No, On’s Kitchen hasn’t opened a second location: this is my second review of On’s Kitchen. It’s not the only time we’ve eaten there since the first review, it’s only the second review I’ve gotten around to writing; and, in fact, it’s a compendium of our two most recent meals there. In the time since the first review—way back in late 2013 when I’d first started to post restaurant write-ups on the blog—I’ve covered a number of the other Thai places that get attention from Twin Cities foodies and food media and have confirmed what everyone knows to be true: at the top are On’s Kitchen and Bangkok Thai Deli and everyone else is well below that. What not everyone wants to say, however, is that even the better places below them are not even really in the same weight division. But rather than dwell on the shortcomings of the rest of the scene, I’ll note once again how lucky we are, in a region without a large Thai population, to have two Thai restaurants that offer up very good renditions of more than your standard-issue Thai restaurant fare, and where it is possible to get even the standard-issue fare cooked at a high level and unsweetened or otherwise watered down.
As noted, the pictures below are of dishes eaten at two separate meals—I’ve sorted them by type rather than by meal. Descriptions and evaluations of the dishes are in the captions: click on an image to launch a larger slideshow. With one exception I’ve left out images of dishes eaten and photographed in the earlier review.
The obligatory chicken satay for the boys who also insisted that this picture be included in the review. There are five in the order (satays, not boys) but three were grabbed before I could get the camera up.
Grilled pork neck. Tasty but paled in comparison to the excellent version at Isaan Station in LA; the problem mostly was that the meat was unevenly grilled, with some parts too overdone.
This nam thok, a sliced beef salad, ordered at the same meal was better.
This salad of toasted rice, sausage, peanuts and coconut, ordered at the next meal, was even better still.
Sour soup with tripe and other offally bits. Earthier than the related tom yum and quite a nice change-up. We got this at the first meal.
Close-up look at the meaty bits.
This was ordered alongside the tom saap, which was a mistake. This because this turned out to be soupier than I was expecting and two sour, soupy dishes together was one too many. The missus was not a fan of this one in the abstract either—she found it way too sour. We got it with tilapia. I should also note that the burner under the fish-shaped dish couldn’t be turned off and after a bit the liquid all but evaporated—they topped it off for us and it’s possible it got unbalanced that way.
A master class in deep frying, this looks very generous when it arrives but there’s not very much soft shell crab in there. Most of the fritters are (perfectly) deep-fried veg.
You’re much better off getting the shrimp version that is otherwise identically prepared. We got this at the first meal and got the soft shell crab at the second in order to branch out.
This was at the second meal. We got it with pork. I believe that the curries at On’s Kitchen at their best are the best in the area by some distance and this panang curry is a perfect illustration: the sauce was thick and rich and the flavours were perfectly balanced with the heat rising slowly but surely through the sweet-sour-salty complex.
We got this at our second meal as well. They very rarely seem to have it as sator beans are not always available. This may not be bad news for everyone as sator beans are also a bit of an acquired taste. When the dish arrives you might think the beans have been fermented as a funky aroma rises to greet your nostrils. But, in fact, sator beans are also known as “stink beans” and that aroma is au naturel (and as with asparagus you’ll smell it later too, if you know what I mean). Cooked up quickly with ground pork and shrimp in a tangy, spicy sauce this was the highlight of the second meal, and is probably in my top five dishes there. You should know that there’s nothing funky about the taste and that even the pungent aroma is not really out of control—you have to bend down to sniff the dish to get a good dose of it.
Both meals were quite good but the second was really very good and comparable, I want to say, to good meals we’ve had in Thai Town in L.A. That’s very high praise from me. The first meal, however, displayed some of the inconsistencies that can sometimes creep in there. Still, even when not at its best On’s Kitchen is quite a bit better than every Thai place in the Twin Cities not named Bangkok Thai Deli. If not for the fact that they’re closed on Sundays and that Bangkok Thai Deli has very good kao soy and boat noodles (neither on the menu here) we’d probably not go anywhere else for Thai.
Both meals came to less than $20 per head, by the way. And the service both times was as it always is at On’s: a little slow when busy (on the first occasion) and relaxed when not so very busy (on the second occasion); and friendly and welcoming on both occasions.