Ruam Mit Thai has been around in St. Paul for at least a couple of decades now. I’m not sure, however, if they’ve always been at the current location or if the ownership has remained the same—if anyone reading this knows any of this or a near-definitive date of opening, please write in below. They are currently located on St. Peter St., just by the Children’s Museum. We are given to haunting the Children’s Museum in the summer and this year we finally decided to give Ruam Mit Thai a try. This report draws on three meals eaten this month. One with just me and the brats and two with the missus along as well. Read on to see how we fared.
As the fact that they’ve been around a while may indicate, Ruam Mit is a sort of Thai institution in St. Paul and people who’ve been in the area a while often recommend it. Inside you will find a host of awards from the local press on the walls. It is true that every restaurant in the Twin Cities, seemingly, has a bunch of these (we’re all above average here); it’s also true that Ruam Mit’s awards all seem to be from the early 2000s and earlier. At any rate, I don’t recall reading their name in the enthusiastic local press very much since we’ve been here. All of this explains our hesitancy in going there over the last decade: if even the people who place marginal Thai restaurants on the lists of the best in the Cities won’t talk them up then how good could they be? As it turns out, they’re not great but they’re also not bad at all.
What they certainly are is popular at lunch. The place was jammed on all three occasions with lunch hour crowds, seemingly from local offices. We saw the same people on a couple of occasions (but they also saw us). The most popular thing at lunch seems to be the buffet. This is housed in the brighter dining room to the right of the entrance and I have to say that it has not looked very promising to me on any of our visits. But that room fills up seemingly for the buffet every day and there’s often a spillover of buffet eaters into the other, darker dining room as well. I’m not sure what their business is like at dinner or on Saturdays (they are closed on Sundays).
We ordered on all occasions from the menu proper. At the first lunch it was just the boys and me and it was not the most promising experience. I got the boys their favourite order of chicken satays and they were not pleased with what showed up, which is very, very rare. My own chicken curry (a red curry) was just okay, clearly made hot (at my request) by throwing chilli flakes on top. The prices were also not low. So, why did we go back a second time? Well, we made a hash of our plans and needed a place for lunch again by the Children’s Museum. This meal, however, was better. We got what turned out to be a yellow curry chicken for the boys and papaya salad and spicy noodles for ourselves. The papaya salad, which came with Thai jerky, was quite good if not particularly fish sauce-funky. The other two dishes were both too sweet but it seemed to us that with less sugar they would have been quite good.
Accordingly, we went back a third time and this time explicitly asked that things be made less sweet. This resulted in the best meal of the bunch, with an above-average pad thai, pretty good (and pretty hot) larb and then two dishes that were more Vietnamese than Thai: banh xeo, the crispy rice flour pancake thing, and a rice noodle soup with meatballs etc. The banh xeo was just okay—the filling of bean sprouts and chicken breast lacked character—but the soup was nice enough.
For a look at the restaurant and everything we ate, please click on the slideshow below (and please bear in mind that they light in the darker dining room is not food photography-friendly). Scroll down for thoughts on value, service etc.
Well, as I said, our meals, on the whole, were better than I’d feared they would be (though this was not entirely true of the first). But it’s still not a place I would go back to unless stuck for a place to eat near the Children’s Museum. This largely because there’s far better Thai food available on University Avenue in St. Paul—and for that matter better or as good Thai food available closer to us (at Thai Curry House in Burnsville and Joy’s Pattaya Thai in Richfield). If eating Thai food is the point of an excursion, there are far better places to go. Also, the prices are not low: they’re higher than at most of the better places on University (from Bangkok Thai Deli to Thai Cafe to On’s) and the menu is not particularly interesting. However, I could see us doing another meal there in combination with the Children’s Museum and if we do we’ll be sure to specify that everything be made less sweet than usual.
[EDIT TO ADD: I forgot to say anything about the service. It is very friendly. At the height of the lunch service the kitchen sometimes gets a little behind—I assume the focus is on making sure the buffet stays refilled—but not annoyingly so.]
Up next from St. Paul, another Southeast Asian report, but this time of another Cambodian restaurant.