Living an hour south of the Twin Cities is no fun if you enjoy eating out. We live in a town with two colleges that somehow does not have a single Thai or Vietnamese restaurant—though given the state of our Chinese restaurants and the lone Indian restaurant that’s probably not a bad thing. The only decent food in town, really, is very casual Mexican at El Triunfo and there’s only so many times we can eat there in a month. Things don’t improve very much as you go further north. Not, in fact, until you cross the river into Bloomington: there Grand Szechuan heaves into view. But if you were looking for Thai food it used to be that you’d have to go much further to get anything that even went past passable status.
If you truly want very good Thai food even now you have to go further east, to University Avenue in St. Paul, to On’s Kitchen or Bangkok Thai Deli for the best Thai food in Minnesota. For the best options in Minneapolis you have to go pretty far north to Central Avenue, to Sen Yai Sen Lek or Karta Thai—these are both a few levels below the St. Paul stalwarts but quite a bit better than what’s available south of the river. I’ve written up one of these south metro establishments earlier on the blog: Taste of Thai Yai in Apple Valley. The meal we had there was passable at best. As a result, when we’re at Costco, or getting out of a movie at lunchtime in Lakeville or Burnsville, we’ve usually ended up at Cam Ranh Bay—which is no great shakes as Vietnamese food goes but is certainly better at bits of it than A Taste of Thai Yai is at Thai food.
But this situation changed recently as we happened somewhat randomly upon Thai Curry House in Burnsville. Now, I will say at the outset that I am not going to be making very large claims for Thai Curry House. This is not a hidden gem, the somehow unknown, best Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area. It doesn’t have a particularly interesting menu; there are fewer esoteric items on it than at Taste of Thai Yai. But it’s a lot better than you’d expect a Thai restaurant in a nondescript strip mall off Highway 13 in Burnsville to be; it’s certainly better than Taste of Thai Yai, and it’s also better for Thai food than Cam Ranh Bay is for Vietnamese food. And when your options are as fucked as ours are, that’s no small thing.
You’ll notice as soon as you enter the restaurant that, external appearances to the contrary, Thai Curry House is very much not a Minnesota strip mall restaurant. They’ve put a real effort into the decor and the menu book is likewise more attractive/substantial than you might expect. Prices are accordingly a little bit higher but, on the whole, if you order carefully you can actually have a pretty decent meal in a nice setting that doesn’t make you wish you’d driven another 30 minutes to University Avenue in St. Paul (and it’s a much more attractive restaurant than either On’s or Bangkok Thai Deli).
It’s never been very busy when we’ve been there, but two of those meals were a late weekday lunch and an early weeknight dinner and the third was lunch on the Saturday of Christmas weekend. I suspect they do more business at regular weekday lunch hours. They have a weekday lunch buffet and it seemed quite depleted by the time we got there for our first lunch (around 2’ish). And while the presence of a buffet can often be a bad sign, here it turned out to actually be a bit reassuring. We didn’t really know what to expect when we placed our order but when I got up to take pictures, the aroma from the buffet suggested the meal was not going to be a bad one. And that proved to be the case.
We’ve eaten there three times in the last month and so I think I can provide a decent overview of the menu. As I said, there is little that is startling about the menu: it is comprised largely of Ye Olde Thai Classics. Our experience of most of those dishes has been mixed. However, there is also a “Chef Specials” section—at the very beginning of the menu at the restaurant (the menu on their website doesn’t seem to include it), and we’ve fared better there. For a list of everything we’ve eaten and my takes on them, see the pictures and captions in the slideshow below. For some other thoughts and questions about the general neighbourhood, scroll down to the bottom.
Service is friendly and solicitous. In terms of heat levels, if you ask for your food to be spicy your server may ask you at what point you want it between 1 and 5. If you truly like hot food you should ask for at least a 4. And if you’re not offered the numerical setting I’d ask for a 4 anyway. You should also know that their website is not very reliable. As I noted, the menu there is not the same as the menu at the restaurant, and it also says they’re open for dinner on Sundays, which they’re not: they’re closed all day on Sundays.
Again, without making over-large claims for them, I’ll say that this has been a very welcome discovery for us. We’re up in the Burnsville/Apple Valley area often for shopping/the zoo/the Works Museum/movies etc. and this saves us from both settling for Cam Ranh Bay or Satay 2 Go and from eating only at (the further away) Grand Szechuan. It’s also a convenient stop on the way back from the airport to our half-horse town. I wouldn’t drive down here to eat if I lived in Minneapolis or St. Paul but if you’re in the general area you could do far, far worse.
I am also curious about the neighbourhood in general. You will have seen from the slideshow that the restaurant is located right next to a halal market (which I need to explore for goat). Not too far down Highway 13 is a mosque and the Islamic institute of America. We’ve also noted a Mediterranean restaurant called Nawal: I’m guessing Mediterranean here means Muslim African and Middle-Eastern. If you know the area and have better intel on the demographics and related food options, please weigh in below.
(By the way, I’m going to say that the presence of the guay tiew noodle soup qualifies this write-up as part of my ongoing, slow-motion coverage of noodle soups in the Twin Cities metro area—a much needed seasonal service.)