The food at hole-in-the-wall restaurants is often good, and sometimes very good. But it's usually good in a specific way, with simple ingredients in a straightforward preparation, served in utilitarian rib-sticking portions. The Jasmine Deli has all the earmarks of a classic hole-in-the-wall: a modest storefront location with scraggly houseplants in the sole window, rickety chairs, and a kids' bike parked in the graffiti-covered restroom. But as plates of food began piling up on our tiny table, it became clear that the Jasmine Deli serves up cuisine that far outstrips its humble surroundings. The vegetables are crisp and plentiful, the sauces are house-made, and everything is flavored with a generous handful of fresh herbs. Vegetarian options are available in every section of the menu, from spring rolls to banh mi. Noodles make an appearance in soups, salads, and stir fries, and there are broken rice plates too--just choose your protein of choice. The thick bubble teas are similar to smoothies, with flavors including coconut, plum, lychee, and mocha.
The tofu spring rolls set the tone for a the rest of the meal: a visually appealing arrangement with a tiny bowl of peanut sauce, artfully drizzled with sriracha and sprinkled with peanuts. The dominant flavors were fresh mint and the spicy peanut sauce, while the texture was balanced between crisp bean sprouts, slippery rice noodles, and spears of chewy tofu.
The pork basil rolls featured the same crisp vegetables, but were flavored with basil and a vinaigrette dipping sauce. Meat lovers may take issue with the slight slice of pork, but the vegetable-heavy focus makes for a delightfully crunchy, light appetizer.
The vegetarian soup with rice noodles and fried tofu comes with a plateful of garnishes: fresh bean sprouts, a lime wedge, and slices of jalapeno. The soup had a respectable vegetable quotient in the form of carrots and broccoli, in addition to the tangle of rice noodles. Flavor-wise, the soup needs the lime juice and jalapeno garnishes to truly shine; give the jalapenos a chance to work their heat into the broth before digging in.
The beef stir fried egg noodles had an expectedly sweet sauce that paired well with the slices of beef. The dish had the same fresh touches as the other menu items, with a salad's worth of broccoli and carrots mixed into the stir fry and a generous cilantro garnish.
The night's dessert special was a sesame roll, a thin layer of chewy sesame dough with a small ball of coconut and red bean paste rattling around inside. Our waitress compared it to an Asian doughnut, but it was actually quite wholesome tasting, with a manageable sweetness level and delicate hint of coconut.
The Jasmine Deli will never win any points for its décor or ambiance. But the food, bursting with the fresh vegetables and flavor profiles hipster places like to brag about, enough vegetarian and vegan options to satisfy the most discerning eater, and bargain prices? Judged by that measure, the Jasmine Deli is top-notch.
2532 Nicollet Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404