Photo: @thericechannel at Peking Garden
Written by: Mecca Bos
Long the rescue for families looking for a place to dine during the Christmas holiday, a Chinese restaurant can be a balm for anyone looking for a change of pace at the holiday table— or for those of us not inclined toward big, family productions or gravy boats.
If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out on the singular festivity of a bustling Chinese dining room on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day— it’s like celebrating Saturday on a Monday; stumbling on a private party that you didn’t realize you needn’t have an invitation to attend.
A short list of spots for every kind of vibe or need, from takeout to casual, to fine or fun.
Since 1991, now in its third location, loyalists follow Peking Garden for its extensive Cantonese menu, live seafood, and hot pot. Now housed in the beautiful dining room of the former Vietnamese hot spot Mai Village after damage from the 2020 uprising destroyed their previous location, Peking Garden is officially open for business, again. Specialties of the house include fried quail, congee, conch, frog dishes, and more.
(At time of press, Peking Garden was still undergoing construction updates. Check back for updates on hours.)
Golden Chow Mein
This intrepid neighborhood institution has anchored working-class West 7th for three decades. Turn to “Golden,” for takeout that tastes like it deserves a finer treatment than getting smooshed into an oyster pail.
Always cooked to order, their comprehensive Cantonese menu offers solid renditions of all your old faves from fried rice to sweet and sour. The chicken wings are some of the best in the game— I’d hold them up to any others in either city, and the chicken almond ding is served spicy with beautiful, whole almonds festooned throughout.
(Open on Christmas Eve, Closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
Neighborhood Tip: West 7th is an old neighborhood with minimal signs of gentrification, especially at the west end. Check out Casper & Runyon’s Shamrock’s for incomparable burgers, Skarda’s for a real-deal St. Paul neighborhood bar, and West Seventh Pharmacy for a dime store vibe from your great grandma’s era.
Master Noodle (Formerly Magic Noodle)
Our local home to the elusive hand-pulled “Biang Biang” noodle, University Avenue’s Master Noodle also has a stylish dining room and a wine list, making it a great option for a classier occasion.
Their Szechuan game is strong, like wontons in delicate, paper-thin wrappers bobbing in a lake of fiery chili oil.
(Open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Currently take-out only due to Covid concerns. Check back for updates.)
Neighborhood Tip: University Avenue is home to some of the best food from all over the world, particularly Southeast Asia. Check out all sorts of Thai and Vietnamese institutions, but also stop at Urban Lights, Minnesota’s only Black-owned record store and Midway Used & Rare Books among other unique places for shopping, eating, drinking, browsing, and strolling.
Kim’s Chow Mein
In the cute as an ant’s nose Marshall/ Cleveland neighborhood, Kim’s is the sort of community gem that feels like it’s just always been there, and always will be.
With a koi aquarium, lacy cafe curtains, paper zodiac placemats, and fortune cookies aplenty, this small but hardy institution is low on trend, and big on flavor and friendliness.
Classics are king here— think egg foo young, egg drop soup, and General Tso’s chicken. Finish with sugar donuts or almond cookies if fortune cookies aren’t enough.
(Closed on Christmas Day, Open Christmas Eve, Closed New Year’s Day)
Neighborhood Tip: This family-friendly neighborhood is charming for a stroll— schools, churches, coffee shops and wine stores dot the area, and the University of St. Thomas campus is leafy and stately.
Ho Ho Gourmet
Go to East St. Paul’s Ho Ho Gourmet when your appetite insists on a little throwback kitsch. Fancy it’s not, but almost three decades (now in its second family-run generation) of cheese puffs, sweet and sour shrimp, and fried rice cannot be wrong.
The dining room is a carpeted and heavy-draped wonder, but it’s cozy, cute and time-honored; and its Christmas Eve tradition is known well to locals.
(Closed on Christmas Day, open on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day)
Neighborhood Tip: East Saint Paul is home to dense Southeast Asian and Latinx populations. Check out the nearby Asian grocery housed in an old Byerly’s, Ha Tien Supermarket, claiming status as the state’s largest Asian market. Sun Ray Shopping Center has served locals for decades, and nearby Sun Ray Lanes is your go-to for beers, burgers, and rolling some balls.
Legendary for flaming Polynesian cocktails the size of your head, this is the first place I got on a proper drunk, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
“Hunans” has been around seemingly as long as downtown itself, and though it’s more famous for drinks, it’s advisable to put down a good base of solid egg rolls and shrimp toast before attempting a volcano with a shot of flaming 151 in the center.
Also serving “rumake,” your parent’s wood-paneled basement cocktail party snack of water chestnuts wrapped in bacon, then drenched in a sweet tangy sauce— please do not knock until tried.
(Open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day at 6p.m., and New Year’s Day at 6p.m.)
Mecca Bos is a Twin Cities based food writer and professional chef. Thinking of tacos and travel are hobbies. Her work can be found at meccaboswrites.com