A Tip on Thai: Bangkok Thai Deli

Finding good Thai food in the Twin Cities isn’t easy — the best I have found recently has been at
True Thai on Franklin Ave. E. in Minneapolis.
I have been very disappointed with what I have tasted at the Thai
restaurants in Uptown, and though I have only sampled a few dishes at Otho and
Kindee, and the re-opened Ruam Mit in downtown Saint Paul, none of them seemed
to get it quite right. (My usual test is to order a hot and sour tom yum soup
and a green curry, both complex and pungent dishes; too often, the green curry
is bland and insipid, and the tom yum is out of balance, or missing some of the
essential ingredients, such as straw mushrooms, or galangal or lemon grass.)

To be fair, all of these judgments are based on very limited samplings; now
that I am spending my own money when I dine, I am reluctant to return to a
restaurant a second or third time in hopes of getting a better meal than I had
the first time around.

So I was really delighted to get this tip from a reader:

Hi Jeremy. I work at the University of Minnesota and there are a few
people from Thailand there and they had been telling me to try a restaurant
that is on University Ave down toward the Capitol. It’s called Bangkok
Thai Deli. Although I have never been to Thailand, they tell me that the
food is as close as you can get.

I went there a few times and it was phenomenal. Very tasty dishes;
flavors that I have never experienced at other Thai restaurants in the area,
and very classic cilantro, lime, basil combinations you would expect
also. It is inexpensive as well; when I was there last we ordered three
dishes and the bill was well under $20.

315 University Ave, Saint Paul, MN is the address. It is kind of a
dodgy looking building but the people inside will give you some of the best
service you’ve ever had. I’m always pleasantly surprised at the level of
kindness I encounter there.

I followed up on the reader’s advice and stopped by yesterday. The place
looks pretty much the way Kevin described it: a well-stocked Asian market with
a big dining room off to the side. The décor is minimal, unless you count the
color photos of menu items, on the wall behind the counter. A handful of diners
were watching Thai music videos on a small television.

I was on my bike, and ordered takeout, so I had to avoid the really sloshy
dishes, like tom yum, but overall I was pretty impressed. My green curry with
beef was lively and complex, made with baby Asian eggplant, kaffir lime leaves
and fresh basil. My other entrée order was apparently misunderstood – I had
asked for stir-fried Thai banana with shrimp ($8), but got a dish of stir-fried
beef with red and green peppers – lively and very tasty.

Bangkok Thai Deli, 315 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-224-4300.

While I waited for my takeout order, I wandered a couple of doors away to the 88 Oriental Foods Deli, 291 University Ave. 651-209-8388, and ordered a couple more dishes from the cafeteria counter in the back of the store. The Laotian-style tom sam (shredded green papaya with garlic, tomatoes dried shrimp and fish sauce, $3.49) was pungent and delicious, and the combo special has to be one of the best deals in town: a generous mound of rice with two toppings – I chose the chicken curry and stewed pork belly – for $3.99.

On my way over, as I pedaled down University Ave. I spotted a big banner outside
Krua Thai Restaurant (432 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-4053) advertising Thai boat soup. Then, on the menu at Bangkok
Thai, I saw Thai boat soup listed again. I was intrigued, so I asked the guy
behind the counter, but the language barrier got in the way. Still curious, I
googled "Thai boat soup" when I got home, and found the following description
on the Chow.com website:

Boat noodle is a Thai specialty that is … well, it’s not for the easily
frightened. True boat noodle is deeply beefy, funky, with hard assaults of
tang, sourness, spice, sweet, and good… Boat noodle style gets its
characteristic cloudy appearance and extrafunky flavor from its primary
thickener, beef blood. But once you’ve had it funky, you can’t go back to the
clean stuff. You’re dirty forever… It’s kind of like sucking nectar directly from
the mouth of the goddess of the Thai…"

I can’t wait to go back. If you get there before I do, please drop me a
line, and tell me all about it.