New York Times praises St. Paul, the thrifty traveler’s dream

Writer Lucas Peterson experienced St. Paul's cultural wealth at the Hmongtown Marketplace, but totally missed Potbelly.

Writer Lucas Peterson experienced St. Paul's cultural wealth at the Hmongtown Marketplace, but totally missed Potbelly.

The New York Times doesn’t have the best track record writing about Minnesota. We all remember the mythical grape salad and the subsequent outrage. Then there was that bizarre study of Minneapolis dating habits, which revealed how we employ Big Buck Hunter pick-up lines to find a mate before winter.

But the only all-caps tweets triggered by the Times’ latest attempt at chronicling our ways of life ought to be 140-character bursts of respect for largely getting off the beaten path. In a new travel piece slated for Sunday’s print edition, Lucas Peterson turns his attention to the Twin City less traveled, St. Paul.

Peterson, who writes a Times’ blog called the Frugal Traveler, praised the Saintly City’s diversity, “quality restaurants,” and relative kindness to one’s debit card.

While noting the longtime presence of longtime honky favorite “A Prairie Home Companion,” Peterson was damn near smitten with St. Paul’s Hmong markets. Aided by a newfound chum he met at the Hmong American Partnership, he slurped a beef and tripe soup at Mama’s Fusion in the Hmongtown Marketplace and noshed fried bananas and a fried sesame coconut ball at the Hmong Village Shopping Center.

In what seems like a quick trip, he also hit up the farmers market for LoveTree Farmstead Cheese and tipped the Minnesota History Center and Cathedral of St. Paul (OK, sure). But give him credit for enjoying the “buttery, flaky excellence” of the croissant at beloved French-Vietnamese bakery Trung Nam, sifting records at Barely Brothers, and digging into a beet falafel sandwich at Foxy Falafel.

Of all the St. Paul comestibles, however, Peterson’s favorite was the sour soup at Kolap Restaurant, a Cambodian joint in Frogtown. Tales of its “powerfully tangy broth” spun into another of owner Suren Pen’s escape from a Philippines refugee camp during the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s.

It’s not exactly the stuff of breezy travel tip blogs, but offers a beneath-the-surface look at how St. Paul’s cultural topography was formed.

Plus, it’s way more insightful than gushing about the breakfast menu at Potbelly.

It sounds like Peterson largely hung in the Frogtown-Midway-St. Anthony strip during what was likely a brief visit, and his admirable picks are hardly comprehensive. So the next time a fancy, NYC newspaperman swings through St. Paul, where would you send him? A Saints game? Mucci’s for a lasagna brick of cheffed-up comfort food? Let us know in the comments.