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May 23, 2007 10:50 PM

[MSP] Papaya Salad - Happiness in a Dish

I'm currently obsessed with papaya salad. I want to eat it every day. (Or at least every week.)

I love papaya salad. I love it plain. I love it with crispy dried beef. I love it with lettuce leaves. I love it with green beans. I love papaya salad prepared Thai style, Vietnamese style, and Lao style. I just plain love papaya salad!

I'm trying to list all the Twin Cities restaurants that serve papaya salad, so I can visit them all and pick a favorite.

Here's my list so far:

- Jasmine Deli - Uptown (2532 Nicollet Ave, Mpls)

- Jasmine Orchid - Stadium Village (304 Oak Street SE, Mpls)

- Ketsana's Thai Restaurant (7545 Lyndale Ave S, Richfield)

- Pho Ca Dao (439 University Ave, St. Paul)

- Thai Bazil (704 University Ave, St. Paul)

- True Thai (2627 East Franklin Ave, Mpls)

- Va Lor Super Excellent Papaya Salad (371 University Ave, St. Paul)

What's missng from my list? (May's Deli, for one - I almost went looking for it today, but was waylaid by Jasmine Orchid.)

What is your favorite place for papaya salad?


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  1. As for specific reviews or ratings of papaya salad, I have this to say: I've never met a papaya salad that I didn't like.

    But Pho Ca Dao has my favorite version these days. If I recall correctly, it comes with crispy beef - but I could be confused, as we ordered a lot of food. And the portion is HUGE. Leftover papaya salad is lovely for breakfast.

    The salads at Jasmine Orchid (the Thai version) and True Thai are tied (pun intended) for second place. These salads both include green beans, as well as tomatoes, peanuts, and - at the Jasmine - shredded carrots.

    But I really like Va Lor's version, too - the papaya shreds are beautifully unregular, and they mash up big slices of lime in the salad. I like using the lettuce leaves to eat the salad (they have a slight cooling effect to balance the extremely spicy sauce). Plus, you get to watch them make it in a huge wooden bowl behind the counter.


    2 Replies
    1. re: AnneInMpls

      For those of you who (like me) have been trying to find Va Lor, it's on University Avenue in St. Paul, kitty corner from Mai Village--it's not right on the corner, but a few doors in. If you're looking for a big sign that says Va Lor (like I have been)--you might miss it. Instead, the sign has a picture of papaya salad in a mortal and pestle.

      It seems to have 8 tables of four. No hours posted.


      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        According to the owner (when I asked a few weeks ago), Va Lor is open daily until about 8, depending on how busy they are.


    2. I too, love green papaya salad, though, I'm afraid to say I have indeed met a few I didn't like. I don't like it when the dressing is too sweet or too tart or just too much making the whole dish soupy. Also, I really like it when the papaya is cut and pounded by hand rather than run through a food processor. Maybe it's just an aesthetic thing, but somehow, it loses some of its interesting texture when it's shredded mechanically. I'm afraid I haven't pursued much papaya salad in the Twin Cities, though maybe I'll be inspired by your terrific list.

      I'm pretty sure (though I can't find it in any of my notes now), I saw papaya salad on the menus of a couple of places at the Hmong market in St. Paul. Not really a "restaurant" but a super hectic food court, if you're feeling adventurous. I look forward to reading about your further papaya seeking adventures.


      4 Replies
      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        Yes, I was there this weekend and papaya salad is on several menus. The one I had was excellent--crunchy, tart, included peanuts and tomatoes, sans crab. I'd tell you which booth it was from, if only I Hmong friend grabbed it from the place she said was best. I'll check with her and post her recommendation.

        1. re: clepro

          Sounds fantastic! Please do come back and tell us which stand it came from. And, while you're at it, I would love to hear which other dishes your friend recommends at that Hmong food court, if she has any other thoughts she and you are willing to share.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Here's what Mo wrote about the salad:
            The papaya salad is made by Nyob Zoo Market (means Hello and literally translates to Living (nyob) Good (zoo)). The lady's name is Zoua. She's the first booth to the right (north side) when you're facing the booths. Her papaya has thai eggplant, long bean, cherry tomatoes, garlic, crab paste, fish sauce, tamarind sauce, sugar, peanuts and sliced lime all pounded together in a mortar and pestle. Sometimes green mangoes can be shredded and mixed with the papaya too.
            I don't know exactly how this works, but if any of you want to visit the market as a small group some Saturday, Mo said she'd be happy to play tour guide and translator again. So, how would I organize that? Do I start another thread?

