Eat the Menu: Hai Hai

Photo by Hubert Bonnet
Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Photo by Hubert Bonnet

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.

Hai Hai offers a bright, tropical flair to its interior design and ambiance.

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.

Hai Hai offers a bright, tropical flair to its interior design and ambiance.

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.

Hai Hai featured dishes such as beef wrapped in betel leaves, alongside banana blossom salad.

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.

Drink options at Hai Hai include—clockwise from left—the Floating Market, the Sun and Done, and the Old Town Saigon.

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.

Another dish featured at Hai Hai is a Vietnamese crepe with pork belly and shrimp.

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.

Another tasty option at Hai Hai are lemongrass chopped clams with sesame seed rice crackers.

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.

Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai.

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.

Hai Hai
2121 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis

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