BEST POWER LUNCH - 2005
Even before Mai Village's extraordinary multimillion-dollar makeover last year, the humble University Avenue Vietnamese restaurant was a favorite of political powerbrokers. In fact, we recall seeing Dean Barkley noshing there shortly after he returned from his eight-week stint as a U.S. senator in 2002. Back then, the appeal was mainly the scrumptious $6 lunch specials and vigilant service. But now that this longtime Frogtown staple has moved a few blocks closer to the Capitol and been transformed into a veritable Vietnamese theme park, it has become the place for St. Paul's political pooh-bahs to gather at the noon hour. While chowing on egg rolls and pho, they can conduct business without fear that their fellow diners will be eavesdropping. That's because they'll be too busy taking in the elaborate decor: hand-carved wooden pagoda, stained glass windows, bamboo grove, even a waterfall. Despite Mai Village's extreme makeover, the prices remain absurdly cheap, with lunch specials hovering below the $10 mark. Even better, the restaurant now has a full-service bar, including a swell selection of wines. This is especially good news for the Democrats since they can no longer get drunk at the Capitol.