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MSP-Thai Ignoramus Seeks Guidance

a
ajs Feb 24, 2008 07:07 AM

A friend is coming into town for a few days, and is jonesing for Thai for dinner. Thai's a cuisine that I have only tried a few times. Generally, I like it, but know next to nothing about it, let alone who has the good stuff in the Cities. We're trying to persuade her to move here, so to help that cause, I'm looking for opinions on outstanding Thai eats.

A search of the board has had only spotty success. I'll be scooping her up at the airport, and dropping her with other friends in Kenwood, so locations in that area would be pleasant, but not strictly necessary, since going out of one's way for the chow is a basic tenet of 'Houndery.

Suggestions?

thanx!

-ajs

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  1. katebauer RE: ajs Feb 24, 2008 07:39 AM

    I know people have a lot of varying opinions on this topic, but my first choice would be True Thai on Franklin. I've also enjoyed Tum Rup Thai in Uptown, because they use really fresh ingredients (however we had trouble once getting any heat in our dishes), and have had good meals at Amazing Thai also in Uptown but based on a few comments here they seem inconsistent.

    I've been to Chai's at Cedar Riverside twice and really enjoyed their seafood salad, but the pad thai was absolutely horrible.

    1 Reply
    1. re: katebauer
      bob s RE: katebauer Feb 24, 2008 10:31 AM

      I think Kate has hit the high points as far as the folks on this board are concerned, but I like Chai's bettter than True Thai, but have not eaten at either one of them very many times.. We've had good luck at Amazing Thailand but I know others like Tum Rup Thai better. For the record, Tum Rup is quite good too.

      From a location standpoint, Tum Rup and Amazing Thailand are the closest to Kenwood, but neither Chai nor True Thai are that far away either.

      -----
      True Thai Restaurant
      2627 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55406

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

      Tum Rup Thai
      1221 W Lake St Ste 112, Minneapolis, MN 55408

      Amazing Thailand
      3024 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408

    2. AnneInMpls RE: ajs Feb 24, 2008 11:19 AM

      One advantage of going to True Thai - which is my current favorite - or Chai (tiny with stylish decor & good papaya salad) is that you could drive down West River Road (aka Parkway) to get there. It's one of the prettiest drives in the Twin Cities, and is what convinced my mom to move here. East River Pkwy is gorgeous, too.

      Anne

      1. The Dairy Queen RE: ajs Feb 24, 2008 01:57 PM

        I hate to be a spoilsport, but it sounds like this is an important meal to you. To be honest, I haven't loved True Thai, though I wanted to. I think it's average'ish. If she knows her Thai food, I'm not sure it will be the Thai food that draws her to the Twin Cities, unless she has virtually no access to Thai food where she currently is, then what we have here is probably better than none. I don't think it's a particular strength of the Twin Cities, though I can't explain why.

        If you really want to show her an outstanding meal, you might consider changing tactics a bit and say something like, "I know you love Thai food, so I though you might be interested in trying a neighboring Southeast Asian cuisine" and then take her to Quang or something.

        Another tactic is maybe take her to a new place. At least it will be visually stunning. Rachel Hutton just did this review of Supatra's (W 7th St. Paul) http://minnesotamonthly.com/media/Min... I haven't been here but feedback here on chowhound has already been, sadly, mixed, as were Rachel's comments.

        Whereever you end up, good luck!

        ~TDQ

        5 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen
          katebauer RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 24, 2008 03:06 PM

          Yikes, if Supatra's is anything like how they were in their location near the farmer's market, do not go there.

          I'm by no means an expert on Thai food although we spent 2 weeks in Thailand last year and I've lived in cities with better Thai food. The Thai food here is by no means awful, or would scare someone off, as long as you stay away for the Minnesotanized versions like Chang Mai Thai and Sawatdee (no heat and way too sweet). While I agree w/ TDQ that going for Vietnamese would be fun, having Vietnamese doesn't really satisfy my Thai cravings, and vice versa. I guess for me pho and curry (my usual choices) are just too different. So I say, see if your friend is flexible but don't worry you're going to scare her off or anything.

