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Jun 4, 2008 04:00 AM

[MSP] Bangkok Thai Deli, University Ave St. Paul?

Anyone tried Bangkok Thai Deli, 315 University Ave St. Paul? Jeremy Iggers at The Rake got a tip from a reader, checked it out, and it sounds like a gem. Iggers also says he loves True Thai, though, the food at which I personally find to be a bit ho hum, so I'm skeptical.


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  1. Does anyone know if this place is related to the old Bangkok Thai restaurant in Dinkytown? My better half and I enjoyed that place long ago, although it went way down hill in the last years of its existence.

    1. Went there for lunch today...AND IT WAS FANTASTIC!!!!!

      Now before you all go running over there and overwhelm them, please know the owner has quietly kept this little gem to himself for the past seven months on purpose. He says he is already busier than his small staff (three cooks plus him and a busser) can handle and he doesn't want to hire more cooks who might change the taste of his food. He politely asked for people to consider trying his restaurant on Wednesdays and Thursdays because he has isn't as busy those days. They are closed Mondays. Hours are 9:30 AM to 9:00 PM all other days. Beverages are self-serve from the coolers at the back.

      This place is the real deal folks. The owners are Thai, and they are delivering FABULOUS food, exactly like we enjoy in Thailand. The ingredients are the same, the taste is the same and the atmosphere is the same. Which is to say, there is no atmosphere. Eating at Bangkok Thai Deli is like eating at a food court in Bangkok. Metal folding chairs (think church basement chairs), red and white vinyl table cloths. It kind of makes Saigon down the street look like high fashion by design. I mean no disrespect when I say this because I LOVE a place that is all about the food. I'm just saying it has all the charm that Asians love in a good-food joint, and nothing that will make the prices rise just to have a decoration.

      We ate Tom Yum Gung (of course), a beef and basil stir fry, and a panang curry. The descriptions on the menu are different from what you will find elsewhere, which can be a challenge for non-Thai speaking folks. For instance, the panang was called Dry Red Curry with Beef. Not a lot of English is spoken here, but the owner does a very good job of making sure he understand what you want to eat. The menu is very well done and has lots of pictures.

      Do I need to elaborate on the food? I feel like I kissed the girl for the first time. I will honestly tell you there is no other Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities that does their food this well and for so little money. Three entrees, two cokes and a Thai tea came to $27 tax included. The same meal at Krua Thai was over $40. I mean the guy is charging $.60 for a coke!

      We'll be going back this weekend for more to try many more things on the menu. You are going to find some familiar items (Laab, Pad Thai, Tom Yum, etc.), but also many dishes you have never seen in MN Thai restaurants before. And, bless them, there are no cream cheese puffs on the menu.

      And to bob s, this place has no association with the dump in Dinkytown. That place was nasty.

      Deep breath...

      Hua Gung

      17 Replies
      1. re: HuaGung

        OMG! I know where I'm having dinner next Weds...


        1. re: HuaGung

          Thanks Hua for a great and passionate review- we need more of these! So, how
          come you get to go there on the weekend?

          1. re: faith

            It isn't a permission thing. The owner is scared to death that all of us will show up at the same time and kill him. He truly wants to give everyone who comes a great meal.

            My wife is Thai and talked quite a long time with him today as we ate. Our reason for going back is simply greedy... It's that good and we don't wanna wait.

            If you want to make the owner smile, and you like your food spicy, consider asking for your food to be made "Seua ronghai", a Thai idiom which translates loosely to "Tiger tears" or "make the tiger cry."

            Phonetically, you might say "Sir-ah, Wrong High". He might understand you, he might not, but it's a fun idiom in any event.

          2. re: HuaGung

            Sounds great! I have a soft spot in my heart for the Dinkytown place despite the service, food, location and ambiance. ;-) Early dates (with my now better half) will make you forgive a lot.

            1. re: HuaGung

              wow thanks for the great report! another 'to-try' on the list next time i'm up in the twin cities!

              1. re: HuaGung

                I just went to Bangkok Thai Deli for my 2nd meal there last night (by the way, do visit it before the lack of stops and the lack of frequent buses post-LRT drives it out of business).

                My friend got to talking to a woman--sounds like one of the owners--who encouraged him to spread the word & tell everyone.
                (I'm not surprised one person got a "he" for an owner and my friend got a "she"--sounds like a family restaurant)

                Then again, it was Wednesday last night.

                Still--Ms. Yamthongkam likes to chat, and she had some interesting comments about her restaurant! She's from Bangkok and considers herself someone who lives both places, not a full immigrant--but her kids, at the age they're at, preferred America and wanted to go to school here. Not wanting to twiddle her thumbs all day while they're at school, she opened this restaurant. Or that's how I understood it, anyway.

