After reading this review from Jeremy Iggers which mentioned three magic phrases: Hmong, packed at lunch, and “I didn’t quite have the nerve to try the…” So I got together with MSPD and Joey at Destiny Cafe for lunch on a Friday afternoon to eat some Hmong foods including the ever so scary, “pig uteri”.
The place, like Iggers mentioned, is difficult to find. Tucked away in an internal Hmong market off of University with little roadside signage I was a little lost until MSPD led the way from the sidewalk. We meandered a bit through the market and noticed the tea room, hair dresser, grocery, and mobile phone store before coming across the restaurant around back.
A large place with tons of seats, mostly taken at 11:30 when we arrived, this is certainly nothing fancy. Simple chairs and tables with the usual cheesy Asian decoration and DVDs/music available in market settings. Right as you walk in the door there is a meat box keeping a variety of meats (pork, chicken, fish, etc) warm and allowing the fat to drip from pork and beef onto grilled chicken below.
The menu is an eclectic mix of many different types of Asian including Hmong and Thai and there is definitely something there for just about anyone. I was there for two things: Hmong sausage and pig uteri. While Iggers, and apparently Jim Norton of the Heavy Table, were both too wimpy to hit up the pig uterus, I certainly was willing to try anything once…
MSPD ordered the pork belly, recommended all over the web as some of the best in the city, and a “small” bowl of Pho. His bill later came out under $8 and he noted that he could easily have fed his family of 5 on what he received–he wasn’t kidding. Joey went with the Sweet Kowpoon which set him back all of $6.40 (including tax). After some initial confusion with the kowpoon being referred to as another name when it was delivered we all had our food and began to dig through it.
MSPD’s small bowl of Pho was anything but. It was so big he jokingly mentioned he could have bathed in it. There was a good bit of broth which he said clearly had a variety of tasty herbs, a big helping of noodles, pork, imitation crab, and cilantro among who knows what else. His pork belly was indeed some of the best I’ve ever had and the layer of crunchy fat was so incredible lined up next to the soft, tender, and flavorful meat. Joey’s was also a very large portion and looked good. I tasted a bit of his pork and it was quite tender (something which I haven’t seen much of when it’s sliced that thin) and flavorful. My Hmong sausage was huge, tasty, and was definitely well worth the astronomically inexpensive price of $5.50. Enough to feed three or four hungry animals, it was definitely more than I should have eaten today.
But the main star of the show was the pig uteri. Cooked in their homemade oyster sauce with onions, red bell peppers, and greens, the pig uterus reminded me of what my socks smelled like in college after I wore them for two straight weeks and ran through mud four of the days–in other words absolutely foul. The meat itself was a greyish color and looked like tubes. I tried to avoid the smell and took a bite and found that the uteri was very similar in texture to kidneys. While the meat itself had very little flavor, all I could taste was what I smelled before. While I ate a good number of the uteri pieces I just couldn’t get over how absolutely terrible it smelled and I eventually asked MSPD to keep what was remaining on his side of the table–as far from me as possible.
When the friendly staff member came to our table to ask how it was I asked if he actually ate the uteri. He stated, genuinely, that he loved it and he believed it was very good for people to eat as it was good for your digestive system. While this may be something he was told by his mother, something like when they tell you drinking castor oil is good for you no matter how bad it smells and tastes, he clearly enjoyed the dish. Later, when I was paying my inexpensive bill, I was asked how I liked the uteri. Admitting I was glad I tried it, I let them know that it was definitely not for me and was not something I’d be eating again in the future. The man behind the counter just smiled at me and kept making change.
Overall, I absolutely LOVED Destiny Cafe in St. Paul in every single way. Not only was this an inexpensive place to get a meal but the staff was friendly, well informed, and the food was superb. It’s highly recommended by me and I definitely suggest that you get in your car and immediately drive there to taste their sausage and pork belly for yourself–you will not be disappointed.
Have you ever eaten at Destiny Cafe in St. Paul? If so what did you think? What are your favorite Hmong dishes? Where else do you get your fix? Whatever you have to say about Destiny Cafe in St. Paul, go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.
995 University Avenue West
St Paul, MN 55104-4796
See all the pictures from Destiny Cafe on Flickr here.