          1. re: katebauer
            The Dairy Queen RE: katebauer Feb 24, 2008 03:10 PM

            I'm afraid the Thai food here for the most part doesn't even satisfy my Thai cravings ... (I've never been to Chiang Mai Thai or Sawatdee or even Supatra's original location because they never fared well on this board and I wasn't willing to give them a chance based on the other places I tried)I'm not going to say that the Thai food here is universally awful because occasionally there's a dish or two that shine, but I do think you need to know how to order to get the best food at the Thai restaurants here and it doesn't seem like ajs does, based on his own admission. Maybe at least we can direct him to the best dishes.

            ~TDQ

            1. re: The Dairy Queen
              The Dairy Queen RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 24, 2008 06:24 PM

              I typed this last post very hurriedly as I was running out the door for an engagement and felt bad about it the whole time I was gone, worried I'd come across as excessively negative about the overall quality of the Thai food in the Twin Cities.

              What I was trying to respond to adj's request for "outstanding" eats. I just don't honestly think there's a Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities that is consistently outstanding. There are plenty that are just fine, and that sometimes may even rise to the occasional outstanding moment (and there are a few that are awful, sadly). And if he's interested in eating at "the best" Thai place in the Twin Cities, as long as he's okay with the fact that it might not be outstanding, that's fine. And if he thinks that eating at one of these places, even if not outstanding, will satisfy his friend's Thai craving, by all means, let's direct him to those places. And maybe even tell him what the outstanding dishes are so he can have the best experience possible.

              One the other hand, I think there other kinds of Southeast Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities that are consistently outstanding--I realize that Vietnamese and Thai are different cuisines (and I'm not going to get into how much time I've spent in Asia or the other cities in which I've eaten great Asian food, or how many Asian friends I have, or what my Asian culinary education has been... because who cares, mine is but one lay person's opinion and really, there's always going to be someone more or less qualified than me once you start down that road) and one isn't interchangeable with the other but it might be a great thing to introduce his friend to if he's trying to show her the best of the Twin Cities in order to entice her to move here when he knows she already has an interest in at least one style of Southeast Asian cuisine.

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                k
                karykat RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 24, 2008 07:50 PM

                Don't feel badly for being candid. We depend on each other for that.

                1. re: karykat
                  The Dairy Queen RE: karykat Feb 25, 2008 03:10 AM

                  Thank you, karykat.

                  ~TDQ

        2. h
          HuaGung RE: ajs Feb 24, 2008 06:51 PM

          Sadly, as has been mentioned here previously, most of the Thai offerings in MSP don't offer much in the way of indigenously accurate Thai food. Nearly all substitute many of the principal flavor ingredients to suit our taste in this market for having our food sweetened rather than salted or spiced.

          For my taste, I prefer Krua Thai in St Paul on University Ave. They WILL fall prey to the comments noted above on many occasions, BUT, and it's an important "but", they are Thai one and all (except one) in the operation and if you ask them to please "make it like Bangkok" they will and you will be amazed. Order without comment and you'll likely get the sweet goopy stuff.

          I live in Bangkok three months or more of every year. I can't recommend ANY of the places mentioned earlier in the post, though others find them acceptable on one or more levels.

          Last, Krua Thai offers exactly ZERO atmosphere. It's a "food only" kind of place. You bring your own fun.

          Best of luck to you.
          I

          8 Replies
          1. re: HuaGung
            t
            tex.s.toast RE: HuaGung Feb 24, 2008 10:05 PM

            Krua is definitely the closest to authentic Thai there is in the twin cities. and its true its got the atmosphere of a vacuum tube (i believe the menu also used to be twice as long but was reorganized less redundantly so its now about half the length but includes everything it used to).

            HuaGung, what do you think of Chai's? For me, food is way more important than atmosphere (except VERY occasionally, when its just quite a bit more important) and Krua was always way closer, so Chai's wasn't a regular spot. That said I have had a couple of pretty good dishes in a much more (extant?) atmosphere. It may not hit the traditional mark that Krua can, but it shouldn't get lumped in with Sawatdee or other minnesota-ized spots around town, unless my experiences/memories are not reflective of current or actual conditions.

