Hungry for Vietnamese street food? Of course you are. And you’re in luck. There’s a new express route to Southeast Asia by way of Northeast Minneapolis. And it’s well worth the trip.
Meet Hai Hai. This technicolor tour of tropical Asian tastes comes courtesy of the amazing duo behind Hola Arepa, Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem. Which means you’re in good hands. Talented hands who know how to delight diners. Specifically, their taste buds.
Which is exactly what happened one recent winter’s night, when I escaped the drab and snow-covered streets of Minneapolis with a few friends to dine and drink our way across Hai Hai’s brand new menu: a menu at once comforting and adventurous. You’ve had spring rolls, sure, but what about chopped clams or crispy turmeric crepes? Doubtful. Now’s your chance. Explore.
Explore we did. Those very comforting spring rolls, for example, are stuffed full of fresh herbs, crunchy pickled carrots and jicama, layered with rich pork sausage and crispy egg roll skin.
The lemongrass chopped clams were a surprise table favorite. Briny, citrus-dressed clams chopped with shallots and peanuts perfect for dipping with the accompanying crispy shrimp and sesame rice crackers, crunchy and bursting with flavor.
Speaking of flavor, let’s talk about the banana blossom salad. Salads are rarely a standout favorite. Consider this dish the exception to that rule. A lively exception. Banana flower, cabbage, and tart pomelo segments combine with shrimp, pickled onion, radish, peanut, fried shallots and fresh herbs to create magic in your mouth.
Lettuce wraps abound at Hai Hai. Which means, order the Vietnamese crepe. Seriously. If you don’t, we can’t be friends. This crispy turmeric and coconut milk rice flour crepe is crammed with melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and fresh shrimp, as well as bean sprouts and onion. Just break off a hunk, wrap it in lettuce and crunch away. You’ll be the envy of everyone who failed by not ordering one.
Another lettuce wrap favorite was the beef grilled in betel leaf. Little packages of savory, beefy goodness, nestled atop rice noodles and served with a rich pineapple shrimp sauce.
Hungry yet? Of course you are. Thirsty? Even better. As we ate our way across the menu, an array of Hai Hai’s signature cocktails was also had by all. Except me, that is, because I don’t drink. The good news for you? I took notes.
The cocktail menu is as colorful, creative, and lively as the food. The beachy, tropical tease otherwise known as the Sun and Done mixes a swift kick of toasted coconut rum, lime juice and coconut water. The Old Town Saigon smells positively Manhattan-y with its base of cognac, cinnamon liqueur, and orange bitters. The Floating Market is a floral-forward vodka cocktail, layered with notes of jasmine and lemongrass.
A few cocktails and several plates later, our entire table was pleasantly contented and completely oblivious to the snowy, cold winter night outside. That’s no easy feat in Minnesota. Thanks, Hai Hai.
If at any point this winter, the lack of sunlight or sub-zero temperatures starts to get to you, don’t fret. Just hop in the car and head over Northeast. There’s a little bit of Hanoi waiting for along University Avenue. With a whole lot of flavor.
2121 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis