My husband and I have been on a quest for good, cheap, fresh, tasty Thai food ever since I arrived in the Twin Cities a year and a half ago. After months and months of being referred by websites, reviews, friends, and foes to Thai outlets that end up being overpriced, oversweetened, and overstale, at last, our quest has come to an end.
My friend Wai Linn moved to St Paul from Thailand a few months before I arrived here. (In the interest of full disclosure, my father was born and raised in Thailand and I lived there for three years as an adult. This, of course, gives me automatic and undeniable credibility. My credibility will not be denied.) A few weeks ago, we met up for a meal at Mai Village, the Vietnamese joint on University. "We should go and eat there," he said, pointing out the window and down the street to an unassuming white building with a strange smokestack-like pillar jutting out from its roof. "It's a new Thai restaurant," he explained. "It's real Thai food."
Indeed, this weekend, when my husband stopped by the new Thai restaurant on a whim after Grand Old Day, the sign above the entrance read, "real Thai food." At first, the "Bangkok Thai Deli" appears to be just another Asian grocery store. Past the rows of ramen noodles, lemongrass-filled produce aisle, and varieties of pickled vegetables, to the right of the checkout counters, there is a small cafe with a few booths and a few slightly unsteady-looking tables covered in red tablecloths under the dingy light of a few florescent lights. There's a sort of deli counter at the back and entering the cafe, my husband and I had one of those brief, awkward moments of "Do we order at the counter? Do we seat ourselves?" I got my Thai legs back under me and chose us a table. Awkward moments, cheesy Thai karaoke and soap operas on the TV, florescent lighting, tables full of SE Asians, totally dinky, completely ineffectual paper napkins on the table: all signs pointed to a tasty meal ahead of us.
We ordered a few standards, the dishes that we order so test whether a new Thai restaurant knows what it's doing or has adapted the dishes to suit what the owners perceive as American palates. The food was served on ordinary plastic dishes with a fork and a spoon, just the way it is in Thailand. The Tod Man (fish patty, as it's called in the menu), were small and freshly fried. They were served with no dipping sauce, but they didn't need to be; they were loaded with just the right amount of lemongrass. The fishcakes were chewy without being gummy. We were off to a good start.
We also shared the rad naa (stir-fried flat noodle with gravy) with beef. The gravy was thick (not gloopy) and well seasoned. The Chinese broccoli was just barely steamed, still crunchy and clean. The pad krapraw (stir-fried meat with basil) was served as it is at roadside stands in Thailand: with an egg fried in a wok in vegetable oil, just what's needed to balance the sweetness of Thai basil. The pad krapaw was spicy without overpowering the other flavors or making diners feel the need to brag about their spice tolerance. (Yes, sweaty tough guy, we know you can eat spicy.) Just enough heat to kick in a few endorphins and to make me suck a little air through my teeth and over my tongue a few times.
The total bill? Just under twenty bucks. Maybe not the cheapest of eats, but a great deal when compared to some of the other Thai restaurant options in the Twin Cities. Granted, they don't have a liquor license (they only opened seven months ago), but, frankly, who needs another Chiang Mai Thai?
We'll definitely be returning. More updates to follow.
Bangkok Thai Deli
315 University Ave W
St. Paul, MN 55103
651.224.4300 (take-out available)