            1. re: tex.s.toast
              h
              HuaGung RE: tex.s.toast Feb 25, 2008 06:24 AM

              Is "better than some, but worse than others" a fair description of Chai's? Our first visit was not good a few months back. But, we prefer it to Amazing Thailand, Tum Rup Thai, but find it weaker than True Thai and Krua Thailand.

              My wife (she's Thai) finds their Papaya salad to be a very American version (read this to mean primarily sweet and sour) compared to the fishy, spicy, stinky versions she grew up on in Thailand and available here in much more Thai form in Asian markets (the best being at the Florida Oriental Market in Burnsville).

            2. re: HuaGung
              The Dairy Queen RE: HuaGung Feb 25, 2008 03:15 AM

              HuaGung, I haven't been back to Krua to employ your "just like Bangkok" ordering tip yet since you suggest it a couple of months agao (and won't be able to for a couple more months because I have this New Year's Resolution diet thing going on right now)...but it reminds me of "Chowhound Passport" from the old days. It was a little business card like thing that said, in about a dozen languages, "Please bring me the real style food." Or something like that. I carried one in my wallet for a couple of years but was always too shy to use it.

              You mention that everyone at Krua Thai is Thai. Are the folks at the rest of the Thai restaurants in the Twin Cities not Thai (honest question here)?

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                katebauer RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 25, 2008 05:17 AM

                I remember once I was chatting with the chef at the Royal Orchid in the skyway, and he was saying (disparagingly) that most of the other Thai restaurants in town had Hmong and Laotian chefs. I have no other evidence though on this topic, nor have an opinion of how it would change the food.

                1. re: katebauer
                  d
                  dave43 RE: katebauer Mar 1, 2008 05:15 AM

                  If you looked up unauthentic Thai in the dictionary you would see a picture of the Royal Orchid skyway. This place is a joke. I had a papaya salad there and asked if I could have a wedge of lime on the side. The chef replied they don't have limes because they are too expensive. They use a fake lime dressing in the salad. When I got the salad I asked why there were no tomatoes in it since the menu stated they had them. He said Tomatoes were too expensive and they won't put them in. Needless to say this was the most awful papaya salad I have ever had if you can even call it that. Stay far away from this place.

                  1. re: dave43
                    katebauer RE: dave43 Mar 1, 2008 06:38 AM

                    I agree completely. That was the funny part of the whole situation. He was bashing other restaurants to me, yet his food was extremely bad!

                2. re: The Dairy Queen
                  h
                  HuaGung RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 25, 2008 06:13 AM

                  No, most are not. Most are Lao or Hmong in this market. There just aren't a lot of native Thai folks living here. At last estimate I believe the Thai Association here counted about 3,500 Thai residents in the Metro area. Compare that to upwards of 70,000 Hmong/Lao and you get a sense of the small numbers by comparison.

                  To be clear, I don't have a problem with Lao or Hmong people opening Thai restaurants. My beef is with anyone who presents a dish as something it clearly is not. And I hold that beef across any dish whether it's Thai, American, Italian, Szechuan, etc.

                  1. re: HuaGung
                    The Dairy Queen RE: HuaGung Feb 25, 2008 06:54 AM

                    Thanks for the tip on the Florida Oriental Market in Burnsville--that's not on my radar at all.

                    I don't have a problem with people of one heritage opening up a restaurant of different heritage. After all, cooking is something that is taught and learned.

                    But, I think when you have a critical mass of a population of immigrants, after they get settled in (I think it can take a generation or two), there is a demand within that community for food that reminds them of the dishes their mothers and grandmothers prepared and it's the folks within that community itself that keep the demand high for "indigenously accurate" food (I like that expression--better than "authentic" I hope you don't mind if I use it...) I think demand from the dining public is more important in a lot of ways than the heritage of the chef him or herself. So, it's interesting that the Twin Cities Thai Community is relatively small--there's probably not enough of them to create a significant demand for restaurants.

