This story is sponsored by Green Line District Marketing.
Filling, fulfilling, and inexpensive fare define the restaurants of St. Paul’s historic Rondo district on the south side of University Avenue between Lexington Parkway and Dale Street.
The Rondo district was formerly the heart of the city’s African-American community, dating back to the Civil War. In the 1960s, when Interstate 94 was built, Rondo was literally divided into two sections, north and south of I-94.
Today, Rondo continues to be home to a significant African-American population, as well as to new U.S. residents from a variety of nations, particularly from Southeast Asia. The district’s ethnic cuisine reflects the diversity of the area’s population — and delivers a great value for diners seeking both satiety and savings!
Rondo Featured Restaurants on South Side of University Avenue
Best Steak House (860 University Ave W) — Best Steak House has been at the southwest corner of University Avenue and Victoria Street since 1985, but step inside, sample the food, décor, and hospitality, and you’ll swear you’ve taken a trip back in time. Specializing in serving Flintstone-sized slabs of seared-to-order meat, Best Steak House hearkens to a dining era before calorie and cholesterol counts or frou-frou cookbooks, when meat and potatoes reigned supreme. For around $15 or less, you have your choice of a variety of steak dinners, all served with a baked potato, iceberg lettuce salad, and two pieces of buttered Texas toast. The restaurant’s owners (who are also the cooks and servers) seem to ascribe to the philosophy of “there are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.” The ordering process is simple and timeless: enter the restaurant, be heartily greeted, grab a tray, give the cook your order, grab your salad and toppings, pay, and within minutes, your piping-hot dinner adorns your checker-cloth table. For hungry carnivores, what could be better?
Homi (864 University Ave W) — Immediately west of Best Steak House, Homi is the only Mexican restaurant along University Ave. in St. Paul. Homi distinguishes itself by serving tasty, authentic Mexican dishes based on the family recipes of the restaurant’s owners, Hortencia and Miguel (the first two letters of their names created the restaurant’s name). If you’re seeking a mass-produced, Tex-Mex taco, or pre-mixed margarita, look elsewhere. But if you enjoy freshly made, homemade-style food, this is your place. House specialties include tamales en hoja de platano (pork tamales in banana leaves), served with red sauce, as well as camarones a la diabla (shrimps from hell) — large whole shrimp served in a spicy red sauce and served with rice, beans, and salad. Diners also delight in Homi’s homemade mole sauce, served with many dishes but the highlight of a dish called “emmoladas,” which are mole-smothered chicken enchiladas.
iPho by Saigon (704 University Ave W) — With a restaurant name like “iPho,” you would expect top-notch pho, the traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup, and iPho by Saigon delivers — 15 varieties of flavorful pho served in enormous bowls ranging from “regular” to “jumbo.” One of the most popular varieties is pho sai gon dac biet, which includes several cuts of beef: eye of round, flank, brisket, tripe, tendon, and beef meatballs. You can also order pho with chicken, shrimp, tofu, or broccoli, or just plain, with broth. Equally popular at iPho are the restaurant’s 13 types of banh mi sandwiches — French rolls stuffed with cucumbers, pickled veggies, cilantro, jalapenos, and meat topped with homemade French mayonnaise. All of the sandwiches are filling and a great value at $4.50 or less. If you love pork, try the banh mi sai gon (Saigon specialty sandwich) filled with red roast pork, pork loaf, grilled pork, and mayo and paté. All sandwiches can be ordered with sweet potato fries and a soft drink for an additional $2. Fans of bubble tea have lots to choose from at iPho, with 18 flavor varieties including taro, lychee, and milk tea.
SugaRush (712 University Ave W) — Family-owned and operated, SugaRush bakery could easily become your regular “go-to” destination for delicious donuts and muffins, just as it has been for several St. Paul businesses and churches and scores of regulars since 2008. Everything at SugaRush is baked from scratch, reasonably priced, and — as the bakery’s name implies — a delightful sugar rush of flavor. SugaRush regulars swear by the bakery’s apple fritters (get there early in the morning, before they are gone), while others declare the old fashioned donuts (available in glazed, chocolate, vanilla, or plain) as the best in town. Coffee, both Coke and Pepsi products(!), and free wi-fi make SugaRush a handy meeting / lingering place, long after you’ve gobbled the last crumb of your baked treat.
Trieu Chau (500 University Ave W) — Pho fans flock to Trieu Chau, a veritable institution of Vietnamese cuisine on University Ave. for nearly a quarter-century. Fast, friendly, and inexpensive, Trieu Chau often packs diners into its cozy building, especially around lunchtime. It’s easy to see why Trieu Chau won “Best Vietnamese” in the Twin Cities in the 2012 City Pages “Best of…” rankings. The several varieties of Trieu Chau’s pho feature a rich blend of spices, beef flavor, noodles, and meat. Other patron favorites include wonderfully delightful banh mi sandwiches, spicy chicken, and the vermicelli salad with grilled shrimp and spiced pork. Trieu Chau also stands out for its consistently friendly and attentive service; Trieu Chau regulars are consistently amazed at how the restaurant’s staff, including its owner, Minh, remember them and their favorite dishes. A University Ave. standout!