Asian Businesses Carving ‘Little Mekong’ Brand In St. Paul

February 28, 2012

Little Mekong logoI’m often skeptical when a neighborhood tries to rename itself. A task force unveils a snappy moniker and a logo. Banners go up on light poles. And everyone keeps using the old name, the one they’ve always used.

Sometimes the rebranding sticks, however. In the late 1990s, the Whittier Alliance proclaimed Nicollet Avenue between Grant and 29th streets “Eat Street” — a nickname that caught on. The Eat Street campaign was part of a decade-long revitalization program, succeeding mainly because the stretch of Nicollet Avenue lived up to its name as a thriving hub of ethnic restaurants.

In St. Paul’s Frogtown, a group of Asian businesses hopes to model the success of Eat Street. The Asian Economic Development Association is promoting the area along University Avenue near Western Avenue as “Little Mekong,” referencing the river that flows through southeast Asia. The Twin Cities Daily Planet wrote about the effort in 2010 and Minnesota Public Radio did a piece Monday about a weekend promotional event that featured St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

The area certainly delivers on its promise. Between Grant and Mackubin streets, just west of the state Capitol, you’ll find a variety of Asian restaurants, shops, services and organizations. Drop in for pho at Pho Ca-Dao, admire the koi pond in the lobby of Mai Village and meander through the colorful aisles of the Ha Tien Market.

The organization behind the Little Mekong effort hope to strengthen the area’s identity on the eve of light-rail construction. Trains running on University Avenue will stop at Western Avenue when the line opens in 2014. By then, Little Mekong backers hope to have completed storefront improvements, streetscape work and public art projects that create unified experience — elements straight from the Eat Street playbook.

Get out and stroll through Little Mekong. Guaranteed you’ll find great food and encounter unexpected sights. In the meantime, I hope these pictures I took this week whet your appetite.

Ha Tien Market

Roast ducks at Ha Tien Market

University Avenue near Western Avenue in St. Paul

University Avenue near Western Avenue in St. Paul

Ha Tien Market St. Paul Minnesota

A Vikings fan serving roasted quail at Ha Tien Market in St. Paul.

Little Mekong St. Paul Minnesota

Signs of Little Mekong

University Avenue in St. Paul

You'll be seeing a lot of these around as light rail construction advances.

Live Tilapia at Ha Tien Market in St. Paul

Fresh seafood at Ha Tien Market

Mai Village

Mai Village's lobby features carved wood and a koi pond

Wolter Brothers Liquors sign

A sign of older St. Paul: Wolter Brothers Liquors

Old Home sign

Old Home closed its University Avenue dairy plant in 2006.