By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Yia Vang is living his American dream in the Twin Cities.

Earlier this month, the lauded chef, who was born in a Thai refugee camp, became a naturalized U.S. citizen. This week, he is opening his award-winning Union Hmong Kitchen in its new spot, Graze Provisions + Libations in Minneapolis’ popular North Loop neighborhood. The grand opening is slated for Friday.

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Vang, who grew up in Wisconsin, is sharing his story with Minnesotans one dish at a time.

“I really want to be able to talk about my mom and dad, the sacrifices they made, the things that they went through,” he said. “And the best vehicle to do that was through food…Working in restaurants, I found that food is a universal language, something you can use to speak to everyone.”

(credit: CBS)

Before landing in the North Loop, Union Hmong Kitchen was a pop-up, something Vang called a “weekend idea.” While his food was popular at places like Sociable Cider Werks, Republic and MidCity Kitchen, the chef says that opening in Graze Provisions + Libations feels like going from a couch surfing to having one’s own apartment.

“My father always taught me that, you know, here in America, we can do whatever we want,” Vang said. On what it felt like to become a naturalized citizen, he added: “To have a document that says you’re a citizen, this is your home…it felt really good.”

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For those new to Hmong food, Vang suggests they try the chicken or the Hmong sausage.

“We have what’s called a “zhong shia” meal,” Vang said. “Zhong shia in Hmong literally translates to ‘happy.'”

(credit: CBS)

These happy meals come with a protein, a side, sticky rice, pickled veggies and lettuce wraps. The dishes are paired with a hot sauce, chili oil or a lemongrass and scallion dressing. The full menu can be seen here.

One visitor on Wednesday got the Hmong sausage with a side of fried Brussel sprouts and described the meal as “fantastic…unbelievable.” He left no question as to whether or not he would return.

While Vang is busy opening Union Hmong Kitchen this week, he has more in the works. He’s also planning to soon open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in northeast Minneapolis.

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