                    ~TDQ

              2. MplsM ary RE: ajs Feb 24, 2008 07:22 PM

                I think it'd helpful to know where your friend is coming from. Better way to guage expectations?

                The two uptown spots so far recommended, Amazing Thailand and Tum Rup Thai are both fine but in very different ways.

                Tum Rup Thai I've been to twice. Once I had Pad Thai which was fine but bland, the other time I had some all vegetable dish which I ordered "fire breathing hot, please." It had a little heat and was fine. Both times the veggies were fresh and the crowd young, sparkly and straight from the burbs dull. All this might sound negative but Tum Rup Thai has a huge saving grace: truly tasty, fruity cocktails served aling with the passable food.

                I've only been to Amazing Thailand once, but that's only because there's been nothing I want to see at the Uptown Theatre since then. I wholeheartedly recommend the dish Amazing Vegetarian. I ordered it at a spiciness level of 4 (out of 5) just to see if they'd give me spicy or MN spicy. It actually was pretty perfect. Now, if they'd had cockails at the time I would've gone for a 5, but water does nothing to dissipate heat so I chickened.

                Chaing Mai Thai is good for cocktail nilbblies and cocktails. Big, fat alcohol bomb cocktails with spicy cashews and cream cheese wontons is quite fun. Especially as I can catch a bus there and back no problem.

                The two downsides to all these joints is that to me they are a little pricey and parking can be problematic on weekend nights.

                2 Replies
                1. re: MplsM ary
                  The Dairy Queen RE: MplsM ary Feb 25, 2008 03:17 AM

                  MplsM ary, isn't Amazing Thai the one with the lovely decor? If you're looking for atmosphere?

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                    MplsM ary RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 25, 2008 10:48 AM

                    Yes, thanks for that nudge. When I started my post that was one thing I meant to mention.

                    Amazing Thailand has great decor but in a weird way. I don't know why I think this but somehow my brain came with the phrase 'head shop Thai.' It's a little off-kilter in some indescribable way.

                    Tum Rup Thai's decor is fresh and hip in a sort of yawn-y way.

                    And just to be thorough, Chaing Mai's decor is kitsch in a sort of restaurant-y opium den way.

                2. s
                  soupkitten RE: ajs Feb 25, 2008 08:17 AM

                  i agree with other posters that thai is not currently a strong point of msp dining, however i think that some of the restaurants mentioned might have some decent offerings, depending on what you ask for/what you are looking for. the op makes it sound like quality thai food is a make-or-break for getting the friend to move here. i think i understand, someone recently was talking to me about whether i'd consider moving to nyc, and i spluttered "hell no, you can't get pho in nyc, i'd rather shoot myself in the head!" :-D

                  the friend wants thai, so maybe try one of the recs from the other posters, but don't bill the restaurant to her as "the best in town," --that's an ongoing debate. depending on where the friend is from, maybe play up some of msp's real culinary strengths during her visit: vietnamese, new american/local foods, splendid local bistros. . . these are what really has impressed out of town visitors i've taken around town. . . tell us, ajs, where is your friend coming from, & is she staying long enough to get more than one special meal in msp?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: soupkitten
                    katebauer RE: soupkitten Feb 25, 2008 08:40 AM

                    > "hell no, you can't get pho in nyc, i'd rather shoot myself in the head!" :-D

                    I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic but you do realize you can get great pho/Vietnamese in New York. I'm not sure there's any cuisine you can't get there.

                    1. re: katebauer
                      s
                      soupkitten RE: katebauer Feb 25, 2008 09:19 AM

                      you know, friends who divide their time between msp and nyc say they look forward to msp's vietnamese & mexican food and nyc's reubens, knishes & deli food. apparently they've gone to some bad vietnamese restaurants in nyc, because they won't eat any vietnamese food there anymore. i actually look at the nyc pho & vietnamese threads when i see them sometimes and the nyc posters consistently say la, msp and northern virginia have better vietnamese food. i haven't been to nyc in several years and when i was there i was eating more sushi than anything else, though. if you have a rec on where to get decent pho in nyc let me know-- i'll be sure tell my pho-loving friends. i don't mean to argue the point w/o any references, but it is true that different cities have different strengths, food-wise.