                I didn't get the last detail of her training, but the phrase she described herself with is "master chef" and explained it by saying that she trains other cooks. She definitely connects this to her beliefs about the importance of using high-quality ingredients and making things taste just like they do back in Thailand.

                About the experience of eating at the restaurant: as a white non-vegetarian American, I enjoy the menu. Everything has descriptions by primary ingredients (as mentioned above), but almost everything also has a corresponding photo (so I can tell if something's more meat than veggies, vice-versa, how much variety of veggies is in a dish, etc.) Because of this easy-to-understand-without-asking-details menu, I actually grabbed a takeout menu and will be leaving it at the office!

                Prices are, as stated, good. Not a high margin of markup over the cost right now, Ms. Yamthongkam mentioned. (Though wow, does that show how ingredients have inflated. Because it's still well above the prices I remember 7 years ago at similar restaurants.)

                A different man (not Ms. Yamthongkam or her husband, but a similar age) checked in on us at the end of our meal and offered to remember my friend (who, against the advice of the waitress, ordered pho even though he loves spicy food) and said he'd really make him something spicy. (Sounds like he both cooks and waits tables.) As for me, who ordered something spicy despite not liking spice at all--he told me to be more confident about ordering without spice, because they could definitely feed me good food even if I did.

                I'm not sure if the "but I'd have to hire more cooks" advice still applies or if the "Wednesday"/"Thursday" advice still applies, but at least ON a Wednesday night, we got a request to spread the word.

                So there I go!

                1. re: kitkat

                  I thought it was moving in a couple of months. Is the air-conditioning fixed?

                  1. re: kevin47

                    I didn't know it was moving! Guess we didn't cover everything as we talked last night. No idea if the air conditioning was running. I was 100% perfectly comfortable, temperature-wise (if not just cool enough to tie my sweater around my waist to close the midriff gap, I think?), so maybe...but it's been so cool this summer, I wouldn't be able to tell if the place was AC-cooled or fan-cooled. Sorry!

                    1. re: kitkat

                      The owner was very clear when I chatted with her tonight: they are not moving, they are adding a new restaurant location. I asked the owner when and where. She waved her hand vaguely to the east and said "not far, soon, and it has air conditioner."

                      The AC was not fixed -- though it was in the 70's outside, it was Bangkok-like inside: hot and humid.

                2. re: HuaGung

                  I tried the deli a few weeks ago because I absolutely love Thai food, especially since I have celiac disease and can't eat wheat, gluten. I had a *really* difficult time explaining that I could not eat wheat. Generally, wheat gluten is not in Thai cuisine, but it can be in some brands of fish sauce or soy sauce (I know, not really used in Thai) or seasoning mixes. I get the impression you've spoken with the owners quite a bit. Do you have any tips for how I can explain this? The place was so busy and I think the manager thought I was a vegetarian. He just didn't understand what I was saying. I tried the Laarb because it's usually safe. Fish sauce does not often have wheat, and if they are making the dish with whole ingredients, it should not have any wheat in it. It was great, but would like to venture into other dishes, if possible. I know that probably most of them are gluten-free. Again, any advice you can offer would be GREATLY appreciated!

                  1. re: um3boshi1

                    um3boshi1- one thing that I know is that this place does use msg- I know it's not the same as gluten.....but many people who have one of the sensitivities often have the other one as well. And since wheat allergy involves more than simply wheat flour used in a recipe, I think the language issue is going to be a problem here. I think you probably need to find out what prepared condiments are used there....such as fish sauce, green or red curry sauce, coconut milk, etc. And then research whether any of them contain gluten. Or ask the staff to let you see the cans for the labeling (ask nicely and smile a lot).....

                    1. re: faith

                      Thanks for your reply. You're right, it can get complicated with sauces. It's a real bummer that 1/2 the brands of fish sauce use wheat and 1/2 don't.... Though I recently discovered some dining cards that explain in Thai (and many other languages!) what it is that I can't eat. I still think it might be difficult here simply because of how busy the place is. They don't really need a high maintenance customer! :)

                      1. re: um3boshi1

                        umboshi- I am anxiously awaiting the opening of Naviya LaBarge's next Thai place, which is going to be in between Dunn Bros. and Famous Dave's across from Linden Hills Coop....she does some great Thai food on the healthier side, is allergic to msg therefore doesn't use it. Hopefully she would be someone you could have this discussion with, and have a happy ending...

                    2. re: um3boshi1

                      I also have celiac disease and brought a card written in Thai to the restaurant, and the owner tried to tell me I couldn't have salt, therefore there was nothing I could eat. He misread the card and was looking at the CAN HAVE section instead of CAN'T HAVE. This misunderstanding took a great deal of time to reach in the first place, since I had to convince him to take the card, read the card, and not just ignore me (he kept trying to wave me off), and a great deal of time to explain. Finally, after a painful 10 minutes of arguing about what I could or couldn't eat, with a language barrier, even with a card in Thai, I was told the only thing I could eat was the spring rolls, and they had to be specially made. Very depressing for me, and for the poor owner.

