Photos by Craig Bares
Bangkok Thai Deli
One of the best-ever local Thai restaurants was the original Royal Orchid on Nicollet Avenue, back in the early ’90s, before anyone had uttered “Eat Street.” The flavors were bountiful, the spicing authentic, and everyone loved the always-smiling brother-sister combination who owned the place. A lesser-known reason for its success was the kitchen presence of “Chef Nong,” the nickname for an indigenously trained chef who, in addition to cooking at the Royal Orchid, has worked in the kitchens of a half dozen other highly regarded local Thai spots. Nong has finally opened her own restaurant, Nong’s Thai Cuisine (2520 Hillsboro Ave. N., Golden Valley, 763-404-8190, nongsthaicuisine.com), and if you enjoy Thai food, you should hurry over for a visit.
As is true for so many spots of this genre, the menu goes on for pages and there’s a wide range in the success rate. However, the prices are so reasonable that you’ll hardly care. The traditional pad Thai is a knockout, one of the best versions I’ve had, with perfectly timed noodles, impeccable ingredients, and terrific seasonings. With the exception of a red roast duck curry, which was a bit watery in constitution and skimpy on protein, the curries are also of extremely high quality. A green chicken curry was spot-on, as was a delicious, rarely seen stir-fried seafood with yellow curry sauce.
Indeed, there are a number of dishes that one doesn’t often find at Thai pretenders: Thai pork sausage served with ginger slices, crunchy and peppery papaya salad, Sriracha fried rice, and one of the best items of all—a tasty shrimp stir-fry with tamarind sauce. There are also several worthwhile dessert choices, including bananas fried in coconut batter. The inside of the restaurant has been decorated with a few Thai artifacts, and it’s perfectly comfortable and appropriate. Downsides? The servers aren’t uniformly up to speed about the subtleties of the specialties and there are often long waits for orders to appear. But overall this is a great new addition to the local Thai lineup.
The great meal that I had at Nong’s inspired me to at long last try the local spot that foodie boards often cite as being the most authentic Thai dining experience around—Bangkok Thai Deli and Supermarket (315 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-224-4300). Literally and figuratively a hole-in-the-wall, the main entry is through a partition inside a somewhat sketchy-looking Asian market. And as far as ambiance goes, there’s not a whole bunch of it. There are several rows of linoleum-topped tables and a handful of booths, a deli counter, and almost no décor to speak of. Rather, it’s the food here that sparkles, and does it ever.
The helpfully illustrated menu runs on for pages, and there are numerous temptations, including several I’ve never encountered elsewhere. Every one of the standards I sampled excelled, including the superlative pad Thai, an outstanding pork fried with garlic and pepper, and a green curry chicken that was brimming with flavor and texture. Even the spring rolls were impeccably fresh and well balanced. The plump links of Thai sausage were the best I’ve ever had, and the same held true for the chicken wings stuffed with a compact mixture of ground pork, chicken, silver thread noodles, and assorted minced vegetables.
Dishes are made to order, and we found it a good idea to order in waves rather than all at once. Early on we learned to be cautious in specifying the degree of spiciness: When we requested our grilled beef salad be prepared “medium,” the burn bordered on overpowering and we quickly concluded that “mild” was more to our pleasure level. Service is not a strong suit here. Everyone is cheerful and smiling, but empty dishes and bottles piled up on the table, and our waitress disappeared for a lengthy hiatus. Nonetheless, the foodie blogs do seem to very much have it right: Bangkok Thai Deli is the most authentic Thai dining experience to be had in the Twin Cities. I can’t wait to go back.