On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

Appetites: The three waves of Asian-inspired restaurants

Share story

There's a new wave of Asian-inspired restaurants opening up around the metro. James Norton, the editor of the daily online journal of food and drink in the Upper Midwest, HeavyTable.com, joined MPR News host Tom Crann to talk about the trend.

One of the new restaurants is called Sweet Chow Takeway, located in the North Loop.

The restaurant is a brainchild of high-profile local chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson, although it's worth noting that Anderson has since left for a new job out at Coi in San Francisco, Norton said.

"Sweet Chow is doing Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai-inspired dishes, but even though the place has a really clean, contemporary menu and chic decor I was really pleased and impressed at how bold the flavors were, how bold the textures were and that kind of came through in the dishes we tried there," he said. 

The new spot is definitely part of a pattern, Norton said.

"If you've been to Hai Hai or Young Joni in Northeast Minneapolis, you know what I'm talking about," he said. "Hai Hai is doing a lot of Thai-inspired small plates and Young Joni is kind of doing a menu revolving around pizza but there's a Korean influence."

What sets these new restaurants apart from the Asian and Asian-inspired restaurants open around the Twin Cities for many decades is who's serving it. Norton divided the types of restaurants into waves.

"For me, I think about first-wave Asian restaurants as being immigrants serving food to immigrants. You'll taste a lot of earthiness, you'll taste fierce spiciness, and there will be textural elements that are really bold — think about tripe, or chopped pieces of bone at the center of chunks of meat." 

Meanwhile "second-wave" restaurants adapted themselves to the median of American taste, "which is to say the children and grandchildren of northern European immigrants," he said. 

"So you'll get stuff like really sweet pad Thai that's lacking much heat or much earthiness, or mass-market Chinese food that's all about breaded meat nuggets swimming in corn syrup."

Third-wave places, on the other hand, is the best of both worlds — though you still might want to visit the first two waves to save some money, he said.

"[They] keep most of the depth and boldness of the original cuisines, but they package and market really slickly to the young and affluent," Norton said. 

To listen to their full conversation, click the audio player above.