Since I was working from home, it opened up a whole new bag of options for me when lunch time rolled around. I had driven past Cora’s a number of times and mentioned I should eat there. D.Rough reminded me I wanted to go there, so I headed down to the Cesar Chavez area of St. Paul.
The inside of the restaurant is nicer than I expected. There are a handful of tables to eat at, and there were even people in line in front of me. That’s always a good sign.
The first thing you’ll notice about the menu is it isn’t distinctly a cuisine that lines up with what you might consider traditional chicken wings. In fact, not at all. It’s filled with fried rice, egg rolls, and cream cheese puffs. Not that I’m complaining. And, since there aren’t any good photos online as to what the menu contains, I snapped as many photos as I could tactfully do, while the person working the counter was in back preparing people’s plates. Like I said, there are some weird things going on here.
Pay attention to the serious family specials. There are a few hand drawn signs up around the interior like this, so be sure to look at them all. This way you won't miss out on the perfect combination because you were in a rush!
I wanted a few different things, so I tried to figure out how best to order what I wanted without getting three different meals. I ended up getting a 9-piece nugget (hot) meal with fried rice and a #3 lunch special: two cream cheese puffs, an egg roll, two wings, fried rice and a soda (grape). That sounded like it would fill me up.
The counter guy grabbed a couple things out of the warming case in front of me and headed into the back to load on various sauces and such. I’m not even sure what happened back there, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever magic happens in the kitchen is no concern of mine. I just thought it was weird that he brought things to the back and then returned with the same things he just had, and then scooped them into my Styrofoam containers. I got my food and headed home to eat.
I started with the egg roll, since sometimes they’re not good when they cool off a bit. It was decent, actually. Plenty of cabbage and good stuff on the inside. The normal amount of cinnamon (for Minnesota palettes) is inside, which is too much for me, but I’m guessing people up here will think it’s fine. It did taste a little like chicken though. I Was wondering if they had a separate fryer for the egg rolls - maybe not.
The cream cheese puffs were also decent. Nothing stellar, but not awful. They were a little soft, but I don’t think it was from being too greasy, maybe they had just sat too long. They didn’t crunch at all when I bit into them. The flavor was fine, though – which is to say, it tasted like chicken. I don’t think they have a separate fryer back in back.
I took a couple bites of the fried rice. I think it might be the first time I’ve seen corn niblets in fried rice. I’m used to seeing peas and carrots, but whatever bag of frozen veggies they bought to put in the fried rice, had pieces of corn in it, as well. Weird, but not bad tasting. The fried rice was seasoned a-plenty with black pepper, but it wasn’t too much – just enough to make you notice and say they were generous with the black pepper.
Up until this point, my head is entirely in Chinese-food-mode. At this new transitional point, I’ve busted open the Grape Shasta that I bought and immediately, my head went into rib mode. And it was in for a shock, because it was chicken time. Sorry brain.
The chicken wings were… interesting. They were the Chinese restaurant sort of wings, not the BWW sort of wings. If you don’t know what I mean, I’ll do my best to explain. Chinese food wings are super ultra crispy, like they overcook it intentionally and shrink the meat down to where it’s mega tough to chew. In fact, some of it is so crispy you can’t tell if you’re eating chicken meat or a chicken bone. Sadly, I found that out the hard way with these wings. Ouch – that’s the last time I try to “power through” a tough bit of wing. The sauce isn’t very prevalent on these, as it’s kind of cooked into the wings. I should have paid the $.50 and bought a container of sauce to dip these things into. I think it would have helped. That being said, the flavor of the wings wasn’t that bad, it was just tough to get the meat off the bones in a lot of cases.
I moved on to the nuggets. I was a little alarmed these looked like the chicken nuggets I poured out of a freezer bag for a snack the other night. A LOT like them. But whatever – they were covered in a tasty-looking red-ish sauce and I was looking forward to them.
I was a little confused at first when I bit into them. I had been eating the fried rice, so my head had switched back into Chinese food mode again. Which really made my head spin around when I realized the nuggets I was eating was distinctly Chinese-tasting. I’ve had this somewhere before.
Now I know!. It tasted like general Tso’s chicken sauce put on frozen-in-a-bag pre-formed chicken nuggets… and by that, I mean they were delicious. I wanted to REALLY not like these, because it’s pretty obvious what they are. But the sauce gives them a little bit of zing that they need. This seriously is what a suburban housewife would have tried to pass off as Chinese food when I Was a kid. Luckily for me, my mother is one hell of a cook, and she never did this. But if one of my friends’ mom’s had done this for dinner, I would have raved about it. I will absolutely consider going to grab a bunch of these nuggets sometime when I’m at home chillin in front of the television.
I realized they ONLY have fried food there. Shrimp, chicken, rice, cheese puffs, egg rolls, etc. All fried. All the time. (That could be their new slogan – you’re welcome, Cora.) I wouldn’t quite say I’m a fan of this place, but there do happen to be things there that I’m interested in eating again. It’s an odd little place and I don’t think I’d talk anyone OUT of going. It’s just not going to be a go-to place for me.
Top 5 things about Cora’s Best Chicken Wings
1. General Tso’s Chicken Nuggets
2. They have orange and grape Shasta. Wurd.
3. It’s fairly affordable
4. The guy behind the counter was really nice
5. Lots of varieties of specials, so it’s easier to mix and match
Bottom 5 things
1. The wings were, surprisingly, not the “best” I’ve had
2. Everything tasted like chicken
3. The cream cheese puffs were a little soft
4. Everything is fried (likely in the same grease – see #2)
5. The nuggets were frozen, but reheated (although I still think the sauce made them fantastic)
Cora’s Best Chicken Wings
168 Cesar Chavez Street
Saint Paul, MN 55107-2227