An unassuming building on the corner of 34th Avenue and 56th Street near Lake Nokomis doesn’t reveal from the outside that it offers anything more special than your garden-variety, Americanized Chinese food. But Singapore, like Transformers, is more than meets the eye. The small shop doesn’t provide much in terms of on-site dining — yes, there are plenty of tables and chairs, but only four menus and very little warmth coming from the vents — but it does a brisk takeout business from neighborhood residents who have come to love the Chinese and Malaysian dishes that make your typical takeout pale in comparison.
Take the curry puff ($7, below), which in no way resembles a sprightly tater tot-like puff but rather a large dosa or wrap. Overflowing with chicken and vegetables, the appetizer, which includes two “puffs,” easily serves four. The messy, fork-and-knife-needed puff expertly balances sweet, spice, and a touch of sour. It’s mild enough that delicate palates can enjoy it but has enough oomph that you don’t need to add more heat.
Despite the promise of spice throughout the menu, none of the dishes sampled bowled over the tastebuds. But you won’t miss the spice when you order dishes like the Singapore rice noodles ($9, below) or Mee Goreng ($9) and receive a jumble of noodles tossed with chunks of chicken, crunchy cabbage, and scrambled egg. On the surface, there are no exotic spices or ingredients, but the plates are layered with flavor. While many Chinese dishes feature one note — salty for soy sauce-heavy meals, or cloying for those fried and tossed in sweet and sour sauce — Singapore’s noodle dishes don’t let the sauce do all the talking. You can taste the individual flavors of the savory seasoned chicken and lightly sauced noodles (thin for the Singapore dish, linguini-size for the Mee Goreng).
The beef dishes are equally successful: The spicy peppery beef ($15) offered tender slices of meat and healthy chunks of sweet peppers tossed in a thick brown sauce and served with steamed rice. The heat, while present, is relatively mild; heat seekers will want to request a jolt to their order. The kitchen also pulled together an off-menu dish of beef, broccoli, and peppers for the younger members of our party, and it was gobbled down so quickly that there could be no doubt of its appeal. One could consider the Singapore menu a starting point, actually — if you tell the friendly chef your likes and dislikes, she’ll whip up a fresh dish to match your tastes.
That’s the charm of a place like Singapore: Go in with an open mind and a hungry belly, and you won’t be disappointed. Nokomis neighbors, you are a lucky bunch. A bad day could become way better with a stop at Singapore for an order of rice noodles on your way home. Save some for the rest of us.
Chinese-Malaysian in Nokomis, Minneapolis
5554 34th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55417
HOURS: 5-10pm daily
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-20