                      1. re: soupkitten
                        The Dairy Queen RE: soupkitten Feb 25, 2008 09:32 AM

                        We've heard some of this feedback on the Midwest board from various visitors, too (I didn't know the thing about Northern Virginia, though)--about the relative strength of the Vietnamese chow in the Twin Cities compared to even NYC.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          t
                          tex.s.toast RE: The Dairy Queen Feb 25, 2008 11:15 AM

                          While i don't live in MSP anymore as a Vietnamese food lover i felt compelled to chime in here. Growing up in SF there was some really stellar Vietnamese food (my last trip i hit three places in the tenderloin in one lunch-crawl). I don't have any knowledge of the NYC scene, but i feel as though a comparison between SF and MSP may be valuable.

                          I cant claim one to be better but there is definitely a difference between whats offered in Minnesota compared to SF VT food - it may be regional differences in whats available to cooks (trying to find Mock duck is possible in SF but not nearly as easy as the twin cities) or where the cooks come from (my favorite pho in sf is hanoi-style, without hardly a single vegetable and no plate of herbs of sprouts to be found) but they are just very different. Vietnamese is most assuredly a real strength in MSP, but if the reason why is tangible to someone better informed i'd love to hear why these differences exist.

                    2. re: soupkitten
                      The Dairy Queen RE: soupkitten Feb 25, 2008 09:30 AM

                      I like your approach, sk.

                      ~TDQ

                    3. a
                      ajs RE: ajs Feb 29, 2008 06:14 AM

                      Yikes, it looks like I unintentionally gave the anthill a gentle kick!

                      Thank you for all the suggestions, folks. While I was leaning towards True Thai, it is closed of a Sunday, so we ended up at Amazing Thailand, which, to my uninformed palate, seemed perfectly acceptable. We split an order of shrimp/chicken spring rolls, and a couple of entrees. Amazing Curry with shrimp for her, and the Cashew Nuts with chicken for me. The service was pleasant and attentive, the room was fairly quiet and relaxed on a Sunday night, and we were able to catch up in a leisurely fashion.

                      While I prefer my spring rolls to be fried, these were just dandy. I liked both of the entrees, though the Amazing aspect of the curry escaped me. Out of curiosity, given by our server a scale of 1 to 5, I ordered my cashews at heat level 4. Spice is a completely subjective thing, but I felt that I got a pleasant warmth from a level 4, and I was hoping for something a bit more assertive. My companion's curry was a level 3, which seemed fairly mild to me. But I get the sense that I like a higher level of spice than is the norm here in Mn.

                      Being a sucker for Vietnamese iced coffee, I finished off with an order of the Thai iced coffee, which was described as being very like its Vietnamese cousin. In that there is coffee, dairy, and ice in the beverage, they are indeed similar, and the Thai coffee was harmless/pleasant enough. The Thai version is subtler, but I think that my preference is for the Vietnamese version, which has a bit more oomph. And then there's the whole ritual with the little drippy pot, and the glass with the milk that just tickles me. That said, I am making this sweeping statement from a total sample size of 1, so take that for what it is (or is not) worth.

                      In sum, I'd say that there surely seems to be nothing at all inherently evil about Thai food, but that my personal preference in SE Asian cuisine leans towards Vietnamese.

                      Again, thanks much for the help. I'd still like to try True Thai sometime.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ajs
                        The Dairy Queen RE: ajs Feb 29, 2008 06:26 AM

                        Thank you for the report, ajs, it sounds like you had a good experience. I hope your friend got her Thai craving met, too.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          d
                          dave43 RE: The Dairy Queen Mar 1, 2008 05:20 AM

                          I posted this before but for those looking for a thai gem (IMHO) in the western suburbs try Na's in Chanhassen. I highly recommend the papaya salad and toam yum soup.

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