Top 5 places to eat in Little Mekong
Ed Neaton Mai Village in Little Mekong
Billed as Saint Paul's answer to Eat Street, the Little Mekong area at the east end of University Avenue has become something of a destination lately. There are still plenty of shuttered businesses to go around, but with the Central Corridor light rail set to open in 2014 and its easy accessibility from I-94, the neighborhood's main artery is betting on a renaissance.
If hopes are up, that's in no small part thanks to the abundant Asian dining options. Many of them are good, a few of them are downright excellent. On the whole, Little Mekong is quickly becoming a Twin Cities hot spot. When the light rail finally starts rolling, it's sure to give Eat Street a run for its money.
Bangkok Thai Deli is possibly the worst kept secret in Saint Paul, and no other place captures the spirit of Little Mekong better. Until recently, the Deli was located in a windowless side room of the Vietnamese supermarket across the street. It was dark, noisy, and on hot summer days, the impressive array of fans and portable AC units didn't even stand a chance. Foodies, of course, loved to brag about it. ("Dude, get a load of this super-secret hole in the wall I found. You can't even see it from the street.") Bangkok Thai Deli has now moved into the defunct Burger King across the street, and though climate control is better, some of the charm is gone. The food, on the other hand, is as good as ever. Bangkok Thai Deli's fare is at once unpretentious and a grand showcase for the delicate ballet of flavors that makes Thai food so irresistible. Sample the wide variety of curries, noodle dishes, and seafood platters. You won't come away disappointed. Even the lowly spring roll is a work of art here. Now that the Deli is actually visible from the street, it's somewhat less of a foodie hipster find, but it's no less mouthwatering. And at $8 for a curry, $5 for a bowl of pho, and $9 for shrimp pad see ew, it's exceedingly budget-friendly.
Located at the intersection of University and Snelling Avenue, this homely Thai eatery is technically not in Little Mekong, but it's not much of a detour, and the food is more than outstanding. That shouldn't come as a surprise, since owner On Khumchaya, who gave the restaurant her name, ran Bangkok Thai Deli's kitchen before striking out on her own in 2011. At On's, you'll find staples such as pad Thai, mango chicken, and a variety of curries. They're all excellent. More adventurous are the dishes you wouldn't see at any old Thai place, such as the crispy soft shell crab or the whole steamed tilapia, which has won praise all around. We're especially taken with the crispy calamari appetizer. It's pedestrian at first sight, but in On's hands, the dish acquires a slow burn that makes it more than memorable.