Photo by Katherine Harris
Plates of Cambodian cuisine from Royal Bangkok
For the past several years, a sketchy storefront on University Avenue with a funky mosaic-tiled smokestack was home to Bangkok Thai Deli, a highly touted Southeast Asian restaurant. Late last year, the deli’s lease was up, and it moved directly across the street. The storefront owner’s daughter decided to open her own place, Royal Bangkok. For my money, the dining experience at this successor is even better. Not only has the formerly sprawling interior been spruced up, but the service also offers an abundance of smiles and a real desire to please.
As for the food, what I sampled was largely the best Golden Triangle fare I’ve had in recent memory. Without exception, everything emerged from the kitchen piping hot, boasting fresh ingredients, and seasoned to spec. The cigar-sized fried spring rolls, impeccably crispy with ground pork and assorted vegetables, were textural and tasty treats. Pad Thai evidenced everything a well-prepared version of this standard should—perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned noodles, a generous, toothsome portion of shrimp, and all the right accoutrements. The chicken satay had been marinated in a defining turmeric, curry powder, and coconut milk marinade, grilled to just the right degree, and served with a thick and spunky peanut sauce that I would have been happy to slather on just about anything.
Green and yellow curries each delivered a rich depth of flavors and definitely didn’t taste like they started in a bottle. The most memorable item we picked out from the photo album menu, which goes on for many pages, was a pork and Thai basil stir-fry—a colorful, herbal mélange of nuggets of ground meat, chili peppers, and vegetables.
Also noteworthy is the inclusion of several Cambodian and Laotian dishes. A rendition of green papaya salad was everything this palate pleaser should be: sweet, tart, spicy, and refreshing. So, too, were the Cambodian beef skewers—tender strips of lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaf accented beef with a nice char-grill edge.
Then there was the ultimate tour de force, an item called Cambodian yao han that is a cook-it-yourself Khmer fondue. From two substantial platters of raw beef, squid, shrimp, noodles, and vegetables, you select the ingredients to place into a wire basket ladle, then immerse the combination into a pot of roiling broth. At a price of only $19 and enough food to comfortably feed at least four people, you could easily make a meal out of just this. A word of advice: keep the pot covered and the items will cook a lot more quickly.
About the only things that would make the Royal Bangkok experience better would be a bit more emphasis on the overall appearance of the place and a lot more patrons. To address the latter, the restaurant offers a five-item daily buffet priced at $3.99, an incredible value and a good way to see how great a spot this is. 315 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-788-9582