                      1. re: zennenn

                        Many immigrants are illiterate or functionally illiterate in their native languages. Especially true with people from Africa and Asia. It is very likely he couldn't read the majority of the card. You may have done better with a card in English. Even people who don't seem to speak English very well often can read it, just like I read Spanish much better than I can speak it.

                        1. re: zennenn

                          Before your next Thai restaurant outing, you might want to research Thai recipes before you head out. Figure out which recipes are going to fit your restrictions and then order those foods. It seems it would be easier than procuring and attempting to use a CAN HAVE / CAN'T HAVE card printed in Thai.

                          Or get your Thai fix at Sen Yak Sen Lai on Central in Minneapolis where owner/chef Joe Surisook-Hatch speaks perfectly fine English.

                          1. re: zennenn

                            Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions - you're right, he could very well have been illiterate. The card was English on one side, Thai on the other, and he flipped it back and forth.

                            I do cook Thai food at home, so there is some familiarity - the problem is the fish sauce, used in every Thai recipe I've seen (sometimes contains wheat), and the concern that restaurants may not use the traditional thai style soy sauces, brewed without wheat (used in non-curry dishes). Also, MSG that is imported can contain gluten, and while my cookbooks do not include MSG as an ingredient, I suspect it is used in restaurants.

                            Sen Yai Sen Lek has a gluten free menu, and a lovely owner in Joe, but the last few times I have gone, I have gotten sick.

                            Even though it sometimes feels that it is not worth the hassle, or is pointless, I still keep hoping I can enjoy the wonderful foods I used to, before getting ill. Thank God I'm a decent cook! :)

                            Sen Yai Sen Lek
                            2422 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

                      2. I also tried this place last weekend. It was awesome. My husband and I have been searching for a good Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities since I moved here a year and a half ago. We've always been amazed at how overpriced and oversweetened a lot of Thai food is -- as if Thai chefs are trying to compensate for American palates the way a lot of Chinese take out places have -- by adding a lot of sugar. (My father is from Thailand, I lived there for three years, and my husband and I have visited a few times -- so eating good Thai food as always been an integral part of our lives.) We were so happy to find this little gem. It's interesting to hear from Hua Gung that the owner wants to keep the traffic to a point that his chefs can handle it. I blogged a little bit about what we ate here:

                        We can't wait to go again! (but we'll think about trying to go on a Wednesday or Thursday.)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Rhena

                          Rhena, I noticed you listed Kao Soi from Chiang Mai as the best meal you ever ate in your profile. I am curious to know if you ate it up at Doi Suthep at the food stalls or not. I had it for the first time there and like you, think it was one of the best things I've ever eaten in Thailand. I also have a weakness for Kao Mok Neua near our home in Bangkok. It's sad we can't get these dishes here.

                        2. I just went to here and was not impressed, sadly. The place looks and feels authentic and was full of only Thai people. I myself have lived in Thailand a few years back and I've been to probably a hundred or more Thai restaurants in the US.

                          In any case, I was dismayed that there was no specifically vegetarian/vegan dishes on the menu (tofu was never listed as an option instead of meat) and I think our waiter was confused about the whole concept, though vegetarianism has a strong following in Thailand.

                          Eventually, after some explaining, and after forty minutes, our dishes arrived. I always get two dishes to test a place's authenticity: basil stir-fry and green curry. The basil dish was a bit too salty and flat in its appearance and taste. It was lacking something. The green curry was full of so much oil that the dish was deep yellow in color, rather than coconut-milk white. The overwhelming quantity of oil drowned out the flavor of the vegetables, the coconut milk, and the curry paste.

                          My friend, who is not vegetarian, had a ground chicken salad, which she found bland and too lemony.

                          I'll give this place another chance, as it certainly look authentic. It was really crowded, so maybe the quality was reduced because of the number of orders being placed. On the other hand, they took forty minutes before my food arrived, so I'm not sure what to think. For the time being, True Thai on E. Franklin Ave. is still the leader of Thai food in the Twin Cities.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: condekedar

                            I don't know why I feel compelled to reply, but I do...

                            I am sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the restaurant. Certainly not everyone will. A Thai restaurant full of only Thai people, and busy at that, tells me more about the authenticity and appeal of the place than anything else could. Thai people don't/won't patronize a place that doesn't have a "true taste". I know this from long experience with my Thai wife. That said, we too don't like everything on the menu, but the things we haven't enjoyed are FAR fewer than the really great stuff (we have tried about 20 of the items on the menu by now (yeah, we're obsessive)).

