Photos by Craig Bares
Manchurian stir-fry from Chin Dian
Manchurian stir-fry from Chin Dian
Chin Dian Café
Nina Wong may be the little sister of Rainbow Chinese’s Tammy Wong, but she’s no slouch in her own right. Not only has she developed a retail line of sauces, but for the past several years, along with her Malaysian-born husband, Thomas, she’s been operating a charming spot on Hennepin called Chin Dian Café.
The menu zigzags through a variety of cuisines reflective of the couple’s backgrounds. Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, and Indian classics all make appearances. Without a doubt, the best dishes are those that showcase Wong’s saucing talents. One standout is the Chin Dian Manchurian stir-fry that’s fired up with a tomato-garlic-ginger blend, sliced garlic, jalapeno peppers, and dried chilies, plus a choice of chicken, paneer, or gobi (eggplant). We took the chef’s recommendation and ordered it with paneer, mozzarella-textured Indian cheese. The result is a nicely spicy home run. The zesty green beans are another hit, done perfectly al dente and wok-seared with garlic in Wong’s wonderful oyster- and soy-based black sauce. Other favorites include feathery steamed chicken and chive dumplings with a light soy dipping sauce, and a well-composed rendition of Singapore-style chow mai fun—gluten-free noodles tossed with curry, bean sprouts, shrimp, and scallions. I also enjoyed the vegetable samosas filled with peas and potatoes, served with a delicious homemade mint sauce.
A few items aren’t worth the calories, including the noodle-laden spring rolls, the chewy calamari, and the dry Indian fried noodles. There’s nothing fancy about Chin Dian’s digs, but the collection of tables and booths is perfectly comfortable, and our server couldn’t have been more upbeat and helpful. 1500 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-676-1818, chindiancafe.com
Don't let the strip mall stop you—there are serious eats in the back of the store.
CurryUp Restaurant and Grocery
Since its dining area opened a few years ago, this no-frills Indian bazaar wedged in a Maple Grove strip mall has been the subject of persistent good buzz. The small restaurant is all but hidden behind a grocery store frontage that offers about as comprehensive an inventory of Indian provisions as you’ll find in these parts. For those used to dining at Indian restaurants where the waitstaff is dour and disinterested, what immediately stands out here is the welcoming warmth of the owners. They are happy to talk about the menu and respond to requests about pacing and spicing.
The food is notable for several reasons. For one, it’s value priced—most entrees are a couple of bucks less than at similar places. For another, diners can choose to snack on a unique assortment of Indian street foods known as puris and chaats—casserole-style dishes featuring combinations of puffed rice, crunchy lentil wafers, potatoes, onions, and chutney flavorings. (On Tuesday and Thursday nights, diners can indulge in a $7.99 all-you-can-eat snackdown of these treats.) CurryUp also serves an assortment of dosas, traditional South Indian rice and lentil flour crepes that can be ordered with various toppings. And last but not least, there’s a solid menu of traditional Indian fare including an excellent lamb vindaloo, a tender and tasty goat curry that will charm diners not yet hooked on this increasingly popular meat, and stellar chicken korma that can be perfected with a shaving of fresh coconut upon request. Dishes tend to be mild, so if you’re a “3” at most Indian restaurants, I’d suggest kicking the spicing up to a “4” here. 13601 Grove Dr., Maple Grove, 763-416-0473, curryupfoods.com