Grub on the Green Line

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The meatball spring rolls were delicious. Just stay away from the sauce that they give you. Ask for the house peanut house or stick to sriracha. Photo by Jordan Lim’15.

The meatball spring rolls were delicious. Just stay away from the sauce that they give you. Ask for the house peanut house or stick to sriracha. Photo by Jordan Lim'15.
The meatball spring rolls were delicious. Just stay away from the sauce that they give you. Ask for the house peanut house or stick to sriracha. Photo by Jordan Lim’15.

For Macalester students looking to go to downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis, Metro Transit’s Green Line is now the most convenient way to get there. Since this past June, the Green Line has run along University Avenue between the two downtowns. With frequent 24-hour service, clear announcements and clean cars, the Green Line is a new, fun and easy way for Macalester students to get around the Twin Cities, despite the sometimes frustratingly slow rate of travel.

Students would be foolish if they limited their Green Line travel to the two downtowns (Minneapolis or St. Paul). They need to know that they are also, traveling along University Avenue, one of the Twin Cities most exciting food streets. From the U of M in the west, to Snelling and Midway, and then East towards the Frogtown and Rondo neighborhoods, some of the most exciting and diverse food in the Twin Cities can be found a short walk away from one of the light rail stops. Grub on the Green Line will be your guide to all of it, from the best holes-in-the-wall to the ones to stay away from. Over the course of this year I will attempt to expose Macalester to easily accessible and hopefully delicious food. This chronicling begins with iPho by Saigon.

iPho by Saigon occupies a small storefront on University Ave. between the Lexington Parkway and Dale Street Stations. However, the restaurant is deceptively large, with tables running far back. The wait staff seated us promptly, a theme of our visit. We were all there to try the pho (creatively mentioned in the restaurant’s name). We also ordered some spicy chicken wings (because they sounded delicious) and the meatball spring rolls (because our waiter recommended them to us as one of his favorite, less commonly ordered, appetizers).

The spring rolls came first and were intriguing. The meatball was more like a meat plank, extending the length of the spring roll, and seemed to be more of a mixture of a pate and meatball than a typical meatball. Also within the rice paper wrap were lettuce, basil, cucumbers and vermicelli noodles. The spring roll was deliciously fresh, but there was one major problem: the dipping sauce. Our waiter had recommended the sauce because it wasn’t the typical peanut sauce that comes with most spring rolls. However, we all thought that the sauce was quite bland and oily. I ate a leftover springroll the next day out of my refrigerator with just some Sriracha oozed on it instead of the provided sauce and found that combo to be much more appetizing.

The chicken wings had their positive and negative attributes.  Ultimately the meat was slightly dry, but the glaze and rub were quite tasty. Photo by Jordan Lim'15.
The chicken wings had their positive and negative attributes. Ultimately the meat was slightly dry, but the glaze and rub were quite tasty. Photo by Jordan Lim’15.

The chicken wings came next, and much like the spring rolls, they were very good with one major flaw. This time, the sauce was delicious. Both sweet and spicy, with a real kick to it that made my nose run. It was a dominant flavor but a very satisfying one. The skin on the chicken wings was nice and crispy, unlike those commonly found in Café Mac. However, the chicken itself was definitely overcooked, as it was slightly tough to bite into and a little dry. With the flavor of the sauce, these were still eaten quickly, but were frustratingly not quite as good as they could have been.

But the real reason to go to iPho by Saigon is not for the spring rolls or chicken wings—it is for the namesake pho. Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, typically based in a beef broth. Pho is served with rice noodles and various cuts of beef, and usually comes with sides of basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños and limes. In the cold months of winter, it is one of the most satisfying, filling and warming meals to eat.

This bowl of pho was no exception. The broth was rich and beefy, without being overwhelmingly so. The noodles were nicely interspersed, adding a more neutral flavor throughout the bowl. The bean sprouts provided a nice crispiness, the jalapeños provided a little more spice, and the lime provided a tad of acidity to the bowl. However, as was unfortunately the theme for this meal, the one flaw with the pho was the beef. Although it was delicious and nicely varied, with lean strips, fatty brisket, meatball slivers, and tendon and tripe for the more adventurous eaters, there wasn’t as much as we would have liked to see. One of my fellow diners, Jordan Lim ‘15, noted that “the tendon and the tripe were both underrepresented” in his bowl of pho in comparison to the other types of beef. I found that there just wasn’t as much beef as I was accustomed to in my bowls of pho.

With that said, this still was a delicious bowl of soup: filling, warming and full of great flavors. Although this meal was not perfect, I would gladly eat all three of the foods again.

Pricewise, iPho is pretty affordable. The cheapest bowls of Pho runs around $7 (and it’s a lot of food). Sides, such as the chicken wings and meatball spring roles, generally run under $5. Bahn mi, a traditional Vietnmaese sandwich, is also featured on the menu. Getting one of those to go for lunch the follwing day is a recommended tactic.

On a cold day, one could do a lot worse than iPho by Saigon, and hey, you can get there easily with a short, climate-controlled ride on the Green Line! Stay tuned with for more grub thoughts in the coming weeks.

iPho by Saigon 704 University Avenue West Tue – Sat: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm Sun: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm (651)225-8751