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Oct 5, 2006 03:35 PM

MSP: Chai's Thai Restaurant (Cedar/Riverside)

Four of us went to Chai's for dinner last evening and it was great. The place is fairly small, with about 10-15 tables (mostly 2 tops).

We started with spring rolls and crispy squid. The spring rolls were tasty and had (if I remember correctly) a mint flavoring, rather than the usual cilantro. Both sauces were delicious. The squid was well prepared and served with Sriracha sauce and a sweet sauce.

I had the special which was a "pumpkin" curry, served in a gourd. I use quotes because the squash was not pumpkin, but was still delicious. It was a red curry, quite rich and had the right amount of spice for me. It came with a choice of chicken, tofu or shrimp. Mine came with a healthy portion of shrimp.

My wife had the spicy seafood salad, which consisted of a large plate of shrimp and calamari on greens with a spicy dressing. My wife had to give up on it after a while because of the heat, but she really liked it.

Our friends had cashew tofu (on the menu as cashew chicken) and the red curry with chicken. The red curry was similar to my special and quite tasty. I didn't sample the cashew tofu, but it looked very good.

All of the entrees (but not the salad) came with rice. The service was casual but fine. My wife and I each had the coconut juice which was delicious. No beer or wine, but it looks like they might accomodate byo.

All of the dishes other than my special were $9 or less. The special with the shrimp was $14. The bill for the 4 of us before tip was $55.

A couple of warnings.

We were told that restaurant uses MSG in some of its dishes, but they were happy to prepare dishes without it.

More importantly, they do not currently have any bathrooms on the premises. We were told they were under construction but not in service right now. This could very well be a temporary thing but it was what we found last evening.

I thought the food was on par with Tum Rup Thai in Uptown. I haven't been to True Thai in a few years, so I can't make a comparison. Still, we'll be back.

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  1. I am excited to try this place. The real test for me is their noodles, particularly their drunken noodles/fire noodles/pad kee mao, usually a basil/chili/tomato affair. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Bob-

      I am glad you enjoyed your meal there. We actually got take out from there last night with some friends. I wish I had read your post before we ordered so we culd gave tried some different dishes..

      I wanted to like this restaurant. The space was casual but attractive and comfortable. The servers (for take out) were friendly. The menu was interesting. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with almost all of the dishes we tried.

      We had both a green and a red (panang) curry. I found both to be too heavy and the red curry was really sweet. I thought the curries were too much about the coconut milk and the flavors within the curry were not as complex as I have had at True Thai. We had a dish that was called white pepper and seafood. I liked the flavor of the sauce, but the portion size was pretty skimpy and the seafood was only okay (not bad, but not great). For starters we had the tom kha gai. At its best, this soup tastes like a coconut chicken soup with galangal, lime leaves, and lemongrass. Like the curries, it tasted only creamy and hot to me -- coconut milk with a lot of chilis. The other starter was a crab avocado spring roll, which I liked the flavor of, but the txture was not great.

      I really liked the atmosphere there (at least the three minutes I spent picking up my take out), but I did not think it measured up to the better Thai places in town like True Thai, Tum Rup Thai, and Krua.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Josh Resnik


        I agree with you on the sweetness of the curries, although I enjoy a sweeter curry. Also they do have a heavy hand with the coconut milk. The pumpkin curry did seem to have a fuller flavor than my friend's red curry when I tried it.

        I have not had Tum Rup's curries -- my wife and I tend to go more toward salads and noodles usually -- but will be sure to check them out sometime soon. We live near Tum Rup, so that's our default Thai restaurant these days.

        It might be fun sometime to try a "curry-off" to compare the choices in town.

        Sorry that it was not a hit with you.


      2. I just went to Chai last Thursday with my family. I used to frequent the Korean place that was in this location, so I was interested to find out what the place had to offer. I'm not a huge fan of Thai food, but I was along for the ride.

        The Good:
        The service was great--very friendly and attentive, and a stark contrast from the previous owners (an elderly couple who didn't speak much English). The decor was worlds better and they did a great job for such a small space.

        We started with spring rolls and beef 'jerky', which were both good. The rolls were fresh and flavorful, with nice sauces, and the beef was piping hot and crispy.

        My brother got the pad kee mao with beef and my other brother got duck with basil leaves. Both were tasty and in reasonable portions.

        The Bad:

        I got the larb beef salad and chicken satay and my mom got tempura battered shrimp with pad Thai. Admittedly, I asked for the larb to be hot, but it was way WAY too hot (and I'm no spicy wimp). To cut the heat I ordered some sticky rice, but they had run out and so I waited until they finished steaming a new batch (they said it would be 10 minutes). By the time I got it, everyone had finished eating and so I just had it boxed to go. In my opinion, larb should come with sticky rice anyway.

        The chicken stay was some of the worst I've had. They didn't cook it on high enough heat so it just seemed steamed and tasteless. Sort of how I'd imagine the Lutheran picnic version of chicken satay.

        My mom's pad thai was unbelievably sweet--almost like a dessert. I've had some iffy pad thai in my time and this was the worst. The tempura shrimp were huge, but basically what you'd expect.


        These folks seem to know more about presentation and service than about making food. The quality of the dishes varies considerably, but the place may improve with time. In response to the restroom issue, I needed to use it and they told me to go through the kitchen and downstairs. So there is one available, but it's just not convenient. I got to see the kitchen, which looked clean and well-organized, so I wouldn't worry about the safety of the food.


          I'm a fan. I almost always go at lunch, when there are many University folks there. I would agree that the curries are fairly sweet and the pad thai is too sweet for my tastes. But I love the chili mint beef and have enjoyed many of the other dishes as well.

          Chai's Thai Restaurant
          414 1/2 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55454

          4 Replies
          1. re: mpls_duponter

            I'm with duponter. I don't eat pad thai so I don't know if it is bad at Chai's, though I imagine it is bad everywhere. But the green papaya salad, jerky with sticky rice, sole & squid with green curry and baby bok choy, seafood tom yum, and duck massaman (along with a $0 corkage and great service) make it the best Thai in the MSP.

            If you give it another try, I would recommend stearing clear of the ordinary items and going for the specials and seafood...that hasn't been fried.

            1. re: Foureyes137

              I go to Chais for their papaya salad, singapore noodles and green curry..

              Oh the Singapore Noodles! I was skeptical when the lovely waitress recommended that dish as her favorite. Now I'm hooked. It's served with wide noodles, flavorful scrambled eggs and jumbo shrimp with perfect Singapore/Satay spices. You don't get much on a plate, but it's quality stuff.. mmm

              1. re: Foureyes137

                Thanks, Mpls_duponter and Foureyes137, for your recommendations on the green papaya salad. I tried it out this week and their version redeemed this dish from the murky strangeness of my first attempt at ordering it.

                The Chai's Thai version (to go) had plenty of shredded green papaya mixed with toasted peanuts and a couple of wedges of raw cabbage on the side. The dressing seemed to be made of fish sauce (nam pla), lime juice, red pepper and perhaps a little bit of the crab or shrimp paste. There are a few more ingredients -- maybe some cilantro? -- but the result was a fresh and tasty salad. Green, tart, crunchy, spicy: at last I understand!!

                1. re: Foureyes137

                  I have to say that King & I in Mpls does a great non-sweet pad thai, it's
                  the only place I've gone that has made the dish to my liking.

              2. I keep hearing good things about this place. Do they do a good job with takeout?