                            As to the comments about the curry... An oily curry is a sign the dish was cooked correctly. They are supposed to be cooked until the coconut oil separates from the milk. Thai people generally just spoon it off. Americans, et al, tend to get weirded out about it. It's one of the reasons places like True Thai DON'T cook their curries until they're done. Their client base is nearly entirely American and not SE Asian. Bangkok Deli prepares their curries in the manner their most frequent customers are used to eating it.

                            We have come to know the owner of Bangkok Deli somewhat better than an infrequent customer might, and I can tell you he is adamantly opposed to accommodating every possible taste in his restaurant. He wants to cook what they are good at, and avoid being all things to all people. He flatly refuses to acquiesce to my wife's demands for more obscure curries, even though they have the necessary ingredients to prepare them. I respect him for that actually.

                            You might try Pad Pak Ruam Mit Tofu next time if you choose to go back. It's an all vegetable and tofu stir fry and it's on the menu for everyone. No special request needed. You can also order the Tom Kah soup with Tofu instead of meat.

                            As you're undoubtedly familiar from your time in Thailand, most restaurants that are Mangsawirat (vegetarian), say so and cater exclusively to those guests who prefer it. Most, but not all, others will feature meats and seafood in abundance and have some vegetable stir-frys but that are almost never prepared in a true vegan fashion. Bangkok deli is no different from this latter group.

                            Hua Gung

                          2. I finally got there this weekend - mid-afternoon on Saturday. The food blew me away!

                            I ordered my beloved papaya salad - I got it Lao style, which is the murky version with anchovies (paste? sauce? Anyway, it's murky). Good stuff. I think I prefer the one at Dragon Star Grocery, because it has baby eggplants and beans, but this one was just fine. (As I've said before, I've never met a papaya salad that I didn't like.)

                            Mr. Tastebud ordered pad thai, which is all he ever orders in a Thai restaurant. Sigh. But I loved this version - simple yet complex, in a clear light-orange sauce, surprisingly sweet-and-tangy, but understated and balanced. He ordered it mild, and it was still delicious.

                            Best of all, we ordered something I've never seen in the Twin Cities before: little banana-leaf cups filled with a steamed seafood custard. I don't know the name of this dish - it was in Thai only on the first page of the menu, but there's a picture of it at the bottom of the page. (There's another picture of it above the counter.) I've had this dish only once, in Chicago (at Thai Spoon) - I liked this version as well, though they were quite different. It was spicy and rich, flavored with red curry paste and coconut, and full of Thai basil. And there was some shredded vegetables at the bottom (nappa cabbage, I think), which lightened the dish (in a very good way). There's a fish version and a mixed-seafood version (squid, shrimp, and fish). I loved them both.

                            They don't always have this dish - it's quite fussy to make, apparently, and sells out fast when they have it. If you try it, order at least one for each person at the table (unless you have tons of other food), as each cup is rather small - a little less than one actual cup of contents.

                            And when you examine the menu looking for other treasures, note that many dishes have names unfamiliar to those of us who don't read Thai. For example, there's a lot of good stuff on the first page that isn't translated, just described. Luckily, there were pictures of the custard cups and papaya salad, so I could point. And the husband-and-wife owners were very helpful and friendly. (I got lots of advice on what to try next time, like the fish cakes and Thai-style papaya salad.) I'll definitely be back soon!


                            6 Replies
                            1. re: AnneInMpls


                              That lovely little "steamed fish in a banana leaf cup" dish you had is called Hor Mok. Good on ya for trying that one! You don't see that dish around these parts but it's a really good one.


                              1. re: HuaGung

                                sounds like an interesting dish!

                                so they open for lunch then on the weekend?

                                1. re: Ummm

                                  As noted above, they are open Tuesday through Sunday 9:30 AM to 9:00 PM.

                                2. re: HuaGung

                                  Awesome! Do they have the same dish with other proteins too? The late, great Thai Bazil had this with fish, chicken, or pork, and was FANTASTIC.

                                  1. re: Danny

                                    I also want to thank TDQ for bringing this gem to the attention of our local chow community and for Hua's wonderful detailed description. I love Thai food but have been at a loss for a favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities. I used to love Ruam Mit at their original location. Well, Bangkok Thai Deli is so wonderful - the food, the people and the feeling of a real Thai atmosphere - although their napkins are a bit more substantial than I experienced in Thailand. I've been there twice and the Hor Mok was outstanding as well as the beef and crispy basil. I spoke to one of the cooks on both occasions and she said that she even makes the curry pastes fresh for each order. Unbelievable! She said that she would be happy to make things not on the menu as long as she can get authentic, fresh ingredients. I was really impressed by her commitment to keeping the prices low and her food delicious. I can't wait to go back every week to try more wonderful Thai food. Also delicious was the chicken galangal soup. WOW!