Park in Lowertown.

Noyes & Cutler, named for the historic building in which it resides, calls itself a modern American steakhouse, and if you’re going to hang your hat on steak in these beef-obsessed cities, it had better be good. Lucky for us, it’s great — especially the juicy, perfectly cooked prime rib, which comes with horseradish sauce and au jus. It’s kind of a hard cut to find, and many places that offer it do so only certain days of the week.

Chef Aaron Cave is also making a killer porterhouse, which seems really expensive at $70 with no sides until you see the thing and realize it’s enough meat for four, easily. And the non-beef options we’ve tried, including a lick-the-plate good salmon preparation, have all been special-occasion worthy, too.

Public Kitchen never really found its footing, but I’m happy to say that Noyes & Cutler has food befitting the beautiful space in which it resides. Hopefully enough people find it to keep it around.

229 E. Sixth St., St. Paul; 651-968-1050; noyescutler.com

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