            1. re: clepro

              Hi Clepro, sounds fun. If you would like to organize a "chowdown" or outing with other 'hounds, the mods have let us post a "chowdown" announcement thread announcing the chowdown. You must specifically ask for replies via e-mail (rather than in the thread) and do the organizing and discussion of all the logistics off the board. I've organized several "chowdowns" and would be interested in attending this one. My e-mail address is in my profile (in the Best meal I ever ate section. Yeah, weird, I know.) If you wish, you may send me an e-mail and I would be delighted to impart whatever "chowdown organizing wisdom" I have, such as it is, if that would be of any help to you.


      2. My wife and I are true believers in the power of the papaya salad.

        The best in Minneapolis is undoubtedly at Chai's. It is absolutely perfect in every way every time we've had it (and we're having it again tomorrow night). Crispy, crunchy, the salt of the fish sauce, the tang of the fruit...great presentation and it's Chai's so you know whatever follows will also be spectacular.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Foureyes137

          I agree with you I love Chai's Papaya salad, they have a papaya salad their that is serve with pickle crabs, it is to die for. (you have to ask them specificly thought.

          1. re: tingerbell

            I'm glad this thread came back up.

            So I finally ordered the pickle crabs with my papaya salad at Chai's a few weeks ago. I'm not sure how these are supposed to taste or be eaten or look...but I can tell you that, sadly, I could not handle the little buggers. It looked like small stone mortar filled with crushed rock crabs in a pool of wet mud. The shells and innards had been stained black with the pickling agent. I figured you just ate the shells like rock crabs, tell me if I got that wrong please. Pulling the meat out would have been an exercise in patience.

            Anyway, I did not spit them out, however it was one of the most...interesting things I've ever eaten. Sorta tasted like I'd imagine crabs covered in amonia and water would taste like. Did I get a bad batch or is this something my palate will need to adjust to?

            1. re: Foureyes137

              I must admit, I had a similar reaction to the pickled crab in the papaya salad at Chai's. The pieces were interesting but hard to eat (unless you eat the shell, which was too "shard-y" for me) and very, um, pungent. And they made the salad REALLY salty. Probably is an acquired taste, but I'm glad I tried it.


              1. re: Foureyes137

                I'd like to be sure to add that you must request the pickle crabs in order for them to come with the salad. You must "opt into" this experience if you will.

                1. re: Foureyes137

                  I don't know if you got a bad batch or not. When ever i order it's always seet and extremely salty. I suppose theres is instruction on how to eat it. You just suck on it and spit it out. I guess it an acquire taste. For some reason I love that thing,( of course this coming from a girl who basically eat anchovy straight out of can.) But funny thing I cannot and refuse to eat the dark murky sauce papaya salad. Alot of time the dark murky sauce come from the pickle crab juice, or the fermented fish!

                  1. re: tingerbell

                    I had gotten them on the side as my wife wasn't terribly interested in trying them, so they came in the little dish with the murky pickle juice. Eating the shells (which it appears I wasn't supposed to do) wasn't very appealing either. Whoops.

                    I too am a huge sardine and anchovy eater, so I think it might have just been off, or to truly appreciate, it needs to be mixed into the salad.

            2. In a pinch, you can get a papaya salad at Sawatdee Thai, but you'd have to be desparate.

              I like Ketsana's.

              I should check out Kimson on S. Lyndale next time I'm there. They probably have one.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Loren3

                > In a pinch, you can get a papaya salad at Sawatdee Thai,
                > but you'd have to be desparate.

                For years, I never noticed papaya salad on Sawatdee's menu. But there it is (hiding under the name "Som Tum" :=). I had some yesterday because I was indeed desperate - all the other Thai restaurants near me are closed on Sunday. It wasn't bad - better than no papaya salad at all - but would be at the bottom of my list if other options are available.


              2. You can find Thai style papaya salad in all Thai restaurants in town, but I have to say that Chai's has the best Thai style papaya salad in town. As tingerbell replied, Chai's papaya salad with small pickled crab is oh no so good. :)