Khun Nai Thai Cuisine sits in the location of the erstwhile Krungthep Thai on Nicollet Avenue. The previous was a satellite location of Bangkok Thai Deli (one of the two very good Thai restaurants in the Twin Cities—On’s Kitchen is the other). We ate there once a few years ago, and while we enjoyed a few things, there were some big problems with the meal—as a result, we never went back and then they eventually closed (I do not mean to suggest cause and effect). Even though we’ve never had good luck with any of the local Thai places outside the big 2, I was intrigued when I heard of Khun Nai; especially as they got a good review on Chowhound for their khao soi—the dish that was the biggest disappointment at our meal at Krungthep Thai. We’re always in the market for good khao soi, and decent Thai food in Minneapolis would be a good thing too. It took us a while to get out there but we did eventually make it in mid-October. And we liked our meal enough to go back again this past weekend. Did the positive streak continue? Read on.
A word first about the space. If you remember Krungthep Thai, you remember it was quite large. Khun Nai retains all that space. However, on our two visits, the larger, brighter, more attractive room seemed like it was given over entirely to the use of the staff. Perhaps they get busy enough in the evenings to seat customers there but on both our visits all customers were seated in the smaller dining room up front. This is not an unattractive space, though the mix of Thai folk art and large pictures of dishes from the menu on the wall is eclectic at best.
We lunched on both occasions, once on a Saturday and once on a Sunday. On both occasions there were not very many other people eating there when we got there or when we left. There were six of us both times and we were seated at the large table right in front of the entrance. It’s an attractive spot with the plants right behind it but it’s not a good place to be in the winter, as there’s no glass protecting you from cold blasts when the front door is opened. Thankfully, it isn’t brutally cold here in Minnesota yet.
What did we eat? It will not surprise regular readers to read that we over-ordered on both occasions. And on the first occasion this was exacerbated by the fact that they brought out an incorrect dish that they then insisted we eat while they also brought out what we’d actually ordered. (This extra dish turned out to be our favourite at the meal but when we said we’d pay for it they refused.) Here is what we ate at the first meal:
- Chicken satay for the boys (repeated at the second meal). This is an obligatory order and even though their rendition seems more baked than grilled, the boys gobbled them down double quick.
- Sai grok. Sour Thai sausage. Quite nice.
- Som tum. We got this Thai style and almost immediately wished we’d gotten it Lao style. It was fine but needed a bit more fish sauce funk.
- Chicken larb. Quite nice—not sure why we didn’t get it with pork or why they don’t do it with beef.
- Tom yum with shrimp. This was way too sweet for our liking. Lots of shrimp in there in case you’re wondering.
- Khao soi. This was the disastrous dish at our Krunthep Thai lunch—there had been barely any soup in it and when we asked we’d been told it was sent out from Bangkok Thai Deli in St. Paul in the mornings. This was better but the ratio of soup to noodles was still off and it was also a bit too sweet. The Bangkok Thai Deli version is far superior.
- Khao poon. This Lao-style noodle soup is what they accidentally brought us instead of the khao soi and it was rather good. If you’re looking for a rich, nourishing bowl of noodle soup in the winter, this is up there with the best in the area. I’d come back for this but I’d get it a little bit spicier next time.
- Green curry with pork. We were eating with people who didn’t want to get things too hot and this curry would probably have been better with more heat. As it is, it was acceptable.
So, on the whole, this meal was pretty good as Thai food in Minnesota goes and so we decided to come back and try a few more dishes from the menu. On the second occasion we were joined by two friends who we eat out with a fair bit. Other than the chicken satay for the brats, there were no repeats at this meal.
- Nam khao. Another Thai/Lao dish, this was very tasty but seemed more like crispy fried rice than the toasted rice salad I was expecting (see the On’s Kitchen version for reference).
- Nam tok nua. The classic grilled beef salad, the dressing was very good but the meat itself was too thickly sliced and chewy.
- Pad kee mow with pork. This was a bit too sweet and a bit too light on the heat and mint.
- Oxtail noodle soup. This is from the “Signature” section of the menu. It’s pleasant enough but nothing special.
- Boat noodles. Again, this was tasty but too sweet and was lacking in the offal department.
- Massaman curry with chicken. Again, over-sweet with too much coconut milk and I’m not sure why it was the unappetizing grey-brown colour it was.
So, the second meal was not as good as the first. Don’t get me wrong it was still better than the vast majority of what’s available in the area—certainly better than anything in the south metro area—but I’m not sure we’d have come back as fast if the second meal had been the one we’d eaten first.
Pictures of the restaurant and the food follow. The food pictures are arranged by category rather than by meal. Please excuse the quality of the images. The table we were seated at on both occasions is under a number of bright yellow lights. Scroll down for comments on service and price.
Service was very friendly on both occasions—I’ve already mentioned the refusal to let us pay for the extra dish on the first occasion, even though we liked it a lot and completely finished it. I will say that on the second occasion the massaman curry was the second thing to come out and that was a bit odd. I also remarked that the staff on the second occasion were entirely different from those working on the first occasion. Indeed, between that and the quality difference between the two meals, I did wonder briefly if anything had changed at the restaurant. Probably not. But that reminds me: on the first occasion I asked our server what the relationship was between Khun Nai Thai and Krungthep Thai. She said that the ownership had changed but I got the sense that the chef is the same. If anyone knows more about this please write in below.
Prices are on par with other Thai restaurants in the area. Which is to say that if you’re not drinking, and depending on whether you over-order or not, you can expect to get out somewhere between $18 and $25/head all-in. Oh yes, they don’t have a parking lot and so parking is the usual Nicollet Ave. adventure—be prepared to drive around.
At any rate, Khun Nai Thai is a plausible Thai restaurant in Minneapolis but it’s not about to challenge On’s Kitchen or Bangkok Thai Deli for supremacy in the larger area. I’m not sure about their prospects—I hope they do more business at dinner and via takeout—but, as I said, I’d always be down for a bowl of their khao poon if in the area.