How Dinkytown Became an International Foodie Destination

First time I went to a U of M Lodge frat night in the early 90’s we went out and walked to station 19 for beers and dancing and ended up with some kind of end pizza dinner eaten at the Château. Sushi hadn’t become a thing in my life yet, forget the poke. And there weren’t even Starbucks in Minnesota back then, let alone bubble tea purveyors from Taiwan. But I have to wonder how different this would all have been if I was 20-something if I had wandered the streets of Dinkytown and Stadium Village like they are today.

Not to dwell too much on the missing McDonald’s at the corner of 4th Street SE and 15th Avenue, but this neighborhood has changed and may change forever. Can we really think that a neighborhood populated mainly by temporary residents by nature would stick too much to tradition? Sure, Stub and Herb’s is still around after 83 years, and Al’s Breakfast is clearly forever, but it’s hard to miss some interesting neighborhood developments inspired by the next generation of incoming students.

According to the university, the Twin Cities campus is home to some 6,900 international students. In 2019, it was ranked the 21st most popular middle school for children in the world, out of around 1,200 surveyed. More than 100 countries are represented on campus, with China, India, and South Korea showing up with the largest communities. But since the opening of the international office in Beijing in 2009, the number of Chinese students on campus has grown to more than a third of international degree-seeking students.

This is perhaps what makes this area an attractive market for international companies. Featured in our guide to the spiciest places in the Twin Cities, Legendary Spice is a restaurant with only two locations: Stadium Village and Chengdu, China. Both opened in 2017 and are family owned.

In October, Taiwanese bubble tea shop Tiger Sugar came to the neighborhood. The chain, which has more than 40 locations worldwide, opened its only location in Minnesota on 14th Avenue SE. On opening weekend, a line snaked around the block as students and influencers waited for their famous eight-hour brown sugar bubble tea.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that if this continues, we’re going to experience some pretty wonderful things. I first started wondering if Dinkytown was becoming our Chinatown. But when I really think about it, it’s so much more than that. Can we call it the Global Village? Street food street? Or Worldtown? Not catchy, I know; I will work there.

Perhaps what lies ahead is best anticipated by the opening of CrunCheese, a Korean corn dog restaurant that now sits on the hot corner of 14th Avenue and 4th Street SE. Think about the coming and going of cultures that led the iconic corn dog (invented between 1920 and 1940 in the United States) to become a fascination for Korean street vendors in the 1980s, before becoming the basis of a successful chain. Myungrang Hotdog restaurants. These, in turn, inspired a food trend that became global enough to bring the reinvented dog on a stick back to America. I can love my State Fair Pronto Pup every year and still encourage Korean creativity that puts cheese in it with the hot dog or smashes it all in fries before frying. It’s so winning.

This is the kind of exchange program that I am happy to promote. If these companies make incoming international students feel more comfortable during their time here, AND we welcome some international street food to our streets: more, please. We now have mochi donuts and bubble teas and hotspots among places that already boast falafel makers, burrito pros, poke masters and Philly cheesesteak artists.

Summer is the perfect time to kick off your global feast, as the majority of students are away for the season, so queues, if any, are short. Except at Al’s Breakfast, of course.

Stephanie Mars

Stephanie March, editor of Food and Dining, writes and edits the Eat + Drink section of Mpls.St.Paul magazine. She can also be heard on Saturdays on her myTalk107.1 radio show, Weekly Dish, where she talks about the Twin Cities food scene.

Read more about Stephanie March

August 24, 2022

06:44

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